by Tracy Darlington
amazing the power of what music can do. It blows my mind sometimes."
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 keyboard player Jeff Frankenstein and talked their album Born Again, the debut of their new stage, and more!
How did you know God was calling you to pursue music as a career?
As far back as I can remember I've felt like this is what I wanted to do.
Even when I was 6 or 7 years old I've had a love affair with music. I think
for everybody, no matter what we end up doing with our lives, God puts those
desires into our hearts for a reason. He put me in a home where that sort
of talent was nurtured by my mom. She was a music director at our church,
so I was always involved playing there. I learned how to play through that.
It's funny, I literally had dreams about doing what I do today, even as a
little kid. When I was 19 years old I came up to join the band and hit the
road with the guys. Even though it was a leap of faith at the time, I felt
that's what God had been preparing me to do with my life. Looking back on
it now I can really see God's hand in it.
How did the opportunity to join the Newsboys come up?
(Laughs) It's pretty funny how that happened. My youth pastor was promoting the Newsboys' show in Michigan, where I'm from. I was in college at the time, and he asked me to be the runner for the band that day, to drive them around and run their errands during the tour stop. That's how I met them. It just so happened a few months later that they needed a keyboard player, and they somehow remembered me from that show. They called some people who knew me and asked about me. Next thing I know I was coming home from a class at college - I was living at home at the time - and my mom said, “Oh, yeah, the Newsboys called. They want you to call them back right away.” I was like, “That is so weird! How in the world?” So I called them back, and sure enough, they needed a keyboard player immediately. A week after that I dropped out of school. I went out and auditioned, joined the band, and proceeded to do like 300 shows my first year in the band. Pretty crazy, huh?
Did you only have a week to learn all the songs?
I was playing at church at the time, so I was kind of used to learning songs really fast for the services. Obviously this was on a little different scale, but no, I just stayed home from school for about 4 days and did nothing but practice!
The “Born Again” music video shows footage from you guys building houses in Mexico. What was that like?
That's something we've been doing for quite a while, actually. We're partnered with some friends who have a project down there, the project that's in the videos. It's about 30-40 minutes outside of Tijuana. We stumbled onto the project by accident during one of our motorcycle trips to Mexico, which we do every year just to take a break and do a little guys' retreat. We would ride down there across the desert. We ran into that project kinda by accident. A guy from San Diego by the name of Bob Sanders was down there. He lived down there amongst those people and was building homes for the poor. There were a bunch of people on that particular project that were flooded out during the El Nino floods of the 90's. The government gave them a little piece of property up on the hill (that's in the video) to live. The problem was that they had no water, electricity, no homes. They were just living out of boxes and shanties. We were actually riding in that area and stumbled upon the project. We fell in love with the people and with Bob. He didn't have a whole lot of resources from the U.S., and we thought with our being in the band and with our connections we could really get that project up and running. They had a great discipleship program and Bible courses, and everyone knows that village. It's kind of become like a city on a hill.
So this summer, in just a couple weeks, we're going back down there, and we're taking about 1,000 fans that we've recruited over all the shows we've done this year. And we're going to build for two weeks. We're going to try and build 800 homes, a school, and a hospital. It's an awesome project. It's so close to the U.S., just across the border, really. We kind of adopted it as our way of serving. We love it, and we cannot wait to go back. We wanted to tie the video into that project. The day we were there shooting we weren't even thinking we would shoot a video, and the song “Born Again” wasn't even finished yet. We had a little camera crew there, so we just started shooting without even having all the lyrics to the song yet.
The Newsboys have always have a great stage presence, and now you're doing it again with your new stage. How does it make you feel, being one of the guys lifted straight up in the air, keyboard and all?
I figured it was my time. (Laughs) Dunc has been doing it for years, and Peter back in the day, and Michael. Winterjam they were doing it, so I knew my time was coming. It's a blast, actually. The first time we tried it, we'd had like one day of rehearsal with it. We went up and did it at Creation for the very first time in front of a crowd, and the Creation festival is like the biggest festival in the U.S. It was fun. That's the one thing that's great about the Newsboys - our management and crew has been the same for so long that they just know how to do things. It's something we've wanted to do for a long time, but we were finally able to pull it off this year. And that's just the start of it; we've got some other ideas too. The new show is just gonna be amazing. We thought this time we'd do something different, with the new record coming out. We're figuring out ways to get closer to the crowd and make the show more 3-D. We've always brought our own runway so that Mike can go out in the crowd and interact. But we wanted to take it even a step further and get out there amongst the people. People freaked out at Creation. It was great!
