As a member of the Newsboys for 22 years, Peter Furler has sold over seven million records, scored 25 number one singles, and released 15 full length albums. But, in 2009, Furler decided to leave the Newsboys and sell most of his possessions, including his home and his shares in Inpop Records. Furler then moved to Florida and pursued his passion for art, as well as continued to perform and write music. On May 5, 2011, I had the chance to speak with Peter Furler about his upcoming solo record, the Christian rock industry, and his favorite Newsboys album of all time.
Webb: First, your debut solo album, “On Fire,” will be released on June 21. Could you describe the sound of the album musically and also some of the important themes or messages within the album?
Furler: Yeah, you know obviously I have made quite a few records. I have a certain sound that I kind of shape. That could be good or bad for some artists, I guess. I just kind of try and make music that I like. You just hope that there are some people out there that agree with you. There is not a big formula; there is not a thing where I sit down and go, ‘Well I am going to sit down and do exactly what I have done before.’ When I am making a record, I don’t listen to a lot of music. Actually, I don’t listen to that much music period. Mainly because when I sit down to write, I just get this hunger to hear music. So I begin to write what I want to hear. This record is more up tempo than I thought it was going to be, which is good, because usually it is hard to write great up tempo. So it’s a very joyful record; it is full of encouragement, and things we all need. But, yet it has the sound that I am known for. Obviously it is me singing and playing the instruments. It is basically what I did before, but at the same time it does sound fresh and new. The freshness really came from the place I am at in my life more than a certain guitar amplifier.
Webb: After all the major success that you had with the Newsboys over these last couple of decades, did you feel any pressure making this record?
Furler: I think the pressure is really within yourself as a songwriter. Somebody asked me the other day, ‘What are my expectations?’ To be honest, they have already been met. So from here on out, it’s all good. But, the pressure that really came was just as a songwriter and as an artist. You always want to write, but you don’t want to regurgitate what you’ve done before. But, at the same time, you don’t want to leave behind and make a conscious decision to put aside the good things of the past. It really came down to making sure the songs that were on it were up to par, if not better than what my previous work had been. It wasn’t a pressure of commercialism, but it was more of a pressure of why put it out if it’s not stronger, or deeper than what you have done before.
Webb: With that said, do you think this is some of the best work of your career?
Furler: You know every artist when they are making a record have to believe that, but the people will decide that. There are certain songs that I have written in the past, “He Reigns,” “Shine,” “Something Beautiful,” that were definitely moments. They come as you keep at it. This is a record that I have just kept at it, and I do believe there are some songs on this record that can hold up to them.
Webb: Thanks to Rick Hoganson, he sent me a live stream of your new album a couple of days ago. I had the honor of listening to it. I will say that it was really powerful. I absolutely loved it. But, one song that really caught my ear was the song “Psalm 23.” I was wondering when you were writing new music, did you want to specifically write a song based around a Bible verse or chapter in this case, or did this song kind of come about spontaneously?
Furler: That’s a good question. It was really a little bit of both. I have had it in my head for a few years. I feel one of my gifts is the gift of melody and song. The Bible talks about singing to each other songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. I have sung a lot of spiritual songs; I have sung some hymns in my life. This was more of a psalm. Over the years with melody and even growing up in church, so many scriptures were put to melody. They were the ones you always seem to remember. When you go and play a concert, isn’t it amazing how the whole crowd can sing the words of a song. But, sadly, if you said to somebody, ‘can you recite Psalm 23?’ That’s a tough gig. You know, can you quote a section of Isaiah? Those things take an effort. But, when you put them to melody, all of a sudden they become easier. I felt to do that as a songwriter a few years back. This was the first of hopefully a few. But, it also did happen in a spontaneous way. I sat down and it really just came. It wasn’t something that I worked on. It came very quick, which is usually how some of the best songs come. Yes, it is one that I am really proud of, and then again I didn’t have a plan for this record two years ago. Not even a year ago. As a songwriter, you just keep writing songs. I don’t know what the future holds as a soloist, or as whatever, but as a songwriter as long as I am alive, that is my gift. So I just continue to stir that up. These songs on this record, and songs like “Psalm 23” were just the continuation of my life as a songwriter.
Webb: You mentioned that this album wasn’t planned, so I was wondering what inspiration or event made you want to get back and start writing music again?
