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! 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