Creative Synths & Spontaneous Keys with McKendree Tucker [Keyboardist for Kari Jobe]

Creative Synths & Spontaneous Keys with McKendree Tucker [Keyboardist for Kari Jobe]

Today we have someone I have been so lucky to share the stage with. He’s one of the most humble and creative musicians in the business, he plays keys for Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes, serves at The Belonging Co. and is a fantastic writer and producer. So without further ado, please enjoy this conversation with McKendree Tucker.  

Jordan: McKendree! How are you? What have you been up to lately?

McKendree: Man I’m doing great! I cannot complain one bit! 

Currently, I am on tour and will be for the next week or so. When I’m not touring I work on a lot of different projects in my studio. Some worship and pop stuff, and one of my favorites… composing for tv/film. It’s so much fun.

Jordan: Working on any new music? Where can we find it?

McKendree: Yes! Apart from working on other people’s projects and projects for my church, I am producing an album for an artist “RACHL”, which I’m super excited about! We’ve already released 3 singles on Spotify and iTunes and about to release the 4th single, which I’m super stoked about because of the cinematic vibe it has in the song!

Jordan: I love what you’ve done with RACHL! Really fresh sounds.

Speaking of sounds, what has been inspiring you lately?

Mckendree: Man, lately I can’t stop listening and being inspired by everything San Holo releases. Billie Eilish, Julia Michaels and truly a lot of pop right now is so inspiring from a producing standpoint. I also get super inspired by several composers…Thomas Newman, Johann Johansson, and Ólafur Arnalds.

Jordan: We get asked a lot about flowing in worship. Keys players tend to have a lot of responsibility there. Any tips for how to better follow the worship leaders or even lead them?

McKendree: First of all, I feel it’s super important as keys worship player to keep everything simple. I can’t stress that enough. Open chords (5th’s) always feel great.

I’ve learned that’s it’s also super important to always keep some kind of basic progression going after a song – unless instructed not to. This gives the worship leader the freedom to either stay where they are at or move on to another song at their timing.

It’s huge to make your leader feel that they have the ultimate freedom to go wherever they want without worrying about the song ending and instructing what to do next. 

Another thing is that if the worship leader starts a new song that’s not originally on the setlist, it’s always helpful to give them a light tempo just so they don’t feel like they’re lost and trying to find where you’re at.

Jordan: What’s your favorite synth or VST right now? Anything unique you’ve been trying in worship?

McKendree: I use Mainstage live. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the challenge of creating sounds using some of the onboard Synths. With Mainstage (Logic) I use Alchemy and for the most part create a lot of my pads with the ES2. I have also been creating a lot of my synth plucks and leads with Reveal Sound’s Spire Engine. In the studio, I use a lot of Kontakt and Spitfire stuff.  

Jordan: I need to check out the Spitfire synths. I‘ve heard you talk about them a lot and haven’t gotten around to it.

A lot of keys players seem to stay strictly to piano and basic pads. What are some ways that they can enhance those sounds? Any tips for Nord users?

McKendree: The exciting thing about worship right now is that there’s a lot of creativity going on with synth leads, arpeggiators, and sidechaining. I think it’s super cool when a keys player can every once in a while, attempt to cover those types of parts, whether it’s a simple hook line or maybe a sidechain that’s being triggered by the click. 

Also, a cool thing I like to do instead of constantly using volume for transitions or swells is using the cutoff of the synth/pad…it’s a different feel and effect that I think is refreshing. 

I always love using the keys and organ sound from Nords and will oftentimes combine them with some other software pianos for a different sound.

The other great thing about most of the Nords is that you can load your own synth samples into them. I’ve loaded a bunch of sounds I’ve created over the years, and when you start mixing those in with your other soft synths, magic happens.

Jordan: One of my favorite things about you is your energy and passion for worship on stage. I think many keyboardists tend to be the more reserved players on the stage.

Why do you think that is? Do you think considering stage presence is important?

McKendree: Man, I think the energy and passion that I have on stage comes mainly from many years of leading worship. I actually find myself having a hard time being reserved – especially when it’s worship haha! 

I think it’s easy for keys players to stay more reserved because of focusing on all the responsibility they have these days, haha. Usually, the keys players are playing the parts, making most of the transitions, running tracks and clicks and taking on the MD role. It’s a big job but it’s also such a rewarding position.

I think stage presence is important in the sense of making sure we understand why we are even up there on stage. We are there to welcome in the presence of the Holy Spirit and to Glorify the Lord. I love to look at corporate worship as an overflow of our daily worship we have with the Lord. I feel that once we realize that it is such an amazing opportunity to be there, our stage presence will reflect that.

Jordan: How did you get where you are at? Any tips for keyboardists wanting to do what you do right now?

McKendree: Man, honestly it’s probably a similar answer as most others in the sense that as far as learning music and understanding how to create it in my own language, I worked my tail off! My father was the main worship pastor at the church I grew up in and from 9th grade on…every single day I was in the main sanctuary practicing, creating and trying things that mainly sounded good to my ears. I remember not being too caught up in whether or not what I was creating was correct or not.

I remember learning a long time ago that “less is more” and I decided to really focus on that.

As a keyboardist (particularly in worship) it is so very important to be mindful of how much you’re playing. I like to treat it as if I’m creating a bed for a scene in a movie…you want to help paint and create the emotion and vibe for the scene but at the same time, you don’t want to take away or distract from what’s happening.

And lastly, the lord totally and completely opened up the doors in my life to be able to do what I do…I can’t stress that enough. Did I hone my craft and sharpen my creative tools for years and years? Absolutely! That only set me into a position for the Lord to open doors that I could have NEVER opened myself. 

How do you work to improve your playing style? And what other questions do you have on worship keys? Leave us a comment below!

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