Sound Check with SAVAGE GARDEN
Tennis Centre, Melbourne, May 2000
At the onset of their world tour,
Andrián Pertout speaks to guitarist Daniel Jones, live sound engineer Colin
Ellis and light designer/
director Bruce Ramus about the essence of ‘Savage Garden on the Road’.
Savage Garden, the electric pop machine highlighting the talents of singer/songwriter Darren Hayes and multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Daniel Jones is no doubt one of those remarkable modern-day Australian success stories. To date, their self-titled debut album has achieved worldwide sales of over 11 million records, while the follow-up titled ‘Affirmation’ has already surpassed the 4 million mark. The production for their current world tour has been their largest yet, with production rehearsals alone costing around 250,000 dollars. The light show features 100 moving lights, a backdrop controlled by 200 dimmers and 8 follow spots, while the sound utilizes the latest X-array system by EV. A production crew of twenty has been assigned to full-time employment, with another forty casuals added on to this line-up in each city. The production designers are Willy Williams and Bruce Ramus (with credits including U2’s Zoo TV and PopMart tours, as well as tours by REM and Bryan Adams), while the sound department showcases the expertise of sonic veteran Colin Ellis (previously on staff with the likes of INXS ‘1980 to 1992’, The Angels, The Divinyls, Ian Moss, Killing Heidi, Hoodoo Gurus, Baby Animals and Midnight Oil, among many).
How have you approached taking what has been essentially ‘studio music’ into the live environment?
DJ: “We definitely changed arrangements to better suit the live audience. We were trying to be too clever for our own good for a while there, in taking the music too far away from the album. And by the reaction we got from the audience, you could tell that they weren’t that much into the change. So in the end we decided to keep a lot of the first album songs relatively the same, none of them longer than three minutes-forty. And with the second album, just experiment a little bit – we added dance rhythms in one song.”
What about sound-wise, would you say you beefed it up a bit?
DJ: “Well, the second album was produced with a lot more tracks, a lot more faders up, so we had to boost it up as much as we could to keep it up on that par. And as much as we can, we get into our sound guy’s ear and try to explain to him where we want to take it from the recording; from how it sounded as we recorded to where we want to take it live. And a lot of it is up to him, how he does it that night. He’s pulled some great sounds, guitar-heavy some nights, but also pulled some great keyboard-heavy sounds other nights.”
In hindsight, do you feel that not having done the usual pub-thing for ten years disadvantaged the band in any way, commercially or artistically?
DJ: ”I did the pub-thing for ten years as a fifteen-year-old, I started in covers bands. I never got quite so technical about it, because it wasn’t necessary to do that, but you know, the moment you write your own songs, you break all the rules that were ever made as far as how you want to do it. But this opened a whole new world for me, as far running some sequences live, running some percussion tracks, things that we’d experimented a little bit within the covers circuit, but not quite as intense as what we are doing here. Like, the animal song, when we finished recording it we had two 48-track Sony digitals full of tracks of recording – and to try and get that sounding as good live, we had to use some of those tracks, which were mainly drum tracks.”
Tell me about your stage gear. How does it differ from what you would normally use in the studio?
DJ: ”The way we are doing it this time is eliminating on-stage sound as much as possible. And the reason we had to do this is that we were having problems with Darren’s voice getting over the level of the band. So the whole band has got in-ear monitoring. There are no amps on stage; we’re all direct out of Line 6 PODS, little guitar units, which are fantastic! (The Line 6 POD emulates 28 Line 6 amp models, and has 16 digital effects, including chorus, flange, tremolo, compressor, noise gate, rotary speaker, delay and reverb.) They’re about four hundred bucks, and they pull one of the best-processed guitar sounds. So we’ve eliminated the stage sound, so that everyone can hear themselves. Everything’s running direct. And I run a Roland 880 basically as a hard disk player, to run some of the percussion tracks. I’ve dumped down a lot of that info from the original recordings, and transferred from Pro Tools into the 880.”
And are there click tracks running?
DJ: ”Yeah, the drummer has a click track, in the stuff that’s got drums on it. And we also have a count, so our drummer doesn’t have to sit there and click four sticks together, we actually hear that, which is great to make the show more effective – you can be dead silent, pitch black, and then bang, all of a sudden the band kicks in and you didn’t know how they all came in on time. And it’s triggered from the Roland 880 with a stop/start switch.”
The production rehearsals are said to have cost around $250,000. What was the idea behind this step?
