Lee Holland Opens Up About Guitar Playing, His New Album & Being a Worshipping Musician

Lee Holland

Renowned Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, and arranger Lee Holland has recently partnered with Integrity Music to release "Guitar Volume Two."  This sequel to the successful "Guitar Volume One" puts a fresh spin on some of the most iconic worship songs of our times, including "Open the Eyes of My Heart," "Ancient of Days" and "Better Is One Day."

The album is a journey that explores the essence of these classics from Integrity Music, interwoven with acoustic guitar and light percussion with the hope that these songs are played in the background of life -- at church, at home, for times of private reflection, and in social settings like coffeehouses. The album offers a calming and focusing soundtrack to life, helping listeners find solace and peace amidst busy schedules. 

Listen to "Ancient of Days" HERE.

Q: Lee, thank you for doing this interview with us. Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Thank you for having me, Tim! I'm a Nashvillian, born and raised, who grew up in a family band of sorts with my parents, Ken and Lois Holland. We travelled the country (and a few times internationally) playing at mostly churches. I gained a lot of musical performance experience earlier than most. In my earliest childhood years, I was mostly just soaking up the music, until I realized that I could play the drums around age 12. My dad taught me my first few guitar chords about a year after that, and those have been my two main instruments ever since. In terms of live performance, I have logged in many more hours as a drummer than as a guitar player. In terms of the instrument I've played the most privately for my own enrichment, I've logged in many more hours as a guitarist than as a drummer. It's that friend that is there to comfort you at any time.

I studied Commercial Music at Belmont University (drums as primary instrument) and graduated there in 2005. As for prior instruction, I am self-taught, other than a handful of lessons in high school every now and then, and an intensive prep lesson period right before auditioning for Belmont in order to have specific material ready (drums). For the guitar, I've had no instruction, other than watching and listening to players who inspire me. And I've always enjoyed trying to learn guitar pieces by ear.

As for my life and work now, I have largely come off of the traveling musician life in preference for focusing more on studio work at home, since marrying in 2020. I live in Nashville with my wife and stepson, doing production, session work, live work, teaching, and always brainstorming toward new musical pursuits.

Q: When and how did you develop a passion for playing the guitar?

As I mentioned, it was my dad who taught me my first few chords. An interesting thing about this, come to think of it, is that I don't really remember having a particular interest in the guitar all that much. I do remember being drawn to it much more strongly than the piano, and the music I was into at the time (the 90's) was almost always guitar-driven. And sometime not long after I learned my first few chords, I started hearing the recordings and seeing the live performances that would really light the passion in me. As far as virtuosic acoustic guitar playing in particular, Phil Keaggy would have been my first influence there in my teen years, followed later by Michael Hedges, Tony McManus, and others. I don't think I saw Keaggy live until several years later though. My live "teachers" in my earliest years were mostly guys that would lead worship for the youth group every now and then, and whatever I could figure out from various recordings I liked. I would pick up tricks from all of this and store them away to add to my playing.

Q: How did you come to work with Integrity Music and record two instrumental worship albums with them?

I actually came into this job because their first call, Josh Wilson, didn't have room in his schedule to do the job. Josh and I went to college together - old friends at this point. Josh always respected my playing style and sense for arrangement. He had me help him arrange his instrumental version of "It Is Well" many years ago. When he had to turn the Integrity job down, he recommended me for it and I was happy to take the opportunity.

Q:  How do you take familiar worship songs, like "Ancient of Days" or "In Christ Alone," and breathe new life into them with your guitar?

I've always enjoyed trying to do this. It's just "in me", I guess. My dad is a natural at coming up with creative arrangements of familiar songs as well, so I think I inherited some ability via osmosis and in the blood there. 

But in terms of the nuts and bolts: You get a sense for how a melody is going to "sit" on the guitar, and how well it's going to "speak." Part of what needs to be realized is that it was very good and important that I was allowed to pretty much choose the entire list of songs myself for this project. There was a long list for me to choose from, and I went through and carefully chose each one with mainly two criteria: 1) Do I love this song? And 2) does it speak (or "sing") well on the guitar? Once those foundational things are out of the way, then it's down to just going with where the melodic phrasing takes you, and coming up with a creative or even bizarre twist every now and then. Often previously existing arrangements are to thank for some of the basic structure, but I tend to take as much liberty as I can without going too far - unless I feel like going "too far" for fun. :-)

Q: What were some of the highlights when you were making those two albums?

