Chris Kuroda Lights Up Amnesty International
Speaking of Phish, they have one show scheduled for this year so far, and that’s at Jazz Fest. Given the way that the festival is set up, not much of their set will take place at night. How are you going to be dealing with that? Will you light it more like some of the first sets during the summer tour?
Yeah, pretty much. That will be probably the case, yeah. You sort of roll with the punches. If it’s a daytime thing, then it’s a daytime thing. We in the Phish organization feel that when there’s a daytime set going on, lighting can still play at least a small role in keeping it intimate and giving it a little extra flair than just the sun. So we’ll do a little bit of something. But the approach to daytime lighting compared to the approach to nighttime lighting is completely different. Most of the things I can do in the dark you won’t even see in the daytime. So we try to choose what we like to call a classy way of lighting the band without it looking sort of out of place or silly in a daytime environment. And that’s what we’ll be trying to do. And of course, if it gets dark in time, we’ll be ready to do what I normally at a Phish show.
2013 was a pretty incredible year for Phish. Looking back, what were some of your highlights?
It was a highlight from start to finish. Phish is just in a place right now, musically, in my opinion, my humble opinion, I think they’re playing better than they ever have before. To see the four of them getting along as people and getting along as friends again like we all were back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, before things started getting a little weird, it’s been very rejuvenating. And to see these guys rejuvenated, to see them working together, to hear what the result is of these guys being rejuvenated and rejuvenating their friendship and being willing to work together, and obviously being in a new state of mind compared to the state of mind that they were in 10 years ago, I think is all reflective on the final product that you’re getting today from the band. They’re playing wonderfully, the shows are terrific, everybody’s happy. The audience is really picking up on all the good energy that’s coming off stage. Everybody’s smiling up there, and the music’s better. And everyone’s a little more grown up from back in those days, so the music’s coming across a little more grown up as well. I think it’s just all 100 percent positive. It’s such an amazing thing to be a part of and witness and see.
The fact that we’re still going, and the fact that, after 30 years, this band is in a place where they’re playing that well, and they’re that happy, and they’re motivated for the future, and they’re not bored with each other, and they’re not bored with the music. It’s really, really cool to see. To me, it’s sort of a human nature thing, and the human nature thing is playing out in a really, really good way with these guys. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s all been a highlight. We do these Dick’s shows over Labor Day weekend, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and those are always amazing shows. It’s always an amazing time. We did an indoor run for the first time in a long, long time. We did a fall tour indoors. And if I had to focus on one thing that was my highlight like you asked, it would be that indoor tour. Because there nothing, there’s no environment that I like better than an arena setting. And we’ve been doing the shed setting—we play Madison Square Garden every year for New Years, we get at least four shows in an arena—but mainly Phish has been an outdoor thing every summer for a few years. So to get back inside and get that sort of East Coast rock arena vibe again—in my opinion, shows indoors are always more intense than shows outside—just to get that energy back and be inside was really, really cool. So I would have to say that was my favorite part of 2013, that little indoor run in the fall that we did.
I guess you’re pretty excited going into 2014, I mean I know we all are over here.
Yeah, for real. Can’t wait. Looking forward to it. Again, I try to approach every project that I do as if it were Phish and try to put the same sort of passion and care and creativity into it. So for about a month and a half now I’ve been focusing mainly on this Amnesty thing, and being passionate on it and, like I said, sitting in programming studios for weeks at a time and really getting prepared to do this. Then it’ll be over next week, and then it’s off to the next thing.
But when it’s time for Phish, it’s all aboard, all hands on deck, and it’s time for Phish. And when it’s time for Phish, that takes more preparation than anything else. When we’re getting ready for a Phish tour, I will sit in the same set programming studio that I was telling you about. It’ll be a month-long session before we even go into rehearsals. We sit and program Phish for a month in the studio before we do anything. So that’ll be coming up before our next run, whenever that may be. And yeah, we look forward to that the most.
That’s my favorite thing to do. My favorite thing is preparing for Phish, going and doing Phish. Phish has been my life for 26 years. Phish is not a job. It’s just, for me, a way of life and a family and all that sort of stuff that I think everyone’s aware of. And obviously there’s no place like home, so I can’t wait for that to start up.
