tête-à-tête: stu g

Sometimes you get introduced to a band and it changes your life. Delirious was one of those bands. Stu G was the guitar player. His playing changed everything for me. It was beautiful and brash. It was tender and tough. It was perfect. He raised the bar. Big time. The way he constantly evolves as a musician is an inspiration. I met Stu a few months ago when I was in Atlanta recording the new Matt Redman album. We sat and he let me talk for hours about how much I love him… which was quite kind and patient. A couple weeks ago we had another chat. We talked about his day to day life as Stu G, his own inspirations (he saw Queen play Wembley Arena. OMG.), his new album, fuzz pedals and much more.



Hi Stu G. What are you doing?
Right now I’m working on my new EP and all things to do with my PledgeMusic Campaign at the same time as finalizing things for my eldest daughter’s wedding at the end of September…wow time goes fast!

What’s a normal day like for Stu G?
Well everyday can be different but always starts with a coffee, a read and some meditation. I spend my time nowadays either song writing, guitar sessions [in my studio or tracking sessions elsewhere]. occasionally producing, or playing live with an artist. OSS (One Sonic Society) takes some time too, but it’s not a full time commitment.

A typical day in my studio would start around 9am with more coffee and creating a to do list. If i’m co-writing, that would start at 10:00. I try and get home for dinner around 6:00. I’ve done that ever since the kids were born if i’m at home. There is no greater gift than family and eating meals together is really important to me. If I’m not busy in the evening, Karen and i will catch up with whatever TV obsession we have… currently it’s either Breaking Bad or Madmen 🙂

Did you grow up in a musical family?
Both my parents played an instrument but not professionally. Mum [piano] Dad [violin, guitar] So there was always music around. I used to go to my Grandmas and raid my uncles record collection and bang along on upturned saucepans. Once I was aware of Top Of The Pops on the BBC I would grab a tennis racket, pretend it was a guitar, and play along. 

What first drew you to the guitar? What kept you interested?
I was a huge Queen fan and when I heard Queen Live Killers at 16 years old I wanted to be Brian May. My love of music kept me interested as well as the lifelong search for tone, hooks and melodies

Did you play in bands growing up? Any exceptional band names?
Yes I was in a band back in Ipswich [my home town]. It was a christian band playing bars. It was called 33 Across – quite an exceptional name.

After I moved to London I had a band called The Stuart David Band [my two first names] and then The Treasure Park 🙂

33 Across is exceptional! Who is your favorite band?
that would have to be Queen historically and Radiohead currently.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen? And why.
HARD! Historically – The first time I saw Queen at Wembley Arena or Pink Floyd The Wall at Earls Court both in 1980, no explanation needed! More recently – Arcade Fire at the Ryman in Nashville. I’ve never seen more joy exuded by a band performance EVER!

I want to ask you about your writing process. Specifically guitar parts. The thing that really hits me when I listen to you play guitar is that the parts are very catchy. Very memorable and timeless sounding. Then you have a knack for finding the perfect guitar sound for that part. I think often times when I am listening to bands it’s one or the other. What comes first, the melody or the tone? What’s the process like when it’s time to track guitars and write your parts?
Thank you! I think it’s a combination of things. The music that inspires me, the desire to put the song first, years of making music in the studio, basing everything I do from the major scale, being both a rhythm and lead player.

There is always a gut reaction melody that comes to mind, but getting the tone right makes you play less so it always develops at the same time. I hardly ever sign off on parts without collaboration. I am always better when someone else is there, producer or artist, to bounce ideas off.

I remember the first time I heard Glo. Those fuzz guitars and all the crazy noises you made. It shocked me and made me rethink everything I was doing. One thing I liked about that album was the guitar sounds were so aggressive but the guitar parts were very melodic and pretty. So it created a really cool tension. Who were some of your influences as far as the more experimental guitar sounds you were going for?
Well the producers were an influence, Chuck Zwicky, Lynn Nichols and Tedd T. I was listening to a lot of Billy Corgan combining that with an Edge like melodic sense. It just kind of evolved. ZVEX pedals were also to blame and the Line6 DL4 had just come out 🙂

You have a rather large discography now. What are some of your guitar performances over the course of your career that you are especially proud of? Are there any that stick out to you? 
I think my work on Mezzamorphis, Glo and AudioLessonover were really defining for me and I’m proud of that. Any time we played live in Southern California or London pulled the best out of me too. So I think back to shows at The Greek Theatre and Shepherds Bush Empire specifically. I love what I did on the first two OSS eps and on my new EP OF Burdens Birds And Stars

You are making a solo record! Tell me all about it!
Yes It’s called Of Burdens Birds And Stars and is a collection of 6 new songs written in the time since Delirious finished up to the present day. These are stories and observations of my time of transition and include a love song, a prayer for a friend, therapy from relationship failings, a song for my youngest daughter when she left home for a year traveling. a real mixture of styles and sentiments. They don’t fit into OSS or anything else I’m involved in and once a few friends heard them, they encouraged me to get them out there. These are not songs to sing in church they’re just songs. I’m not trying to be cool, trendy, mainstream, alternative or anything else i’m trying to be honest and obedient to my story, and maybe these songs can help other people with their story. I’m nearly done recording, but ran out of money to mix and master so I’m running a PledgeMusic Campaign to help me finish it. I’ve never done anything like this before and really enjoying the social media interaction. This is a new day for me and I’m really excited about getting this out there

