Early last week, Jeff Waful, Umphrey’s McGee lighting director spent some time on the phone with Phish’s l.d., Chris Kuroda. Here is the portion of their conversation that focused on Super Ball IX and ran in Ball Things Reconsidered. The dialogue also took a serious turn as you’ll discover next week in Part Two.
Ok, so I know you can’t give away any specifics, but take us through the process of preparing for this weekend. How long ago did you start making plans for this weekend, how involved are the four band members in that process, are they in the room when you’re having these meetings?
CK: The four band members are involved in everything all the time. I mean that’s just the way it is. They want to know everything. They trust their people to make it good. They trust their people to come up with good ideas. They trust everybody around them implicitly to make it be 100% successful. But on a communicative level, they are aware of every idea. We might like an idea. They might like a different one. If they like a different one, they’re going to let us know. This is their business. This is their world and they know it. And they very properly and very respectfully and very politely work with all of us to get their vision of what they want to see happening as close as possible.
And that’s very unique for a band of that size.
CK: Oh it’s very unique. And oftentimes they’ll have an idea and while a week ago an idea will just be an idea, then they’ll give it to all of us for a week and it goes from an idea to being the same idea but with 800 more details that have been fine-tuned and polished and improved. It works out really well.
I could go on for days and days and days telling you how great these guys are as people, the four band members, how great they are as musicians, but more about how they are as people and how they treat everyone around them with so much respect and they don’t boss anybody around in the conventional sense. The way they handle themselves and conduct themselves as people, I’ve never seen anything like it, honestly. I don’t even mean bands, I mean just people that you know in your life.
Trey has some human qualities that I know very few people have. And the way he treats people and talks to people and explains himself to people. It’s such a gentle, delicate, amazing way that somehow commands a ton of authority in a very unconventional sense. It makes you want to do whatever he wants you to do, as impossible as it sounds. Because you talked to him directly and he didn’t have the tour manager tell you. He decided to tell you himself. When he’s done telling you something you want nothing more than to do it for him 100% even if it’s going to kill you. That’s the kind of person he is as a human being. I could go on for days and days, just the piles of respect that I have for these guys in that sense, forget about being musicians.
Do you have any pre-show discussions about the show with them at this point? I know they don’t really know specifically what they’re going to do, but are there ever segues or the like that are discussed ahead of time?
CK: No, not lightwise. No, that’s not true. I mean, there’re a couple of cool ideas we all worked on together and talked about. The fact that this could happen and do we want this to happen. The song “Steam” we’ve got some smoke machines and there were some thoughts about how we wanted to handle that and the band was very involved in that stuff, but in general, no. We talk about songs a little bit before the gig and what songs might work and what songs might not, but you know Phish, we can talk about 20 songs and they’ll go on stage and they won’t play any of those 20 even if we just talked about them an hour ago. We talk, but it’s all kind of as brothers, and as fun, and bouncing ideas off of each other. There’s no real serious air to it. At this point, we’re dialed after 20 some-odd years. We all know each other’s philosophies, and let’s go.
How has your style evolved in the current era of Phish?
CK: Well if anything it’s made me need to be more precise. There’re no more 45 minute guitar loops where you basically can do anything and it looks fine. It’s made me need to pay attention more to what they’re doing because the jams are way more thought out now. They’re not just reckless and out there. There’s a lot of precision to them, if you pay attention enough you can really listen and understand the musical thinking that’s going on at any given live moment. And it’s a lot more intelligent than it used to be. So I try to be more precise with what I’m doing based on that philosophy.
The trend of the fans holding up these signs, do they ever block your view and prevent you from seeing the visual cues from the band members?
CK: Yes, absolutely, all the time. Is there anything I can do about that? No. Do I want to send a security guard down there to take the sign away from that person? Yes. Will I? No, because it’s a kid having fun at a concert who doesn’t know that they’re blocking my sightlines 30 rows in front of me. So again, that’s a tolerance thing. It’s like beach balls. Beach balls get in my way too. Glowsticks—I bought a GrandMA2 light board and a glowstick cracked my center screen. Am I mad about it? Yes. Do I understand it? Yeah, it’s a kid throwing a glowstick at a concert. How can you be mad at that? It just happened to break my light board. What are you gonna do? But there were people around me that were freaking out and going completely insane and trying to find the kid and I told everybody to just calm down. How are you even going to figure out which kid threw it for that matter? There’re a thousand kids throwing glowsticks right now, you know? It’s all attitude, you know? Whatever.
Maybe people should hold up signs that say “Don’t Throw Glowsticks.”