Who designed the set?
Our manager the brainchild behind it. We've had the idea for over ten years, but the technology didn't exist in order to do it right. Finally the arms that lift us out are a new technology that's small enough for us to take it with us. In the past you could only do it with big huge cranes, and we can't carry big construction cranes around. But these new machines are way small and run on electricity. It took quite a few weeks retrofitting the staging onto the arms, and we were in a welder's shop for weeks figuring it out.
Let's talk about your new album Born Again. When you recording the project, did you have a theme in mind?
“Born Again” was the first song that was recorded for the album. I think it kinda sets the tone. It's got a lot of different meanings to it. Being born again in Christ and the redemptive theme of that, but also with the band. The band itself has kind of been born again. We knew with Michael coming on board with us we didn't want it to be “Newsboys Karaoke with Michael Tait” for the rest of our career. We wanted it to be something new and fresh. That's why we went back into the studio so quickly to record the album. So it's a fresh sound, a fresh start. When you hear the record it's a lot different from what we've done in the past, but it's a good different. It was a good title to mark the beginning of a new era.
How did you go about choosing the songs for the album?
On past records a lot of it was pretty in house. It would either be me and Peter struggling to make albums without much outside help, production, or input from other people. When Peter retired we decided to open it up a little bit and bring in ideas from everywhere, not just from within the band. We've been around for so many years that we've got friends, like Mark Stuart from Audio Adrenaline. He wrote a song for it. It was way more of a collaborative effort with a big team of people. It worked out great. We decided we didn't care who wrote it, we just wanted it to be the best. Michael actually wrote a lot of the songs, which was really cool to have his input on a record for the first time. He really jumped in there during the recording process and took the helm. It was a minor miracle the way the album came together. It really feels like God's hand was behind it all, even though looking back it was a crazy time. We're really, really happy with it.
What message do you hope people will come away with when they listen to Born Again?
We feel that we're a band here to encourage the church. We've had our own journey; we've been a band for almost 25 years. Some of us have walked together for 18 years. There's a redemptive theme about the album. All the songs talk about how life's not perfect, it's difficult. There are a lot of challenges. We go through seasons, ups and downs. Sometimes it seems like there are more valleys than peaks. yet God is faithful, and that is amazing. No matter how far we run from God, the whole time He's standing there right behind us.
Our band comes from a real ministry background. We hope the album encourages people in their walk. We don't really get to see the personal impact the album has on people. We play to big crowds and see them cheer, but when we wrote album, I was thinking about, ya know, the mom who's driving in her car alone at night, worried about the kids. Or that sort of thing. That's the great thing about music. It can be an encouraging voice in somebody's life when they need it, even if you don't know about it. It's amazing the power of what music can do. It blows my mind sometimes.
What do you feel Michael Tait has brought to the Newsboys that you might not have had before?
He's brought a lot. When somebody new walks into the band, they remind you of what you've taken for granted. Like for me, being in the band for 18 years straight, and even with Jody coming back after 5 years with a new perspective. Mike is such a people person. He's got so much energy. He loves people, he loves his band mates. He comes on the bus with a smile, and he's got a lot of energy. It's great. It's been awesome for us. Even though we were doing well, I felt like maybe we were just sitting on a ship that was just very slowly sinking. (Laughs.) But with Mike everything is new again. It's much more fun to feel like you're on a mission, to feel like you've got things to conquer, than to feel like you've already done everything. It's much more fun to conquer than to maintain.
Last year was a difficult year for the band, no doubt about it. Promoters were skeptical, festival promoters were skeptical, the industry was skeptical. Everyone was like, “Is this the end? How is this going to work? Are you serious?” People were interested, but they didn't know if it was going to work out. We were playing festivals and making a record, and a lot of it was survival mode. That was good, because it really brought us together as a team. But this year, now that the album's coming out and the single's been Number 1 for 7 weeks, the shows are going great, it's definitely a lot more fun! We're playing like 9 new songs in our show. And it's only gonna get even better from here. It looks like the future's really bright.
