We got a chance to sit down and talk to Kellie Johnston Long, a worship guitar player from Bethel Church in Redding California. Kellie was super awesome to chat about being a girl guitar player, her social media impact, and what she has coming up in the future.
Where do you play guitar?
I play guitar at Bethel Church in Redding California. I play about 3 weekends out of the month.
How long have you been playing guitar?
I’ve been playing acoustic guitar since I was 11 so 13 years, but have played electric guitar for about 4 years. I started leading worship in my home church back in Texas.
What gear do you use?
My two main guitars are my Nystrum Valterra and my Dorian James Marianna with McNelly gold foils. My signal chain is a Keeley Compressor Plus -> Emerson Custom Paramount Overdrive -> Bookworm Effects Atticus Finch Overdrive -> JHS Double Barrel V4 -> Boss FV30 Volume pedal -> TC Electronic Polytune in tuner out -> Strymon Bigsky -> Strymon Timeline. At home I use a Fender Blues Jr. for practice, and then at church I play stereo, usually into a Vox Ac30 and a Fender Pro Sonic. I use them more as 2 flavors that can be mixed at front of house.
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
A game changer for me was getting the Strymon Bigsky. I had a Blue Sky for a while, but could never get it the way I wanted it to sound, no matter what I did. Aside from playing at church, I play a lot ambient stuff, something lush, fat, and chimey. The cloud setting on the Bigsky does just that. There is so much more to it but I only use my favorite setting. Putting the set list in the banks help a lot playing live at church.
What is the next piece of gear on your list to get?
I have really wanted a JHS Superbolt to replace my Paramount drive. I also have been super interested in the JHS Kilt. Lastly a lot of people at church have been using the Walrus Audio Julia, and that’s something I have been dying to try.
Tell us about being a girl in the music industry?
It’s actually kind of funny. I get a lot of double takes when I’m on stage, because with a stage full of guys, they aren’t expecting to see a girl on guitar. I often hear “You’re a pioneer for women in the industry and breaking glass ceilings” but I’m just myself. I’m not really trying to push anything other than just being myself.
Tell us about your social media rise to "fame."
It started in the Gear Talk page on Facebook, it all got just very out of hand. A while ago, I posted a video of me playing an acoustic version of “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman in open C. The whole thing blew up like crazy. Some awesome guys in the industry reached out saying they loved what I did and would like to give me discounts on some gear.” When I ended up buying a Creation Music pedal board, I was so pumped but didn’t want to just take a foot picture, so I thought, I guess I’ll just hug it. That blew up like crazy and I guess the rest is history.
What are some of your aspirations and dreams?
A really practical dream I’ve been working the last 6 months on is that I just want to write music. Maybe even release an EP. I have never been good at writing music and never wanted to, but this last year that’s all I have I wanted to do. Sometimes, I feel like a robot at church, just practicing and playing parts that aren’t mine. I felt this huge creative block, like not producing my own thing. I decided I’m just going to start writing, even if it’s crap, its something.
How has your time at Bethel shaped who you are?
I was raised southern Baptist and never really knew too much about Bethel. I knew someone who went to BSSM so I just decided that’s where I’ll go. It was a blast, kind of like youth camp every day, but your living in it. You have worship every day and pastors who have devoted their life to grow, love and challenge you. It’s meant to change your life. I spent my first years there, and then moved back to Texas. When I was home I realized I really wanted to be apart of worship at Bethel, but knew worship leading wasn’t my calling. I played acoustic, so I thought I could learn electric and do that. I spent that entire year learning about electric guitar, and tone. I then went back to Bethel and finished my last 2 years in BSSM, and made the worship team. It’s really humbling playing with Bethel guys. They have a very high standard that pushes me to be better. I am challenged to learn more about tone and technical skill, and be someone who plays tastefully.
What is your favorite thing about worship music?
I love arrangements, and nailing all the parts. Mostly though, my heart burns for the moments you don’t have a plan for, and that only really happens in worship. You finish the song, you nail it, but then there is that moment of tension because there is still a moment to be had. It’s those prophetic and spontaneous moments. That’s the time when I’m not a robot. That’s when I get to create, and work together to create a special moment.
How do you practice?
It's one of those where I wish I wan more discipline with it. To be honest, a lot of my time is dedicated to practicing parts. We get the tracks from church so we can hear the specific, broken down parts. Other than that, what almost always happens is I start playing a riff or chord progression and loop over it using my Timeline. I like to add textures or rhythmical things to the loop. That’s how I found that’s where im most creative. That’s my own personal spontaneous moment. Other than that, I practice a lot of scales as well.
You played a show with Moriah Peters, how did that come about?
Her tour manger reached out to me saying that she travels with an all girl band, and there was a date their guitarist was just couldn’t make. It was 5 days before my wedding and was out in Nebraska. I facetimed the guitarist to talk through the set and learned everything I needed to. It was such a crazy week because my wedding was in Houston; I lived in Redding, California and the show in Nebraska. A lot of stress, but it was an awesome experience.
What's the best deal you've ever gotten on a piece of gear?
I’ve been really blessed actually. A couple of builders loved what I did on Instagram and offered to make me some guitars. Both my Nystrum and my Dorian James are just awesome guitars, and are just great guys to work with. I’m very hesitant to put my name on things that I don’t love, but these guitars are amazing.
What are your main influences music and otherwise?
Michael Pope, which is weird because we are good friends. Also Post Rock music in general has been inspiring me lately.
Ben Howard, This Will Destroy You, The Maine.
What have you been listening to lately?
A lot of Post Rock, so again, This will Destroy You and some Explosions in the Sky.
What Gear Supply Co. Products do you use?
I use the Medium+ 10-52 Electric Strings, which I replace every week. I found that I’m actually pretty picky about strings. I can’t stand dead sounding strings. I just want them to stay as fresh as possible. I also have a bunch of straps, some strap locks, picks, and a few shirts. Also my board is wired up with their patch cables.
What was your first guitar pedal?
I kind of got them all at once, so a tuner, and an old Tubescreamer, and a Line 6 Echo Park which I miss a lot.
What are some things you love besides guitar or music?
Volleyball, I played all throughout high school and now I get to coach a local team. I also just got married so we are just loving life and figuring it out together.
If you could meet one person in the world who would it be?
Amy Poehler, hands down. I would love it if I could have lunch with either her or Tina Fey. I think she is just hilarious, but very smart, and I like to think that I’m hilarious and smart.
How do you take your coffee?
Black, most of the time. I love frothy drinks though, like cappuccinos or lattes. Im kind of a coffee snob, so it’s got to be good coffee. French press brew is definitely my favorite.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I love old musicals like Rodgers and Hammerstein kind of stuff.