by Tracy Darlington
is contagious. And people will always want what you've got if they
can see that it brings you joy. Our life should be our message."
BIO: Armed with inspirational lyrics and a fresh new sound, NEWWORLDSON are rescuing soul music from being a mere genre or label and returning the art form to its sacred roots. Singer Joel Parisien says "there's a lack of community in people's lives today. If you trace back the roots of 'roots' music, of 'soul' music, of 'folk' music, it's about folks; it's social music. We hope our fans become our friends. We hope they leave our shows feeling inspired. Our community is about uplifting people."
To a post-modern world that revolves around celebrity and consumerism, a manifesto like that seems anachronistic and distinctly un-cool. But this kind of prevailing cynicism reveals the need for classic music with a universal message. Supply and demand, ironically, and NEWWORLDSON stands poised to usher in a unique era of contemporary music history.
We caught up with Joel and guitarist Josh Toal. Read on to hear their thoughts on their music, mission and ministry.
TRACY: Your bio says that you are special agents to recruit souls for God’s kingdom. Can you explain that a bit?
JOEL: Before Newworldson, we were all musicians using our gifts to entertain people, but at that point it only felt as if it was our career. Once we answered the call to use music and words to celebrate God’s love and to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit, we truly started to feel like we were doing His work. Ever since, we’ve all made a commitment to wear His robe wherever making music takes us.
Being a new band, what was it like for you to open for the Newsboys on their Go tour?
JOEL: The first time we got on stage was humbling. All of a sudden, we jumped from playing clubs and small churches to opening for one of Christian music’s biggest bands on a full-sized arena stage in front of thousands of people. We had to learn new skills, in a hurry, in order to feel like we were connecting with everybody from the front to the furthest rows back. Peter Furler from the Newsboys has been really encouraging. He’s basically given us the permission to loosen up, let the Spirit take over and get the crowd moving. Warming people up is our job after all.
What is Newworldson’s mission?
JOEL: Our mission is to physically and spiritually move people with music. I believe that dancing is one of the most sincere forms of praise. We pray that people will feel the presence of the Holy Spirit at our shows or even when they’re listening to our CD.
Tell us about how you came to write “Working Man”, and what was it like filming the fun video for that song?
JOEL: I wrote that song to be a kind of theme song for the band. I just wanted to let everybody know where we were coming from with our music: “I am a special agent of the Lamb.” But soon after we started playing it live, people started to tell us how much they were resonating with the lyrics in the chorus. They wanted to let us know that they too were working for the Son and that “Working Man” was an important part of the soundtrack to their lives. So, because performing this song live in small venues is where we first started to see its impact on other people, we decided we needed to film a video that captured us in that kind of setting. It was a lot of fun to make and there were certainly times when it felt just plain silly. But it was great spending the afternoon with everybody involved, from the crew to the extras, and I think the final cut captures that energy.
How did you guys meet each other?
JOEL: I had known Mark for nearly ten years when we all first met. And Rich had known Mark for some time too, although our paths had never yet crossed. Being musicians, the world in which we work is very small. In the past, I had hired Mark to play drums on different recordings I was producing. A few years later, Mark invited me to come on two tours of Europe with another band he was working with at the time. So we were already good friends before Newworldson and Mark knew where I was coming from spiritually being a fellow Christian. That’s why he called me that fateful day in 2005 to offer me a regular gig playing original music in a local jazz club. He knew I was already composing songs with a spiritual focus and he thought it would be good for the community to start a night of Gospel and Soul music. It’s there that I met Rich and just happened to bring Josh along to sit in, although technically Josh brought me (he drove, haha.) By the end of the night we knew we had something special. In fact, I don’t think we had our first rehearsal as a band until about a year in, that’s how much chemistry we had from the start.
What message do you hope people will come away with when they listen to your album Salvation Station?
JOEL: Well, all the initial reviews coming in from fans and friends is that it’s an uplifting album, which delights all of us. We want people to know that the Creator of the universe, the Almighty Father loves us. He has a plan for our redemption, which is why He sent His only Son to die for us. And how should that make us feel, knowing that God wants a relationship with each of us? Joyful? Triumphant? Celebratory? We wanted “Salvation Station” to be a Gospel album in the truest sense of the word and to say this is what it feels like to be redeemed.
You said in a recent interview that before you became a Christian you were “an agnostic who got slain in the Spirit.” Could you tell us a little bit more about this experience and how it changed your life?
