You have a fair bit of experience with amp sims, which was the first one you ever tried?
The first one I every really dug into was the Eleven Rack back when Digidesign still made Pro Tools.
Over the course, what are some of the top amp sim products you have used and some of the plugins you still use often?
My Eleven Rack was used on many recordings in the last 10 years. I also used the Eleven Plug in and Native Instruments Guitar Rig. I now run a UA Apollo and use those amp sims quite often. I also mainly now use a Kemper Profiler, which is the best piece of digital gear I own.
The new Dallas Smith EP “The Fall” comes out March 15th, take us through the gear you used on the album.
I actually didn’t play on the EP! It was all done in Nashville with the “A List” session players from there. That’s how most of the country records are made, even for Canadian artists.
Your role in the Dallas Smith band has you rocking with gain, country picking with clean and also creating lush atmospheres. This isn’t too hard to do in the studio but how do you divide the work in a live setting?
I’ve actually got every song on a different Performance Slot in the Kemper Profiler, every tempo, delay mix, reverb trail is set for every song and I switch via the Kemper Remote or it switches for me via MIDI from our Ableton rig. I use a variety of amps with various gain settings to make all different tones happen. I also use my volume on my guitar a fair bit to dial in just the right amount of grit for some tunes.
Following up on that point, do you find it difficult to decide what gear you bring on tours to be able to recreate things the way you want while also conserving space in the trailer? Take us through your current live rig.
I used to obsess over what guitar/pedal/amp combinations to bring out for a tour.. but now I’ve gone full Kemper. I usually travel with 5-6 guitars depending on what songs are in the set. From there I go straight into my Shure ULX-D4 wireless, in the Kemper Profiler, stereo out to front of house and to our in ears.
With so many top name artists going the Kemper and Fractal route, are you ever tempted to go full digital for live and touring?
I’ve definitely been fully digital for a couple years now, and I gotta say, I love it! I’ve also been checking out the Line 6 Helix, which is also great!
You have toured and played festivals with some of the best Country guitarists on planet earth, that must be an absolute dream! Which guys consistently blow your mind?
The guys that are really mind blowing to me are the session players in Nashville. Some of the tastiest, most versatile players around. Guys like Tom Bukovac, Derek Wells, Ilya Toshinsky to name a few.. They are the guys behind the magic you hear on radio. From an artist standpoint, Keith Urban is an absolute monster player.. we toured with him a few years back and every night my mind exploded with some of the stuff he did. It was different every night. So good!
Many session guitarists are versatile across various styles. What other styles do you enjoy playing and who are some of the non-country players that influence you?
I’m definitely a rock guy at heart. I love blues, funk, jazz, fusion.. Some of my favourite non country players are Steve Morse, Ian Thornley, Joe Satriani, Guthrie Govan, Joe Perry, Dean DeLeo, Lyle Workman.
What advice can you give to aspiring session players and what qualities do you believe every session player should have?
Take every gig/recording session that comes your way no matter what, you never know what you’ll learn or who will be in the room to hear you play. Make sure to develop good time and good tone, those things really matter in the studio. There are no shortcuts to success as a session player, work your ass off to get to where you want to be.
I believe every session player should have good instincts, good ears, good instruments to allow you to do the job without worrying about the mechanics of the instrument. And probably the most important of all, be adaptable and receptive to feedback and react appropriately to said feedback, with no ego, no attitude. It’s a lot to think about but it really goes a long way.
You work a lot in your home studio, what do you feel are the three most important processing plugins in your collection?
1 – Neve Preamp by UAD. It makes everything sound awesome.
2- Friedman DS40 by UAD. A wicked amp model that does many things
3- SoundToys Decapitator. Can add the gnarliest distortion or just make things fatter. Definitely one of my faves.
Say you could only use one amp for the rest of your career, what amp would you choose?
My old Fender Blues Junior. I’ve got 3 Blues Juniors, but my old black one that I’ve had the longest sounds and reacts incredibly and I have yet to hear one that sounds similar.
We want to thank Darren for his time and wish him well in the future. Hard working session players and songwriters make the world of country music possible and it’s been this way for a very long time.