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So what kind of music did you grow up listening to?
I was into KISS because of my stepbrothers’ influence. They also listened to a lot of Ted Nugent and the Scorpions, while my mom was way into the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Kenny Loggins, Elton John and stuff like that. So I listened to a lot of music, and had a mix of metal and pop. In some respects, there was some blues-rooted pop in there too.
It seems like a lot of the guitarists playing in worship settings these days grew up cutting their teeth on those kinds of bands. Have you encountered a lot of that when you’re out playing in worship settings or at festivals?
Oh, definitely. It’s really pretty cool. As we get out and play on the road, it’s really cool for me to be an encouragement to these guys who grew up on music that had really legit guitar playing, but they don’t feel like it has a place in the church. It’s funny – there are just not many guys playing in Christian music right now who are diehard guitar players.
Why is that?
I don’t know. I’ll speculate, even though it’s dangerous. I think Christian music follows mainstream music, at least stylistically, but it’s usually a few years on the backside of it. And if you really look at the resurgence of the guitar in mainstream music, it’s really been in the last three or four years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the guitar starts showing up prominently in Christian music really soon.
Have you seen the guitar as being marginalized in music, at least recently?
You know, there was an era in the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s when you had amazing musicianship from every player in the band. Bands like the Police, Yes, Journey, Van Halen – just go down the list. Those bands were not only some of the biggest bands in the world, but when you looked at each player individually, they were some of the top in their field. Look at the Police, for instance; you’ve got Sting, Stewart Copland and Andy Summers. They were all phenomenal musicians.
And then there were a bunch of bands that began to mimic that, and you got into the glam metal scene, where the songwriting quality and the musicianship basically went down. So now you had songs with lyrics that made you think, “Come on. Are you serious?” Because the musicianship suffered, people stopped going to concerts to see the best guitarists in the world, because they didn’t have that in the band. And then there was the entire grunge shift, where the lyrics got way better, the drummers got way better, the songs got way better, and the guitarists got worse.
So before guys like John Mayer came around, playing guitar solos was kind of taboo. I released my first album with a ton of guitar in 1999 and no one cared. And then I released my second album, which was way more pop-worship driven, with very few guitar solos, and it did way better. For a while there, it was like, “No one cares. We want to hear songs.” And then with guys like John Mayer – who was probably one of the primary guys who brought guitar back – you see him live and think, “Holy smokes, this guy is for real!” He’s made it okay to play the guitar again.
Have you found that the guitar has a greater place in modern worship these days?
No question. I mean, worship is guitar-driven now, period. Granted, a lot of it is acoustic driven, but I think more and more of it is moving into the electric vein, and I really feel like it’s only going to continue. Guitar is becoming more and more a part of music again, and not just electric guitar.
What’s driving that movement, in your opinion?
I think styles change and people get bored with stuff. For a while there, if you wanted to lead worship you needed to know how to play keyboards – now most worship settings can take it or leave it when it comes to the keyboard. Now, if you want to lead, you’ve got to have guitar and drums. And I think styles have a lot to do with that; it all depends on what people are into at the moment.
Worship music is certainly influenced by the current styles of the day – you hear a lot of worship bands that sound like U2. And U2 is basically a worship band in disguise. If you go see them live, if you listen to their music, if you read the lyrics on songs like “Yahweh,” three of them are Christian guys who are making an impact with the gifts they’ve been given. And there are a lot of people who mimic that – U2 is a great model for worship bands. That whole four-on-thefloor drumbeat really works. Go into any concert setting or church service and have the drummer start hitting that kick drum – you’ve got instant crowd participation. It’s fun and it gets people involved.
Now you’re starting to hear worship bands that sound like Coldplay, so there are different styles that can work. The Bible says, “Sing to the Lord a new song,” and I think part of “a new song” can be a new sound. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, it essentially says, “Hey, there’s nothing new under the sun.” So it’s all about trying to find a different way to say the same thing.
For me, there are two parts of that: the words we use and the way we present it. So part of what I ask myself is, “How do I make the electric guitar a really big part of that?” And I don’t want to make it about me, because it’s not necessarily a big part of who I am – it’s a big part of who God has made me. It’s what he’s put in my heart. And so I want to express that and not hide it. And I felt like in the past I’ve had to hide it. On my upcoming record, I’m going to play as much guitar as I can possibly fit on there.