JOEL: I became a Christian in a season of my life when I was asking a lot of questions. At that time, I met a lot of different believers who profoundly affected the way I looked at the world (I had just turned twenty). It was as if God kept bringing these influences into my life and I was aware of that. It felt like it was so much more than coincidental. But though my heart was opening up, my mind wouldn’t accept the Truth. Then one night after being invited to a friend’s church and witnessing some very powerful and moving worship, I went home and knelt by my bed and prayed. I said “God, if you want me to believe I need to feel Your presence” and I wept. Then I started to tremble. And then with my face down on my bed, I felt that someone was right behind me over my shoulder and I was so sure that I wouldn’t even turn to look because I was afraid to see an angel. I was so humbled that He had answered my prayer by the presence of His Holy Spirit that I must have remained like that for half an hour weeping and shaking.
The joy I felt was overpowering and too much for my body to take. Because of that experience, I’ve become more sensitive to the presence of the Spirit. It’s almost as if I can find the place in my heart where the opening is to receive Him. I don’t believe I was trying to test God that night. I just think that He knows each of us intimately and He knows exactly how and when to reach all of us; He knew that my mind needed to be surrendered to my heart, which is technically His now.
Josh, I’ve heard that you were rescued by angels after a near fatal motorcycle accident. I would love to hear the full story of what happened and how you were protected.
JOSH: It's not really a very long story, when it comes right down to it. It was July 2006 and I was on the highway on my motorcycle, a vintage 70's Honda twin. I wasn't wearing proper gear, or gloves or anything. A jean jacket, some cords, running shoes, and of course my full face helmet. I was on the way to go out on tour with another band that I used to do some gigs with. I was doing about 70 miles an hour and the back tire of the bike blew out. The back end of the bike started sliding out, and I tried to slow down before I lost control. Last thing I remember was knowing that the bike was going to go down. I didn't know what was going to happen next, but I can tell you I learned a lot about surrender in that moment. When I came to I didn't really know what happened. The bottom line is that I had a mild concussion, a couple small burns from the road and that's it. No broken bones, no big cuts, nothing. I was thankful in the moment, but it was only later after the shock wore off that I truly understood what happened. I was on the phone with a good friend when I broke down crying as I started to understand how I had been spared. It was an intense and defining moment for my life and my spirit. It's hard to remember how grateful we should be.
Share with us a little bit about your time in the Dominican Republic. What was something you experienced that you’ll never forget?
JOSH: Our trip to Dominican Republic was amazing. The days were long and exhausting for our minds and bodies, but fulfilling for our spirits. My wife, Kate, came along with us. She has a great heart for people, social justice and those who are marginalized and over-looked. I've learned a lot from her. There were so many memorable experiences and images, but one thing that has stuck with me is how proud I am to be even a small part of what Compassion is doing all over the world. Their infrastructure and organization is so solid, accountable, caring and, of course, compassionate. All of the children we met were amazing, as were their parents, who live their lives depending on God for the little they have. They are grateful in a way that is hard to understand coming from the part of the world and the lifestyle that we come from. I couldn't picture what these communities would be like without the Compassion projects. They are such happy places and are really centers of their communities, not just for the children but their families and everyone who lives nearby. Meeting our sponsor child Josue and his family was phenomenal, but it's too hard to get into that experience in such limited space. We went there to bless and love the people we were meeting and we came back feeling like we were the ones who had been abundantly blessed.
What type of music would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
JOEL: I would love to write a film score using a palette of world music influences. I think it would be a great challenge to communicate different emotions without words.
What would you say to someone who wants to get started in music, but doesn’t know where to begin?
JOEL: Oh, boy. First of all, I would say be sure it’s what you really feel called to do. I think a lot of people are attracted to making music for the attention they receive and my response to that, speaking from experience, would be “be careful what you wish for.” It’s far more work and responsibility that most would imagine. Touring is often much harder than it is fun and being away for extended periods of time from those you love is a supreme sacrifice.
Having said all that, I think a live performance will do just as much for your playing and confidence as ten rehearsals, and I’m not just talking about mini concerts for five of your friends and family members. When you’re getting started, it’s important to experience the pressure that comes from exposing your heart and soul because not only does it make you stronger, whether you fly or flop, it will help you to decide whether or not this is for you. Overcoming nerves is a big part of it all. The opportunities to play live may be few and far between at first, but they’ll be there, whether it’s through your church or an open mic night in a coffee house.
