Tunage Tuesday: BTV With Karl Verkade
I have this great interview with ambient guitarist extraordinaire Karl Verkade that I want to share with you. Unfortunately, the video file got corrupted. But fear not! I am taking the time to transcribe the whole interview for your viewing- er, reading pleasure! Because I’m just that great.
Me: Hey, man. What’s up?
Karl Verkade: Not much, man! I just downloaded Skype… I didn’t realize FaceTime and Skype were different things.
Me: There ya go…
Me: So I’ll just do a quick intro and then we can get going.
Me: Welcome back once again to BTV! Today I’m here with a very special guest, someone who I have been reading from for a long time and finally get to talk to; with us today is musician, blogger, film scorer Karl Verkade! … Is that how you say your last name?
KV: That is, actually, yeah.
Me: YES! Nailed it… I should have asked that before we started. But, uh, it’s good to have you, Karl. Thanks for being here.
KV: It’s good to be here!
Me: Awesome. I have a couple things I want to talk about… You are involved in a lot of things musically, and so one of the first things I want to talk about is something that’s happened recently that I’ve seen from afar- and I haven’t been able to view it yet- but your music was just featured in a film, right? Full length, in theaters, like, real deal…
KV: Yeah, like an actual… An actual movie! Which is kind of weird. But yeah, it’s super indipendent. It’s only playing in LA and New York and just, you know, just a few theaters here and there. But it was cool, there was like a premiere and so that was, like, a super weird experience… But we were, like, sitting in the theater and every time my music would come on I was expecting it to be just really different and it would be so obvious that it was, like, me, and not, like, professional, and so it was weird to hear it and be like, “Oh… I guess that kinda fits…” So… It was cool! It was a good experience.
Me: Awesome. And what’s the name of the movie?
KV: Broken Roads.
Me: Alright. And you got to go to the premier and everything? Like, red carpet?
KV: Yeah! Yeah. We were awkward there too. I went with my wife and… She was like, “I think we’re supposed to go on this” and I was like, “I don’t know… If we’re supposed to…” and so then we just went on it and posed for a bunch of pictures and I couldn’t figure out… I was like, they all must be thinking, ‘Who is this guy? I guess we’re supposed to keep clicking…’ So… It was fun. It was good.
Me: Right on. I haven’t seen you in any tabloids yet, so that’s probably a good sign.
KV: I think so, yeah.
Me: ‘Who Is This Man?!’
Me: What was the writing process for that like? Was it different than other projects you’ve worked on?
KV: That one was a little different because I didn’t exactly write anything for that film. They found me on YouTube, of all places, and asked if they could use, like, 6 of my songs- it turned out to be like 40 minutes or something- they wanted that to almost be, like, the score.
KV: So it was weird to see songs that I had intended to mean, like, one thing, be playing over these other scenes- it was interesting. Like, I didn’t write it for that, you know?
Me: That’s an interesting thing about you playing post-rock, ambient, instrumental… and I play the same thing, and I’ve found it’s interesting to see how people interpret what you write. You could have something in your mind and it can be taken totally differently, as opposed to… Nikki Minaj… Or something.
Me: It’s hard to misunderstand that.
KV: Right, right.
Me: Was it weird hearing your music in the theater?
KV: Yeah, yeah. I think it took me out of the film a little, because I was like, “Oh, I think that’s me!” or, “Oh, that’s not me.” or “Oh… That one sounds bad, I hope that’s not me!”
Me: Do you think you’ll do it again in the future if you’re given the opportunity?
KV: I really hope so! You know, what I’m really passionate about… I’ve always been in love with film, and that’s what I’d like to do is actually compose directly for film. The ones that I’ve composed directly for have been even more independent than this one, so mostly like, festivals and so… That’s kind of what I’d like to do. As far as, like, just different pieces that I’ve written being used in movies, I mean… Yeah, that too. It’s not quite as fun as, like, scoring exactly for the film, but, you know… I’ll take what I can get!
Me: Right on. So… Now that we’ve talked about that, I realized we just kind of jumped right in here… Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and… You’re all over the place with music, so you can talk about that and just who you are and what you do?
