Best known for his tasty bass playing with Elevation Worship, David Curran stepped away from the security of his native Charlotte and into the hustle and bustle of Nashville. Just back from the first gig supporting Lauren Daigle’s new disc, it is our pleasure to feature David in our new Worship Bass Talk column!
[WM] Hello David, great to connect again!
[David Curran] Yeah, this is awesome. I haven’t done many interviews so it’s kind of fun just getting into it.
[WM] So you just got back from your first road date with Lauren Daigle since the release of the new album. You’ve played on some pretty big records, but considering Lauren’s record was vying for the number one spot with Sir Paul McCartney and Eminem this is whole different kind of huge!
[David] I felt bad for Paul McCartney, he never got past us (laughs). He’s my favorite Beatle, and then there’s also Billy Preston who’s the organ player who played on Let It Be. Those are my top two and I felt so bad. I listened to his record and it’s awesome. It just never got there. Sorry, man.
[WM] Ha! Paul McCartney, let’s just start there. As a bass player, what are some of the things that Paul influenced in terms of your approach to the instrument.
[David] I don’t even know where to begin. So many people don’t understand what he did for the instrument. His understanding of the melody and the chords is monumental to how I approach the bass. His basslines, whether it was stuff like “Obla Di Obla Da”, just that fun little bouncy bass line, he didn’t play a lot of crazy fills per se, but he made basslines that fit perfectly into the song. Because he was singing the song he really understood what notes to pick and play that just fit. He’s unbelievable.
[WM] The best accompanists, regardless of instrument, understand that trained singers are used to standing around a piano while an accompanist walks them through a song. Noting that Paul wrote a lot from the piano, how much do you think your approach relates to the left hand on the piano?
[David] If you think about it, he’s even playing the bass like the left hand of a piano. If you listen to a piano player, they’re not just playing a whole note and letting the right hand do everything. I guess it does depend on what kind of music your listening to, but for the most part both hands are working pretty hard to get a full picture going. I do pay attention to what the piano is doing because it is the one instrument that, for the most part, could step on my toes sonically. If I’m doing something with a little bit more movement in it I don’t just try to play as many notes as I can, I try to say, “What are the chords being played by the guitar player, the piano player, what is the vocal melody, what are all of those notes and common denominators?” And maybe I can find something really creative within those. There may be like three notes that are all around and I’ll just pick apart those and that’s how I’ll find something. It might sound very spur of the moment but it never is. It’s usually me sitting in my office for hours picking apart notes just to get one little thing down.
[WM] As a bass player you’re half rhythm instrument, half melodic instrument, and every now and then, a little fill creeps out. On “Do It Again”, that’s your fill right?
[WM] Every time I hear that the inner bass player in me just kind of melts – it’s gorgeous and so perfectly placed. Do you have a little collection of ‘cherry on top’ licks that are in your arsenal?
[David] That one specifically, people ask me about that one. So, if you think about what the chord progression is doing, it’s going from 4 to a 3, then 4 to a 1, then it’s just walking back up to a 4. I was just going from a 1 to a 3 and then going back down on the downbeat on the 4, and I was like, “That’s kind of boring, or pretty cliché. What could I do that would be a fun thing?” And there’s so much space in the song, it’s not like there are ten guitar parts and synth lines all over the place, there’s really nothing. Those are the times where there’s a little breadth for me to do something. And you said that line is a 2, 3, 5, 2. So I am doing a walk up but I’m not doing it in a linear way and I’m doing it up the octave so it stands out a little more. But that’s how my approach for that came about. It’s a classic Southern Rock Lynyrd Skynyrd line. It’s just slowed down is all it is.
[WM] Do you also play some guitar?
[David] Honestly, I don’t play guitar. I’ll never say no to playing guitar, that’s something I’ve always wanted to get into. Sometimes I’ll learn the lead guitar lines on bass, because you’re right, my instrument is where the rhythm and melody meet. I’ve got drums on my left, guitars on my right, and I’m just smack in the middle. Sometimes I’ll listen to grooves all day but what I also want to do is listen to solos. Because I don’t do that as often as a guitar player or piano player, what can I learn from them because I’m not in that world as often? I can play rhythm guitar and I play acoustic for Churches. I could wrangle my way through a guitar if I had to. It’s actually hard because the strings are so close! Guitar players have the opposite problem, the bass strings are too big and the neck is chunky. I play a Tele and I feel like I’m going to crush the neck (laughs).
