Jonathan Langley pitched a batch of questions at the newest member of the NEWSBOYS, Paul Colman
Arrogance is not something I expect from Christian rock stars. Call me naïve and sheltered, but in my experience one can count on most of them to be grounded, humble and, most importantly to the likes of me, attitude-free during interviews. So I should have been shocked when guitarist Paul Colman from CCM legends Newsboys spoke of his band's "great catalogue of songs", how they are known for putting on "an incredible show" and described their career as "cooking". I was not shocked. And not because Newsboys have been one of the biggest bands in the Christian scene for the last 20 years, earning themselves 26 number one radio singles, four Grammy nominations, a Billboard Video Award, five Dove Awards and a seemingly endless list of other achievements. Such a belief in and love of your band's music is easier to express when you only recently made the transition between fan and band member. Australian-born, Nashville-based Paul Colman only joined the Newsboys in 2006 after success with the Paul Colman Trio and as a solo. Now, the newest Newsboy gushes about his band's work. As we lead up to our interview he assures me that next year's tour in support of Newsboys' new album 'Go' will be their best yet. I ask him why.
Jonathan: What will make this such a great tour?
Paul: There are a few things that make a tour great. One of them is obviously that the career of the band has to still be cooking because otherwise nobody turns up. And the second thing is Newsboys has an incredible catalogue of songs and when you're really fighting in the back of the bus about what songs you're going to play from the new album, that's a pretty good sign that you've got a pretty good record. We've got a great catalogue of songs up to this point but also just about every song on this new album we'd like to play live. So that's why it's going to be great, but also Newsboys are known for an incredible show and we've got a whole lot of new stuff and a lot of cool bells and whistles and surprises. But in the end, what makes a great tour and a great concert is that the presence of God is there. And although it is entertainment, it's not just entertainment. There's something else there that helps people connect with their creator. If you put all that together, that's why I'm excited about it.
Jonathan: It sounds like you still enjoy what you're doing.
Paul: Ah yeah. I used to be a school teacher, taking abuse. That's like five shows a day to an audience who doesn't like you. Just one show a day to an audience that does like you: you make the comparison!
Jonathan: The new album, 'Go', is very influenced by world music. How did that happen?
Paul: I think thematically it was really affected by the fact that over the last few years the band's done a lot of international travel and some quite interesting performances that I think created a very large change in attitude towards the mission and the vision of the band. One of them was at this New Age festival on the shores of Galilee. We paid to play there because we just felt so strongly about it. Most of the people left when we started playing because they'd never heard of the Newsboys, but by the time we'd finished the place was just packed and there was this incredible presence there - the presence of God in this place with all of these people who were just into everything under the sun. And suddenly they were being hit by something that I'm not sure they'd really encountered before-the Spirit of God. And the promoter said to us "whatever came with you left with you, because after you left it wasn't the same," and he didn't know that he was talking about God. It was pretty incredible, Peter [Furler, Newsboys' vocalist] speaking the words of Isaiah out across a massive PA system over the shores of Galilee. It's probably the loudest that those words have been proclaimed in the Holy Land, so that was pretty wild. And then another time, in the heart of Muslim territory in Marrakesh, Morocco, where the government had actually invited Newsboys to play in front of 15,000 Muslims who were surrounded by guards with M16s. Right at the end of the show, when we were singing "I Am Free", a song off the new album, this soldier was dancing with this abandon that nobody in our camp had ever really seen before. And the rest of this year the Newsboys' schedule has about 11 shows, and out of those 11 we've got Norway, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Singapore. and Florida.
Jonathan: Florida? That's pretty exotic.
Paul: Yeah, well, we like to finish off the year in an exotic location! But there is this sense that everybody seems to feel that God is taking the Newsboys to the nations and has given this band an ability on a musical level, a career level, but also on a spiritual level to be able to connect this music as part of the Great Commission. I think thematically that's where the album came out of. All these impressions had an effect and also a lot of what Peter was reading about great men like William Carey and others. I think it's the best Newsboys album yet. I know you're meant to say that but I really do feel that.
Jonathan: Newsboys seem to straddle the CCM and worship genres very well. Do you see them as separate?
Paul: I've got so many thoughts and opinions about it, but in the end everybody probably does. It's really about whether someone is following Jesus in their life and whether they're a disciple of his and whether they are in community with other believers and whether they spend time reading his word and whether they are under authority and whether their family's in order and whether their friends feel like they're teachable. And that's what's important. Some people are trying to sit down in Nashville today to write a worship song that will be sung in churches around the world so they can buy a new home. Other people don't even have a record deal and are crying out to God in a song that will probably never get heard. God knows a person's heart. The difference I see is between vertical versus horizontal themes in terms of lyrics. Some songs are more a proclamation, and some bands write songs that are just much more vertical. Take a band like Delirious? who we're great friends with. Sometimes they come out with a vertical song like "Majesty" and sometimes they come out with a song like "History Maker". They combine vertical and horizontal music, but why do they get called a worship band and we get called a pop band? I don't know. I think Newsboys has a wonderful opportunity to be both. Is that a good answer? I don't know!
Jonathan: I interviewed a Christian band recently who are not that overt in their lyrics and whose songs rarely mention Jesus by name. Many Christians, even within the CCM scene, would find that hard to understand. How do you feel about that?
Paul: I think people need to understand that if you're a plumber and you don't have a fish on your hat and one on your chest and you don't go: "Praise God! I've come to fix your pipes!" or if you're a plumber who just goes about your work and you don't feel you need to evangelise while you're knee-deep in people's sewage, I think that's between you and God. I don't think that's between you and the plumbing association. I don't think it's anyone's job to judge anybody. I think it's our job to encourage one another. In the end you're not really going to change that many people's lives from a concert. It's going to come through relationships anyway. So whether you feel called to proclaim it publicly or privately I don't think it's anyone's job to criticize and whoever that band is, I would never criticize them. I would embrace them and ask them how we could support them. I know that's how everyone in the Newsboys feels. I don't want to represent a scene or a commonly-held viewpoint. I want to represent what the Word says and it says: "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the meeting together as is the habit of some but all the more as you see the day approaching." I don't see anywhere where it says walk up to someone else and judge what they're doing. It says you know what, you keep your mouth shut and you do what I told you to do. That's obviously my translation, probably an Australian version of the Bible.
That reading of the Bible, be it specifically Australian or not, is one that many fans of Christian music could get behind, I think. What adds weight is not that it comes from one of Christian music's most important acts (though that helps), but that Newsboys are one band who could easily criticize others for not being as overt, as mission-oriented or as worshipful as themselves. Yet they do not. That total lack of arrogance in the Newsboys' approach, despite their many legitimate causes for pride, may have something to do with their success. It's an approach, an attitude, more than a formula, and one that other bands might do well to follow. Not just for the sake of success, but, in the words of an old Christian classic, to Shine.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.