DJ: ”It was probably from Darren’s perspective of wanting to achieve some certain amount of theatrics on stage. Now, in doing that, you kind of have to go into intense rehearsal mode. And musically, we had previous chances to rehearse, so musically we just stood up there on the new stage, with the new backdrop, with all the new lights, and with Darren’s theatrical ways, to try and create a show it it. So a lot of that cost was basically just in the fine-tuning of lights and costume, and where the follow spot should go, here or there, or wherever. So it was just rehearsing the show more than the sound.”
Is the music set in stone, or do you leave room for improvisation on basic arrangements?
DJ: ”It’s pretty much set in stone. There’s not a great deal of room to improvise, and because Savage Garden is a singles-based band. That’s what our market is, people that buy singles. And we don’t want to stray too far away into being a rock band or some supersonic pop band, or whatever; we’re still about songs and about putting on a show more than anything. So as long as people are familiar with what they’re hearing, then we will be happy to stay inside of that.”
You have always stated that being a celebrity is not what you are about. How do you cope during tours, with all the hype of the media spotlight?
DJ: ”I cope fine with it, so long as I bring something to do, some productive work, because I find that there’s not a lot of satisfaction for me personally from just doing a fifteen-hour day of interviews. I don’t actually get a lot of satisfaction from that at all, and actually find it quite a chore, and restrictive, because what I really want to do is be able to be creative on a day-to-day level, whether I write a shit song or a great song, so long as I get a chance to do that. And Darren’s nearly the opposite, which works wonderful, because he can take the role as the spotlight, as doing all the press, whatever, while I can be working in my time providing songs for him, so it works really well.”
So would you try to get a lot of work done during these tours?
DJ: ”As much as I can, during the days, but you’ve gotta discipline yourself. It’s easy to sleep until eleven o’clock and get up out of bed at midday, then grab something to eat and turn up to sound check, and off you go. But I’m up at sort of eight, and I’ll be usually be doing something on the musical level by about ten o’clock. And then I’ve got all day to do that, in between a few other things, but I make time.”
What do you take with you on tour?
DJ: ”Basically those two boxes there (pointing across the room), a completely racked-up Pro Tools system, and a whole bunch of Roland MIDI gear (The rack includes a Mac 9600 with 3 X 9 gigabyte removable hard drives, Roland PC-160 MIDI keyboard controller, Mark of the Unicorn midi express, Digidesign 882 I/O Audio Interface, Mackie 1602 16-channel mixer, 2 Roland S-760 digital samplers, Iomega zip drive and a Roland Super JV-1080). And that’s all I really need, but if I want anything, I can always go and grab it from the side of the stage, a guitar, or whatever. But that’s as small as I could get it for what I need to actually continue writing. I mean, you’ve got audio recording as well as MIDI, and that’s all I need.”
Where will the current tour be taking Savage Garden?
DJ: ”We’ve done Japan, and we did it with a minimal production, we didn’t carry what we’re carrying now. Then we’re heading off to Europe, to the States, South America, and then possibly a few Asian gigs. It should see eighty shows I would say, this concert, which is quite a few, and through till about November. And then we’ll be pretty much done with this album, and done with the touring for a while. So we’ll hang the rock guitars up and get out the songwriting instruments.“
Interview with live sound engineer Colin Ellis.
Colin Ellis is Savage Garden’s soundman, and will be at the engineering helm for the complete duration of the world tour. He explains his job, “Bob (a member of the sound crew) sets up the system, but I’ll come in the morning and discuss the main points – we have to liase with the promoter’s rep to find out how far around they’ve sold the seating, to find out what we actually have to cover, as far as the PA goes. So from there we work out what sort of layout we’ll do for the system. Then I come out here and wire up the console, while Bob and the rest of the crew get the speakers up and everything.”
“The system we’re using tonight is what they call an X-array system, the new EV system,” points out Ellis, “And its got different types of cabinets in it (60 in total): there’s 18 XNs, 60 X 40 short throw cabinets (an 18” bass driver, 12” horn loaded mid driver and a large format compression driver for hi’s); there’s 18 XFs, 40 x 20 long throw cabinets (two 12” horn loaded mid range drivers and two large format compression drivers), it’s like a four-range cabinet; there’s 16 XBs, the bass cabinets (two manifold loaded 18” drivers); and then there’s 12 XDSs, the double subs on the ground down there (two manifold loaded 18” drivers in a double volume cabinet providing six db more output from 40-80Hz than an XB).”