I’m really excited to hear it. What’s happening with your band One Sonic Society?
We remain busy with playing at conferences and churches. We are writing some new songs right now too. We’re talking about the next year or so and looking at how it’s going to look. We all have an influence and are involved with many different worship leaders and movements. It’s a privilege to remain a part of writing and influencing the church in terms of songs and music. Jason and Paul are my biggest supporters and friends. We have some history now, and I have to recognize it as a God connection… I’m both lucky and blessed 🙂

Who are some bands and guitar players that you are really into right now?
Anything Jack White, Blonde Redhead, The new Jars Of Clay record Inland is amazing, All Sons And Daughters, The Brilliance, Loud Harp, Radiohead, Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins is a great record as is The Next Day by David Bowie

Ok, well you are Stu G, so I need to talk to you about some guitars and amps and pedals and things. What’s your favorite guitar that you own? What is the guitar you find yourself using the most in the studio and live?
Ugh! That’s hard. I think it would have to be my Cherry sunburst Les Paul Standard from the 90s. This was my mainstay for most of the Delirious years. It’s the best Les Paul I’ve ever played. Next in line would be my ’66 Gretsch duo jet, Then my ’79 Strat. Live I use my Duesenberg Star TV player most. It’s kind of a mixture of Les Paul and Gretsch, but is a newer, well built guitar that I don’t mind flying with in a Mono gig bag.

If you had to choose just one amp, what would it be?
My ’76 Park 50w combo it’s incredible!! Made by Jim Marshall in a time where his distributor Rose Morris only wanted certain designs, he made these and sold them through a store in Birmingham England 

Ok, and what are some pedals that have caught your attention recently?
Earthquaker Devices are amazing. I have just got The Organizer, Bit Commander and Hoof Reaper. They are a little like Zvex in as much as you need to be ready to experiment and expect the unexpected. 

I am proud to have relationship with both DMB and JHS pedals. both these guys make really solid and useful tools for the guitar player. They both make extraordinarily good delay pedals in the Lunar Echo and Panther Delay respectively well worth checking out their range of stuff.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Apart from “don’t eat yellow snow”? 

That’s great advice! Anything Else?
I think it would be “don’t strive to be who you are, help others be who they are” this came at a time when i was trying to figure out life after D?

What advice can you offer to aspiring guitar players?
Hold on to your dreams, work hard, practice, learn the major scale in every key in all 7 positions. Finally prayer works… it’s the only thing that can change circumstances when we have done everything physically possible.

Thank you, Stu. Bye.
THANK YOU! byebye


tête-à-tête: andy othling

I’d like you to meet my friend Andy Othling.
I met Andy a few years ago on tour in Albuquerque, New Mexico. i remember he had a really fancy pedalboard. He was the first person that I saw with Strymon pedals. Anyway… We met again through the internet and have stayed in touch for the last couple years. He has an ambient project he calls Lowercase Noises. His album Passage is one of my favorite records. He’s really smart and funny and a really hard worker. He’s also a great musician. Read our conversation then check his music out.

Hi Andy.
Hi James.

What are you doing?
I just ate some cold pizza!

Gross. Happy New Year?
Ha. Yes. Happy New Year.

Why is that funny?
I always chuckle at your addition or omission of ironic punctuation.

How many songs do you write in a day?
Like a hundred. But most all of them are terrible.

You played guitar with Future of Forestry on their last couple of tours. How was that?
It was awesome. The first tour was just on the west coast, which was awesome but I’d been to lots of those places before. This time we went way east, so I got to see lots of the country that I’d never seen before. Plus I totally love all the guys we toured with. It was so much fun.

You played few different instruments on that tour. What all were you playing? Did anything go terribly wrong during a show?
Yeah. I played guitar (duh), keyboard, vibes, bells, harmonium and some cymbals. And I did some vocals. Oh and a stand up kick drum.I think the worst thing that happened for me was in one of the songs I have to start the click on my computer a little ways into it. But this time I completely forgot. Eric (the singer) finished his part and other guy was holding out a harmonium note and they were just staring at me and I couldn’t figure out why. I just stood there like an idiot waiting for them. Eventually I started the click and the song went on. Luckily, from the crowds perspective, it probably looked like Eric’s fault.
I’m sure he appreciated that. Speaking of spacing out, One time I was in Brazil (humble brag) and I had an allergy attack on the way to the church we were about to play, so my friend gave me some allergy medicine. I took 2. immediately after that he said, “yeah take one and put one in your pocket for tomorrow”. I said “I took them both”, to which he replied: “YOU TOOK BOTH?!?!?!”. The next thing I remember is hearing “earth to James”. I snap out of it and look around and I am standing on stage, with my guitar in the middle of worship. I looked over at my friend and he whispered “start the song”. I remember nothing before that. Nothing. I had to ask him what song he wanted me to start. Cool pills.

That’s even better than my story.

It’s not a competition, Andy.

Too bad it didn’t look like someone else’s fault though. I also jumped off a kick drum (humble brag) and twisted my knee and fell over and knocked Eric over. But that ruled.

