JW: When Phish decided to come back, did you have to relearn the music in addition to how you run the light show?
CK: I did. You know, I hardly listened to any of it during that off time. This year has been more difficult than the twenty years previous because of the new technology. I’m running the whole show myself now. I’m not calling any cues to anybody. When everything is running well, I can take my headset off. I don’t have to talk to anybody, which is different because with two hands I’m doing what six hands used to do. There’s a learning curve, a lot to get used to. These LEDs, I need to think of them as moving lights, not as par cans. If I think of them as pars, they’ll be out of their pan and tilt when I need them, because they’re moving lights. When you clear your desk [lighting console], they go to their 50/50 position. They’re not going to be on the band when you hit the button. So, there’s a lot more thinking involved.
JW: When you said this is harder than the previous twenty years, I assume that’s because you’re trying to tackle a large portion of the Phish catalogue all at once instead of learning one new song at a time, as the band introduces new material. What approach did you take to relearning the song list?
CK: I listened a little bit, I wrote a few cue stacks, to “Fluffhead” among others. I went to rehearsal for one day and they rehearsed on stage in Hampton before we did the shows. The whole time during that experience I felt unprepared, didn’t know the music and was nervous about the whole thing. When the lights went down and they came on stage, I did what Trey calls ‘no mind.’ You don’t want ‘too many mind.’ Like in The Last Samurai, the guy is trying to fight and the guy goes ‘too many mind.’ Don’t think, basically. Autopilot it. Those lights went out in Hampton and I closed my eyes and autopilot-ed and I went ‘Oh yeah, I remember all of these songs.’ If you take your brain out of the equation, you’re fine. That’s literally what I did.
JW: The problem with that is that the first song they played was “Fluffhead” and it was the first time you ever used a pre-programmed cue stack for a Phish song. So, you’re trying not to think, but suddenly you’re running lights for Phish again, but in a completely different way. It must have been hard to rely on muscle memory in that context.
CK: It was. I was really nervous about doing that. But, it went really well. I had the luxury of, while writing that very elaborate “Fluffhead” cue stack, listening to “Fluffhead” a thousand times. So, that song, I knew. By the way, I’m still screwing things up. There are still parts of songs where I’m going to [a different section] and then I go ‘Oh shit, I forgot about that part!’ The catalogue is enormous.
JW: Let’s talk about your current rig. Was it an environmental decision to replace almost all of the par cans with LED fixtures or was it an attempt to be more technologically savvy?
CK: I think it was more trying to be tech savvy. I was really growing away from par cans anyway. All the old Phish rigs were par cans with moving lights layered over them. I really wanted to get away from that. I had the opportunity to use some [Elation] Impressions about a year ago and I realized that it was what I wanted to do. I think it was a great decision. I’m really happy without par cans. The only pars in the whole rig are Lekos and ACLs. That’s it.
JW: One of the things that I always associated with your light show was the massive numbers of ACLs that you used to accent various rhythmic “hits”. Now, you’re using Atomic 3K Strobes to accent those same sections. It’s definitely a different look.
CK: Yup, I’m just going in a new direction. It’s the whole thing with all incandescent sources. I love the ACLs. I needed a layer, that’s why I added them back in. They’re only three racks. But, they’re slow. If you hit the button on a big par can look, it’s going to take a second to get there. It’s the same with the ACLs. On R. Kelly [tour], I had a bunch of these Atomic 3Ks that were there for accenting and that’s something I stole from R. Kelly. The whole time I was on these different tours – Aerosmith, Black Crowes, R. Kelly – I’d come across new things or I’d see other people do new things and in the back of my mind I’d say ‘OK, I’m going to do that with Phish if the day ever comes.’ So, when the day came I tried to [implement those elements]. I’m just trying to be different. You know, I don’t want it to look the same. The kids say ‘Phish 3.0’. It’s new no matter what it is.
JW: Are there elements of your new light show that you’re not happy with?
CK: That’s a good question. No, right now I’m pretty happy with everything. I have to say. I’m still in learning curve mode. I’m still getting used to this gigantic animal, as I consider it to be.
JW: I’ve noticed that the whole rig is a lot sparser than some of your rigs back in the late 90s.
CK: The whole vibe was to go more sparse, yes. That was the whole vibe before Hampton when we were talking about what we were going to do. That’s why we wanted the brightest hard-edge gobo light we could get.
JW: And why that decision?
CK: I would look at photos of my lighting with old Phish. I’d have a stack of pictures in my hand and I’d look at them and go ‘too busy,’ next picture: ‘too busy, too cluttered,’ next picture: ‘too clumpy.’ They were all too busy. I wanted a cleaner look. So, in an attempt to make a cleaner looking light show, we went for less fixtures with more power and spread them out. There are a couple trusses up there that have only two lights on them, but it makes space and spreads things out.