Furler: Well, I think realizing what I was not meant to do. My first year or so leaving the band [Newsboys] was helping the band make the transition. That was a big task, and that kept me busy. That was a great task, and one that I enjoyed. It was kind of like handing over a church. You want it to do well. You want the lads to move on, and go to bigger and greater things. For me, that was a full time job. Then, once that was done, I found myself in a place of okay what am I going to do with the rest of my life? I actually just enjoyed not knowing. Which for some people might be horrifying, but for me it was thrilling. For me, my schedule was always planned out back at that time. I really just relished in not knowing what the future held. But, in that time I did a bit of painting and some creative things. After that year, I began to get back to writing songs. I am also working on a project with Steve Taylor at the moment. So, that’s where I began to realize this is what you do. Just because you made a shift of how you do it artistically, doesn’t mean you stop doing it. I think it’s when I began to look at other options, and ask, ‘what do you do?’ Do I get a nine to five job, or do you buy a business and run that? All these things begin to run through your head. As you run to them, you know that this is what God has called you to do, to be a songwriter and musician. So, that was good clarity for me. It doesn’t matter what level it is on, because you don’t do it for certain levels or achievements. You do it for the love of creating something out of nothing. Obviously things that encourage people to A. Search out for Jesus. B. To know Him better or just to encourage people in that walk with Him.
Webb: This next question is a little loaded. I am a huge fan and supporter of Christian rock music. I was just wondering what are your thoughts on Christian rock as a whole, and also how do you believe God uses Christian rock to win people for the kingdom?
Furler: Well, I think it is through the words, that is the difference. We are the one genre that is defined by our words. It is not really about the sound. I believe God gives gifts to all men, which we know that as Christians. I actually think there are two types of music. The Bible talks about the tongue and how it has the power of life and death. Whenever we have gossiped or bagged somebody, afterwards if we have a good conscious or a normal conscious, we can feel just as if we have eaten something bad. Yet, when we praise people and speak good into their life, we feel energized. We are kind of eating the fruit of that. So, really there are two types of music. One is full of life, and one that is full of death. One is full of truth, and one is full of lies. Sometimes I have heard quote, unquote Christian music, and I was like, ‘well I am not sure about that.’ Yet, it is under a certain format, or a certain record label. Then other times, you hear something that is not made necessarily by someone who is openly Christian, but yet you hear and you go, ‘that’s just truth.’ That’s why we do have to be careful what we listen to. What we listen too is that we are sort of eating it in a sense. The Bible talks about that, to be careful to what you put in front of your eyes and ears. So, I think that is the difference. To answer your second question first, that’s really what it is. It is something that there is power in it. It is in the words, and when there is truth in it. When it is the truth of God’s word, then that’s what it does. It has an effect on people; it has an effect on hearts and minds and emotions. That is what music is about, you know. It does have an effect on those things of a human being. So, it is important what is being said, that it is truth. You know, everyone has different levels of what type of music they like, stylistically and lyrically. Then there is something there for everybody.
I think as far as the industry, I am not a real spokesman for the industry. I don’t feel like I am one of the gatekeepers. But for me, the thing that I do notice is, being in it for quite awhile, technologically speaking we are at a time now, which is a great thing for Christian artists. Most Christian artists are operating on a budget, probably on about one-tenth of what a mainstream act could operate on. But, for the first time in history, and you would understand this being in radio. We can actually record stuff for one-tenth of what it would cost to make a record. It still costs a lot to mix one, to get that done right. But, as far as cutting tracks, you can buy a Mac laptop now. It comes with a free program. GarageBand, that’s what I write with most of the time. GarageBand has as much stuff as we made Step Up to the Microphone with. Yet, if I was to go and buy that gear and buy all the gear we used for Step Up to the Microphone, it could have been two or three hundred thousand dollars. That’s where things have changed. That’s why you can listen to Christian radio and for the first time sonically it is competing with the others. In the old days, it would take a week to get a kick drum sound. Now, you can knock one up in a couple of hours.
Webb: Moving in a different direction, your first major concert was about a week and a half ago at Easterfest (April 23, 2011). Did you have any nerves or anxiety for this concert being that it is the first concert that you are not in front of the Newsboys?
