Gearing Up: Q&A with John Arndt from The Brilliance

Posted by John Arndt on 10 March 2015

WeAreWorship: When you’re leading, how do you vary the way you use your gear to suit different settings?

John: The biggest gear challenge I experience on the road with The Brilliance is the unpredictability of pianos and keyboards from venue to venue. In this case, my gear varies from show to show if I'm not traveling with a keyboard.

Our music is very acoustic piano focused and, as a rule, I prefer playing a real piano. I studied classical piano, only playing beautiful Steinway Grands for years. The best keyboards in the world can only create an approximation of what playing a real piano is like.

The sad truth is that trying to mic and mix a grand piano on stage with at least four string mics and a full drum set (without a shield), is a thorny process to say the least. A poorly timed feedback loop can totally take the air out of a song performance!

These days I have resigned myself to keyboards (hopefully a good Yamaha or a Nord Stage). They make the sound check and mixing process infinitely easier. If the mixing engineer isn't constantly putting out fires, the overall mix will be better and the audience experience will be improved as a result.

There have been times when a great piano and concert hall inspires us to play mostly unplugged. Those are my favorite shows. As a musician, I love being able to hear and react to what is actually happening in the room. Normally, everybody has their own mix unrelated to what is going on in the house. I must say, this set up has always frustrated me as a producer who knows the music intimately. I want to know exactly what people are hearing and play to that!!! Going acoustic allows us to do that.

WeAreWorship: Which piece of gear do you have the most regrets about buying? Why?

John: When I was in high school, I worked at McDonalds’, saved for over a year and purchased a Korg Triton Studio. Don't get me wrong…that keyboard is powerful and can do a lot. There is a reason it cost what it did.

Having spent much of the last ten years in studio settings, I have found that ultra expensive "do it all" instruments are the ones I want to stay away from. If I could give advice to my younger self I would say, "Get a Roland Juno. Learn that instrument completely. When you truly understand the basics of analog synths you lay the groundwork for all the crazy programming concepts you thought were reserved for computer nerds."  Rather than running through endless banks of preprogrammed patches that are marginally inspiring, I CREATE the sound I'm looking for with analog synths.

WeAreWorship: What one item has had the biggest impact on your playing?

John: OP-1 by Teenage Engineering. There is nothing like this little keyboard. The experience of creating with it is new every time. It inspired me to start programming beats! The new brilliance album has OP-1 all over it.

WeAreWorship: How has the element of strings impacted people you’re leading in worship?

John: There is nothing like the impact live strings can have on a performance. Visually, the movement of bows alone is captivating. The audience can perceive the intricacy of the music with their eyes. The tension that is created by real bowed strings is where the emotion comes from. Often, people are accustomed to hearing fake, canned, over EQ'd strings that may as well be a Korg Triton pad. Our music carries an emotional tension that wouldn't be the same without live strings.

WeAreWorship: Which other musicians - mainstream or otherwise - inspire you?

John: Living?  Brad Mehldau, Rufus Wainwright, Wilderman, David Byrne, and St. Vincent, to name a few. Dead? Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky, Miles Davis, Nick Drake, and Beethoven, to name a few.

WeAreWorship: We’ve done U2, Coldplay, Mumford & Sons…but what’s next for the sounds of worship?

John: Maybe let's stop imitating and start inventing! Let's practice! Let's hone our craft! Let's develop creative ideas! There was a time when art created for worship was the best art created on the planet earth! What happened?

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