by Tracy Darlington
Newsboys Paul Colman Interview
"I hope people who already know God will get what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations.” For a soccer mom with 4 kids, that sphere of influence might be within a 5 mile radius of her house, but that is exactly what she’s meant to do. And someone like Peter Furler, his radius is the globe. And there are all these people in between." --Paul Colman
Paul Colman is no stranger in Christian music. He’s made 15 albums with his own band, The Paul Colman Trio. He’s traveled the world, won a Dove award, and even been nominated for a Grammy. He’s now a guitarist for the Newsboys and loving every minute of it. He was busy getting ready for Christmas at home when I caught up with him . . .
Paul: I just put up 18 candy canes outside my house. The kids and I went Christmas shopping for the lights and stuff this morning. I was down on my knees in the mud, and now here I am.
Tracy: Tell us about your recent time in Russia. What happened there that you'll never forget?
Paul: We played a big festival with close to 20,000 people in Finland before we were to play in Russia. The plan was that 4 Russian drivers with 4 Russian vehicles would pick us up from our hotel at 6 am after our show in Finland. It was apparently a 10 hour trek to Russia in the car, which was a lot cheaper than flying, and we thought we’d see some of the countryside. 6 am came around, then 6:30, then 7:00, and we’re all thinking, “Uh, what are we going to do?” Then these 4 guys walked up, looking like they came from the KGB. It was amazing! So we hopped in the car with them. I don’t know if their driving was normal for Russia, but it wasn’t in our sense of what is safe, appropriate, or a good distance between vehicles. So our plans to doze a little and enjoy the beautiful Finnish view into Russian countryside was shattered by what we would consider the horrendously erratic driving, but in the end we did get there. We were pretty emotionally and physically tired by the time we did. But the Russian people were so happy we were there. They were so excited. I mean, there’s incredible change that has happened in that country in the past decade. The Russian consulate was awesome; the people were incredible. The concert was just awesome. When you play the same songs, people often say "How do you keep it from getting boring night after night?". You know how when you have a favorite piece of music that you listen to 500 times? When you play it for someone else and they hear it for the first time, it’s almost like you kind of hear it again for the first time yourself. That’s what it was like in this place where were had this CRAZY four days. It was one of the highlights of the year for us, as these guys just caught the music even though it was kind of unfamiliar to them to hear music in a live setting. I think we were the first CCM artist ever to play in St. Petersburg in an established kind of concert.
The next morning we got a chance to do a little sightseeing. I’m a history teacher by profession, so we were standing in front of the winter palace where Tzar Nicholas II was disposed by Lenin in the Bolshevik revolution, and I’m standing there going, “Oh, my Gosh! Right here!” I know we’ll be going back there. St. Petersburg is a gorgeous city, really, really beautiful, with an incredible history. I think Russia is in this pivotal place right now where the doors are opened to the west. The Newsboys and perhaps even other bands who are really trying to see Christ come through in their music could have an incredible impact on the city and on the country. It was a great first trip, and it reiterated to the band that God has given us something unique. All we have to do is follow Him, step up there and do what we do, and He does the rest. It was a truly great experience.
We were shocked at how many people were singing the lyrics back. I think “He Reigns” is pretty much known all over the world now. You’ll go to some country like Uganda and all the sudden they start singing it back, and you’re thinking, “How do they know this?” I guess the good thing is that the new songs kind of fit right in there with the old ones, comfortably, where as some of the audiences we’ve been playing in America, they’re just getting used to them.
How does Go compare in your opinion to the Newsboys’ earlier albums?
When I joined the band in January I thought, “If I’m going to be in this band and I’m going to do it seriously, I need to really be familiar with their songs.” So, I downloaded the Newsboys’ catalog from iTunes, from the first one right on up to Go. I would say for Newsboys fans Go could be the ultimate Newsboys album. It’s got the quirky pop music that the band really became known for, with the quirky lyrics about the Word, but done in a way that’s kind of a bit cheeky, a bit humorous. It's still right on the money in terms of the truth, with beats that are coming from a hip hop place, put into pop music. “I Am Free” is very much like an anthem in which people can really proclaim something powerful, “I am free! I’m free now! I’m free to live for You.” But the album also has some vertical moments, like “In Wonder”, a very intimate song; It’s to God. And that reminds me of the best moments of Adoration and Devotion. You’ve also got a handful of songs like “Gonna Be Alright”, “The Letter”, and “Let It All Come Out” that are some of the most personal, intimate songs the Newsboys have ever come up with. They are very wrap-your-arms-around someone and say, “Ya know what? You’re gonna make it. It’s alright. You’re special. You’re one-of-a-kind.” Very beautiful songs that we helped Peter finish, but he really wrote most of them.