When I was getting started, I put together a repertoire of songs by other artists I felt were similar and influential to what I was doing stylistically. Then I booked myself in local clubs playing covers and tossed in a few originals here and there to get people’s reactions. Everybody’s story is different and God will give each of us the right opportunities, but the bottom line is the best way to improve as a writer and performer is to go out there and take risks. And don’t forget about the value of prayer and peace.
What’s the biggest challenge either you or the band have faced since your start and how did you overcome it?
JOEL: Our biggest challenge was
getting secular audiences to listen to music with an obviously Christian
message. As a band, we got our start playing
in bars and I think, depending on one’s denomination or cultural background,
that may sound anywhere from mildly controversial to downright blasphemous.
But it was the world we came from professionally and at that time in our
lives we were being called to bring Light into that place. So, in a bar or
a rock club when you want to get people’s attention, not only do you
have to use every musical tool in your toolbox, but you’d better say
what you’ve got to say boldly and with conviction. The more upfront
and in-your-face we got lyrically, the more everyone respected us and listened
up. A lot of things came together to make it successful, not the least of
which was God, but also the strength of our beliefs coming through our performances.
Before a crowd of predominantly non-believers, I think it actually gave us
credibility and we were just perceived as being authentic.
What steps do you take to stay on track spiritually?
JOEL: Two answers immediately come to mind. One, prayer is an important part of our daily life, especially before every performance. God put this band together and every opportunity we’ve been given came from Him. We only want to be part of His plan, nothing more, and we all firmly believe that each event to which we are invited to be a part of, whether it’s every night of the GO tour playing an introductory 20-minute set or a chance to headline in front of thousands of music fans in Australia, cannot be successful without His blessing. And two, staying on track spiritually only comes from being humble. Personally, I find this whole experience humbling. To feel called, to be able to share the songs I’ve written with other people, to lay my gifts before our Heavenly Father; all of it is humbling to say the least.
In your opinion, what should people do if they want to get closer to God?
JOEL: Talk to Him. He not only loves us, He likes us! I believe He delights in the sound of our voice. A Creator that would sacrifice His Son so that we may be returned to Him loves us beyond reason. He wants a relationship with us and that means keeping the lines of communication open all the time, especially those times when we feel separated from Him or ashamed.
Do you any advice to someone trying to reach their friends for Christ?
JOEL: Joy is contagious. And people will always want what you’ve got if they can see that it brings you joy. Our life should be our message. We should never hide our lantern under the table. I believe that if others can feel what God’s done for you just by being around you, they’ll surely ask what brings you such peace and happiness. It sounds like a simple answer to an important question. But if you’re a born evangelist, you probably don’t need any advice on reaching the lost. It’s the rest of us who wrestle with this great commission from the Lord Himself. Be joyful and “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Then let them come to you and trust that the Holy Spirit will give you the right words to say.
If you could say one thing to this generation what would you say?
JOEL: Jesus Christ reigns over this world whether you believe it or not.
Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape while on the road?
JOEL: Me personally, I like to do push-ups and use my thera-band not only to stay in shape but also to spend some of the excess energy I usually have after a show. Also, I like to read and call home a lot. It keeps me grounded when we’re 1000 miles away.
I hear you guys love to talk with fake accents. :) Any fun stories about a time you really fooled someone into thinking you were from another country?
JOEL: Nah. Ha ha. We usually just use our Aussie accents to have fun with the crew on the Go Tour. It surprises me how few Americans can place our natural Canadian accents though. I think it’s a dead giveaway.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
JOEL: One: I can’t drive. Two: I don’t eat meat.
When you’re not singing, what do you enjoy doing?
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
JOEL: Nothing. I slept in.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
JOEL: Some variety of hot sauces, kefir and almond milk.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
JOEL: Tall latte.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
JOEL: Get married.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
JOEL: Mavis Staples “We Won’t Turn Back”
When was the last time you cried?
JOEL: This week when I got home from tour and hugged my girlfriend.
Anything else you’d to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
I would say to those looking for a way to feel closer to God: start giving more. Find somebody in need and give to them. Whether it’s time or money or love or attention or prayer and whether this person is in your community or far away. God gives. All the time. We can experience His perfect love by giving more. That’s why we’ve all become such passionate supporters of child sponsorship; it’s brought us closer to the Lord.
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.