This might be considered "nerdy" or a bit in the weeds, but one of the best things about this project for me was using it as a chance to experiment with different string gauges (for those unfamiliar, what I mean is the thickness of the string). I found that it's possible to achieve tunings I didn't know were possible, by using unconventional string gauges. So if you hear a guitar that just sounds "higher", or "brighter", or "happier" than usual, or if you hear one that sounds like a baritone or a bass, that's probably what you're hearing. I get a lot of satisfaction out of really testing the boundaries of the capabilities of an instrument (with musicality always as the end requirement). Another highlight was being surprised to get extended access to a McPherson guitar to help me cover the most pristine and demanding songs with regard to how I wanted the instrument to sound and the intonation required high on the fretboard. Having that guitar was a lifesaver for this project, and I fell in love with the brand. Another highlight was simply when the whole project was done, and that feeling of allowing yourself to relax, listen, feel, and be proud of your own work, and to know that it's going to be a blessing to others who hear it. 

Q: Many of our readers may be serving as instrumentalists in churches; how do you treat your guitar playing as worship unto the Lord?

This is honestly somewhat of a tough question. The only way I currently know how to describe it is an internal shift. For me, the easiest thing to be focused on is either the music itself, or my own vanity. I have to make a conscious choice to shift the focus onto God. I have to say inside, "This is for You." I fail at this often.

Also, one of my drum instructors in college used to always teach me, "The goal is to not think - to get yourself out of the way and become the instrument." The goal is to become the instrument (played by God) playing the instrument. I'm not sure that I've ever achieved that level of transcendence, even for a moment, but I can express it to you as an aspiration.

Q: What advice or encouragement do you have for those who serve God in churches by playing an instrument?

Get good. Get *actually* good - skilled by the real standards of the world, not just the standard of whatever town you might find yourself in. Realize that skill is infinite, skill is godly, and frankly, skill is commanded in scripture (Psalm 33:3). Yes, God will accept our worship, whatever we bring to Him, especially in private. But I believe that when you take a public position of supposed leadership in music, you are held to a higher standard, in a similar way that pastors are held to a higher standard. You have become a specialist in your field, and you are called to excel as much as you are able, to the glory of God. I know that not everyone gets the privilege of being able to do music for a living and focus solely on it, but I believe that many people could still do better at pursuing their musical skills to a higher level than they do. And if you honestly can't, that's ok. It might be a sign that you need to hand over that particular opportunity to someone else with more passion and / or talent in that area (unless you're truly the only person around able to do the job). We all need to find our God-given place in the church and learn to thrive there to the highest extent of excellence possible, with God's help.

File the above under "advice." File the following under "encouragement": If you are someone with a passion for music - a deep connection with music - but you are continually bombarded with thoughts like "I can't do it..." "I'm not good enough..." "I could never do THAT...", realize that it takes discernment to know whether such statements are actually true. They CAN be true. But, if they're not... they're straight from the devil. Discern the spirits. Discern what is true. Ask others for counsel, especially people you look up to musically. They might be able to help you discern the truth. Also, know what is truly required for your position. The cold hard truth is that music made for church musicians to replicate is already usually "easy", by musical standards. I would make every effort to be encouraged by that fact and assume that you CAN in fact be more than enough as a musician in your church. In fact, I would say the goal is to be more than enough (in the current modern church worship context). But nearly anyone can almost certainly be "enough", with a little bit of practice. I say this as someone who is teaching a four year old his first drum beat as we speak. Is he a prodigy? No. Does he love music? Yes. Is it easy for him? Not exactly. Is he figuring it out, via hard work and concentration? Yes. 

Chances are you can do it. Err on that side of things. It's a type of faith manifestation. There is a good version of the idea of "self belief." It's not idolatry, it's just facts: chances are like 95% that you can in fact do it, if you focus and practice. God made you that way.

And this last thing should almost go without saying, but: Don't make it about you. It's the God show, not the you show. That said, there's nothing wrong with getting into it on stage and being passionate. But also be tasteful. The minute you are truly a distraction from people's worship is the minute you have gone too far. And then there are those of us, like myself, who can have a tasteful energy externally on stage, but internally it can still be self-centered. Sadly, I often have to remind myself to do that internal turn away from the self - that shift that says, "This is for You, God."

Integrity's Hosanna! Music - Apple Music 


Tags : Still Worship Lee Holland Lee Holland interview Lee Holland news "Guitar Volume Two" "Guitar Volume One" Integrity Music

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