KV: Sure. I guess… I’m an ambient guitar player, which really doesn’t mean a whole lot, you know, pretty much everybody does that now- you can… You know, they have apps that’ll do that. So… But I really enjoy that style and I really enjoy the soundscapes and the layers and stuff so, you know, even if there was no internet I’d probably be doing that stuff for fun by myself… Actually, I was probably doing that before there was internet. So… But I also play for my church, as well as other churches in the valley [California speak], and I also do a little bit of session work, as well as concerts and stuff and just kind of, you know, getting work where I can with that, um… So all of that together is kind of what I do musically. And the ambient stuff, you know, sometimes it’s for a film, sometimes it’s just releasing my own stuff and putting it on Bandcamp… Which… For anyone who doesn’t know what Bandcamp is, it’s like a godsend. It’s kind of where all the good music is now. I don’t even go to iTunes any more, except for maybe a few, choice bands. So.
Me: Cool. And you also have a blog on the internet.
KV: I do! I do have a blog.
Me: Which is another one of those things… Like, “Oh, I have a blog.”
KV: Yes. You have a blog… We have blogged… Yeah, I started that almost 5 years ago now. Um, and weirdly enough, because the church I was working for at the time, the pastor at the church was super into blogging and told all of us on staff that we had to have a blog. It was like a staff requirement. And I’m still not exactly sure… Why… It was a staff requirement? But I was like, “Alright.” So I started posting, like, one thing a week, something random, and then… People started reading it. Which I didn’t expect. At all. I was like, “Woah. Someone commented that’s… Not my mom!” It was just weird. So it kind of took off from there and sometimes it’s a lot of work, so sometimes I’ve tried to cut back and not post, or post super controversial things and basically kill the blog, but it just keeps coming back! It’s got a mind of its own now, so.
Me: That’s true! I know, for me, I found you on YouTube of all places. I think it was when I started getting into playing electric guitar- moving from acoustic to electric. I started watching videos of people and getting lost on YouTube and stumbled upon… It was probably one of your Matchless Amp videos, you know-
Me: And I thought, “Oh! These are really nice.” And somehow from that, ended up on your blog and found out, “Oh, this guy plays for church” or whatever… Turns out you were kind of a big deal!
KV: I don’t know about that…
Me: So I’ve been lurking ever since.
KV: Right on, right on. I read yours as well.
Me: It was a cool resource to find; this weird congregation of worship leaders and musicians, hiding in this far corner of the internet talking about, you know, the real heart behind worship, to gear, to cloning pedals. It’s been a cool resource. And I totally recommend it to anyone who watches [reads] this. It’s GuitarForWorship.com
Me: I recommend it to church musicians… Or if you’re in to gear… There’s a lot of gear talk.
KV: There’s a lot of gear talk. Maybe too much gear talk.
Me: Eh. Neither here nor there… But anyway, back to your music. You’ve put out a couple albums this year- which is a feat! To say, “Yeah, I put out a couple albums this year…” and had a part in a film score… I really enjoyed both albums you put out this year. I really really liked Water, which is probably the weirder of the two to connect with… The difference between the two albums, one is more ambient or drone, and the other is more post-rock, or experimental… You cover a lot of ground, musically, and so I was wondering if you could talk about the differences in recording, or writing, or where the process takes you…
KV: Yeah… It’s interesting. I think the first one I put out, Dreams, was more interesting to write than the drone stuff, because I’m able to actually write a piece or tell a story, and a lot of that was written for a film- a film called Semblance. It hasn’t… It keeps getting delayed. It hasn’t even come out yet. So a lot of that was written with the film in mind. I talked with the director and he, you know, had different images he’d send me from the film, and different feelings he wanted to create. So, you know, I usually start with a feeling, and then try and express that feeling through music. A lot of times it even makes that feeling stronger in myself. The feeling and the music they kind of go on top of each other and they build… And that’s, for me, a really interesting way to write. With Water… It was less interesting to write, but the end product… I’ll, at times, go for that one more than the other one. And I don’t exactly know why that is. Water kind of came out of… I’d recorded these “ambient pads” years ago. I had this little Fostex, like, 4 track that recorded to a hard disc, you know? And… Well, hang on, let me start at the beginning. So, I was playing in church, and I really wanted these keyboard sounds behind everything I played on guitar. So I made this second pedalboard. I, like, split my signal and ran it into this other pedalboard. There were like, 10 delays and like 5 phasers going in to another amp, and I thought it sounded great! I was very very young at the time… So then I heard some recordings, and realized, “OK, so that’s not as great as I had hoped…” So I came up with this idea that I would record my guitar doing this ambient stuff, staying within a key… For a lot of modern worship music- and modern music itself- you’re not doing a lot of “dim7” chords, you stay within the key, and it sits in the background. And it ended up working! And I ended up getting requests, people wanted to have those, to do the same thing and run these things off of their iPod or… Their Fostex recorder or whatever. And so I did a new recording once I actually got into Apple and, you know, you can actually do things and not have to rely on ancient technology. And so I recorded those and, you know, I’ll give them away free to churches, or you can purchase them, but those were the ones that everybody just kept requesting and kept requesting, and to this day keep requesting. And I got to a place where my musical abilities had… Progressed from when I had originally recorded those things and I was like, “OK, I really don’t want to be giving these out any more…” I mean, if you listen to them, I hadn’t even hit on stereo yet, in recording. They’re all just straight up mono. So I really wanted to redo them and update them. And so that’s where Water came out of. You know, people were saying things like… You know, I meant for them to be used behind a band setting, and people were like, “Oh, we use them for prayer services.” and I’m like, “… Really?! Doesn’t that get boring? I mean, there’s nothing happening!” So I was like, OK. I have to make some new ones that will work for both, where they’re actual compositions, you know, so there’s a little more interest going on… And the end result is something I really like. Like I said, it’s not exactly as fun to record them, but eventually I get lost in the recording and I think some good things happened that I didn’t expect.
