by Tracy Darlington
Newsboys Duncan Phillips Interview
looking for adventure and purpose. If you really push towards God
you'll find a purpose and a calling that so far exceeds anything
MTV or anyone else can tell you. "
The Newsboys really need no introduction. With over thirteen albums to their credit and hit songs like "Breakfast", "Shine", and "He Reigns" under their belts, chances are if you don't know the band by name you've surely heard one of their songs.
We sat down with drummer Duncan Phillips and talked about Michael Tait taking on the role of lead singer, their new album In The Hands of God, the band's future, and more!
Tracy: How did you know god was calling you to pursue a career in music?
Duncan: I've always loved music. It was one of those things my parents could see I really enjoyed and was good at. As I got a little bit older, especially coming into high school, I realized it was something I really wanted to do. A lot of times that's a good indication - what might be your talent or ability is what God created you for. If you like something and you're really, really good at it, that’s a good indication sometimes. Beyond that, I just love playing music. I love the way playing music makes me feel; I love everything about it. I love the bands, I love the electronics, everything revolving around playing music and playing in a band. It’s very exciting.
When I first went to high school I was in grade 8 in Australia, and I remember a grade 12 group (they were about 16, 17 and I must have been about 12 or 13) needed a drummer. I thought it was the coolest thing. Being in a band was one of those things that crossed all boundaries. To me these guys were so mature and so grown up, and me as a 12 or 13 year old---I was the drummer for this band. It was a great way to meet 16 year old chicks. (laughs) That was a part of my mode of action, but as I got older I realized music is what God had for me. Because I was good at it, I enjoyed it, everything I did, I committed it to Him. Every dream I've ever had has been fulfilled and then some. That's another indication. I've been in this band for 17 years, and we've been incredibly blessed over the years. I think the Lord places you in certain places at certain times in your life. I certainly feel I've been placed here in this band at this point in time. I have a feeling the last 20 years of this band is set up for what the future is. I think the future of this thing is so bright. I just have this feeling. The reason I say it is because I remember when I was 16; I remember the feeling I felt before I ever came over to America or ever did any traveling. It was like I had this knowing in my spirit. I have the same feeling now 20 years later. I have this knowing in my spirit that there are so many more great things in the future for this band.
What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you first started in music?
I'm kind of glad I didn't know a lot of stuff back then. Because of my inexperience and my lack of knowledge of how the industry really works, my naivety, I came from Australia to the other side of the world and actually thought I had a chance of making it over here. If I'd known how hard it would be and how many years of hard slog I’d have to go through I may not have done it. I really believe God placed something in my heart at an early age, and I came over here fully expecting great things to happen. And they did. But it didn't come easy. It took a lot of years. I remember back in the days when the band had no money. We couldn't call home; we couldn't even buy tickets to fly back to Australia. It was like survival mode kicked in. We had two choices - we could run back home to Australia with our tails between our legs or we could make something of this. We're a team, and those hard years really built a mettle in our lives and in our hearts. We just said, “No. We're not going to go. It's what we believe we are called to do and we're going to do it.”
I look at how much hard work it was and also how loyal and faithful our Creator was through all this. There were so many what-ifs. I look back on it now with hindsight. I can see the hand of the Lord there in various situations. There was no way they could've happened by chance. Looking back encourages me when I look forward. I look forward now with courage because there have been a lot of times in our careers, especially just recently, where it was like, “Oh my gosh, what are we gonna do? This thing's over; we're not getting anywhere.” But the Lord has been good. I remember seeing this band when it first started. I actually wasn't in the band in the very beginning, but 25 years ago I remember thinking, “Wow. The hand of God is on that band.” I recognized that at a very young age. I thought, “Well, if I can't beat 'em I'm gonna join 'em,” so I did a few years after that.
How was the making of “In the Hands of God” different from the making of your last album?
Every record's a little bit different. They're basically the same - you have the format, you're writing songs. But every song comes together a little differently. Some come easily, some come a lot harder. Every experience is different. And I'm sure the next one will be different again. We knew with this one that we had a great record. We had a great record with GO; we were really excited about the GO record, which was a very successful record. A lot of people liked it. We knew we had to do well again.