[WM] I’ve gotten to know some great people through playing on worship teams whose folks never allowed them to listen to anything other than Christian music. Later in life they got a chance to listen to other music that they missed in their formative years. What are your thoughts on listening to music outside the ‘Christian bubble’ if you will?
[David] I try to keep myself pretty open to all genres of music. I’ve never wanted to be in one specific genre. In the previous question, you asked if I ever play guitar, and I said I’d never say no to it. For me saying no to something is selling myself short, if I think I can’t do something. Even though I have been predominately in Christian music I try to listen to as many genres as I can because I feel like I’m practicing different muscles. Even if people are saying you shouldn’t listen to secular music, if you actually look at the old hymns that Fanny Crosby used to write they pretty much just changed the lyrics from a bunch of old bar tunes. How did they write their songs, you know? They were in a bar and heard people singing in the bar and thought, “Oh, I got the song for Sunday now, let me just change these lyrics.” So, there’s always this origin of songs that we sing in Church that in a weird way come from places that you least expect to find them. I’ve always tried to listen to as much as I can. If I feel something pulling on me from the inside I’ll always listen and give it a chance.
[WM] I personally believe that divine inspiration is the spark of a lot of the music that resonates with people, whether you attribute it to God, the Holy Spirit, or Jesus, even if you don’t yet have a personal relationship. My favorite example being John Mayer. There are times I hear his music and the word that comes to mind is anointing. Whether it’s Christian, Worship, Pop, Funk or Soul, why do you think we like to categorize our music? Do you think it’s perhaps about an identity that were looking for, rather than being led to if that makes sense?
[David] Yeah, I definitely think that plays a big part. I think we like to put ourselves in boxes, I don’t think that God ever wanted us to do that. We’re the ones telling ourselves, “You’re the Christian artist, you’re the Pop artist, and you’re the Southern Gospel artist. We’re the ones putting ourselves in the box. I don’t think God looks at what genre we’re doing if He’s happy with what we’re doing. He’s focusing on what’s going on inside. I would say there are so many great Christians playing music today that they might not be played on Christian radio, but you can’t convince me that what they’re doing isn’t worship. It’s all about where they’re writing the song on, and what they’re trying to do. Are they trying to spread the Gospel in the way that they can? Yeah. Just because they never got labeled CCM, if I know them and know their hearts are in this amazing place, we are the ones that are putting the boxes around them.
[WM] The last time we talked, you told me that back story of how you got the gig with Lauren. Basically, it was really the result of hang time with her old bass player on the Outcry tour. For the younger bass players out there especially, can you speak to the relationship side of the Christian music business?
[David] Oh yeah, it’s so important. It’s not just about hanging out, it’s about being present. Being on tour, everyone says it, it’s not real life. It’s amazing but it’s not real, in the sense of we’re going to a new city every day, we’re with our favorite people 24/7, we’re cramped on this bus. It seems like this larger than life thing, you can easily get caught up in it feeling like a six-month long vacation. But the thing is, don’t get caught up in all the other stuff, because it does get old after a while.
What doesn’t get old is the relationships with the people that you’re building. That’s the important thing. It’s all about the people you’re with. The road is very tiring, and it’s not as glamorous as people think it is. My wife came out for a few shows and she was like, “Wait, this is what it’s like?” It’s just a whole lot of nothing and hanging out until you get to play. You either have to find things to do or you go crazy, so that’s where the relation side comes in.
If you’re just on your phone by yourself, I don’t know if that’s the best thing for you. There’s a person in Lauren’s band, the guitar player Duane, and I’ve never seen anyone be able to connect with people like he does. He’s been doing this a long time and he knows what works and doesn’t work. He’s up late talking with the bus driver, checking in on them and seeing how they’re doing. Checking in with the people at the venue that have been working all day, thanking them. Those are the things that are so important. We have such a short time with people on the road when we’re in a city. We only have a couple hours with the techs, or the roadies, or even our driver at night. We only have a few exchanges but if we can do something that helps them, it makes this worth it.
