tête-à-tête: jeffrey kunde

a couple of months ago i started thinking about what i could do with this blog. i have been a little bored. honestly, it sort of makes me sick that people started referring to this as a “gear blog”. gag me. there are way more important things in my life than what volume pedal i’m using.

 so, the thought of having conversations with other musicians came to me. we could talk about life, music, gear, worship, relationships and whatever else we felt like. i started making a mental list of people i could ask. i started to get excited. this is something i think could help people. this is something people might be interested in. i know when i was younger i would have loved to have access to stuff like this. i still would.

first up is my convo with Jeffrey Kunde. Jeffrey is the guitar player for Jesus Culture. we’ve never actually met in person, but we’ve talked for the last year or so on facebook and other internet related social media outlets. he’s really funny, which i appreciate, and he’s really part of something special with Jesus Culture.

and here we go.


Hi Jeffrey.

Hi James

Do you know who I am? 

You are James.

Do you go by Jeffrey or Jeff? JK would also be pretty boss option. If, you know, you were looking for one… kind of a double entendre deal.  

JK kind of makes me feel like I’m a joke… I’m not a joke… but thanks for the idea.  I go by Jeffrey, but people also call me Jeef.  Kind of a childhood thing that stuck.  Do you have a childhood thing that stuck?

Yes. I’m really neurotic and I worry about everything. That kind of stuck from my childhood.  Sometimes people call me Jims. We had a friend in Jacksonville, FL that had the most unreal surfer accent. They all sort of talked the same. I don’t even know were it came from, but once one of them started, the others were not to be outdone. Anyways, this particular friend… let’s call him Jeff (actual name), had a really spectacular accent going on. He would call me James but it sounded like Jims. But it’s actually pronounced somethink like, “jee-ims”. Then it gets southern and it becomes Jims. There we go.

What have you been up to? Traveling a lot?  

Well, May was filled with a lot of travel.  I did two trips with Kim Walker-Smith and her husband Skyler to Boise and to New York.  Those were just local church conference things (I hate the word Gig).  Jesus Culture band also played a few venues in May, the Showbox SoDo in Seattle, and then played at Nokia Theater in LA.  That was fun.  It was sweet to be in a legit venue for a change.  We also just got back from Australia where Jesus Culture band played a few sessions at the Hillsong conference in Sydney.  Other than that I’ve been working on records here and there in Redding, and I built a home recording setup so that I can track electric guitar from my home.   I’ve also been finding myself wandering around the house singing “only the young can break away.. break away.. “ over and over….  Oh and my first music theory book came out in June.  Its been a busy summer.

Are you originally from Redding, CA?


Oh. Cool. You play guitar with JESUS CULTURE. Who/what is JESUS CULTURE and how did you get connected with them?

Well, Jesus Culture basically was an annual youth conference that was birthed out of Bethel church’s youth group.  It’s now a ministry/record label with a full time staff and band.  The Jesus Culture band does a live album every year and tours.  That’s probably what’s most known about the name “Jesus Culture” at this point.  But it’s definitely a full-blown ministry that puts on conferences all over the world. I got connected with Chris back in 2005 when I first moved to Redding to go to the local private college up here.  I had known of him and a few of the guys because my home church (2 hours away from Redding) and Bethel are pretty connected.  I went to all the same winter camps and stuff as Chris and some of the dudes, but had never met them till I came up for college.  Anyway, Chris and I got to know each other that year, and through him I met Ian, Brandon, Fisher and Kim.   The first time I heard of Jesus Culture though was at the recording of the “We Cry Out” record.  I went to that conference to hang out with my girlfriend… who’s now my wife.  The next Jesus Culture conference after that they asked me to play cause the old guitar player had moved away.  And I’ve been playing with them ever since.

Are you a full time musician? If so, how long have you been able to do that?

I’ve been a full time musician since I got out of college in December of 2008.  In college it was more part time, playing often with Jesus Culture or traveling sporadically with Kim, Chris or Brian Johnson (worship pastor at Bethel Church in Redding).  Being a full time musician for me has been a lot of session playing on different albums and then traveling here and there and playing conferences at our home church, Bethel.

What’s your favorite movie?

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. What’s your favorite movie?