Tell me about your Ambient Songs series.
It all really started for me with YouTube videos. I started doing the Ambient Songs series because I was frustrated with songwriting. They helped me simplify and get some good ideas down. Those started to kind of take off, and people started asking me lots of questions.

Which lead to you blogging.
Yeah. The blog is really there to try to answer people’s questions on a larger scale. Lately I’ve really turned the focus of the blog to songwriting tips and advice on self promotion, because those are the biggest questions I get.

What’s the funniest comment you’ve gotten on youtube.
I made a video announcing that I was doing the Future of Forestry tours, and I had one guy say something like “how could you do that to your family??” as if the video was also my announcement to my wife that I was leaving and that we hadn’t already been discussing it for months. That gave me a good laugh.

I never watch YouTube. Ever. I mean, I have watched a couple of your videos, but that’s about it. A lot of people watch your ambient songs. Have you found that posting your videos to YouTube help your album sales?
Yeah, it definitely does. I sort of “started out” on YouTube, so that’s still where my biggest fanbase is. And a large majority of people who sign up for my blog tell me that they discovered me through YouTube.

Actually I did just watch a YouTube video last week where these two kids are speaking german or something and then they walk over to a table, rip the tablecloth off, one boy falls back and hits an entertainment center and it falls over on top of him. I laughed.
I know the one of which you speak. I laughed too.

I think it was fake.
See, I thought that too. But then that seemed like too much destruction to be fake? Maybe you just watched it too many times in a row.

I think you should make more videos. This one made me laugh.

We just talked about YouTube for a long time. Wow. Should we talk about gear?
Probably. Here’s a picture of the pedalboard I used on the Future of Forestry tour. I also used a Boomerang III looper that you can’t see. For amps I run stereo into a Matchless Chieftain and Clubman. I put the cab for the Clubman on the other side of the stage, so it sounded huge in stereo. My main guitar is a parts Telecaster with Antiquity pickups in it. I’ve got a Gretsch Country Classic Jr and a ‘78 Tele Deluxe that both rule too.

Are you still loving your new Badcat? It looks so awesome. And it’s named after your daughter.

It’s a cool amp! about 5 hours ago I put some new tubes in it. I put a Dario Miniwatt rectifier tube in it. Also a Phillips EF86 and some old Yugoslavian 12AX7’s in. All NOS. Blah Blah Blah. But I will plug in it tomorrow and see how it sounds. I never get to play guitar at home. Stetson hates loud noises.
That rules. On the fall tour with Future of Forestry I came across this massive bin of NOS tubes stashed in this random church office. I guess the worship pastor had a friend who was an old radio guy and he just gave him all these tubes. I bought four 12AX7s off him. But I haven’t even tried them yet. Maybe they’re awesome.

Luckily my kids are cool with me being loud. They even sleep through it right next door.

You just quit your job.

Tell me about it.

Well, the goal was always to quit my job and do music full time. So my wife and I were preparing for that. But when I told my manager about the second Future of Forestry tour, they basically told me that I had to choose between keeping my job and doing the tour. So I quit and did the tour. It happened earlier than we were planning, but I think it’s gonna work.

I know we talked about that several times over the last couple years. I remember telling you not to quit your job. But I am proud of you.
Yeah, I remember that. I wanted to quit for a long time. But it wasn’t the right time. THANKS JAMES. If I could put the crying emoji in here I would.

Tell me about your new record.
It’s called Passage. It’s five songs. I wrote and recorded it all in the four weeks between finding out that I had to quit my job and leaving for tour. I tried to capture both my excitement and sheer terror of my new situation. It’s lots of swirly, verby guitars, but I used lots of banjo and other things this time around.

It’s really pretty.
Thanks. So is the new ATBL. Am I allowed to tell people that I’ve heard it? And when is it even coming out?

You may tell people you’ve heard it. At least people will actually believe we have a new album. It’s coming out… soon.
Good. It’s good.

Thank you. Do you find it hard to keep a consistent song quality when releasing a lot of music? How do you keep yourself accountable.
Yes and no. I feel like the more I do it the better I get at it. So that helps. But there’s also a little more pressure each time to try to do better than before. I try to be honest enough with myself about the good and the bad in my songs so that they’ll always come out better next time.

What do you have coming up? What will we see you doing this year?
Well, my wife and I have our third baby due at the end of February. And I’ve written music for each of my other kids, so I’ve kind of set the precedent and will be doing that for this little guy as well. I’m also going to be doing a lot of work on my blog trying to help people learn how to write, record and promote their music all on their own. And hopefully I can release another full length album by the end of the year. That would be swell.

What about Lowercase Noises shows? Are you going to play live this year?
Oh man, I’ve done that a few times and it was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know. I do most all the instruments myself, so I’d either have to get a few guys together and coordinate all that or figure out a way to cover a bunch of stuff myself without making it boring. I’m open to the idea but I haven’t thought up a good way to do it without going crazy. Probably not this year. But maybe. I don’t know.

Do you play at church?
I do. I haven’t played a whole lot the past 6 months or so because of touring and lots of other stuff, but yes.

Do you like playing at church?
I like it in the sense that I get to serve others by playing my guitar. I like when people tell me that my playing helped them worship. But I really struggle with a lot of the cultures and mindsets within worship music. I feel like there’s a lot of settling for mediocrity that goes on, and I don’t like that. I guess in a nutshell I’m glad to play occasionally, but I’m glad that my “career” isn’t based on playing at church or being part of the larger worship music scene.