Every time you do a record, it's like you're reapplying for your job as a musician. If you do a record and it stinks, your job suffers in a sense. There's definitely a business side to what we do. But ultimately, if you haven't got the songs it doesn't matter how good looking you are, it doesn't matter how good a show you've got, or even how good a player you are. If you haven't got the songs, no one's going to come see you. We knew that. We spent a lot of time on this record. I think it's one of our best to date. It took us nearly three years to get this one out. I think all the mettle from the early days came to fruition with this record. We're not done. There's so much more for us to say here. We can best the best record. I'm so excited about IN THE HANDS OF GOD. I think it's already a favorite for a lot of the fans.
Can you share the story behind the song “The Way We Roll”?
We've been a band for over twenty years, and “The Way We Roll” gives you a biography of the band in 3 1/2 minutes. There's a famous band from Australia called AC/DC . They had “A Long Way to the Top” that was their anthem, talking about the hard knocks of rock and roll and how hard it was. For us, “The Way We Roll” is our version of “Long Way to the Top”. It tells you how hard it was, where we've come from, a lot of things we've done over the years.
What's your favorite song on the cd and why?
“The Way We Roll” is a great, fun very Newsboy-ish song. A little bit cheeky, but it's just a fun track. That's probably my initial favorite. But I also like “No Grave”, although it's one of the heavier songs on the record. It's actually a very encouraging song. And it kicks. I love the way it grooves; I love the drums and the guitar on it. The drums sound great. It's just a jaw dropping, butt kicking song. I really enjoy listening to that song. We haven't performed “No Grave” live, but we have performed “That's the Way We Roll” and it's gone really, really well. Ya know, when you first put a record out, it kind of takes people the first few months to get used to the songs. So we've only been playing “That's the Way We Roll” and “In the Hands of God”, because that was the first track we released. It was also one of the first songs to be finished. It's always fun to get that first track out.
“Up Side”, I think it's track 6, can be a very fun, 3 1/2 minute pop song. It's a little different, a little Beatle-esque, a little bit Robby Williams, a little bit cheeky again, definitely Newsboys, And “Dance”, track number 9. I talk to a lot of younger guys, and that's their favorite song on the record. How it got to be the 9th track I don't know, but it's a really fun, up dance tune. I think we're going to go into rehearsal with that.
Sometimes you hear a song on a record, and it'll really work on the record, but it doesn't translate live. So we'll see how that goes. And “Glorious” is a great song. It's a song we're going to rehearse tomorrow for the summer festival season here. And the last cut is a great wrap up of the record. A wrap up of Peter's last 20 years in the band. I feel like it's one of our most honest records. One we've worked the hardest on it. The performances, the lyrics are the best. I’m extremely proud of it.
How has the transition of having Michae Tait being lead singer been for you?
Really, really good. You just never know. You've had the same guys in your band for such a long time, and then one of the guys gets to the point where he feels he's got nothing left. And I really truly feel Peter's made the right decision. The selfish part of me didn't want to have him leave, but I think it takes a big man to say, “Guys, I haven't got anymore left.” Pete has headed up the song writing. There's so much pressure and stress with it, being on when he's got shows, when he's heading up the writing, the recording, it never stops. I totally understand, and I think he's done the right thing for him and his family. He recognized that for his own life.
So we had two options. The first option was to quit, and the next was to continue on in a different manner. No one wanted to quit. Peter didn't want us to quit. I think with Mike coming on board, Pete really feels he's passing the baton. It's never been about Peter Furler. It's always been this thing called Newsboys. I've been proud to be a part of it for the last 17 years. The band's been together for close to 25. The Lord has blessed us with incredible songs, great players, and great shows for years. When we first came to America back in ‘90 or ‘91 we toured with dcTalk for three years. We got to know the boys very well. And about 6 or 7 years ago Michael came and guested on a DVD we recorded at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We always loved Michael. He was always incredible. He's a world class talent. Everyone knows who he is. But apart from all that he's a great mate. That's such a huge thing when you're in a band. Whether you can hang with this guy. Michael kept in contact with us all this time. It feels very natural to have Michael on board. 'Cause he's been such a very good friend.
I was a big fan of INXS growing up when I was a kid, and when a couple years ago they had that competition for a new lead singer and put that young guy in, I was like, “No!” Not dissing the guy; I think he was a great performer and singer, but these guys were in their forties and they've got this 20 something year old kid to front the band, and I was like, “That's not right. That doesn't make sense. Get someone who the people listened years ago will understand and will be able to connect with.” So with Michael, we felt that if you were a Newsboys fan back in the day, there is a pretty good chance you were a dcTalk fan as well. We were very aware of getting someone our fans were comfortable with. I love him. And we get to play a couple dcTalk songs in the show, and that's fun for us because I've always been a fan of dcTalk. They're incredible, great songs. Back in the day they were competition, but now it's like bringing Burger King and McDonald's together and you get a super burger! Bringing dcTalk and Newsboys together - you can't get any bigger than that. The fans are digging it. They love the new record, they love Michael being a part of this thing. It's the coming together of two worlds. It's a great all around fit.