“You really think it’s cool for you to hit the sauce with a bun in the oven?”  The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite movie. I’m a huge Wes Anderson fan. I celebrate his entire catalog.  He makes the most beautiful films. And funny.

Yeah, I love them all almost equally.  But the Zissou has my heart.

What is the songwriting process like for JESUS CULTURE? Do the worship leaders come in with the basic song and you write your own parts? How does that typically work?  

Well, it’s not always the same, but always very collaborative.  Often a melody or musical hook could get played during a spontaneous moment during one of our worship sets, and if it gets remembered and liked by one of us, it could be the starting grounds for a new song.  We have a rehearsal spot in a bedroom of Chris’s house, and the band gets together in that room a couple times a year and we write and arrange songs… usually based off of one of these hooks or ideas that someone brings to the table.  We have a “everything goes” attitude, and basically everyone just starts throwing out ideas for vibe, progressions… parts… etc, with the final goal being that everyone in the band is getting goose bumps by the end of the day.  Mostly we’re in charge of writing our own parts in this kind of a setting, but everyone knows its ok to boss each other around a bit too… so it would be un fair to say that everyone’s parts are 100% their own.  This full band setting is mostly for hashing out arrangement, vibe, and parts of the song.  As far as lyric and melody… in the past Chris, Ian and I have had separate writing sessions where the three of us get together and collaborate/solidify the melody and lyrics of the song. “The Medicine” was such a sweet album, and I hear you all are pretty stoked about this next record.  What was the John Mark band’s process for those albums?

We are really proud of how The Medicine turned out and the new record, Economy, is a nice progression. We are pretty excited about it. It’s definitely a new direction but there are still the classic McMillan moments. As far as the creative process, John Mark comes in with the basic song done. Then we work on arrangements and parts together.  For the new record we spent a week doing pre production before we went into the studio so we had basic ideas of what we wanted to do. We recorded that as well, which was nice because I ended up wanting to use a good bit of those guitars on the record.  A lot of times it’s the first couple of times I play a song that has the fire on it. That’s not always easy for me to duplicate. As far as writing guitar hooks, it depends. A lot of the guitar parts I write but JM definitely will come up with ideas that we will use.  Or the producer has a hook that is really good. I’m not too worried about who comes up with a part as long as it’s good.  We all chime in with ideas for guitars, drums, bass and piano. We are all really opinionated so there is never a lack of opinions or ideas.  But we all listen to each other. We are so sweet.

You guys put out a lot of live music. I know from experience that it can be difficult to come up with decent parts for songs when you aren’t super familiar with the music. Sometimes I am pretty embarrassed when I hear a live record I was on where I had only heard the song one time during the rehearsal.  That has happened more than once. Other times I don’t even know people are recording and I will get a cd in the mail. I’m usually too scared to listen to those. Do you guys do a lot of preproduction and work on parts or is it pretty spontaneous?

Haha, I’ve had that happen to me too.  I actually think you and I are on a record together.  It’s probably happened to you more than me though.  Our Jesus Culture records are very pre produced.  We plan out all our arrangements and parts, but with the mindset that we are recording a worship service.. so we try and anticipate in our production which moments of a song will most likely go spontaneous or which moments will stick to our arrangement.  For instance, in our version of “my soul longs”, we planned on Kim wanting to kind of go off and do her thing after the “you’ll come like the rain” chorus.  So between that and the big “let it rain” chorus, we had no idea what was going to happen.  I guess we have all of our parts planned out for the different sections of the songs, but don’t 100% depend on the song going exactly as planned as far as exact arrangement or length.  We’re all really used to playing with each other though, so we’ve become good at reading each others minds and knowing how to follow and anticipate each other in a set.

I didn’t know we are on an album together. How cool.

Yeah. Very cool.

Yeah, I think learning how to anticipate what each other is doing is key to making great music together. I think once you start to develop that and start preferring each other in a musical situation you can just about go anywhere with the music. I love that I know when Lee (JM’s drummer) is going to build something up and without even thinking about it we start building together. Or when Jon (bass/brother) and I play the same thing at the same time and we look across the stage at each other and smile.  Chemistry is important and goes a long way. 

How do you approach writing guitar parts?