Who are some of your musical influences?
When I was in high school I was all about Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I wanted to shred so hard. But eventually I got sick of that kind of playing. When I started college a friend gave me a copy of El Cielo by dredg, and I freaking loved it. It’s still my favorite album of all time. Their guitarist Mark has this absolutely massive sound that I fell in love with. From there I discovered post rock and ambient music, my biggest influences there being Hammock (especially the Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow album) and Riceboy Sleeps by Jonsi and Alex.But the first song that I ever fell in love with was Changes by Bowie.

How much do you love his new single?

I love his new single! I love Bowie. His music feels so important, if that makes sense. When I listen to Bowie I feel like I’m being allowed into a different world. Or whatever. Yes. I love him.
I agree. I’m glad we get to hear some more.

If you could write a song with anyone, who would it be with?
If I got put in a room with Josh Scogin and Skrillex I think we could come up with something pretty cool. (I’m not even kidding)
But for real, I would love to get together with you and Frodo. I don’t know what it would sound like, but I think whatever we made would rule.

What is Post Rock? Are you Post Rock?
Post rock is Explosions in the Sky. Everyone knows them, right? To me I feel like it always has full percussion and lots of big dynamic crescendos. I wouldn’t say I’m post rock. But I dunno. People can call it whatever they want. I just want to make music that they can feel.

Are you Post Rock?

No. I don’t know. No.

I made up a genre name one time. “Motivational Rock”.
That sounds great. But maybe too happy. I’d go for the “Demotivational Rock” where you are crippled by a debilitating sadness.

Bye Andy.
Bye James.

tête-à-tête: taylor johnson

i’ve got some great convo’s coming this year. first up is Taylor Johnson. If you don’t know who taylor is, you are missing out. he plays with phil wickham and among others. he is an outstanding guitar player. he’s also a really nice guy. i met him a couple years ago in los angeles on the david crowder tour. i recently got in touch with him to ask him some advice on some things. not only did he take the time to talk to me, he had a lot of insight and really encouraged me.  so i asked him if he’d be up to chat on my blog. he said yes, obviously. taylor has some really good stuff to say and great advice to share. enjoy.
Hey Taylor.
Howdy James.

Where are you?
I’m in LA working on some music and living in great weather.

What have you been up to lately?
I’ve been on the road and tracking/writing for the most part of the last year.
Did some touring this fall with Phil Wickham, Robert Schwartzman, and Kate Earl.
Now I’m concentrating on pulling this loose tooth in the form of an original project with some friends of mine that I’ve had for awhile.  Very excited about some stuff on the bubble. Writing a bit too.

What’s this original project you speak of?
It’s called Dallas. My friends Tyler and Josh and I have been writing a lot the last few years together.  We tracked a bunch of stuff last year with some good folks in LA, Manny Marroquin and a producer named Malay, but have decided to run with it ourselves now seeing that we are geographically challenged (our singer lives in Texas).  We are all excited.

What’s the best guitar?
Trini Lopez

On a scale of 1-10 how much do you love U2?
I love certain songs of theirs. You know I didn’t get into them until the All That You Can’t Leave Behind era?

A little late to the game, but that’s a good record to acquaint yourself with.
I like that record because it introduced me to Daniel Lanois when I was 16.  My favorites off that record were “Kite”. Sheesh, what a song! And “When I Look At The World” (currently teaching my fiance how to play the solo on that tune.  She likes the idea of playing one note and rocking the whammy!)
It was not cool to like U2 growing up.  As a young guitar player the Edge was average at best amongst my friends.  Guitar at that age was more of an athletic competition than musical.
Those songs still make the hair on the back of my neck stand up at the production and parts and tones and energy.  Not the biggest Bono fan but he can sing.

Yeah. Kite is my favorite song of that record as well.  The first time I heard that guitar solo I didn’t know what to do with myself. So good. The solo for When I Look at the World is also one of my favorites. I’ve definitely ripped off that delay sound a few times. And I love Daniel Lanois with all my heart.

Who are your favorite guitar players?
David Grissom and Andy Summers.
David Grissom is responsible for my interest in country guitar.  If it weren’t for him I would have never started hybrid picking which there’s no going back on now.  Listen to the Joe Ely record “Live at Liberty Lunch”.
Andy Summers, from the Police, shaped my playing and ear a ton.  He would be responsible for a lot of my tendencies from note choice, chord voicings, phrasing, use of effects.

Both of these legends are great examples of how to be a standout player behind a great singer with good songs.  Vocals, Guitar, Bass, and Drums…
go! They nail it.

Speaking of being a standout guitar player, What are some important aspects you feel get overlooked by a lot of guitar players right now?
My dad is a songwriter.  Before I ever got into how a guitar sounded I was asked to play parts. This was very early on as a player.  I’d play with my dad who’s a pianist and he’d go “Taylor, why don’t you start this song?”, putting me in the hot seat at a young age.  So, I had to come up with something hooky and melodic in a matter of seconds because he thought guitar would sound good at the beginning.  (At this point I had a strat and a marshall valvestate so it better be a good part ‘cause I had no clue how to use effects!) It stretched me a lot without even being too aware of how much he was asking of me as a musician.
He also used to train my ear before I played guitar.  We’d be in the car when I was 12 and he’d go “what chord is that?” and I’d have to pick out the 1, 4, 5, minor 6 chord by ear.  That helps and it was fun.