Me: Definitely. And that was definitely one of my top 10 albums of the year. I like it a lot. So we talked about the old school, like, 4 track, but now you record a lot of stuff “live,” like, right out of the guitar, into the computer, is that right?
KV: I do. Actually, everything I record is either my voice or my guitar- acoustic or electric- mic’d up from the amp, into a tube preamp, and then right into the computer. And I do get a lot of people asking me, you know, what my recording gear is because they appreciate the sounds of it, and then I tell them what it is… And a lot of times they don’t really like the answer… I don’t know why. But that’s pretty much all it is.
Me: That’s really cool. I know a lot of people can get lost in the gear aspect of recording… And it’s like, “Oh, well, I have all this gear for my guitar, but when I record, I want to have all of this other stuff…” Preamps, compressors, all that stuff… It’s good to see that simplicity works. Sometimes… But of course that’s all coming out of the “pedal armoire,” so…
KV: Yeah, and that’s the thing, too, is you can choose to have all of your gear… Post… Or pre. And I guess all my gear is pre. And I guess once I got that sound I don’t really want to touch it much. I just want things to faithfully reproduce it. But then there’s other folks who get great results by, you know, they’ll sing a vowel sound into the built in mic on their Mac and then go crazy with post effects and create this huge thing and I’m like, woah. That’s crazy… I guess it’s just different approaches.
Me: Have you ever played out? Like, your ambient stuff, other than church?
KV: Umm… Yes. Just a couple. I haven’t quite found where that market is for like… One dude like… Droning out some notes and then looping some more notes on top of it. I haven’t quite found that niche. It’s one of those things where like, I think it works really well on YouTube, you know, when people are wanting to relax or they’re wanting to engage mentally with music, or cerebrally or whatever. As far as playing out somewhere where not a lot of that’s happening… It’s not a real community, like, fun, ‘Let’s go hang out and listen to the sad, post-80’s, dystopian music for like, 2 hours.’ I used to do some of it in bands, like I would create ambience within the band, and then of course you have some more stuff going on. It was before post-rock was really big, but we had some post-rock-type elements. So that would work and people would actually be able to move around a little bit. I don’t know if I need to find the New Age club or something, where all people want to do is sit around and chill to that stuff, but I do play out every once in a while with that. And I’ve been meaning to get into- there are these guys who will do, like, night shows over Skype or YouStream or whatever, and, you know, anyone can connect with them and then, in the quietness of your own home you can, you know, go to sleep to the music or just connect on your own when it’s not a night out. So that’s something I’ve been meaning to get into, it’s just… I’m not really good enough at technology yet. Like, I thought I was Skyping right now and I’m not [we were on FaceTime]. So I need to get more in to that.
Me: Right on. I didn’t even know that was a thing, so I’ll have to look into that too. So, let’s take a step back from the music and let’s talk about the blog, because that’s another huge internet presence that you have. We’ve already talked about the origin a little bit, so I guess I want to ask: where do you see that fitting? I mean, you’ve even mentioned it’s kind of evolved into this weird thing… More than you posting once a week because your boss told you to. So where do you see it now, and where do you see it going?