I guess I approach writing parts with a what-does-the-song-need mindset.  I like to pay attention to the vibe of the song and melody of vocals… and write parts that compliment that.  It’s hard to say that I have a real “formula” for writing parts.  I guess its more just like, asking myself if this section or that section needs anything, and if it does then I try and write a part that adds to the song and makes it stronger.  My least favorite thing about music is when people play when they don’t need to play.  Playing lead guitar is a lot like singing in a way… I don’t just play random notes or melodies.  I have to be able to hear what I want to play in my head before I sing it, and then I sing it through my guitar.  Everything I do on my instrument I want to be pre meditated.  And from there it’s just experience that helps me decide what parts or melodies will work with the song and what won’t.

That’s basically my approach as well.  I get a lot of questions about this topic, actually. Basically, like you said, it really comes down to listening. Listening for what you can hear in the song that might not already be there or might need reinforcing.  It’s so important to not play to just to play. Especially when I’m in the studio. I’d much rather not have something there than having something that didn’t need to be there.

I also think it’s important to consider my role as a “support” to the song and to the leader, especially in worship music.  I want to make the song sound better.  I want to make Chris’s guitar sound bigger.  I want to help Chris and Kim feel as comfortable and free as possible, so I try and bounce everything I do off of that mindset.  In a way I guess I try and play very controlled, and almost predictable… but then at the same time I’m always trying to push myself to be more creative.  I guess there’s a fine line between “controlled creative playing” and “out of control creative playing”

Exactly. What’s your favorite song to play live? 

“Come away”.  I think the guitar part is pretty cool : )… and I love the message of the song.  I feel like it’s a real appropriate song for the church right now. What about you?

It changes a lot, but with JMM I think it would be new songs called “We Have Seen A Darkness” or   “Murdered Son”.  For one, it’s nice to play new songs, but he also writes the most amazing lyrics and I never get sick of hearing them. “We Have Seen a Darkness” is really fun to play as well.

When did you start playing guitar? What was your first guitar? Lessons or self taught?

 I think I was 12.  I started playing my uncle’s Yamaha acoustic.  I was in a pretty much Christian-music-only family, so I starting learning by listening and playing along by ear to my favorite albums, which were at the time probably The Supertones and Five Iron Frenzy and stuff like that. I started to get real serious about the guitar at about 13 or 14 because I wanted to lead worship, cause cool guys play guitar and sing.  So I started a junior high worship team at my church, and that was my first band experience.  Since then I got stoked about playing guitar and I was in and out of bands in High School.  I guess I’m self-taught, but I kinda chalk my self-taught-ness up to being classically trained on other instruments before I started playing guitar.  So after learning simple chord positions and stuff from my mom, I just started playing by ear those albums.  I had gotten pretty good with music theory from piano lessons by then, so it was pretty easy for me to start learning the fret board and how to build chords and rhythm and stuff.  My first guitar I bought was my ’91 Gibson SG Celebrity.  Its black and white and gold… and makes me look like Angus.  It’s battle worn, and definitely cooler than me. 
What about you? When did you start playing and all that?

I think I was 12 when I started as well. I played my dad’s acoustic that was always around. I took lessons from the guitar player at my church. His name was Rick Bryan and he was my hero. He taught me a lot about theory and stuff but he also taught me a lot about playing in a worship setting. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.  I got my first real guitar when I was 14. It was a White American Standard Fender Stratocaster.  My guitar teacher, Rick, drove me to Orlando to buy it. I still have the receipt. I love that thing. That is the main guitar on the first 2 John Mark records.

Have you ever heard of The Edge?

I’ve heard of John Mayer… same guy?

Not really. Which guitar players have influenced you the most?

I think I’m more influenced by songs or albums as a whole that I love, than by actual guitar players.  I wasn’t old enough to grow up with the influence of guitar shredders of the 70’s and 80’s, and my Dad didn’t play classic rock around the house very often.  So once I really started getting into guitar and buying my own albums, it was all indie stuff.  I think some albums that really helped push me forward and changed the way I think about playing guitar towards the end of my high school years were like, Pedro the Lion “Control” or MeWithoutYou “Catch For Us the Foxes”.   Just like anybody else probably, if I think an album is cool and has nice arrangements, it ends up affecting the way I play.  I’d be lying though if I didn’t say that you’ve definitely influenced the way I play  : )  I used to sit at home with a friend when we were young and watch the “Open up the Earth” dvd.  I thought you were the coolest.  I loved those Jason Upton albums.  I think they are super anointed.  I also love what you’re doing with John Mark.  The guitar playing is pretty fantastic.