Fast forward to doing this as a job and I’ve found that it’s now ingrained in me.  Thanks, Dad.
Legendary songs have legendary parts, something signature.  It gets people going. Beatles songs have a lot of them (day tripper, paperback writer, please please me)

One of the first ones I wanted to learn was the figure at the beginning of the Billy Joel song, “big shot”.  So cool!
That’s not to say every song needs a guitar riff or hook, but something signature is great. It can be a tone, a drum beat (nirvana’s “scentless apprentice is a rad example), the bass, whatever!

The first professional band I was in was with Robbie Seay.  I was 19 and had no gear.  A strat and a VHT pitbull with a tubescreamer and a wah pedal. I had no clue what tap tempo delay was or what a Twin Reverb even sounded like.  Within my first 4 months of playing with him I had to play on a live record in front of thousands of people.  Live in the sense of no overdubs later, at all. I wanted to make sure I had a signature part for every song.  It gives the band another voice.  

How old were you when you started playing guitar. Do you play any other instruments?
I was almost 15 when I started.  Before that I was borrowing a drumset from a friend whose family was in between houses and fell in love with Weezer.  I learned the drum parts for every song on the Blue record.  When they found a house about 4 months later I had to give it back.  My dad plays piano but had an acoustic guitar so he put me in group guitar lessons.  I went all in and tried to learn the theme song from the movie “That Thing You Do” cause I thought those guitars and that song were amazing. Piano a bit as a kid and in music college. Anyone can play bass, right?

Right. What was your favorite record of 2012?
Synthetica by Metric.
Really like Jake Bugg’s EP too.  He’s got this Paul Weller thing happening.

Mine was Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
That was released in 1973. Come on, James.

My answer stands. What’s your favorite era of music?
Undoubtedly the time when the Beach Boys and Beatles were neck and neck as to who was writing the best songs in pop history.
The Who are incredible.  1969 might be the best year in music

I watched you play at Big Church Day Out with Phil Wickham. Why are you so good?
Jet Lag

How did you get started doing what you are doing now?
My family.  They encouraged me to go out and play when all I wanted to do was stay at home and listen to Pinkerton.

Ok, so what does your guitar rig look like right now?
I use my Gretsch a lot. It’s a small guy, country classic junior.  I have a handful of others laying around and actually pick up my strat more often than ever.
Pedals I look at a little differently.  I am not into geeky hour long conversations about this overdrive or that delay.  Fulltone overdrive, Boss verb/vibrato/delay, Strymon delay, and that Diamond tremolo are what’s on my board.
I run my amp hot.  For example, if you were using a deluxe reverb or fender type amp like that I tend to keep it on 8.  AC30 or 15 I run at about 2 o’clock, and so on…
I learned this from David Grissom.  The theory is you use all the amp you can and if you have a good enough guitar its going to clean up nicely with your volume knob/pedal.  The cleans sound better when the amp is being run hot.  It’s also an “oh crap” technique that I learned from playing festivals with little to no soundcheck.  When your board goes down you better have a fat sound coming from the amp! When you run your amp hot, a good tube amp, then this or that overdrive doesn’t really make too much of a difference. Feels way better.

I don’t run my amp all that hot. Mostly because If it starts breaking up all my stuff doesn’t sound right. And I’m too shy. But, I do love the way a cranked amp sounds on other people.
Yeah, there’s nothing like squashing an old AC30 to 10 with a rad guitar.  I just don’t get off on pedals like some people do.  I have a semi packed effects board but it’s cause I play with a variety of people.  I don’t want to have to remember overdrive settings and all that on pedals.
I have a few things I do when I’m plugging into an amp that’s new to me (rental amps, etc…) to get it where I want.  It doesn’t take long.  It’s gotta feel right and have some attitude.  You can always clean it up with your volume knob or pedal.  At that point your clean sound is still hitting those EL84s or 6V6s you spent an arm and a leg to use! When your amp is run low I feel like you aren’t getting all you can out of it.  

Do you love Frodo, or what?
You know it.  I think he’s one of the kindest, most hard working dudes I know.  He’s got a lot of drive for such little legs.  

What advice can you give to aspiring musicians who want to be doing what you do for a living.
Create and work hard.  Play often.  Love God and love people and you’re good to go!

Bye Taylor…

tête-à-tête: Daniel Carson

in honor of the new year i have a new convo for your reading pleasure.

daniel carson is the guitar player for chris tomlin. if you play guitar in a church on sundays, chances are you’ve played some of his guitar parts.

i run into daniel a couple times a year and he’s always so great to talk to. he’s a really sweet guy. very humble and kind, and he always sounds and plays great. he, along with the rest of the chris tomlin band have made a huge contribution to the church. it’s pretty amazing to think about.  he says some really thoughtful things and gives us some great advice.



Hi Daniel.

Hi James!

Hi Daniel! What are you doing?

At the moment, I am sitting on our tour bus in Charleston, West Virginia. We are on a tour w/our Pastor, Louie Giglio, and Christy Nockels.

How’s it been going? Been busy?