KV: You know, I don’t know. Part of me is at the place where I feel like everything I post I’ve posted before and I’m just rehashing other things. And some of the stuff that I’ve been passionate about as of recently, has been a little more on the controversial side. You know, such as pedal cloning and stuff like that where I’m like, “OK, how much of this do I really want to put out there?” But I do want to write about what I’m passionate about. I think I’ve been becoming more passionate about music and less about gear. About actually playing music. About taking that gear, which is a good jumping off point, but then using it to crate music that can display some attributes of God, that can glorify God, that can speak to peoples’ lives. So I’ve actually been thinking of jumping off of GuitarForWorship and leaving that what it is, and creating a new avenue that really celebrates life and celebrates seeing God through art and through life. And it might be one of those things that’s so niche that I’ll be stoked if there’s like 5 readers a month or something, but it’s what I’m passionate about. And I guess my passion has been moving away from, you know… Does the JRC4558 chip sound better or does the RC4558… Which is great, and I had a lot of fun with that for a while and… Now that I’ve said that, now I’m wondering… Dang, gotta do another pedal shoot out!
KV: But maybe moving toward life and God and love and all that. And some of that will come out in GuitarForWorship but I really want to do it more in a focused way. So we’ll see what happens with that. I may start some of that on GuitarForWorship and if there’s a good response to it, if people seem to… If it seems like it’s helping and it’s reaching people and serving people, maybe I’ll just keep it there. But if the response is like… “SHOW US ANOTHER KLON DEMO!” or something… “STOP WITH THE FILMING OF THE OCEAN!” Then I may switch to another medium.
Me: That’s really cool. I’m excited to see where that goes in the future.
KV: Yeah, me too!
Me: That kind of moves us into the last thing that I wanted to talk about. You’ve been writing about worship leading for a long time. How long have you been a worship leader?
KV: It’s been my profession since… 2008 I think? And then I interned for a couple of years before that. So I guess I started when I was 18 or 19, so that’s 9 years ago, and then somewhere there was interning, and from there it became my profession. So I don’t know. 5 years? 6 years?
Me: So a long time.
KV: It has been a while, yeah.
Me: So… I guess… I just have down here, “The future of church music and worship leading.” I’m trying to figure out how to put that nicely. Because I guess the… Sentiment in… Creative circles- and that even sounds arrogant. But I mean, people who want more for their art, or don’t fit into the Contemporary Christian- like KLOVE or whatever, I feel like there’s a searching for the next step, where can church music go from here? More than like, the Weekend Top 40 Countdown. Or more than- and nothing against these guys either- but like, Matt Redman, and Chris Tomlin, and Charlie Hall, who have been doing this for a long time, and dominate the genre, or area of worship music… Where do you see that going in 5 years, 10 years?
KV: You know, I don’t know where I see it going. I think where I’d like to see it go is I’d like to see a line drawn between worship music for just worshiping God through the outlet of music, and through leading a congregation in worship. Because right now I don’t think we have any line there. We’ve got “rock star worship,” and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, you know, but we have that and all of those songs that are written for, you know, an album, for the radio, for a huge stadium concert are also the songs that are expected to also reach an individual congregation who may be on the other side of the country, may have 15 people within the fellowship, or whatever, and these same songs are expected to reach them. I would like to see just more of a line be drawn with that, where a worship leader is able to serve the local church and the worship leader able to play songs that may not be as cool or as artistically driven, but they’re more so driven to allow the construction worker who just worked 60 hours that week and who has set aside this half an hour just to focus on God, to where it’s specifically tailored for him to be able to connect to God with that. But then at the same time allowing art in its own way to be glorifying to God and to worship him. Almost like we have our church music, which is written specifically for the congregation to be able to glorify God, and then we have this other music where as musicians, or people, or people who like music, it’s just an outpouring of our soul towards God, and maybe the lyrics are a little weirder or harder for a congregation to sing, but they’re not really meant for that. They’re meant for something different, because we’re also able to have this spot where we’re able to serve the local church. So I think that’s where I’d like to see it go. I’d like to see Christian music as a whole become a little bit less produced, a little more heartfelt, a little more… I guess, risks being taken, where, ‘I don’t know if this is going to get on the radio, but it is what I feel in my heart, so I’m just gonna go for it.’ which, among secular music, is usually where the best music lies, where in a risk, out of brokenness someone just wrote… And I’d love to see a whole other genre, where we have Christian Music, but then we have Worship Music, where the worship leaders are able to care more about people in the congregation being able to connect with and worship God than they are about anything else, any of the other distractions that can happen when we’re up there, you know, ‘Is my delay repeat set well enough where someone will hear this on YouTube and say, ‘Hey, that guy is better than Hillsong! I wonder if we should get him to come down to our church?” or whatever. I don’t want to be worried about that. I just want to be worried about serving them. So I’d love to see it turn back into… I think, what it used to be. I’d love to see it turned back into two separate generas, two separate things that can each glorify God in their own way.