Well thank you very much. I didn’t play on Open Up The Earth, but I played on some of his other records, so I will take that compliment.

Ahh.  Well it was definitely you I was watching. But… I guess it probably wasn’t that album.  I get album and song names wrong constantly.

Thanks man. I appreciate that. I learned a lot playing with Jason. He’s a really amazing person.

Ok gear time. What guitars do you use? What about amps?

Well, as far as guitars: a ’91 SG Celebrity, a ’03 Fender American Tele, a ‘0-something Gretsch Duo Jet (I think its an older one, as it has a bigger headstock than most), and a ’82 Fender American Strat.  I also have a Collings 00 mahogany 12 fret acoustic.  As for amps, I have an early 90’s Vox Ac30 6TB (UK made) with vintage 30’s.  I also have a Jackson Ampworks Britain 3.0.  I really love both amps, maybe equally.  I also often play a Matchless DC30, but it’s owned by Bethel.

Any cool new pedals? Is your pedal board constantly changing?

Haha, yeah.  Always changing.  Possibly every three months or so I get stoked on something new, and something has to go.  I’m pretty happy with what I have right now, but I definitely have thoughts of a remodel going through my brain right now… and it involves having a bigger board.  You can check out my fake sissy blog at http://jeffreykunde.wordpress.com   for a run down on my pedal list.   I did just get a new power supply for all my pedals from The Gig Rig that I’m very happy with.  Its cool cause it powers ALL my pedals, even my weird voltage ones.

Do you ever Google yourself?

Bummer question.  Don’t we all?  I try not to more than once a day.

You are such a loser! Just kidding. Everyone Googles themselves.  Except me.  I did google you the other day. Then I googled myself and was immediately jealous that nobody talks about me. 

Ok. Gonna go start a James Duke chat/forum/online thing today.

Someone  just started a James Duke page on Facebook. It has 21 members, most of whom are my friends, and they just joined to laugh at me. Still counts though.

What music are you into right now?  

Well, The National “High Violet” and Brandon Flowers are both getting some heavy rotation on my iPod lately.  But one of my favorite bands is Mew, and especially their latest album has some amazing guitar playing on it that I’m very into.  I’m also a sucker for soft music, so a few albums I’ll pull out regularly are stuff by Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Kings of Convenience or Magnet.  Every once in a while I like to listen to classical music too, most of the time classical piano.  I guess its all those college classes coming back to haunt me.

High Violet is an amazing record. Bloodbuzz Ohio kills me. What a great song. 

Yeah… no kidding.  Chills.

I’m also addicted to the early 90’s currently. The Gin Blossoms and Pearl Jam have been on repeat.
 I love the 90’s.

How long have you been married? How do you juggle your busy schedule with JESUS CULTURE and your family? Is it hard to be gone? 

Kathrine and I got married in August of ’09.  So two years.  We are young and in love and cool.  It’s been a little tough to navigate how to be gone and still stay connected. Skype and FaceTime have definitely helped.  But Jesus Culture doesn’t travel more than two weeks at a time usually, so I’m not the typical touring musician husband I guess.  One thing about being apart that’s cool is that you really figure out how much you love someone.  I feel more in love with my wife when I’m gone, just because I miss her and I realize how much fun we have together when I’m home.  Sorry I’m getting all mushy… I guess it might be a different game though when I have kids.  I hear it makes being gone that much harder.  True?

Yes true.  I grew up with my parents traveling a lot. They are missionaries and have literally traveled all over the world. Both of their fathers were in the military and traveled a lot as well. So it’s sort of in our blood. We are travelers. We travel. So that’s always what I’ve done as well, playing music though. It was an adjustment after I got married.  I’d just take every job somebody would call with and not even think about it. I started getting a little more particular about what I did, just because I can’t be gone constantly. I guess I could, but my family would suffer and that sort of negates what I do and why I leave in the first place. So figuring out how to be gone and make sure my wife feels supported and prioritized is the goal. I’m still learning. What I realized is that while I grew up dreaming about traveling all over the world with my guitar, Jacki grew up dreaming about getting married and having a family. Me not being home every night wasn’t really in that dream. I don’t think it’s in most girls dreams. They usually aren’t wired that way. So it’s definitely something we work on.  I think it’s sort of gotten easier on Jacki and harder on me.  I really hate leaving now. I dread it. I’m usually ok once I leave, but the leaving part is tough.  I really depend on my wife.

