Q&A: Jeff Frankenstein - The Echo News
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Q&A: Jeff Frankenstein

Newsboys keyboardist and bassist talks about upcoming concert, new album and Christian music scene

David Seaman | The Echo

Jeff Frankenstein has been a part of many performances since he joined Newsboys. Just how many?

“We do about 180 shows a year, and averaging that for the past five or six years…yeah, we’ve probably done close to 3,000 shows. 3,000 shows since I’ve been in the band!” laughed Frankenstein, who has been the Christian rock group’s main keyboardist and bassist since he joined in 1994.

Frankenstein added to that number when the band played in Kokomo Oct. 18 as part of their “Restart” tour. The Grammy-nominated and multi-platinum band recently released their sixteenth album, “Restart,” and will be played with newer acts Rapture Ruckus, Moriah Peters and For King & Country.

The Echo was privileged to have an exclusive interview with Frankenstein, where he discussed their newest album, the effect Michael Tait has as the band’s newest vocalist and their small role in the upcoming film “God’s Not Dead”. Frankenstein also wasn’t shy in expressing the role he thinks Christian music has in today’s society.

Echo: Has the band played in Indiana before?

Jeff: “Many, many times. Indiana has been very good to us, for sure.”

Echo: Where in Indiana has the band played?

Jeff: “We’ve played in Kokomo a few times for the last few years. Fort Wayne to Evansville…pretty much everywhere in Indiana. Yeah, it’s been a lot.”

Echo: When did you join the Newsboys?

Jeff: “January of ‘94.”

Echo: Newsboys has had quite the lineup over the years (none of the founding members are still around, and there have been twelve past members since the band started in 1985). Now you have Michael Tait (previously from dc Talk) as lead vocalist.

Jeff: “Yeah, it’s been awesome. (Tait’s involvement) really reenergized us and started a new era for the band. That’s been going for almost five years now; it’s hard to believe it’s gone by that quickly. If I have to say what’s been some of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever had in the band it’s definitely been the last four or five years.

“And in a lot of ways we’re starting from scratch again. There has definitely been some adversity there with all of the changes; whenever you change anything it’s not very easy. It’s coming out on the other side of it and having some great records and touring and just enjoying it. I think when you look at it from this side after doing it so many years you don’t . .  .there’s a lot of things you don’t take for granted. When you get to play music and feed your family at the same time it’s a blessing. You never take a day for granted.”

Echo: You just released your new album “Restart.” What are your thoughts on the album?

Jeff: “The record was a two-year process . . . we really wanted to make a pop album. “God’s Not Dead” (the band’s last album) was more of a worship album. With this one we really wanted to make something that would stand up from a production standpoint to anything that’s out there (in the music scene). That’s definitely easier said than done . . . it was a process that had 50 or 60 songs on the table. A long process of sifting through songs and verses, all that sort of thing.

“We’re happy with the way it came out. I think that the analogy I like to make is what you have in youth group, you always had the pastor who would hand out a flyer that said, ‘If you love this pop artist, you’ll love this Christian artist.’ Even as a kid back then you were like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m sure I’ll like this,’ but you just knew the production wasn’t going to be as good. You would still maybe like it but you knew the mainstream artists always had an edge when it came to that stuff. I think from our perspective we wanted to make something from a production standpoint that was great quality.

“I think when you have that and you also have the message, which is such a great message of hope, I think it’s something that really resonates with this current situation in our world where our society and culture, has . . . really gone on down the toilet. I think people are getting increasingly desperate with the lack of hope in their eyes.

“I think now more than ever it the message is even more relevant today. In this society people are searching for truth and yet. . . it’s just, our entertainment industry has just gotten so out of control and it’s just like this downward spiral. So hopefully this record will be just a little ray of hope in a dark world.”

Echo: In the “Restart” tour you’re playing with newer artists and bands such as For King & Country and Moriah Peters. What do you think of the new Christian scene that’s going on today?

Jeff: “It’s interesting. I think that one thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s becoming harder and harder to make a living as a musician. . . you’re looking at a music industry overall, mainstream and everything, where in general records are selling about half of what they did in the ‘90s. So basically anyone in the industry has taken a 50 percent pay cut over the last fifteen or twenty years.

“We’ve seen worship music more prevalent in the Christian scene, but it seems like it’s harder and harder to be a pop musician these days (in the Christian music industry). I think that’s another reason why we wanted to make a pop album is because there’s just not that many people doing it. All that to say, there is some great talent out there. For King & Country is a fantastic band, definitely on the rise. Everytime we take bands on our tour there always bands that we’ve personally liked and wanted to have with us.

“I think it’s important time for fans; they’re the ones who decide whether we continue to make music. It is kind of frustrating on some ways because we spend every last dime we have to put on a show that’s basically over our budget; from a production standpoint they’re pretty crazy. One thing I think is always a struggle is that families will spend $150 on tickets for Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez—but if you’re a Christian artist and you ask for more than thirty dollars it’s outlandish to them. (laughs)

“It’s difficult to find that balance. But I think having kids of my own now, and most of the guys in the band who have kids, we realize what music means to a family. I think many families don’t have many choices these days where the whole family can go to an event together. That’s one of the great things about the music, and that’s why we keep doing it.”

Echo: There’s an upcoming Christian film called “God’s Not Dead” (opening next year) in which the band will have a small role. Newsboys has made a movie before called “Down Under the Big Top” (released straight-to-video in 1996). What’s it like to be in front of the movie cameras again?

Jeff: “I’ll tell you what, acting is way harder than playing. (laughs) The crazy thing about trying to act is that if you’re a musician and you’re playing a show, you have the  feedback from the crowd in front of you to tell you whether it’s good or not. If you’re an actor you’ve got a camera on you and you’re in a room pretty much by yourself with one other person telling you if you did a great job or not. . . it was pretty tough. I felt bad in the one scene we were in because the real actors had to cry, so everytime I messed up my lines she had to cry from scratch again! (laughs) It was pretty funny.

“But it was a great opportunity for us. The “God’s Not Dead” song (one of the band’s biggest hits) has become bigger than life, you know. It’s a book, a movie, all these other things, which is awesome. It was a really fun experience. Yeah, we have a small part in the movie, kind of a cameo. I think it will be a good movie. I still haven’t seen the final cut but I think people will dig it.”

Echo: The band also performed “God’s Not Dead” in the film, correct?

Jeff: “Yeah, one of the main scenes is when the main character comes to one of our concerts (which was filmed in Houston, Texas).”

Echo: So what’s next after “Restart” and the tour itself? Does the band have any big plans coming up?

Jeff: “This tour’s just getting going. It’ll go for another two weeks and then we’ll jump on the Winter Jam tour, which is a big one-day festival tour tour that’ll go up and down the west coast until Thanksgiving. Then we’ll take a few breaks and in January we’ll hit the road again and be out until April or May. For us it’s an all-year-long affair; it never really stops! Just the albums change, the touring never stops. We’ll just keep doing our thing.”

You can purchase Newsboys’ “Restart” on iTunes and on Amazon.com.

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