• 149 WESTCHESTER AVENUE, PORT CHESTER, NY 10573-4549 · (914) 937-4126

  • December 20th, 2018

    Now’s the Time to Expand Your Mind with Psychedelic Artist Johnathan Singer

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Remember those jaw-dropping visuals during “Drums > Space” at the Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Fare Thee Well shows? Johnathan Singer was one of the creative minds behind the magic. Today, Singer’s wizardry can be experienced with bands and artists like Dead & Company, Tipper, Alex and Allyson Grey, Shpongle, and many more. The aesthetics of the live music space itself can be just as important in setting the mood as the music. Lucky for us, on December 27 and 29, Johnathan Singer, one of the most exciting visual artists of our time, is bringing his visual experience to The Cap for Oteil Burbridge & Friends. We had the chance to get to know the amazing and down to earth man behind the multisensory experience!

    You designed the visuals for “Drums > Space” at the Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary Fare Thee Well Shows. What was that experience like regarding the creative process? Was it collaborative with members of the band? How did it come to be?

    I received a phone call from a good friend, Howard Cohen, that I have worked with for years through Mickey Hart. He contacted me about wanting to make “Drums > Space” for the 50th anniversary shows extremely special due to Pete Shapiro, the promoter and owner of The Capitol Theatre and Brooklyn Bowl, requesting Howard to help with this project. I recommend Obscura and Android Jones for us to collaborate together on creating live visual content for each individual show. We were also given some ideas for themes from the band members for each particular night. This was a once and a lifetime experience to create visuals for such an iconic band.

    Since then, you’ve been designing the visuals for Dead & Company. What have you enjoyed most about the experience? How has it differed from your experience designing visuals for Fare Thee Well Drums and Space? Do your designs change from tour to tour or do you keep them relatively the same?

    I enjoy the Grateful Dead’s songs because they are stories. I love exploring and using Grateful Dead related art in the visuals such as Richard Biffle, AJ Masthay, and Michael DuBois to create the journey through the art and telling the story visually as it unfolds musically and lyrically. Designing visuals for Dead & Company differs from the visuals of my “Drums > Space” Fare Thee Well experience in the way that “Drums > Space” is such a visually stimulating experience, almost overwhelming at times, whereas with the complete show, I get to create different settings for each song. I keep the collection of work that I have used and keep adding it to every year so the show stays fresh; there are over 111 songs on the playlist so it makes it necessary to have a large library of content. Every year, Dead and Company’s lighting director Chris Ragan and I collaborate on bringing in new looks and designs for the show.


    Photo by Dave Vann

    Is there a specific Grateful Dead song you especially enjoy adding visuals to?

    There are several songs. With the Grateful Dead’s songs, they vary from beautiful lullabies to high powered, intense jams so I really get to play with several different feelings of visuals. Some of the songs that are my favorites to create visuals to are “The Other One” for improvisational jams and “Brokedown Palace” for lullabies.

    You’ve worked with artists such as Tipper, Shpongle, and Beats Antique who encompass many different genres of music. What do you like most about crossing genres like this so often? What do you take into consideration when designing visuals for these different artists? Who’s one of your favorite non-Grateful Dead-related bands to work with?

    What I like about crossing genres is that it keeps me on my toes and allows me to explore several different visual looks, feels and experiences. One of the things I take into consideration when designing visuals for different artists is working with the artist’s logo or art surrounding them to create a look that feels correct. I really enjoy working with Tipper as my non-Grateful Dead related artist. His music really allows for the psychedelic experience to be explored visually.

    You provide visuals for both indoor and outdoor venues. What things do you have to take into consideration when providing visuals for an indoor venue like The Cap, that you don’t have to think about with an outdoor venue? Anything you like better about designing for indoor venues?

    I like designing for both indoor and outdoor venues. Each of them has their own. One thing I enjoy with an indoor venue is you can control your environment as for outdoor venues you cannot do anything about the sun or weather. I do, however, enjoy the energy that is created at outdoor venues by the number of people in one place underneath the stars.

    You’ll be providing visuals for Oteil Burbridge’s upcoming shows at the Cap on December 27 and 29. While The Capitol Theatre is known for many things, one of those is our stunning wall projections. Have you ever worked with projections similar to The Cap’s and will you be utilizing them in these upcoming shows?
    If yes: What have you enjoyed about the extra canvas space provided by these projections? If no: What are you most excited about with regards to the wall projections?

    Yes, we just got done mapping the Kings Theatre’s proscenium last month. Yes, I will be using The Cap’s mapped projection surfaces. I enjoy the ambiance that this provides for the theater and allowing the focus to be on the band while creating a psychedelic environment all around them.


    Photo by Scott Harris

    The Capitol Theatre is well known for its historical attachment to the Grateful Dead, who played 18 times between 1970 and 1971. Since then, Phil Lesh has played 77 shows since our re-opening, and we’ve had many members of the Grateful Dead play with their side projects and beyond. As a fan of the Dead and someone who’s collaborated with various incarnations of the band over the course of your career, what are you most looking forward to about working in our venue?

    First of all, I am excited to play with Oteil’s band, it has been so much fun over these past few years to get to know Oteil. He is an amazing bass player, father and overall person. This band that he has put together is just phenomenal. As far as The Cap, what a place to play! The history is unreal and as Jerry said “See, there’s only two theaters, man… that are set up pretty groovy all around for music and for smooth stage changes, good lighting and all that-the Fillmore and The Capitol Theatre. And those are the only two in the whole country.”


    Photo by Jay Blakesberg

    You’ve worked with Alex Grey on numerous occasions, one work, in particular, was an event where Alex and his wife Allyson painted live at a Tipper show and you manipulated those images in real time for the audience to see. What was this process of spontaneous collaboration like? What do you do to ensure his original art isn’t overpowered and is instead enhanced by your work?

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have done several performances with Tipper and the Greys, one, in particular, was at CoSm where Alex Grey and his wife, Allyson, are building a sacred visionary gallery in Wappinger Falls. This show stood out as it was extremely intimate with only about 400 people there. I was amazed when I walked into the room to see everyone sitting down facing the screen instead of looking at the person who is playing music, which is usually the case. The Greys were also supposed to be painting but never did, haha. Tippers set that evening was ambient, which is my favorite to do. All sets that I do with Tipper are improvised and spontaneous due to the fact he does not provide a set list and goes with what he feels appropriate for the particular journey.

    As far as creating visuals using Alex and Allyson’s work, what I always do is look at the image and imagine the visions that they had to create the piece and try to recreate that visual experience. It is an honor to work with such an amazing body of work from both Alex and Allyson. If anyone has the chance to visit CoSm, I highly recommend it.