Leaving is the worst.  I totally dread it too.  But coming home is so amazing.

That’s true. I actually have this conversation a lot with younger musician friends that are getting engaged and wanting to know how to make it being a touring musician. I ask them how their fiancé feels about them traveling.  They always say, “oh she’s totally fine with me being gone.” I then tell them while their significant other might actually believe that when they say it, it’s usually not going to be the truth.  You don’t get married to be alone.  It’s hard to be left home while your husband or wife is out doing whatever it is we do.  It’s important to be there for them while you are away. It’s definitely something I have to constantly work on.

Yeah, It gets tough.  It’s good to have a wife that supports and encourages what I do… but I’ll always have to guard my marriage, and constantly re-assess how much is too much.

Cool mood I’ve just created. I’m gonna go hug my wife and listen to “Faithfully” from Journey all night long.


So you mentioned you have a theory book coming out? You are so grown up! What kind of stuff are you hitting on in the book? Where can people buy that thing?

I do, well I did.. It came out in June.  It’s called “Music Theory for the Music Industry” and is basically a 30 page pamphlet on basic music theory.  It’s geared towards people who play in bands or on worship teams but don’t really know what notes are in the chords they are playing, or what chords belong in what key signatures.. that sort of thing.  It just helps people understand the music they are playing.  So its very introductory level, and teaches people how to build the major and minor scales, what a key signature is, and how to play the right notes and chords for that key signature.  And through explaining all that stuff, it ends up teaching people how to use The Nashville Number system.  All stuff that is really important to know if you’re in the music industry.  People have mostly been buying it off of my website www.jeffreykunde.com.  Soon it’ll be available on www.jesusculture.com .

Bye Jeef.

Bye Jims.



  1. Dear James, what a great conversation. Laugh out loud funny and full of heart. The ‘family’ part of the discussion was my favorite. Thanks so much for sharing that.

  2. I literally laughed in my head (LLIMH). Such a great convo! You guys are cool and inspirational; humble too! Keep rocking! And, yes, I have goggled both of you plenty of times!

  3. This was a great post.I’m not a guitar player and I learned a lot.This new direction for the blog is really needed by a lot of people like myself.I’ve read your other blog posts,some several times,and it is great to see the heart behind the man who plays so skillfully.In reading blog,I see the correlation between the sacrifice and work you put in and the music you create as a result.But I also clearly see you are operating in what you were designed to do.God created you to do the great things you are doing and you inspire me to do what I was designed for.You do a great job at showing the thoughts,questions,insecurities,wisdom,and even humor that go into living that type of life.Thanks.

  4. Hey man thanks a lot for this! Such a huge blessing rather than gasing I am encouraged and learned a lot from this post! Im recently married and have already started wondering how I am gonna juggle marriage and playing music!
    Thanks Again!

  5. Thanks to my two guitar heroes:) I literally couldn’t have picked to better dudes to have made this interview. I greatly admire both of your work and you are a huge inspiration to me. p.s Jeffery you made my day when you re-tweeted me when I said I was educating myself with your book. I felt important. Thanks

  6. So cool to read that Jeffrey was a fan of ska and later into mewithoutYou! I feel like a kindred spirit! I knew there was something I liked about that guy when I first started getting into Jesus Culture. Also liked the family part of the conversation too. I sorta “gave up” chasing a music career when I got married, but the Lord has been restoring my ability to do what I love by putting me into worship leadership positions within my church and soon hopefully selling our house to move to another town to help plant a new church!

  7. I found this blog by googling you James. You matter partner. What delightful and encouraging dialogue. Thanks for putting in the time.

  8. I am feeling called to go to Bethel church, and I am not sure what God wants me to do with my life, but I am excited. I play the guitar also… I love it. 😛 Someday I may play with you Jeffrey, that would be awesome. 😀

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