Going back to Justin Bieber, are you going to continue your work with him whenever his next tour might be?
I would like to. I really had a wonderful experience doing the Justin Bieber thing. I couldn’t even begin to express the things I learned, the people I worked with, the companies I got to familiarize myself with. Really good relationships with Strictly FX, which is a pyro company, or All Access who was a staging company. You do something like that for a year and a half, and you make some good friendships, you do a lot of good networking. You sort of solidify your place in that world, and I feel like I was able to accomplish that. And I’ve spoken with their people, and they’re very interested in having me participate in the next one, whenever that is.
Right now, Justin’s got his own sort of drama going on, so there hasn’t been much talk of when his next tour will happen. I think as soon as he gets his ducks in a row, he’ll be wanting to get started. Even though he’s in the press every day, even though he’s doing these silly things that everybody writes about, I know him well enough to say there’s no place he’d rather be than on stage performing. So hopefully we get to that point pretty soon. I’m looking forward to it.
I know Justin has caught a few Phish shows at this point. Have you ever had some time to talk Phish with him?
Oh yeah, many times. He’s a big fan, and I think everyone knows that Dan Kanter, his musical director, got him involved in it. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that the way I got the Justin Bieber job in the first place was that Justin came to a Phish show at Long Beach specifically to see the lighting and decide if I was the right person for him. At the end of that Long Beach show, he basically hired me right there on the spot. So I guess he liked what he saw. And it’s been a great relationship from that point forward. Regardless of what they say in the press about him—and this is just my own opinion, obviously—I fully believe that Justin is a great kid.
We have great times together, we have great conversations, he seems to have great values about family and friends and what’s important, and all those good things that make good people. But I think, ultimately, he’s a 19-year-old kid. It seems to me that people keep forgetting that he’s a 19-year-old kid. I know when I was 19-year-old kid, I was probably doing a lot of the same things that he’s doing right now. If I was 19 and you gave me a Lamborghini, I’d probably be speeding in it, you know what I mean? Just like he was. Let the 19-year-old kid grow up and maybe judge him again then, is what I’d say to the general public. But Justin Bieber is a really good person deep down inside, in my own personal opinion.
So you did the lighting on Jam Cruise this year, which was probably a bit of a different experience. How was that?
Yeah, lots of fun. Lots of fun. It’s a chance to sort of get intimate with the fans. You’re stuck on a boat with these guys. A lot of the people who are fans of Jam Cruise and the bands who play on it also happen to be fans of Phish. I think the general vibe I got was that people were pretty excited for me to be in a position where I was approachable, where they could talk to me, where they could just walk up to me, sit down and ask me questions and talk all things Phish. And you know, for me also being able to be accessible like that, and to be able to sort of give them that moment was really, really cool for me. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just a lighting designer, you know what I mean? But to the Phish fans, maybe I’m a little bit more than that, and when I see them get excited that they actually want to sit down and speak with me, and they’re interested in what I have to say, and they’re sort of hanging off of every word, that’s a very, very flattering and cool moment for me.
To be able to sit there and say, “Wow, this is really cool.” They really are truly interested in what I’m talking about, and they truly do want to come talk to me, and they have legitimate, valuable questions. It’s not just all sort of a farce. It’s very real and very from the heart when you sit down and talk to these fans. And I just think, personally, that that’s one of the coolest things. Those are the coolest moments you can be involved in, when you see how genuine these folks are. It’s very moving and touching. It means a lot to me sort of as a human being. So I think that’s really cool. I really enjoyed it on that level.
It’ll be great to see what you have in store for us at the Human Rights Concert.
I’m really looking forward to this Amnesty thing. I really truly believe in the cause more than anything else. I’m hoping that the awareness of what they stand for translates into the show that we’re about to do and hopefully future shows. It’s definitely a very important thing on a planetary scale, and I hope they’re able to succeed in their goals and do what they’re trying to accomplish here as Amnesty International. And to have the honor of playing a small role to try to help them do that is really, really cool, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.