Last winter, Christian music fans received some of the most shocking news in the genre’s history: Newsboys frontman Peter Furler was stepping down from the microphone, and former dc Talk singer Michael Tait was taking over.
Third Day frontman Mac Powell said the move, fusing two of the biggest bands in Christian rock history, was like McDonald’s joining Burger King.
Tait was as surprised as anyone when he got the call.
“It was a pretty heavy mantle,” Tait, 43, recalls. “They said, Peter wants to step down and spend more time with his family — his mom and dad are getting older, living in Australia. But the Newsboys don’t want to quit, and you’re at the top of a very short list of able cats. I thought, ‘Oh boy.’ Newsboys were my old competitors, if you will, back in the day.
“So I prayed about it, and thought about it and said, ‘This could be fun. Let’s see what happens.’ But to tell the truth, I went into it with one eye open thinking, we’ll see how it goes.’
“Now, 130 shows later, I freaking love it.”
The singer says it’s like being in a garage band without the hassle of hauling amplifiers and sleeping in the back of a van.
Central Kentucky audiences have their first chance to see the Tait-fronted Newsboys on March 13, when the band plays the annual Winter Jam concert that is stopping at Rupp Arena for the third straight year.
They’ll be joined by headliners Third Day and supporting acts such as Fireflight and Tenth Avenue North.
Out of all those acts, Newsboys definitely sports the biggest curiosity factor, particularly since it has not released a new album since Tait took over. The announcement of Furler’s departure came shortly before the band released its most recent studio album, In the Hands of God, with Furler on the cover and as the lead singer.
“It was kind of strange, because at the merchandise table, it was still Peter’s face on all the shirts and stuff and on the albums,” Tait says. “But at the time, I was really focused on the show, which might have been good, because if I had crashed and burned, it still would have been Peter’s face on the shirts and everything, and he could have come back if he chose to.
“But now, we’re going forward.”
Fans who want a preview can check out five tracks from the band’s forthcoming release, Born Again, at the Newsboys website.
On the road, there is the matter of an extensive Newsboys catalog Tait now has to deliver.
“I was very focused on getting inside the songs and making them my own, because this could have very easily been karaoke,” Tait says.
For example, Tait says that on Something Beautiful he lifted Furler’s signature “yeah, yeah” at the end of the chorus in favor of stretching the phrase “to soul it out.”
“Instead of ‘oy,’ I say, ‘yo,’” Tait adds, highlighting the fact that this once very Australian band is now three-quarters American.
Drummer Duncan Phillips is the remaining Aussie. Tait hails from Fairfax, Va.; guitarist Jody Davis is from Evansville, Ind.; and keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein is from Detroit.
And some of the songs with the most distinctive Aussie accent are the ones Tait says have to get the most extreme makeovers. Shine and Breakfast, for instance, which have fast-delivery verses colored by Furler’s Down Under delivery, are now mainly performed as their choruses in a medley form.
Of course, there’s another catalog in play here: dc Talk.
Tait says Newsboys has been performing Jesus Freak, Talk’s biggest hit, at Winter Jam and also has included In the Light in sets.
When Newsboys and former dc Talk member TobyMac play the same stage, as they will June 16 at the Ichthus Festival in Wilmore, Tait says he and Toby talk to make sure they aren’t playing the same dc Talk songs.
But Tait is far from ready to let Newsboys become a museum piece. There is that new album coming out in June.
“People are saying it sounds like the love child of dc Talk and Newsboys,” Tait says.
He calls it “Newsboys 2.0,” and says any days of doubt are long gone.
“It’s been quite a lofty task,” Tait says, “but there are no regrets.”