Dave Ghazarian found himself atop a piano bench starting at age five in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, where he began his musical journey studying classical and jazz piano. After seeing the inspiring “Back to the Future”, he felt drawn to play the guitar, which he did in basement garage bands, churches, and Christian campus groups while attending The Ohio State University. Leaving a Pharmacist’s career behind, he walked from his graduation podium into a van and trailer as Church of Rhythm’s lead guitarist. He soon then became one of the founding members of the Grammy nominated band, Superchick, and also spent time as the lead guitarist for Rebecca St. James and Audio Adrenaline. He is recently known for critically acclaimed jazz recordings under the name, David Ian. He and Peter have been friends and toured on and off together for many years. They are both stoked to finally be in the same band!
EASLEY: Welcome to the broadcast. This is Michael Easley inContext. You’ve been listening to a little of the Peter Furler Band and in the studio today, it’s a blast to have Dave Ghazarian with us. Dave, welcome!
GHAZARIAN: Thank you so much!
E: Now, let’s start at the beginning. when did you first start playing an instrument? When did this DNA come out of you?
G: You know, I grew up in an Armenian family, so you have to start when you’re like five.
E: It’s part of the script? (laughter)
G: Yeah, right. I started playing piano actually when I was five, hated it. I had a lunch break from elementary school and every day we had an hour break. Half of it I had to study. Play piano.
E: And play piano, and learn theory of course.
G: Yeah theory, classical. Nothing that I really enjoyed.
E: We just dissed all the classical folks, but we’ll keep going.
G: So I mean honestly, I had to probably study piano for ten years before it started to be something that I enjoyed.
E: So it was strictly, just you had to do it because mom and dad made you do it?
G: Yeah, mom…that’s how it was in my family. Actually I didn’t even have the option to quit so I didn’t even ask. I never really even thought about it. I hear about people doing that now and I’m like, wow why didn’t I think about doing that. But yeah, after about ten years, I discovered I really liked doing it so I started taking it on my own. I started learning jazz, piano. Probably my biggest inspiration to switch to the guitar, I was at the opening day of Back to the Future. I don’t know if you ever saw that movie.
E: Michael J Fox.
E: Yeah. And saw that movie and there’s a scene in there where Michael J. Fox is back in time.
E: Chuck Berry?
G: He does the Chuck Berry thing.
E: Great scene, yeah.
G: I was like “holy cow.” That’s what I’m going to do with my life. I had this revelation so a week later my dad helped me buy a guitar. At the time it was in the newspaper; you had to look in the classifieds. Not like today.
E: Where were you living at the time?
G: At the time, I was living in Akron, Ohio.
E: Akron? OK.
G: I started just from what I knew of piano, started teaching myself, ordered like mail order type courses.
E: How to play?
G: Yeah, how to play guitar.
E: Get out!
G: Rock n roll methods, all sorts of stuff. First I had to learn Johnny B Good. That was the starting point.
E: Of course. Of course.
G: Man, you know my parents all through growing up, I was so blessed to be in a Christian family growing up and so they always had us in church. I was singing in church when I was five. Don’t ask me to sing now.
E: For those who may not know, give us a little history of Audio Adrenaline and your involvement with them.
G: Well you know I’d been playing in bands for many years before I was approached by them, which was I guess almost a couple years ago now and just got a call out of the blue from the a guy named Kevin Max. Of course I knew who he was. We had probably met somewhere along the way, and he said, “ Yeah, I’m Kevin Max.” I said, “Oh, I know who you are.” But he was talking about putting the band back together and have me play. Honestly, I was kind of blown away, and it was one of those bands that we had played with over the years with groups that I’d been in. Just the idea of being asked to be a part of that, was a great honor.
E: You were with Audio Adrenaline how long?
G: Just about a year.
E: A year? Ok. Some of the other bands that you were playing with?
G: I started playing with a band called Church of Rhythm. Actually, if you want to go back to college, I went to college to study pharmacy and I was at the Ohio State University and pretty heavily involved in Campus Crusade there and helped them lead worship and by the time I graduated college, pretty much resigned myself to be a pharmacist. That’s what I was studying to do.
E: I could see you doing that.
G: Yeah, you could see that right? It’s about the look.
E: Put a white coat on.
G: Yeah, and you know once in a while I do that. You’d be surprised. I still was playing pretty actively in Campus Crusade, there was a church I was playing in; every opportunity I had to play, I was playing.
E: Did you always love it at that point? Was it like, I can’t wait to go do it?
G: That’s all I kind of looked forward to, not to say I wasn’t enjoying my life at the time. It was a lot of just studying stuff that I had no idea what I was studying, you know, chemical names and it just didn’t’ make a lot of sense to me, but you know again, Armenian background. You have to have a real career…
E: To fall back on, right, right!