It was a really great, but pretty busy Summer, and now we are in the middle of a Fall tour. We took about a 7 or 8 week break after the Summer. Chris and his wife, Lauren, were having a baby so we had some time off! As you know, you get kind of used to the swing of things on the road…kind of get into rhythm where you almost never fully unpack your suitcase! It’s definitely not a normal lifestyle, but I wouldn’t trade it! I like the ebb and flow of traveling and being home. We are making significant efforts to be home in Atlanta for Sundays at Passion City Church.

Does the band practice/rehearse?

More than we used to! It sounds like a funny thing to say… I’ve been in the band for 11 years now and I feel like we practice more now than ever. I think we used to travel SO much that all of our rehearsal time was spent at soundchecks. That probably sounds familiar?

Yes. Definitely. We never practice. Well not never… but we never practice.

But now that our schedule is a little more manageable, we practice more. Also, we have a studio space now so that really helps us. Mostly we rehearse when we have new songs to learn for an album or for Passion/Church. Also, we always rehearse before every tour.

Your guitar playing has made a really big impact on the church and the worship movement as a whole. You’ve written dozens of guitar lines that are played every single Sunday in churches all over the world! That’s pretty cool to think about! One thing I’ve noticed about your playing is that your guitar parts are very concise and sing-alongable (I just made that word up). What is your process for coming up with your guitar parts when you are in the writing/recording phase of an album?

Wow, those are some nice things to say! I’m not sure how to respond exactly… If I can, I try to approach writing parts from a songwriting standpoint. I don’t want to play anything that will mess up the song! I must say, I have one major advantage when it comes to writing parts for songs, and that is that Chris an amazing songwriter. But it’s still a process that you always wrestle with… or at least for me it is. Sometimes, you get the sense that God has really marked a specific song with something special and so I want to be careful not to mess up what is already great about the song, if that makes sense? Like when Chris plays us a song on the acoustic or piano and you hear it for the first time and it really moves you… THAT is what I want it to feel like even when we start to arrange the song. As far as guitar parts being concise and “sing-alongable” (I’m okay with made up words. Makes me feel better about my grammar.) I try and keep in mind that at this particular moment in time, God has given Chris a lot of favor in the worldwide Church. So as a result of that, one reality is that guitar players of all ages and skill levels might be playing these songs in their Church. It’s a crazy thing to think about, but we all try and keep that in mind. Also, it’s a preference thing… I usually think if I am worshipping to this music at a Church/Conference/Concert, etc…what melody would pump me up? What would I want to hear!? I would also say that most of my favorite guitar players and guitar parts/solos are usually something I can sing when I hear the song, you know? I never considered myself much of a “solo” guy…never much of a shredder haha, but I love it when I see a band and the musicians play their parts with conviction! That’s what fires me up! I don’t want anyone to ever see us lead worship and think to themselves, “that guy looks bored.” My posture and approach to leading should mirror what we are singing about!

What is the dynamic like when you are in the studio recording a record? What’s the process for recording and coming up with parts and hooks and all that?

Sometimes the songs already have some parts that we have come up with along the way. So if we have been leading it at church or something then maybe some parts have already made their way into the songs. I try not to stay married to any of the parts we initially come up with because it’s all subject to change. That being said, sometimes your first instinct is the best one! One example would be the song Our God. We were working on some demos in the studio getting ready for Passion 2010 in Atlanta. Chris had put together a team of writers and we had all written and written and were finally demoing a bunch of those songs. So when were working on that one, Nathan Nockels and I were both on electric and I just started playing the first thing that came to me when we were running the song for the first time as a band. Nathan joined in with a lower guitar part, and the combination of both electrics seemed exciting to all of us and it just kinda stuck! haha… Seems too simple, but that was how it happened. We just played what felt natural to the song and the song just kinda took on a life of it’s own! It’s weird to think about now, since we have played it so much in the last 2 years, but it was a relatively simple process. That definitely is not always the case. This last year we were working on a song called All My Fountains while getting ready for Passion, and that was one that we wrestled with for a long time before it finally had the right personality. So sometimes it takes a while! Once again though, as far as parts go, it’s usually the simple parts that seem to win. They are the ones that fire up my bandmates the most. I try and watch their responses to guitar parts. They have great instincts so I try and trust those around me as much as I can!

How did you get to where you are today? How did you meet Chris?

I started playing guitar when I was about 14. My Dad is a guitar player and a Worship Leader as well. He was always leading somewhere and playing guitar around the house, but I never really cared until was in Junior High. That happened to be the same time that Chris started leading every summer at the youth camp that I went to with my youth group. My Dad, who was a former Youth Pastor, knew a lot of the different worship leaders and youth pastors at that camp. Chris and I grew up only a few hours from each other in East Texas, and in those parts a lot of the musicians, speakers, etc kind of all knew each other. So Chris continued to lead every Summer that I was in school. So when I got into High School I was getting more serious about guitar and had bought an electric and started playing non-stop in my bedroom. I taught guitar lessons to kids in my youth group and used the money to buy better and better gear! haha… Of course! So by the time I was going into my senior year of high school i had a decent guitar rig and was practicing all the time. About 2 weeks into my Senior year of High School, Chris called my parents (I didn’t have a cell phone then. Yes, I graduated High School without a cell phone…it was 2000. That’s how we did it then!) and asked if I could come out on the road with the band! It was crazy. I had gotten to know Chris and some of the band guys over the years at that youth camp, but it was still very unexpected since I was only just starting my Senior year! So, I hit the road with the guys and when I graduated, I moved to Houston where they were living at the time. I must say quickly that a lot times younger guitar players will ask me, “how do I do what you do?” And it’s not that it’s a bad question, but I would say that over the years I have been very encouraged by some people around me to “run in my own lane.”