Could you share the story behind your song “One Shot”?
Pretty simple message, really. We have one life. Our culture is pretty distracted; something is pulling for our attention every moment. You kind of get knocked off course a bit. Whether it's internet, video games, friends, it's a non-stop barrage. When you look at the what God's called us all to do, we've got one shot, one life to live. Let's be bold and talk about our faith.
How has being in the Newsboys changed you?
(Laughs) I don't know; I've been in it for so long! I feel really blessed to be in the band for 20 years. Even just playing music for a living is a miracle in and of itself. I am blessed and honored to be able to do it. I never take a day for granted. I always try to enjoy the little things. There are some traveling days when it's pretty hard, it's not fun. I mean we just had a baby back in October, and I miss the kids and my wife. It's pretty grueling. It's definitely a lot more work than people probably think. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. I just love it. Playing music is the best.
Sometimes our families get to come with us. We have little kids, like my daughter is 9 months old. We all have little ones, so it's kind of hard right now. But when they get to be 3 or 4 years old, it will be easier to throw them in the bus. It's not a glamorous life for your wife to live in a bus with no toilet and to sleep in a bunk for hours and eat pretty rough food. 8 hour plane flights aren’t much fun. And we don't really stay anywhere for very long. It's not like you get to hang out and rest and enjoy a city. You're off the next day to the next town. But it'll be a blast when we can bring the kids when they're a little older.
Do you have any advice for anyone who's trying to pursue their dreams?
For a musician I would say if you're someone who writes songs, there couldn't be a better time for a musician to be heard than now. Record your songs, the internet's there, it doesn't cost a lot to record an album these days. Back in the old days it would cost $200,000 to make a good sounding record. Today you can do it for probably 1500 bucks. If you have a computer, you're halfway there. On a spiritual side, prepare your heart and be faithful in the little things. It's those little things that are usually what God uses to prepare you for the next step. Patience is important. Even being a musician on the road, the music part is quite small compared to all the interacting with people on the bus and meeting fans. Having a heart that is open to what God has is really important, because you never know when a door is going to open and you have to be ready for it.
Who has been your mentor in life?
Being the youngest guy in the band I've had bandmates I've looked up to. Our manager and his family have been awesome. My dad and mom are pastors and missionaries. They've been a big part of my life. Petra and Whiteheart, all those bands that were around when we were starting. Having someone you can go to and talk to about anything to is important as a Christian.
I'm sure you have some fun road stories. Can you share one with us?
Tait had agreed to move back to Nashville from L.A. to start rehearsals about two years ago, or a year and a half ago. Jody was coming back at the same time, and he had been living in AZ. Jody sold his house and jumped on a plane with his wife and kids to come back to Nashville, and he didn't know at the time he was in the air that Tait was going to be the new singer. He landed and we went right into a meeting and he was like, “OK.” Tait had just gotten off a plane from L.A. Jody hadn't played guitar in 5 years. That was the start again, and it's amazing to see how far things have come since then.
Do you ever see yourselves having a bass player again?
Probably not anytime soon. I've taken over the role of doing it, and it's been kind of nice to be a four piece. Maybe if we were younger, but at this point to introduce a whole new person into the band is a big step. We like the way things sound and the way they are. A 4 piece is pretty efficient.
What are 2 things people might be surprised to know about you?
I'm a big hockey fan, and I actually still play hockey. I play in a league with Dierks Bentley the country singer in Tennessee. (Laughs) We play on rival teams. I haven't lost any teeth, although I did have to be rushed to the hospital a few years ago and have 11 stitches in my chin. My wife didn't enjoy that.
Three things always found in your refrigerator?
In my freezer there is always at least a dozen Polish perogies from my Polish heritage. I gotta keep some perogies around. Either that or kielbasa, another Polish delicacy. There's always Gatorade. And leftovers from Chipotle. That's always in there.
You're next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
I know it's gonna sound crazy, but I don't even like Starbucks. I do like
the occasional caramel macchiato. That's my favorite thing from Starbucks.
Usually a tall. And I gladly except Starbucks gift cards from fans!
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.