G: It’s a fallback, but I was part of a group that they had put together for a Christmas conference at Campus Crusade, and by this time it was my senior year and I just resigned myself to, you know I’ll probably just be a pharmacist. This is nice to do and I’ll just figure out ways to incorporate music. I met a band that was called Church of Rhythm, who was a guest artist at the conference and they were ironically looking for a guitar player, so I had some chats with them. Last quarter of my senior year, I was flying in and out doing shows. I literally walked off the graduation podium and practically walked into a van and trailer, started touring and haven’t looked back since.
E: Wow! You’ve been in all kinds of venues from the small church thing to big auditoriums, when you’re playing and you’re looking out on this audience that’s going crazy, how do you bring Christ, your relationship to Christ into what you’re doing and how all these kids I would suspect,mostly young audience, are responding to you?
G: Yeah, you’re wondering that sometimes. How, what are we doing here? Especially when it’s a routine;you’re doing the same concert every day. We don’t necessarily get to stick around and see the fruit of what happens.
G: You know even if we give a brief message, we’re kind of in and out. To kind of bring it back, I was a long standing member of a group called Super Chick that came out of Church of Rhythm, and one of the messages that we always try to relay, one of our themes was basically that God has given everybody a gift, like a unique gift, and that your responsibility is to find out what that is and use it just to the full, like maximize it, bring it out. The hope is that what we’re doing on stage is just a platform to show kids that’s the message. This is what we’re doing. Now find what you’re doing and be just as excited about it. That’s why it’s so important to us to have so much excitement on stage. I guess just to show the passion for what we’re doing which is a true passion and if we’re going to play rock music, we’re going to play it as loud as we can; if we’re going to play a ballad it’s going to be a real ballad. It’s almost going extreme to help influence and inspire people for God.
E: You’ve certainly heard some stories. You’ve gotten an e-mail on social media and stuff, the guys that have come back. What are some of the things you’ve heard back from maybe some of that life change or provoke somebody in a way?
G: I mean one of the coolest stories for me, and I know there’s a lot of them, and if you’re in a band for like twelve, fourteen years you start to see some of the same people come to your shows.
G: You know we were catering to junior high, high school. I remember a girl that was probably, I don’t know, maybe junior high when we met her. She kept coming to shows and she was one of our super fans, and one day she finally came to a show and she had her graduation cap from college and it had Super Chick written all over it. She just explained to us how “The message of our music, the encouragement of just endurance and being great and doing greater things than you can imagine. I couldn’t have done it without that message and without you guys, and just following you guys and watching you guys do it.” I was just blown away, to be even part of that.
E: So you and Peter decide to do this new band, yet another band. Why is it different for you? How do you see God using it in a different way?
G: You know I think it’s like what Peter had said. I went through so many seasons of bands. Like I said, I started playing for a band called Church of Rhythm, two of the band members, myself and a guy named Max, we found ourselves as the last standing members of the band. So we were like, “What are we going to do?” So he had like what he felt was a calling to kind of minister with a girl fronted band called Super Chick because one of the themes of Church of Rhythm, one of the songs that he had sung was written was about self esteem and things like that, and in the context of that. A lot of girls were approaching him to talk about their issues with that and we thought that’s not really appropriate for guys to be talking about guy to girl ministry so we said we need to address this in a form of a band, to put a girl in front that has that same vision and that same mind set and have her be that voice for these girls and have her be the one talking to them.
That became that season in our life so we were living on nothing at the time. We had a friend that was very kind to us and let us just kind of live in this house and this was in the suburbs of Chicago. I call it the “dark ages” of my life because we felt like, “What are we doing?” We’re creating something, starting something but nobody knows about it, is it really going to amount to anything? Sure enough God took it and made it something bigger than us. So from that had so many great ministry opportunities, touring many countries, and just mostly around the U.S. From that, I played with Rebecca St. James for a while. I think it was later on that Peter called me to join his group and that was just another great season of opportunity for me.
E: You’re married?
G: I am.
G: No kids. We’re still pretty young, just past the four year mark.
E: Ok, it’s still ok to travel? You’re gone how many nights a year?
G: You know it varies from year to year. Some years it’s like I’m probably gone half the year. Uhh, some years more or less. It varies; it depends on how many tours you end up doing. Last year was a fairly busy year. This year, I think Peter and I are on a similar mindset whatever things come up that sound like, “This is a good idea,” we’re going to do it, but we’re not going to try to go crazy with it.
E: Today in the studio we have Dave Ghazarian and we’ve been talking to Peter Furler, the new band, the Peter Furler Band. So Dave you got some young ears, listening perhaps, kids that play the piano, guitar, drums and they want to grow up and be a Christian rock star, rock star, what counsel, what advice, what warnings do you tell them?