 Who is the best guitar player in the world, and why?

Haha! How in the world do you answer that!?

As truthfully as you can!

I guess it’s a preference thing, huh?

I mean… I guess so…

I’ve never been too interested in speed guys… I like players who lean more towards melody and tone. So I would be tempted to say The Edge. His influence is so massive that it seems too obvious of an answer, but I don’t know how not to mention him. One of my favorite players to watch at the moment is Keith Urban. Whether you like his music or not, that guy OWNS the guitar when he plays. He plays with a lot of passion and plays very memorable solos with great tone. Pretty amazing.

What was your first guitar? What is your favorite guitar that you own?

My first guitar was a ’95 Fender Strat Plus. It has the Lace Sensor pickups in it. Great guitar! I had a friend who had one and I really looked up to him so I bought an exact copy of everything he owned! haha… I bought the exact same strat…same year, same color, same everything. I bought all of the pedals he had…  Ernie Ball volume pedal, tube screamer, blues driver, Boss dd-5, and some others. He also introduced me to the BBE Sonic Maximizer. It was a small half rack unit thing that he bought for his acoustic but then ended up on his pedalboard. I tried his and bought one of those as well! Ever since then, I have had one on my board. Can’t seem to get rid of that pedal! My favorite guitar that I own is my ’74 Fender Telecaster. It’s just a simple single coil straight up Tele, but it’s kind of home base for me. I use it as a control. I know exactly how it should sound so any pedal/amp, etc all get the Tele test. Also, it seems to be the first thing i grab in the studio. That thing is all over all of Chris’s records. It records really well.

What is the first thing you want to do when you get home from a long tour?

Well, being a Texan, I am passionate about my Mexican food! So I try and make it to my favorite Mexican place Nuevo Loredo in Atlanta as much as I can! One thing that I think Atlanta does really well is Breakfast, so I always hit up my breakfast spots! Flying Biscuit, Highland Bakery, etc…

 You stay really busy playing for Chris Tomlin. Do you do other gigs/session stuff when you aren’t on the road or recording?

I do some recording for projects here and there. I do a lot more of that in Atlanta than I did back in Austin. Nathan Nockels produces a lot of stuff here in Atlanta so I end up getting called in to work on stuff for him from time to time. I always love any opportunity to record in the studio. I feel like it makes you so much better as an overall musician. I like seeing how different producers work too. It teaches you that there really are so many approaches that get great results. It’s fascinating.

Have you met anybody super famous or influential to your life that made you freak out and act all nervous and weird?

You’re going to make me sound like a name dropper! But since you did ask, because of an unusual set of circumstances, I got to be in the same very crowded room that Coldplay happened to be in. So there was a tiny window of opportunity to talk to Jonny Buckland and so I spoke to him! I kind of surprised myself, actually, haha. That band has played an important role in my musical journey. Parachutes came along at a time when my ears were in need of a refreshing sound and it was love at first listen for me. So because he had a massive impact on my guitar playing I felt like i had the right to tell him so!

Me – “Hey Jonny. I just wanted to meet you. My name is Daniel. I love your guitar playing. The way you play has changed the way I think about guitar. You’ve been a big inspiration!”

Jonny – “Wow, man… thanks a lot. That really means a lot.”

Me – “I don’t want to take up any of your time. Just wanted to say ‘Thanks’ for all you do. Have a great night!”

That was pretty much the whole conversation. He was really nice. And much taller than me.

That’s a good one!

I think everyone has the concert or album that totally blows his/her mind and changed the way they play and think about music. What was that for you? (it can be more than one)  

Well, I sort of jumped the gun a little on this one by talking about Parachutes in the previous question. I think Delirious’ Cutting Edge album was a huge revelation moment for me.

Do you practice the guitar? If so, what kind of stuff do you work on?

The time I spend on my own with a guitar in hand is usually spent rehearsing/writing for new songs or trying out new sounds and combinations at home. I try to write a lot so most of my practice time is spent writing songs! I guess if I was going to work on something else I would pull out a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers dvd and learn some Mike Campbell licks or something. Then next time we’re at soundcheck I’ll act like I’ve always known how to play You Wreck Me.

Have you ever messed up so bad on stage that you wanted to crawl under the drum riser and cry and/or die? Any really great trainwreck/we just ruined that song stories?

Of course! It happens all the time. It’s the worst when you mess up a guitar part you have played hundreds (maybe thousands?) of times in your  life. It happens though. It will occur to me sometimes in the middle of a song that I’m not thinking about what my hands are doing. And the very thought that I’m NOT thinking about what I’m doing freaks me out and I usually will short circuit for a second and mess up. One time when we were walking on stage at a conference the monitor engineer handed us all the wrong packs. So we all had each other’s mixes. It was awful. It was in Houston at a Worship Together Conference. I remember thinking of course this would happen when there are a room full of musicians listening. If you ask anyone in our band what was our worst night ever, they will all tell you about that night. Nothing blew up or caught on fire…. it’s not even a cool story. We just sounded really bad that night! REALLY bad.