[WM] Do you think you’d be doing what you’re doing if you hadn’t moved to Nashville?
[David] I have so many people asking me about getting touring work in Nashville. The answer is the simplest and the hardest one to do, you’ve just got to move here. That’s all you have to do. Just move. So many people are afraid of making that hop.
[WM] Whether in person or musically speaking, is being present really about building rapport?
[David] Uh huh.
[WM] Bass players are typically deep feelers and internal processers. When we first spoke, you mentioned you were a verbal processor, which I found a bit surprising. What do you think about some of the traditional ‘bass player stereotypes’ – fact or fiction?
[David] If I told you I was a verbal processer it’s because I’m only now learning to do that. I’m learning that it helps me. For a long time, I would just be processing on the inside, and that’s a cliché bass player thing, to just be the quiet guy in the back. Just as I don’t want to be in one type of music my whole life, or playing one style, I was sure there were a lot of different ways for me to process things. So now I’m trying to be in the middle of being an introvert by nature but also practice putting myself out there and processing out loud. It’s a new thing but it’s definitely been helpful to figure out what’s going on inside of me.
[WM] What about your tenure with Elevation served you most in terms of preparing you to step into the bass player role Lauren’s band?
[David] There were a lot of people there who have really shaped me into who I am. Mostly Lance Gatch and Mack Brock. They were huge, constantly wanting to push me forward. Lance is an unbelievable musician. He can smoke anybody on guitar, bass, and drums. I don’t feel intimidated by that because I know he can do that with anyone’s instrument, he’s amazing at everything. He would always come up to me and be like, “I can’t believe you just played that, how did you do that?” and, “What did you play there?” He was always encouraging me and grooming me to push me forward.
Mack was the same way, wanting parts to sound better each and every year. I met them when I was nineteen and I feel like they set me up for success in the professional world. Playing with Lauren and having the things I learned from them, I feel like I know how to do this. If Lauren’s asking me to play upright bass for something, I know I can do it because at Church we would do specials and play a Frank Sinatra song and I’d be the one playing upright because they would tell me I needed to play upright. They were the ones that always pushed me to the limit where I didn’t think that I could do it, and now that I’m here… I know that I can do it because they’ve given me the tools.
[David] Yeah, he’s a great bass player, that’s another thing. Mack can play bass for sure. There are a lot of the ideas on the Elevation albums where he’d say, “What if you did this?” a super simple thing but it’s like, it was perfect. I would say he shaped my bass playing because he’s a bass player himself and he’s thinking big picture because he knows what the guitars and keys are doing. I love learning from him as well.
[WM] This is a season of transition for you. What do you think some of the lessons to be learned in this season will be?
[David] I think something I have to remind myself and I try to tell people all the time, living in Charlotte was my biggest comfort zone ever. I grew up there, my best friend of twenty years still lives there. I felt like I didn’t have to do anything to just have a good life. It’s very comfortable to live there, I knew I didn’t have to work to have my role unfortunately.
I felt like I needed to transition, because I needed to push myself to the next level and part of that is learning to put myself out there, which is something that I have to practice every day. I’m now in a city where I do have friends, but I don’t know as many people as I do back home. So yeah, I can say that I was a part of Elevation out here, but everyone is a part of something here. That’s not something that carries as much weight in Nashville, because there are so many amazing things going on. They care about if you’re a good person and if you can execute on your instrument.
You’re right this industry is all about connections. So, it goes back to even being on tour and being present. If I can’t put myself out here where I live, no one will even know I live here. I’ll just be sitting at my house wondering why no one is calling me. Maybe back home I didn’t have to do that, and now that I live here I do have to do that but it’s making me better. Because I’m working out a muscle that I haven’t worked in a while. It’s making me a more balance-minded person at the same time!
[WM] Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
[David] Thank you for calling me, this has been great. It’s nice reflecting on all of these questions, because it’s been almost a year since we moved. It’s been a hard year, but it’s been awesome and it’s been great to think back with you and process all this stuff!