G: We get that question a lot because people will look at what we’re doing and they’ll say, “That’s exactly what I want to do because it looks like so much fun.” Probably for a lot of the reasons I was inspired, by watching Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. I look at that, I’m like well that looks like a great idea. I want to do that.
E: The end of that scene didn’t go so well for Michael J. Fox as I recall. (laughter)
G: Yeah. We try and remember the good part. That’s the inspiration. And so many people ask that question and I wish it was as easy as asking me, “How do I become a pharmacist? How do I become a lawyer? Or a nurse? Or a doctor?” Because as hard as those things are to do; It’s actually pretty easy. There’s a formula.
E: Go to school. Make the grades.
G: Yeah, you make the grades. You do your undergrad and then you do this graduate program, and then you start a practice, but for being in a band or doing music as a ministry, or just music in general, there doesn’t seem to be a formula to follow. The best answer I have for that is just based on my experience of doing that. God puts opportunities in front of you and you’re going to see an opportunity and say, “Well that’s not a rock band. That’s not playing for thousands of people. I’m not going to do that. I’m waiting for the big one.” My story is one of very small beginnings; playing in a church of thirty or forty people, and from that there’s a high school student lead ministry that wants to sing a couple songs, so you bring your guitar and you start leading a couple songs. From that maybe in college, you start playing on a campus group. None of this stuff is very glamorous, but it’s being faithful to all the things God puts right in front of you right now. That’s my biggest story and my biggest answer: if you’re faithful, you always have that vision in your periphery of what your goal is. You have this ideal of I want to do this on a large scale. I want this to be huge.
E: I want to be famous. Yeah, yeah!
G: Not only just to be famous, maybe I just want to influence a lot of people.
E: A lot of people for Jesus.
G: Right, right.
G: If you do really, truly understand what your end goal is you always keep that in the periphery; and all the little opportunities, just as I see in my life, if I look back it all fits like a puzzle piece. One opportunity I took shifted me a little bit to the left, and then this one shifted me over to the right and it all kind of zeros in on this target and because of that passion you have, because of that vision you have, everything you’re doing somehow become a building block to reach that.
E: It’s interesting because in ministry it’s the same thing, you know sometimes people, they want to be a pastor or whatever. It’s the same advice I give them I say, “Be faithful where God has you; take every opportunity you get; it’s a slow long process and He’s more interested in our faithfulness than our success.”
E: If we just keep plugging away maybe they’ll be open doors, maybe not, but being faithful is a lot more important.
Fast forward. If you could go five years, eight,ten years in time with the Peter Furler Band, what would you like to look back and say, “Ok, God did XYZ with this.”
G: God used it in ways that we didn’t know when we started and just that we were faithful with our time. I mean that’s my biggest thing now. We kind of having this running joke with me and my wife, at the beginning of every year, we’ve only been married for four years, the end of the year looks drastically different than what we had expected at the beginning of the year. This has happened every single year since we’ve been married, so we kind of joke around and say, “What is it going to look like in December this year? We might be living in Africa.” I don’t know. I mean,it’s maybe not that drastic, but it’s not what we had set out to do, but the important thing to me with everyday is when I wake up is, I have to be doing something today that’s building something, that’s working toward something. I dont’ want to look back on a year and say, “Man I just kind of slept in and all that time. What was I watching, TV? What was I doing with my time? I could have achieved so much more; I could have done something to build God’s kingdom; I could’ve done something to enable me to do bigger things for God’s kingdom.”
E: Meg Jay’s written a book called, The Defining Decade. She talks about those who may be not quite out of college, or finishing college and they’re living at home; living at mom and dad’s house; maybe their childhood bedroom still. They’re doing exactly what you just diagnosed and how do we move these young men and women to say, “That decade is not retrievable.” If you play xbox till two or three in the morning, you’re online playing games, on the internet all wee hours snap chatting, taking pictures, finding your passion, which is the big moniker today for the twenties, “I haven’t found my passion, I wouldn’t take that job. That’s not my passion!” What do you say to them?
G: Aww man! I mean, well what you have just pointed out is a great thing. I try to do the same thing. I try to put myself five years a head, or I even try to put myself in the now and go back five years and say, “If I could go back how would I do it differently?” There are things, this is kind of a not too known thing about me, is that I’m also a Jazz artist called Dave and Ian and I’ve kind of been pursuing a career of Jazz and I hope to just use that to influence people. In what way? I don’t know but I know God opens doors with any venue, but what I’ve been doing in recent years is on tour I’ve just been waking up. It’s tempting to be on tour and just all I have to do is play a concert.
G: Sleep in till one o’clock, roll out of bed, maybe go to a coffee shop and that’s life for a lot of people on the road. For as long as I’ve been on the road, you just start doing that for a while and if you’re on the road long enough you’re like, “I have to do something or my life is just passing me by.”
