While millions of fans and multiple of generations of music listeners experienced the Christian pop rockers Newsboys, fewer have witnessed the unique sound and configuration that is Newsboys United.
Having all of the members, both old and new, playing together in the studio and on stage has been a surreal and joyous experience for long-time Newsboys drummer Duncan Phillips. When he tried to describe what it would be like for fans coming out to see the group headline WinterJam 2019 — which comes to Rupp Arena Saturday — he referenced an even more popular rock band with some notable lineup changes.
“Can you imagine going seeing Van Halen where both of those guys (lead singers David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar) are on stage doing their songs, but sharing the stage together?” he said.
Those who are not overly familiar with the hit-making, award-winning Australian-based group may not realize as the group became and maintained its popularity in Christian contemporary music, it went plenty of lineup changes since it first formed in the 1985.
Most notably, fans tend to remember the version of the group that was fronted by founding member and multi-instrumentalist Peter Furler, who took over as lead singer from the mid-90s until 2009, or the version that exists today with Michael Tait, who took over lead vocal duties in Furler’s absence and who is also member of seminal Christian rap-rock trio DC Talk.
Over the course its career, Newsboys have recorded 18 albums, numerous hit songs on Christian radio and even a movie appearance in the 2014 film “God’s Not Dead,” where the band makes an appearance performing one of its 2011 hit single of the same name.
But in 2017, there was a bit of a rare reunion when Newsboys current lineup of Tait, Phillips, guitarist Jody Davis and keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein asked Furler to record vocals for the song “The Cross Has The Final Word” and later joined the band on stage for a couple of shows. This later led to former bassist Phil Joel being brought into the fold and the six of them heading to the studio to record new music as Newsboys United.
Phillips said he remembers when the band first embarked on the road as Newsboys United in early 2018 and putting together a setlist that encompassed some of the band’s earliest hits, a lot old memories and camaraderie came rushing back.
“The coolest thing was, and I think you feel this on stage with Newsboys United, is we’ve done so much life together over the years,” he said. “It just felt really, really good, and we just kind of picked up from where we left off and that’s when you know we have a great friendship. I think when you’re in a band, that is as important as the music and I think you can see that. That’s a fun you can’t fake.”
Newsboys United is not just an experimental supergroup or a nostalgia act. The day we spoke to Phillips was also the release date of the band’s first single, “Greatness Of Our God.” He said the Newsboys United will record a full album this year and Duncan describes the music as a vocally powerful update of a more classic Newsboys sound. He also said the band will never lose its “quirky tilt” toward pop rock or its overtly Christian lyrics even as trends change in Christian music.
“I think that’s probably my biggest complaint in Christian music is that all of it sounds the same. We’ve never attempted to do that,” he said. “I think we’ve always tried to stay loyal. If you write songs because you think you should be writing that song, you’re selling out.”
Newsboys United, who are WinterJam alumni, said the tour will offer fans an even better experience with its 360-degree set-up in the round at arena’s across the country, allowing even more fans to get a front-row seat for acts like themselves and fellow 2019 acts like Danny Gokey, Mandisa, Rend Collective and several others. When WinterJam concludes, the group will join fellow Christian artist Michael W. Smith this summer as the two co-headline their Surrounded and United tour.
The Newboys have persevere more than three decades of successes, breakups, shake-ups and make-ups. For Duncan, he only sees great things for Newsboys United going forward but never fails to look back to see how far this group has come. He remembers playing in Furler’s parents garage as teenagers and moving from a “little surfing village on the other side of the world” to make it big in America but initially eating out of Burger King dumpsters at 1 a.m. But even if they didn’t initially have money to eat on, Phillips said they made up for it with a strong faith and work ethic that helped carry them through.
“We put our lives and had put our lives into this thing,” he said. “We were just heads down, butts up and just went to work and It’s one of the reasons we are still here.”
If you go
WinterJam 2019 featuring Newsboys United, Danny Gokey, Mandisa, Rend Collective, NewSong, Hollyn and more
When: 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 2
Cost: $15 donation at the door
Where: Rupp Arena 430 W. Vine St.
More info.: 859-233-3535 or visit Rupparena.com