“The system is run off Electro Voice P3000 Power Amplifiers which provide 1400 watts per side into 4 ohms,” outlines Phill Webb from Electro Voice, ”And the whole system runs at 4 ohms. The hi and mid components are 16 ohms which allows for four devices to be run off each amplifier channel, while the 18” drivers are 8-ohm components. And the speaker system runs via 8-core speaker cable on NL 8 connectors with the configuration allowing for 8 cabinets to be run off a rack of 4 amps. The front of house utilizes a 48-input Midas H2000 mixing console to cater for the support band, and a 56-input Midas H3000 mixing console to cater for Savage Garden.”
With regards to getting the equalization right, Ellis confesses that luck plays a big part in the matter, “As far as getting the right eq with an empty room, in the end it becomes a big guess I reckon. ‘Cause like today, it was a total hotchpotch, but I think we’re going to be really fine for the gig.”
Ellis has quite a lot of control over the system, and because it’s zoned in different zones. So he can actually turn different boxes up or down, by using the XTA crossovers and the computer. “We firstly pink noise the system, and try and get it looking fairly flat on the XTA, which is equalizing the crossover,” he says of the initial step, “And then from there I use the Klark Teknik DN 3600 for the band related eq. But because we can change different zones on the XTA, I’ll go round with one of those hand-held dB meters, walk around, and change the zones so that we get a consistent sound pressure level reading all round the gig – which doesn’t really tell you anything about frequency response; it just tells you that it’s about the same volume up there as it is up around the back. So we level up the system as best as we can, and that’s about it.”
Interview with light designer/director Bruce Ramus.
Canadian-born Bruce Ramus is the band’s light
designer/director, and is responsible for the stage lighting of Savage
Garden. “It’s kind of a combination of low tech and high tech,” he
says of the lighting equipment. “We’ve got a lot of moving lights,
which do the bulk of lighting the band, the movement looks. And then
we’ve also got the rope light panels, which are the biggest look of the
show. They are basically what everything was designed around, and
they are the low-tech bit of our show.” He continues, “They are made
in China, everyone knows them from discos and marquees. And what
I love about the rope light is that one moment it can be very cheesy and
discoey, and then very elegant the next, depending on how you use it.
So that is basically what the system is made out of, but we layer it so
that we can get movement within the panels.”
He then adds, “And the idea was to give the band something that made the stage look bigger, and wasn’t that expensive. And what I love about these panels is they are very unpretentious, very cheerful, very colourful.”
Ramus utilizes a computer to program lighting sequences, which can then be accessed at the push of a button. “I programmed a lot of sequences into the lighting computer,” he explains, “And then during the show I trigger those sequences in time with the music. And sometimes they will go on their own rhythm, and if you let them go, the song rhythm and that rhythm will seem to blend. So they kind of have a life of their own. But letting them go out of time with the music gives you a bit of dynamic, because it makes them look even more interesting when they are in time.”
The light show is essentially structured around the band’s songs. “I’ve a got a pretty good structure of the whole night, and its not the same with every band, but with this band it’s a fairly structured show,” says Ramus, “And I’ll have different lighting for different songs, and then within the song, we structure it like a song, we have look for the verse, a look for the chorus, a look for the bridge. And the colours, the way the lights come on, the timing of it, it all goes with the song.”
“We use two separate consoles to run this show,” he says of the gear. “One is called the ‘whole hog 2’, and that runs all the moving lights, and then we have an ‘Echelon’, which runs all the rope light panels. And we use those two consoles to run this system through obviously a lot of other dimmers. We have a lot of dimmers, and because each of the rope light panels takes three circuits, and we have sixty panels; so that’s a hundred and eighty dimmers, which adds up to a lot of control gear backstage that we trigger through those consoles I mentioned.”
Daniel Jones plays a Parker Fly Electric Guitar. ‘Affirmation’ out on Roadshow Music and distributed by Warner Music. For further information visit the Official Savage Garden Web Site. I would like to thank Francesca Peskops and Phill Webb from Electro Voice for supplying technical information on the ‘Savage Garden Tour’ sound system. Tel: (02) 9648 3455. Email: Francesca.Peskops@eviaudio.com.au
'Australian Musician' ~ Issue 22, Winter, June 5, 2000
AUSTRALIAN MUSIC ASSOCIATION
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