What you’ve got here is an album where it all kind of comes together. Everyone hears something different. The performing, the playing, the singing, even the technology is even better than before. Peter’s singing on this album is the best he’s ever sung. Phil’s singing is also outstanding on this album. Their voices are meant to be together. It’s a wonderful album, and I’m really, really proud to be involved with it. I’ve been listening to it since it was in demo stage. Peter sent me the demos, and I’ve kind of watched it grow. I’ve felt so privileged to be playing the guitar on the record and doing a little bit of writing and singing. After being friends for a long time and being around when they make records, to actually go through the process has been one of the highlights of my career so far.
What would you say is your favorite song on the album?
“Your Love is Better Than Life”. I just love it. I really had to fight for it, too, ‘cause it kind of got scratched. I went in there and got down on my knees. I was like, “Please! Reconsider! Guys, this song is just phenomenal.” They’re like, “I dunno man, it’s kind of whacked out." I’m like, “Exactly! That’s why it’s great!” I love the character in that song, saying “I don’t really know that much, but I know that Your love is better than life.” In the end, if we’re honest, we know a lot less than we think we do. All I know is I’m here, and I’ve given my heart to the Lord, warts and all, and His love is better than life. We’ve been playing it as the first song of the encore for the last couple of months, and it’s just a blast. It’s a really fun song.
My second favorite song is actually on the bonus disk, the song called “City to City”. I really love that song! That’s another one I went to bat for, and we didn’t get it finished in time so it ended up going on the bonus disk. But we may pull it out live, or maybe if the album gets re-released at some point I’ll put my two cents in and say, “That needs to be there.”
We’re going from city to city to encourage believers and to encourage non-believers alike to really, in this day and age, realize that there is a God, and He loves us, and He has a plan for our lives that’s so much better than any plan we could come up with. So, I just like that city to city idea.
What’s special to you personally about Go?
I’ve always been someone who tends to push a bit too hard. Even when I was putting up candy canes here, a couple times I had to pull those things up from the ground and start again. It’s the little things God’s been showing me, “Don’t push, Paul. Don’t push. That’s My job. You just stay there and put some effort in, but it’s not your job to make things happen.” I really respect that quality in Peter, because he didn’t sit down and say, “Let’s have an album all about the Great Commission. Let’s do a pop record now, since we’ve done a couple of worship records.” He’s way more instinctive and serendipitous than that. To watch him find the way through to the end is quite thrilling. I’ve sat down with him and written hundreds and hundreds of lyrics for this album and only ended up co-writing on four songs. One of them was “Your Love is Better Than Life.” I wrote the lyrics with Steve Taylor. That was a thrill, ‘cause I've always been a big Steve Taylor fan. To actually sit opposite him in a studio with computers and compare lines ... The first time I didn’t like one of his lyrics I’m like, “Oh, no, what do I do now?” So I put on my best southern manners and said, “Well, yea, we could do that...” And Steve said, “Well, why don’t we try this?” and I’m sweating it saying to myself, “I’m telling Steve Taylor how to write lyrics!”
I really enjoyed the process, and Ted T., who co-produced it with Peter, is a very instinctive guy, too. I think he and Peter really enjoyed being creative together. That was fun to watch. I remember one day, I was sitting in the next room working on the lyrics to “City to City” and Peter said, “You work on ‘City to City’. I’m going to go work on this other song”. And then sort of half way through, I was just playing this little guitar riff (that’s now in “Gonna Be Alright”) and he said, “Oh, what’s that?” And I hear Ted say, “That’s cool, what’s that?” And I said, “Just something I’m playing.” And they started completely not doing what they were supposed to be doing, and started creating this other stuff. Ted gets on the record needle, and he’s scratching this heavy record up, and all the sudden I hear it, and I just got the lyric for “It’s Gonna Be Alright”. I felt like it was this intimate little thing. I started writing them down on my computer on a new file, and then I went into the studio and I said, “Guys! I think I’ve got the lyrics!” and Peter goes “Alright, give it to me here!” Peter just sang it from my computer. The first verse is exactly what he first sang.