Furler: You know I did. I had moments, but I kind of put them aside too. It was an adventure, and I love adventures. I love the unknown. I would definitely be lying if I said I didn’t. I had some moments, but they weren’t lasting moments. They were ones that I had to keep putting aside; I had to keep putting them into another part of my mind. So I had moments of oh my goodness, I am heading out here. I don’t have the lads [Newsboys] with me. I had a great team with me. I had Seth Mosley, Brian Dexter, and Tim Wilson from Me in Motion, who are great players. I also had my wife, Summer, playing keyboards, which was brilliant. The band was brilliant. When I listen back to it, one of the road crew recorded it; I think I was the one that made more mistakes [laughing]. Nervous, I don’t know, just maybe had to blow a few cobwebs out. A lot of it came back too. It was my first full show in two years. But when you do it for 22 years, there was stuff that just came back automatic. It didn’t happen until I was actually on the stage. But, it ended up great. The fans were brilliant, and the crowd was very welcoming. It ended up being superb and a great night.
Webb: I wanted to speak with you about your wife, Summer, getting the opportunity to play with you. How did you guys keep that secret for so long?
Furler: It is a little harder to keep secrets this day and age, isn’t it? I think because we were relishing in it and enjoying it. The two of us would be in our house. I have a studio in my house. We would be sitting and she would be working through chords of the songs. I was too. It really helped me as a refresher because I was in the middle of making On Fire, this new solo record. My mind was split two ways. I even had to re-remember certain songs. Putting certain songs in the set, and working out songs we should play. It was a lot of fun. We just had fun doing that. She did great.
Webb: Is she going to continue to play with you on tours, or was this kind of a one time thing?
Furler: I hope she does, but I got to see if I can afford her. [laughing]
Webb: [laughing] Does she have expensive tastes?
Furler: Oh yeah, she likes the best keyboards. No, she is very humble, and she really enjoyed it. For her, it was a real thrill. Just seeing her being thrilled, thrilled me.
Webb: So, what was that like for both of you in that you have been a part of the Newsboys for so long playing live shows; what was it like having her share your onstage ministry with you?
Furler: That’s what really made it more special I think because it was family. Playing with the lads [Newsboys] before was like family. In a lot of ways, a band is a lot like a family. So, it definitely felt very natural.
Webb: Do you have any upcoming tours that you have planned?
Furler: [I am] working on a few things for the fall. I have a couple of festivals coming up, one in Minnesota and one in El Paso, Texas. A few festivals and a couple of other things that we are looking at. But, looking at the possibility of doing a promo tour in June for the record, and then also something in the fall.
Webb: When touring, are you going to just be playing songs from your solo album, or are you also going to perform some classic Newsboys songs?
Furler: At Easterfest, I did a bit of both, and I enjoyed it. It felt like a good blend because it felt like it was me. “He Reigns” is a song that I wrote and sung. It felt very natural to be doing that, and at the same time doing some new stuff. If I went to see me in concert, I would probably want to hear me sing some of the old and some of the new. That is how I kind of think.
Webb: When thinking about touring, what is one thing that you cannot leave home without?
Furler: Probably my keyboard player now I guess.
Webb: I can understand that 100%. I do have one Newsboys question for you. This is one that I have been wanting to know a long time. I am a big Newsboys fan. I have all of your albums; I absolutely love them.
Furler: I appreciate that Marc.
Webb: I was wondering; do you have a favorite Newsboys album, and a favorite Newsboys song of all time?
Furler: I don’t know, that’s a tough one. I don’t really go back and listen to my music, which probably seems strange to some people. I don’t really go back and listen to any of it. So I would have to go back and listen to see what has held up. As far as songs, “Something Beautiful” is a song I really love. I still love performing that live. “He Reigns” is really something that I enjoy performing live. And then there are songs like “Breakfast” that have their own kind of thing going. But, yeah, I don’t know if there is a favorite record. Maybe, Go, I really enjoyed that. That is probably more for personal reasons as a singer. I really began to enjoy singing on that record more than previous records. I felt like I started to find my voice there.
Webb: The final question, do you have a memorable Bible verse that always moves or speaks to you?
Furler: Isaiah 40 is one that I think about. I have memorized that, and that is one that I quote during concert. It has been one that comes to the top of my head right now.
Webb: Do you have any last comments?
Furler: No man, I appreciate what you are doing, and I wish you the best in the future. I would love to meet you someday, and say ‘hi’ to all of your listeners. I appreciate all of what you are doing.
Below, is Peter Furler's first single entitled, "Reach." Furler's debut solo album, On Fire, was released on June 21, 2011.