G: So starting maybe four or five years ago, If there wasn’t a piano at the venue, I would drag a keyboard and I would just practice my brains out. I’m working on a new career. I’m working on something and people would just, it blew people away that were on tour. They thought this was something foreign.
E: (thinking) What are you doing?
G: They were like, “You’re practicing eight hours a day? Why? You’re already in a band. You’ve got a show tonight. What are you doing?” I was thinking well for one, this is “what I do for a living” quote. This is what I do to represent God. Whatever I’m doing if I’m calling myself a Christian, I better be pretty darn good at what I do.
E: Good for you!
G: I just think about it. Well you know what? Everybody else out there in the country that has a “regular (quote) job,” they’re working eight hours a day. So why am I sleeping in and playing a show an hour a night? This is my job. This is what I do and I’m going to do it with excellence.
E: Well Dave, tell us about the Ghazarian name.
G: The Ghazarian name: people often ask “What is that?” I say, “Armenian” And they’re like, “Oh, you’re Armenian?” and I said, “No, no, no, this is not Armenian vs. Calvinism.”
E: Probably two per cent of the population understood what is said there.
G: Yeah, probably. They probably think it’s a sect of religion, but it’s actually Arminianism, like someone says they’re Italian or Greek, or you know.
G: Right, so I grew up with this heritage and it’s kind of a rich heritage that a lot of people don’t know about. My parents you know, our relatives came from Armenia and my grandparents, there was actually a massacre as in a genocide that drove a lot of them out of their country and my parents ended up being born in Egypt. So I guess there’s this thing if you’re Armenian, you’re Christian because we take pride in being the first nation that accepted Christianity as their religion.
G: Where that kind of breaks down is, a lot of times that’s it. Whether it started that way or it evolved into that, it’s just kind of one of those things where if you ask a Armenian, “Are you a Christian?” “Well of course I’m a Christian.
E: Of course.
G: I’m Armenian.” We’re the first nation to accept Christianity. Its kind of how my Dad, who was a great influence in my life grew up in the Orthodox Armenian Church, and I think when he was about a teenager he had a friend that lead him to Christ. More than just culturally, we go to church; we do this liturgy; we do a lot of these ceremonial things that are cultural, he showed him what it was like to be a true Christian and have a relationship with Christ. It transformed his life. If you knew my dad, he was totally transformed and he moved my family to Toronto and that’s where I was born in Canada. So coming from seeing the tradition to seeing the reality in Christ in your life, he was so determined and he just took it very seriously to make that the environment for his family to grow up in. So I was really blessed to grow up in that environment. We were always going to church; we went to church twice a day; twice a day on Sunday’s and then a couple times in the middle of the week. His encouragement was “Yeah, play music, do whatever you’re doing, but do it for God.” So even now, my wife is Armenian as well, if you know Evangelical Armenians which are Armenians that know Christ in the sense of being born again with Christ, you pretty much know all of those Evangelical Armenians in North America is kind of how I ended up meeting my wife.
E: Wow! Small community.
G: Yeah, very small community, because most all of them are still orthodox in their faith. So my wife and I take that as a challenge, because we have such a heritage in this and we know the language; we understand some of the suffering that the community has gone through. It’s kind of become our passion and a little bit of our conviction, I guess to build into this community. So many Armenians even here in Nashville, a lot of them have come from Russia and you know they weren’t exposed to a lot of Christianity in Russia. There’s a small Armenian community here that meets once a month and we help teach Sunday School and we’re trying to be a light in that community and there’s others doing that. So that’s a little bit of a side note on what we do but along the way that’s really been a huge part of my growing up.
E: What gives you joy?
G: Knowing that you’re using your gifts. I guess that gives me joy, and not only that, but knowing that you’re not complacent; you’re not done. A lot of people think, “Oh, you’re in the Peter Furler Band or you’re in Super Chick band, you’re done; you arrived. On my end of it, I haven’t even started and it gives me joy to see what more I can accomplish with the gifts that God has given me; what more I can do to honor Him with that.
E: Dave, it’s been great to have you today. Would you do us a favor and pray for us? Pray for these kids that are listening to us? and thanks for what you’re doing.
G: Love to. Dear God, Thank you so much for this opportunity. Thank you for the gifts that you give us, for the gifts that you give each and every one of us. No matter if we even think their gifts, God, there’s so many things that you’ve empowered us to do, I just pray that people listening would just realize that they have so much to offer to the world, and that not only that, but that everybody is an example in their own way. We’re being watched and I just pray that you would keep us faithful to live to that calling, God. Just take the abilities, take the gifts you’ve given us just to use them for your glory, use them for your grace, just to represent you best. We pray all these things in Your Name, Amen.
E: Dave Ghazarian. Thanks for being with us today on Michael Easley inContext.