I’ve been turned down so many times before that when I went in the room I was like, “I’m gonna go for it.” I think to make music you kinda have to be humble, because not everything you do is gonna be great, and you’re gonna have to be prepared for people to say “No”. Peter’s very kind, though. He knows what he wants and he won’t settle for anything less, but he’s very kind the way he says it. He says, “Look, you’re onto something, but it’s the wrong character. Write from this perspective.” I learned a lot from Peter about how to do it.
What message does the band hope people will come away with when they listen to Go?
There are many levels to this record. We’re hoping people will say “Wow! I wonder if there is a God who really has a plan for my life? I wonder if there is something bigger than just my own experience? There’s something in this music that rings true to my soul and to my heart.”
The Scripture says we’re all created in God’s image, which means there’s a part of Him in all of us. And when something resonates, it’s like God saying, “Hey! That’s Me. I put you here. This is not a random mistake. You’re not an accident; you’re planned.” I really hope people get that. I hope people who already know God will get what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations.” For a soccer mom with 4 kids, that sphere of influence might be within a 5 mile radius of her house, but that is exactly what she’s meant to do. And someone like Peter Furler, his radius is the globe. And there are all these people in between. I think the big mistake is when we compare ourselves to others and we think, “Well, I’m not going to China, and I’m not going to Russia, and I’m not going from city to city. I guess I’ll just pray for those who are doing all the Great Commission stuff.” That would be a tragedy, because in the end we’re meant to be obedient to what God’s put inside of us. Raising 4 kids is a lot harder than traveling around in a tour bus playing rock music!
We want Go to encourage everyone to take what Jesus said seriously and to ask, “God, what have You got for me? It might not be city to city for me, but it might be house to house. It might be door to door in my own neighborhood. Whether it’s through Christmas cheer or Christmas carols, or through caring for a neighbor who’s just had a spouse walk out on them. Whatever it is, where am I to fulfill this?” I think that’s what we want to encourage people to do. We all have the same job in different places. That’s the way God works.
You mentioned that you do a lot of your writing in the studio. Is that where you guys do most of your song writing?
I learned a lot watching the way Peter Furler makes records and writes music. I really appreciate that he doesn’t manipulate it. He just kinda lets it come. And yet he’s got an incredible work ethic, working at it every day. He’ll pick up a song that’s kinda not working, and without forcing it, he’ll eventually come up with something golden. Peter is the instigator and the conduit of musical ideas. He sits in his home studio and reads the Scriptures or a book, and then he just kind of gets a melodic idea. He gets a beat going, and then he just picks up a guitar and a microphone and he just starts singing. It doesn’t even have to be lyrics, it could be “la, la, la”. He gets these melodies; he’s chasing after a melody that moves him. Once he’s found a melody he loves, he asks himself, “What’s the sense I’m getting? What am I feeling from this?”
It’s interesting when you write music the way God made it; it’s fascinating. Music sometimes tells you what it’s meant to be. It sort of plays itself. It’s an unction of the Holy Spirit coming upon you, and you just get in touch with the music. Other times Peter will go, “Ya know what? I’ve got a melody here and I have no idea what it should be about. Here you go.” And he’ll send you a demo with a “da, da, da” on it. You have to sit there and go, “Da, da, da.” I know that happened with “Your Love is Better Than Life”. He sent me the chorus. He just sort of made syllables for the rest on the microphone. I was listening to it going, “Man, these lyrics are deep. People are really going to get something from this.” So I wrote out phonetically on my computer exactly what he said, and then I tried to put the lyrics to the syllables. I worked with Steve Taylor, and Steve had a different approach. He’s been writing songs with Peter for a decade. He said, “You can disobey that rule every now and then as long as it’s a good line.” So that’s generally how it works.
When you’ve got families, and you’re busy, to have time to sit down and write a song is not always the easiest thing. So someone will come up with a start and circulate it. We’ll all kind of join in. Sometimes there are quite a few songs on the record Peter didn’t need any help with. Often it starts with Peter and then us guys helping him finish it.
Do the Newsboys have any surprises planned for the Go tour?
