Nic Gonzales the talented guitar player and vocalist who fronts Salvador, arguably the best worship band in the United States has a message for aspiring musicians.
“The truth of the matter is even without a record deal you can make it. As long as you are doing the right thing in the right place, you are in the right spot. It doesn’t have to be a record deal to be the right thing. Of course it’s easy for me to say because we are on a record label but we weren’t necessarily looking for a record deal at all. It just happened. We were extremely happy and extremely excited about doing what we were doing at that time. It’s just one of those things (where) record labels make you feel like you’ve made it but the truth of it is people right now are making great music and they will never be on a record label. That doesn’t mean it is not amazing and that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t look down upon them and say that’s awesome. We are here to please. We are here to please the father. All this other stuff is just kind of extra.”
Is it any surprise then to hear him say, “Playing with Dr Billy Graham was a highlight for me and when we played with him in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium where they had the Superbowl a few years back — that was a huge highlight for me.” Despite the fact that Salvador has sold out stadiums on their own it is refreshing to hear the band has not lost sight of the ministry aspect to their music careers.
Even during the band’s first three years of performing more than 200 gigs per year they always found quality time for God. Gonzales says, “We have access to God all the time. The really cool thing about that is wherever we are, whether it is our bunk, sitting in the back of the bus or whether we are in church it is really a good time to spend quality time with God. It’s a mixture. It’s not one thing and it’s not necessarily five things, it is ten different things when we get alone with Him. Our closet has to be everywhere.”
So just how does the lead vocalist for Salvador get alone and worship God? “Worship for me is fairly simple. Worship for me is the moment you sift away in your mind all the things that have to do with superficial things, when it becomes about you actually, melodically loving your Lord. That’s worship. Worship does not only have to be about music. It’s only the way that I express myself”, he says. Gonzales realizes worship takes different forms in people’s daily lives. In his own life music is that road to God. “It is the way that I have been gifted. I feel that God has gifted me with a chance to do these things in this way and so it is the way that I do worship.”
In November of 2004 Salvador released their most recent project So Natural. The band refers to the CD as their most personal album to date. This project marked the first time Gonzales sat in the producer’s chair and shared that responsibility with long time friend Chris Rodrigues. He and Rodrigues had struck up a friendship while co-writing songs together shortly after the band arrived in Nashville several years ago.
It is not hard to detect the pride and the enthusiasm in the Texan’s voice as he talks about creating So Natural. “This time when we talked about going into the studio we talked about doing all the songs by hand. What that means is no computer generated loops. Everything that is played is natural, hence the name. We made an effort on this record to just do things a little bit differently, kind of our own way. I figure that really drew us into a different mind set when we actually started playing. I think we all felt it was more personal. I think we all felt we had more control over things. It made things a lot sweeter when we ended up finishing it. I think the guys are most proud of this record for that reason because it is only them, no outside help. Obviously with me being in the producer’s chair for the first time it sounds exactly like I wanted it to so it makes me feel kind of warm inside.”
Many of the songs from So Natural released in November of 2004, were written at a time when Gonzales was forced to take three months off from touring due to exhaustion. One of those songs, ?This is My Life’ has become something of a personal testimony for him. He says like most of the other songs on the CD, “It touches upon all the things that I have been dealing with and working on myself.”
?This Is My Life’ stands out as a unique song on a unique album. Gonzales talks about the decision to use words from the old hymn ?How Great Thou Art’. “When we were writing the song we were just sitting around talking about all the old hymns that we had learned as kids and as we went along recording the song there was a little break where we were going to use a bridge. We started singing a hymn in between there. It just kind of stuck with us. A lot of things that you hear on the record are things that just came naturally. ?How Great Thou Art’, being the classic that it is we just thought it would be cool to include it.”
Although Nic Gonzales appears humbled to be compared with Carlos Santana, there is no denying the similarities as you listen to some of the songs on So Natural. He says Salvador also combines sounds reminiscent of Earth Wind and Fire and a band many of your parents will remember from the sixties, Blood Sweat and Tears.
Gonzales says it is the band’s use of horns (trombone and trumpet) that gives them a distinct sound. “I think we pay attention to details like that (horns) when it comes to things like that especially in our live performances. That’s what has got (taken) us a long way. We feel as though the brass section is something that makes us original. It’s expensive to take that many guys on the road but we’re getting by. We could split up the money four ways if we wanted to or we can take out a really big band and give people what they are expecting to hear. We just try and pay attention to details. We love horns.”
He says incorporating the brass sound in their music leaves the band in the enviable position of being considered unique. “We aren’t usually compared to anyone in Christian music. That makes us feel pretty cool. That makes us feel original.”
Nic Gonzales is one of those guys you would like to have as a friend, son or brother. He genuinely sees things in terms of grace working in his life. Take for instance the fact that he is one of the few owners of a 12 string Chet Atkins guitar made by Gibson. Sure it came about in part because he has an endorsement deal with Gibson Guitars and not realizing how rare they were asked a representative how he could purchase one. As Gonzales tells the story however, “Anyway it all comes down to this. Without even meeting the president of Gibson Guitars he decided he was going to build me one and give me one which is extremely rare. I don’t know how often that happens. I credit it all just to being in a Christian band and wanting to do good things with it.”
You can ask him about his teenage years and if he ever had a rebellious period like a lot of people who grow up as the child of a pastor, living under that microscope we refer to as peer pressure. He says, “My parents let me be who I was and there never was a time when I really wanted to rebel against God or anything like that. I do believe that has something to do with my parents being such good people.”
Salvador plays music about God’s grace and they are led into worship by a man who believes his everyday steps are guided by that same grace.
Copyright © 2005 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague.
Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.