Tell us a little bit about your partnership with Global Tribe.
After you've been doing what we've been doing for such a long time you really start to feel your legacy and you start to say, “We've been blessed so much over the years, what can we give back?” Global Tribe is a benevolent organization which is going all over the world. Over the years we've partnered with Compassion and World Vision, incredible organizations; we love them. But I think there's something about Global Tribe. When something's your own you have a little extra passion about it. We've known the president of Global Tribe for, gosh, over 20, almost 30 years now. He's been a lifetime friend of the band. So there was a connection with that. He was our mate. We can leverage this band's branding and make people aware that we'll go in and not just preach the Gospel, but put food in the bellies and a roof over people’s heads, teach them how to fish rather than just give them a fish. That's our philosophy. When we're dead and gone Global Tribe will still be going. The music will go away one day. The band will not want to tour anymore, but Global Tribe will be something that will still be going for years and years.
Can you share with us an example of how God has used the Newsboys' music to change someone's life?
There are a lot of desperate people out there. Ya know, with the economy and things that are going on they’re feeling shaken. So many times people were going to commit suicide before listening to the music. That happens a lot. It's so encouraging to think that what we do, what we take for granted, God uses. I don't believe that I'm any more special than anyone else. I just believe I'm doing what God's called me to do. That's the great thing about walking in your calling. It's all you have to do. And then when you do that, the blessings will come from that. When you're going in the right direction the doors will be open. You put your petitions before Him, and if the door closes, then walk the other way. But if it opens it's a good indication it's the direction, not always, but it's a good indication it's the direction the Lord would have you go.
If you could say one thing to this generation what would you say?
Your questions are awesome! Christianity in general, in the West, has PR issues. I don't think people really know what Christianity is about and what a Christian is. I think if they did they'd have a different impression. They think it's this thing for old ladies who play organs and children and people who they don't consider legitimate. I would say, no matter what anyone else says, explore it yourself. Go to the Source. It's worth you taking ten minutes and asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. You just say, “If You're real, I want to know. I want you to reveal Yourself to me. And if You're not I'd rather go do something else with my time.” I know in my heart that He is real. I've seen what He's done in my life over the years. It's one of the great things about being a Christian for a while now - I can look back and see all the incredible things that could not have happened by chance. They happened because of an ordained process that can only come from the Creator, Someone greater than me. I'd encourage any kid to just see for yourself. Don't listen to what's out there. Don't listen to MTV; they ain't got the answer. Don't listen to VH1; they ain't got the answer. What might seem to be a good time will always end in tears if you do it the world's way. Believe me, 'cause I've done it myself. It always ends in heart ache. It doesn't work. If you do it God's way, 'cause He made us, and if you use the instruction manual, the Bible, you'll have a great and prosperous life. At times it may not seem as appealing as what MTV's telling ya, but I'll tell you there is way less pain and agony if you do things His way rather than head in the other direction. That's what a lot of kids don't understand. They've been sold a bill of goods that is faulty. The world is going one way and it looks great, but it will always come back and bite ya on the bum every time. Every single time. Christianity will be the most exciting adventure. Everyone's looking for adventure and purpose. If you really push towards God you'll find a purpose and a calling that so far exceeds anything MTV or anyone else can tell you.
What has been your most memorable Newsboys concert experience?
Red Rocks, Colorado was very exciting.
It's a natural amphitheater into the side of a mountain range. We got to
play at the Roxy down at the Sunset
Strip. A lot of rock and roll royalty has played there over the years. We
got to play at the Rock n’ Roll hall of Fame; it was awesome. That
was really exciting. And then we've been to China, Russia. To play in Morocco,
a fully Muslim country, to play in front of 15,000 Muslims. We got to go
to Israel, we got to play on the Sea of Galilee. I stood on a beach that
Christ Himself stood on. Panama, Brazil, so many different places. As far
as the most memorable, playing Morocco, China, and Russia are places I never
thought I'd get to play in a Christian band there. That was monumental. The
list goes on. Way beyond anything I ever imagined as a kid. And I think the
best is yet to come with Michael.
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.