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Published: 2009/09/30
by Jefferson Waful

Looking Into The Light With Chris Kuroda

Photo by Jeff Kravitz (

JW: It seems like the band may be having the same experience at times. For a large portion of their career they were writing songs that weren’t conventional and throwing these curveballs and not adhering to standard 4/4 time signatures. It kept the listener off balance. Now, if they don’t remember certain composed sections, they’re trying to rely on their instincts, and trying to guess where the “one” is and getting thrown off by their own curveballs. As an organization, you raised the bar so high for so many years, and it’s hard to get back to that level.

CK: I think that’s it. And I think that the band is experiencing that exact same phenomenon as I am. We’re all just kind of still getting back into it, remembering how we used to do it. It’s a gigantic library of stuff and they want to play it all. It’s just a matter of getting to that point. They’ll try some nights and they do a really good job I think. But, I think it’s similar with them in the sense that it’s only been a short four years and they had to basically relearn their catalogue as well I’d imagine.

JW: Moving forward, are there any fantasies that you still want to explore as far as video projection?

CK: I do. Originally we had spec-ed this out with a bunch of DML 1200s and surfaces all around the band and we were going to project and get some content from Mike [Gordon] and really go down that path. The whole goal was to make video not look like video because we don’t want to look like anyone else that does video. But it kind of went to the wayside. The Phish philosophy has always kind of leaned towards purist. You know, we had all talked and decided that we weren’t ready to add another element yet. Let’s get rolling and get back to what we used to do and see what the future holds. But, we just wanted to keep it simple.

JW: With the current light rig, I feel like this may be the first time in a decade that you’ve actually had anything hanging down behind the band, since the Minkin backdrop.

CK: Yeah, and I’ve certainly never had lights like that in a vertical sense.

JW: And that is something that I assume you can’t do in an arena due to the 360-degree seating.

CK: No, we can’t do it in an arena, so we’ll do floor lights because sight lines are so important here, but that’s an idea I got from Tom Petty. Tom Petty did a lot of that stuff and I thought it looked great. So I sort of tucked that away in the back of my mind. I actually did ladders similar to this on a Trey [Anastasio solo] tour and really dug ‘em.

JW: You talked about not thinking. Have you been able to pinpoint what causes a really amazing night as far as you and the band members and the synergy or is it just completely random?

CK: It’s completely random. I honestly think it has a lot to do with personal headspace. I think when it’s fun, it clicks. When you’re forcing it, it doesn’t click. I honestly believe, very thoroughly in taking your mind out of the equation and just acting on instinct. It seems to work a lot better for me. When I think too much, my timing gets all weird because I’m like, ‘Should I hit it now? Should I wait? When should I hit the button?’ Instead of just boogying down and hitting the button naturally, you’re hand just does it. When I do that, it all jives, it’s all right on. When I stop and think too much, it sucks.

JW: Have you ever had a fan come up to you during the show and ask you to turn the bass up and in the process you completely miss what you were counting and your concentration is blown?

CK: Yes, last night as a matter of fact. Absolutely. It happens all the time. Someone messed me up trying to bum a cigarette from me last night, yelling from out there in the seats, ‘Hey you! Sir!’ [laughs]. Wow.

JW: You’re obviously in a different place now, you and the band members. You have a daughter now.

CK: Yeah, she’s turning six in a couple days, just finished kindergarten. It’s way different. It’s hard. It’s hard for her. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for Mom. Just having a kid, Mom is 24-hours a day, work-work-work, just by having a child. She never gets a break. She gets up at 6 a.m. every day. My daughter kind of gets messed up. I’m home and then I’m not home and then I’m home. It’s really a mental struggle for her. And then I miss them terribly when I’m out here. But, at the same time, as much as we talk about that stuff as a family all the time, we’re also well aware that this is what I do. And as hard as it is, we’ve always found a way to make it work. I have to commend my wife. She’s an amazing woman. She tolerates this and puts up with it and deals with it every day with a smile on her face. She knows that this is what needs to happen. She can’t sit around going ‘I wish Chris was here.’ She doesn’t and that’s a quality that I really respect in her. So we make it work. A lot of roadie relationships don’t work eventually, but we’ve been married 10 years and we’re still making it work. We’re definitely committed.

Jefferson Waful is the lighting designer for Umphrey’s McGee. He first interviewed Chris Kuroda for back in 1998 .

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