Newsboys keyboardist/bassist Jeff Frankenstein knew there were pitfalls to the idea of the group reuniting with its original singer, Peter Furler when the idea surfaced in 2017.
Furler left the group in 2009, after leading the Newsboys to the top of the Christian music scene. Over that span, the group from Queensland, Australia, won five Dove Awards (the Christian music industry’s equivalent of a Grammy) and released nine straight albums that all went top five on the Christian music chart (with four hitting No. 1). He was replaced by another notable figure in Christian music, former DC Talk singer Michael Tate.
The “new” Newsboys spent the next several years trying to prove that they could be a successful band without Furler, who was the group’s songwriter. The efforts paid off with three straight albums — “Born Again” (2010) “God’s Not Dead” (2011) and “Restart” (2013) — that topped “Billboard” magazine’s Christian Albums chart and a fourth album, “Love Riot” (2016), that reach No. 2 on the Christian chart and topped “Billboard’s” Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums charts. The song “God’s Not Dead,” meanwhile, became the group’s first platinum-certified single and inspired three Christian films, “God’s Not Dead” and “God’s Not Dead 2” and “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.”
So when the idea started gaining traction in 2017 for reuniting with Furler, as well as longtime bassist Phil Joel (who had left the band in 2006) to create what is being billed as Newsboys United, several issues had to be considered.
Did the current Newsboys want to create a situation where they were competing with the original group? Would there be confusion over what group was the “real” Newsboys? Would they want to deal with the questions about whether Furler would replace Tait or if a group that included both Furler and Tait would be a long-term situation?
“I think I had those feelings in the back of my mind. Is this going to work? Is this smart? Is this what we want to do right now?” Frankenstein acknowledged in a recent phone interview.
In the end, one factor made the idea of bringing together the two eras of the Newsboys make sense.
“I think as an artist you have to keep the fan first in mind. And that’s the way I’ve approached it the whole time,” Frankenstein said. “If I was a fan and I saw this whole concept coming together before my eyes, like how thrilled would I be? How excited would I be? We were kind of between records and it just kind of made sense.”
It already looks like the Newsboys United reunion will last longer than some may have expected. The six-man lineup of Furler, Joel, Tait, Frankenstein, guitarist Jody Davis and drummer Duncan Phillips began touring in February 2018 and continued through much of last year. Earlier this year, the group headlined this year’s edition of Winter Jam, followed by a spring headlining run with Michael W. Smith opening. Now and after some touring in the summer, the band is back on the road this fall, including the Oct. 10 stop at Rabobank Theater.
And perhaps the biggest news of all is that a new studio album featuring the full Newsboys United lineup was released in May.
The reunion began when the Newsboys were trying to finish a song called “The Cross is the Final Word.”
“We were kind of at an impasse with the song,” Frankenstein said of the song, which was released last spring as a single. “And Wes (Campbell), our manager, it was kind of his idea. He was like let’s call up Peter and see what he’s up to, with Pete being a songwriter and all that. And so Pete helped finish the song out and that kind of put us back in touch with him … And one thing led to another and we started talking about doing some shows together.”
The headlining shows Newsboys United have done have been generous affairs. Some shows have run as long as three hours and featured some 30 songs from throughout the group’s career.
“We’ll start off with Michael, then a few songs where we all play together, and then a few songs where Michael leaves and we delve into the older things with Peter, and we obviously all come back at the end of the night,” Frankenstein said.
There’s a chance the group will even play songs the forthcoming Newsboys United album, with “Greatness Of Our God,” a good bet to be in the set. Frankenstein is eager for people hear the new album.
“It’s kind of a mix of both worlds, to be honest,” he said of the album. “It’s not going to be like a throwback record to the ‘90s or anything like that. Maybe that will disappoint people, but in some ways, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. It’s kind of its own new thing in a way, and I think it works well … So far it’s good.”