It is a rare and amazing thing to be able to stand in a clearing in the redwoods in Big Sur, look up and see the stars burning bright above me, then look forward and see musicians who I believe to be among the greatest of my generation performing on an outdoor stage, projections flickering on a screen behind them, light bouncing into the trees surrounding them. The Godspeed You! Black Emperor show on April 15 at Fernwood campground in Big Sur was flawless, moving and beautiful. These photos don’t come close to capturing what it was like to be there, but do suggest a bit of what it looked like.
Costumes were handed out before the show. The drummer wore a hat covered in blue lights. The audience was pulled in close and became part of the show. We were taught the words and sang along. During a rare serious moment, we all took a knee. Soon after, a parachute was presented and we all gathered under it, a purple room erected inside of the dirty bar hosting the show. Seventeen minutes after if began, the whole mess ended with a mass sing-a-long: “We’re alive! We’re in love! We’ve got hope, just because!” The two guys who were The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt! that night had to make way for two more bands during a five-band set on a Sunday night at The Jury Room in Santa Cruz, California. My friends and I decompressed in the parking lot, wishing we could drop everything and follow them on tour.
When done right, a great rock show can leave you feeling better about the world and your place in it. The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt! did it right.
I was hired recently to do some band photography for San Jose rockers Town Crier. They’ve got a new self-produced EP coming out soon and needed some band portraits to go along with it. During an initial meeting over beers at our local pub Trials, we decided to go with a simple, dramatic one-light approach (having meetings that involve beer is one of the definite benefits of doing music photography). We also made time for some quick headshots and a scene in one of the band members’ personal bar.
I did some band photography this week for my favorite Golden State secessionists, the mighty Cali Nation. These photos were shot on location at Z Minor Sound Studio, owned by Andrew, the band’s frontman and my compadre in audio recording for several years running.
For the above group photo, I used my newest toy, a painter’s pole with a metalhead, allowing photo gear to interface with something from a hardware store. Using the painter’s pole, I dangled a small softbox over Andrew’s head while his daughter pushed the shutter release on my tripod-mounted camera. (So technically, Sarah and I are sharing photo credit.)
I had driven past these bunkers for years before I peeked inside. Once used by the Army to store ammunition, they’ve been empty since the fort closed in 1993. The thick metal doors barely move on their hinges, most are permanently ajar.
When I first stepped inside one, I was struck by the sound. An incredible echo. Clap you hands and you’ll hear a reverb tail of close to 20 seconds. Recording music is a pretty serious hobby of mine. I knew that someday I’d return here with a mobile recorder and a musician. But who?
I’ve known Dave since 1996. He was the first non-work friend I made in Florida. Dave once played a show in a supermarket at 1 am, a guerrilla performance in the dog food aisle (but that’s for another blog post). Dave now lives in New York City. When he told me he was coming for a visit, I knew we had to trek to the bunkers.
Our first attempts to record a song were made inside a bunker (see above iPhone photo, right). The sound crashed and stumbled, falling in on itself, eventually making Dave lose his bearings. We could barely hold a conversation inside, the echo was so disorienting.
Dave thought of trying to record in the doorway. It was perfect.
Technical notes: Audio recorded on a Marantz PMD620, video from a Canon G9 on a Bogen lightstand. That’s it.
We were pretty happy about how it came out. Here’s us in front of the bunker, then in Big Sur:
My friends PLG hired me to make some new band promo photos last week. They’re in the middle of recording a new album, planning a tour, getting ready to take over the world.
Band photography is tough, because you’re always running the risk of being corny or cliche. A photo of a band standing around in a gritty alley always begs the question: “Why are they standing around in that gritty alley?”
For this shot, I wanted light very close the every band member’s face, so I shot each one individually, as well as the background alone, and combined all six frames in post. Word to the wise for photographers who want to try this: Don’t bump your tripod in the dark, even just a tiny bit.