The nature of the word "surprise" means that if I said it, it wouldn’t be a surprise! You have to look at our track record. The Newsboys have always pushed the envelope in terms of technology, excitement, audio visual, outfits. I think you should expect the same. What’s a Newsboys show? We pray and hope that it’s the presence of God. The way to prepare for a tour is to just get up and spend time with the Lord every day, love our families, and live a life of integrity and honesty. Then the tech-guys, the whiz-bang kids, work out the bells and whistles we’re gonna have. But if we turn up on stage and our hearts are not in the right place, we could be exploding or catapulting out of cocoons, and it wouldn’t be successful. Hey, that cocoon idea sounds good! Like a pod, or a pearl!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician?
My dad was in the theater in London where I was born. But it was when I first saw Larry Norman perform when I was about 11. I remember seeing him on stage, and I was in shock. This guy up there with his blond hair and guitar he would bash with his hand, and I was like “Oh, my gosh, that’s what I’m gonna do.” It was really the only thing I ever stuck with. There’s something about how music allows you to communicate with people that’s very special. You make a record and both the CEO and the janitor of the same company buy the same record; that’s pretty powerful. Most likely they’re not eating the same food or seeing the same film, but they buy the same record.
My parents bought me this tape when I was about 9 called “Elvis in Hollywood.” It had “Viva Las Vegas” and other great Elvis songs. Matter of fact, years later, I was playing at a wedding and someone requested a whole lot of Elvis songs and I was like, “Great! Let’s go.” I must’ve listened to that cassette so many times that I actually knew the songs and the chords on the spot. That’s where it started. That and watching my dad in the theater singing on stage.
I think all of us in this band at some point became enamored with this idea of pop songs. In 3 ½ minutes you can make people tap their feet and sing along. You can transmit something very powerful to them. I’m not a fan of heavy metal. I don’t like Metallica, for example. But if they’ve got a great song, I’ll like it for that one song. I can’t stand Bon Jovi or Guns and Roses. But the Beatles, you can hear them anywhere---from elevators to airplanes. They wrote the greatest songs. All of us just love great songs. Whether it’s a country song, a Christian song, whatever. But the songs that move me the most are great songs with God’s truth in them.
Why did you decide to join the Newsboys instead of pursuing your solo career?
I’ve made 15 albums back to back with the Paul Colman Trio. I’ve traveled the world, played in 30 countries, been to the Grammys. I was seeking a change, something different. I was tired of being out there on my own. I was praying, “God, I need a new season in my life. I feel like my relationship with You has been staying where it’s been for a while. I want to be somewhere else--I want something fresh, I wanna be in a community.” He took me seriously, ‘cause a week later Peter called and asked me to join the band. It was out of left field. I was a fan of the Newsboys--I thought they were a great band. I used to stay and watch them so I could be inspired to do what I did better.
Yeah, I really believe God put me where I am today. He put me exactly where I was meant to be. I’m having the time of my life. I’m really enjoying it. I don’t wanna be the lead singer. I’m very happy being the guitarist. They are wonderful guys--so much fun to hang around with and very godly. What more can you ask for? Most of them are Aussies, which suits me just fine! Our American is from Detroit, Motor City, so that’s cool. And we’ve got a New Zealand hobbit!
Two things people might be surprised to know about Paul Colman?
I really enjoy hanging out with my wife and her friends when they come over for coffee in the mornings, with the kids running around. Sitting down and talking with them, I just love the little chit chat. I don’t spend time in the company of women I’m not related to or married to without my wife, but I have great respect for women. I have two daughters and a wife. God gave me them to teach me to be sensitive. They teach me to be a listener and not a fixer of everything. They teach me to hold them and not just try and solve their problems. Those qualities are very much part of God’s character.
Oh, here’s something! I can cook an incredible roast dinner. Matter of fact, I’m cooking it tonight. I’m inviting a friend over whose wife just went away to Australia for four weeks. I’m cooking dinner--roast chicken and roast vegetables. I can cook a mean roast!
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Go and buy Go! Make sure you go onto iTunes and download the 11 free video podcasts that are available right now. There are some really fun moments on there where I interview all the guys in the band. And there’s some great footage of us in Uganda. Coming up there’ll be footage of us in Asia and in Europe. So iTunes, Newsboys, podcast, download! It’s free!
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.