What is your most favorite city?

I love New York. It’s an obvious answer, but it’s always a favorite. I love the diversity and the seemingly endless options. I also love Austin. We lived there for a number of years and it will always be a favorite for me. Especially if it’s not June, July or August.

Does your pedal board change a lot?  Do you have any new exciting things on there?

It doesn’t change drastically. I am pretty much always running my Fulltone Fulldrive 2 as my main overdrive. I like having a boost option and a compressor option which right now are the Box of Rock and Diamond Compressor. I am always trying out a second overdrive. I have used the Rat, AC Booster, Hot Cake and most recently a Tube Screamer to try and fill that position. I always seem to come back to the Fulldrive though. Just feels like home for me. One thing that I have on there that is somewhat new for me (in the last 2 years) is the Line 6 Echo Park. I had been using the DL4’s for years, but I got tired of them constantly breaking on the road (and they take up so much space!) so I went out and bought the echo park and I can’t stop using it now! I love the sound it gets. I leave it on probably 80% of the time now! It has a great mod to it, and the repeats are nice and warm. I use it more like a subtle, underneath everything else kinda texture. It’s never my main delay for anything rhythmic really.

Do you love it when you are playing on stage and your signal dies and you frantically (while still trying to act casual) try to figure out which stupid pedal or cable is messed up?

Doesn’t everyone!? It’s the worst! I ALWAYS use 2 amps for this very reason! I like to know if my signal dies in both amps that I can immediately eliminate the amp as a possible suspect. I have been using a true bypass looper which i feel like keeps your problems a little more isolated. This way you can troubleshoot a little easier and bypass the bad pedal/connector. However, you can never fully be safe I guess. The worst is when a camera guy trips over the power supply to your amps/pedalboard and you lose signal and everyone in the band looks at you like “there he goes again with more pedalboard problems!” haha. There was this one time when we were playing a song at a church in Houston and the fire alarm went off in the building and IMMEDIATELY Chris shot me this glare on stage as if to say, “whatever just happened with your pedals, FIX IT!” haha… I had no way to explain to him from across the stage that it wasn’t me so I just kept playing. It was on a really soft, quiet song too. As if I would choose that moment to reach down on my board and try a cool new trick and make a really loud wacky noise! haha He looked so confused! I was young though, so the chances of me choosing the wrong moment to try a new pedal trick were a little more likely.

Lately i have been thinking of just having a couple of custom length cables just sitting loose on my board at all times stretched from my volume pedal over to my overdrive and then to a delay and that’s it. That way if something goes bad I could quickly make a tiny pedalboard. Even then it’s never fully fail proof.

What amps are you using now?

Vox AC30 TB/6 and a Matchless SC-30

Do you ever touch the volume or tone knobs on your guitars?

I almost never mess with the volume knob. I use my volume pedal to clean my signal up instead. In fact, I do this a lot! I almost never turn my overdrive off. I just pull the volume pedal down to clean it up as much as I want to in that moment. I run my volume pedal first in the chain which allows me to do that. As far as the tone knob, I actually do mess with that a lot! I almost never run my tele all the way bright on the tone. It’s such a bright guitar already so I run the tone knob pretty low to keep it from being too piercing. But it’s a tele so it’s gotta have SOME bite, right!?

Do you read? What’s your favorite book?

Not as much as I should! I usually listen to what the people around me are talking about. If they all really like a certain book then that’s how I make my decisions for reading material. I like real life books. Biography, Autobiography, etc. Johnny Cash’s autobiography CASH was amazing. I also really liked a book called Same Kind of Different As Me. That book will make you wanna buy 20 copies and hand them to everyone you know. And I also like any kind of Devotional books…I have a Tozer one that I really like.

Going back to what you said earlier about “running in your own lane”, What kind of advise can you give to musicians that feel like they are called to play music full time but don’t know how to get to the next level or even get started in that direction at all?

I guess I would say be patient! It’s important to not miss what’s right in front of you because you are looking forward to something that you think is going to be better. God has perfect timing. He’s never late on anything. I think it’s really important to be obedient with what opportunities you have no matter how “small” you think they are. Being faithful with those things is important for your overall growth and maturity. I know I always need a gut check on that one! Also I think it’s important to run in your own lane. I heard Beth Moore give a talk at Passion about that and that was how she worded it. I was totally convicted. It’s so easy to start comparing yourself to other people! We all do it. It’s a human condition to be insecure and it’s not a bad thing to look at someone else and let it drive you to work harder or become better. But you have to know that God already has one of that person. Now he’s looking at you with a different idea in mind. Your role is a unique one, whatever it is. All that being said, I do think it’s okay to put yourself out there. Take risks and opportunities. Write songs, make a band, put a demo or record together and play it for people. Just make sure you know why you are doing it! If you make it about Jesus, you’re going to be fine. It’s always a worthy investment. He is always relevant, and no matter what level player you are, He can always use your gifts. Make it about Him and He will direct your steps. Proverbs 3:5-6

Bye Daniel.

Bye James.