Me: Very cool perspective. If you look back on your journey as a worship leader, who were the people that you were looking to and drawing inspiration from? And the followup question being: what advice would you give worship leaders now to be that kind of influence on the next generation?
KV: Interestingly enough… I don’t even think the guy leads worship any more, and he was never very famous, but there was a guy named Josh Shoults, and he just lead for a little college group I used to go to when I was really young and just getting out of high school. I’ve never seen a worship leader who’s been able to lead the congregation, but at the same time being almost next to invisible. Where you would find yourself going where he was going, but at the same time not noticing him whatsoever. I have no idea how he did it. I’ve never been able to do it, and I’ve never seen anyone else do it. So he was a guy I looked up to, and I don’t think I’ve heard him lead worship in, gosh, 7, 8 years. But I still think about that and still try and get to that place. As far as someone widely known, well, obviously a lot of my influence has been drawn from U2, as with 98.7% of every other worship leader out there. But musically, that style just works really well and sounds really good, but guys like Bono or Brandon Flowers from The Killers… You know, I was at a Killers concert, and I’ve probably written about this on the blog, but I was just struck by, you know, Brandon Flowers singing about a girlfriend that he had that looked like a boyfriend… You know, it’s just nonsense lyrics, but you’re sitting there watching him and you’re just enthralled because he’s just owning it, he’s believing the living daylights out of what he’s saying. Bono’s the same way. You come out of a U2 concert and all you want to do is join Green Peace or Amnesty International for the next few days and then you’re like, “Wait, I don’t even like this, what am I doing?” But I think that’s had a huge influence on me, where us as worship leaders, you know, we’re singing to our Creator, our Savior, and if that’s what’s in our hearts and that’s what we’re passionate about, how much more should we be owning those lyrics and just communicating that to the congregation. So I think those are the things that have really influenced me.
Me: And advice for current worship leaders?
KV: I would say… Just serve the congregation. There’s probably a 1 in a million chance that an exec from Capitol Record is sitting in your congregation… and if you go to a big church, I don’t know, maybe he is. But it’s even less of a chance that he’s looking to sign somebody… And I don’t mean that as in, all worship leaders are primadonnas, but just a lot of times, because I’ve been in this place too, of, sure, I’m playing for these hundred people, but how much more could I do for God if I were to get signed and play for thousands of people. So there’s a really small chance that you’re ever going to be able to reach people on that kind of scale. But there’s a huge chance, in fact, a 100% chance, that you can reach the hundred people that you’re playing for today, right now, 100% chance you’re going to make an impact on their lives, for good or for bad. So serve that congregation. Sing in keys that people can sing, whether or not they make your voice sound good. And 9 times out of 10 they’re going to make your voice sound better! Play songs that people know. If people are worshiping like crazy to Everlasting God and you’re sick of it, there’s a place for Everlasting God. I just think it’s such a sad thing, and I look back at some of my times of leading, and there are people who are coming to church and they just want to connect with God, that’s all they want to do, and I was too worried about other things that I did songs in such a way and my choice of songs and the way I carried myself leading that they weren’t able to worship and they weren’t able to connect with God. And that just hurts me to think back on that! So I encourage worship leaders now, especially younger worship leaders, to focus on their congregations. And that’s actually a whole other area of worship: worship is showing worth to God and so you’re showing it through music, but His greatest commandment is to love Him and then to love one another, and so you’re worship God by loving the congregation enough to allow them to worship as well.
Me: I almost don’t want to like… Go on from there. I just want to let it sink in. But we have to move on. In the last part of this interview, I just have a couple of questions that don’t have anything to do with anything. Just answer them off the top of your head. Don’t think too hard. It’s called The Lightning Round. Ready?
Me: 80’s or 90’s?
Me: Hotdog or hamburger?
KV: Neither! [vegan]
Me: Ketchup or mustard?
Me: True or false… “Don’t bro me if you don’t know me.”
KV: …….. I have no idea. I think my age demographic is a little too high.
Me: You’re not that much older than me! Favorite book right now?
KV: Mere Christianity
Me: What’s in your CD player? Do you have a CD player?
KV: Radiohead, actually.
Me: Which album?
KV: Hail to the Theif
Me: That’s all I got.
Me: Thanks for joining me and for being open, man. I had a blast. Where’s the best place for people to find you online?
KV: Musically, probably Facebook. The blog is GuitarForWorship. Then there are a bunch of other things like Twitter and Youtube that I’ve forgotten about because I’m not good at technology and streamlining!
Thanks, Karl. And thank you for reading! We’ll see you next time.