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Meet the 'Dream Attic' Crew

 

Russ Cole

 

 

     
What is your role within the 'Dream Attic' Band Tour?  

I'm production manager and monitor engineer, as well as the defacto drum tech. My duties include advancing upcoming shows to make sure that we have whatever we need to produce a professional show at the various venues and festivals we will be playing. Since we are usually unable to carry all  the sound equipment we need to do our show, Simon and I spend a good deal of time talking to the various house technicians and sound companies to ensure that we know what gear we will be using when we get to wherever we are going. Sound systems vary wildly from place to place, but we try and have a certain level of consistency as we travel.

Our day usually begins with the crew (Bobby, Edmond, and myself) arriving at noon or 1:00 for an 8:00 p.m. performance. We unload the band's gear (which we do carry), and start the process of setting up the stage. Bobby and I determine the best placement for everything, depending on factors such as how the PA is installed, sightlines for the audience, and safe passage for the musicians to get on and off the stage, etc. I unpack and assemble the drum kit, and Bobby deals with the all the guitars, basses, and amplifiers (I'll let him explain the details).

Once it's all set, microphones are placed and wired, with help from the house crew, who are always invaluable in getting it all done in a timely manner. Simon and the band arrive around 3 hours after the crew for soundcheck.

First, we test the FOH (front of house) system. Simon does most of this, as he will be mixing the show for the audience, but often I will provide another set of ears out front so he doesn't have to run around as much (though he seems to get plenty of exercise!). After that, we spend time with each band member, getting proper instrument and vocal levels, tones, and generally dialing in the sound of every single individual component. At this time, I am setting sound levels through the monitors onstage so that the musicians can hear whatever instruments and vocals they need to hear. This can vary from night to night, depending on the room, what the stage sounds like, and other factors.

Once we do everyone separately, the entire band comes on and play several songs together to gauge how it will sound during the show. They'll play a loud, uptempo song, then something slower where they all sing, to get a good vocal blend, and then a tune where Richard plays acoustic with the band, since the volume and dynamics are so much different than the electric guitar. By this time, we are usually done with the check, though occasionally the band might stay on and play a bit just for fun.

Soundcheck runs about an hour and a half to two hours, depending on how well things go. We are very thorough and particular, because we want it to sound as good as possible for everyone in the room, every night. It's a lot of work, but worth it!

     

How long have you and RT known each other and how did you meet?

 

I first met Richard in a little out-building that served as a green room at a great old venue called the Palms Playhouse in Davis, CA. It was the 1988 version of the band, which featured John Kirkpatrick, Clive Gregson, Christine Collister, Pat Donaldson, and Dave Mattacks. Somehow, my friends and I got invited backstage (by John, I think) and we hung out for a bit. I'm sure that Richard doesn't remember!

I formally met him when I went on Nancy Covey's Cropredy Festival tour in 1989. It was an incredible 3 week trip - first to London, and the Fairport reunion shows, and then continuing up north and into Scotland. One of my favourite and most memorable vacations ever. I met a number of folks on that trip that remain good friends to this day. Near the end of the tour, RT joined up and I shared a couple of meals with him and a night out on the town in Edinburgh.

After that, I worked a few one-off shows here and there when Simon wasn't available. I had the great pleasure of doing the sound for the first presentation of "1,000 Years Of Popular Music" at the Getty in LA back in 2000, and then came on board for a tour of that show back in 2008. I only tour with Richard when there is a band, and the need for a mixer onstage.

     

Please list the equipment you brought on the road.

 

I don't carry much with me on the road. Just a few personal items, like headphones, board tape, a drum key, a flashlight, gloves, and black Sharpies (very important!).

     
Please describe the 'Dream Attic' show visually and musically.  

Edmond is a fantastic lighting designer, and is constantly searching for creative ways to make the stage look great, which he always does. Again, I'll let him explain what he does to achieve that.

Musically, it's an astonishing display of incredible musicianship and sympathetic ensemble playing, each and every night. I can say in all honesty, that I've never seen them play a bad show. Sure, some gigs are better than others, but night to night this band is as good (or better!) as anyone on the road today. I'm focused on doing my job as they play, but I am also a spectator too, and I love that I get to see an incredible show 5 or 6 times a week.

     

What is your favorite track on the new album and why?

 

That's a tough one. I don't really feel right  picking a "best" track. There are certain songs that I look forward to hearing every night. Some tunes that I might think I like less, I'll often find those melodies floating around in my head, so who knows? I like all of them pretty equally, though I will say that "Sidney Wells" has become an absolute raging firestorm in concert. And Taras now begins "Demons In Her Dancing Shoes" with an extremely cool and funky bass part that I love. The songs evolve, and it's fun to watch them grow.

     
What song performance did you find the most challenging?  

That would depend on whatever shifting circumstances were at play onstage. I can never tell when an unexpected problem might arise. Everything can be going great, and I'll start to relax, and then some pesky frequency will start acting up and I'll have to really be listening hard for problematic anomalies. It's good to NOT be relaxed, because then you're always alert to certain things that pop up and perhaps deal with them before they become a problem.

     

How did you keep in shape during the tour? Did you follow any special diet or exercise regimen?

 

It's tough. There's not really much time to work out! I like to get a good amount of sleep… at least 7 hours each night, but that's not always possible. Being well rested keeps you sharp. When I have time to spare in a city, I do try and walk as much as I can. In Washington D.C., I took a cab from Georgetown to the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, and then walked the 3 and half miles back to our hotel. That was a pretty good workout.

I also try and eat light, so I don't feel heavy, or get sleepy because I stuffed my face. Everything in moderation is a good rule to follow. And avoid things that would be considered unhealthy. I tried to drink a lot of cranberry juice too.

     

What do you find to be the toughest part of touring?

 

Not having enough time to do everything that needs to be done. You have to keep moving, keep doing your job, and not lose your focus.
Early bus calls after a long, tiring schedule the day before can be hard. Some of us will go sleep on the bus to avoid having to sleep a few hours in the hotel and then get up in the wee hours and crawl downstairs.

     
Can you share a favorite memory of the U.S. tour?
 

Our first gig, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park, was a cool way to start. Then we had an afternoon the following day in Battle Mountain, Nevada and I enjoyed walking around a small town in the middle of the desert. I took about 200 photos that day. Visited the Civil rights Museum with a friend when we were in Memphis, which was very powerful.


Edmond & I were able to have lunch in the middle of the afternoon when we played Town Hall in NYC because our local crew was so good, and we got all our work done early. That rarely happens. And then there were so many great shows. The final 3 - Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis - were pretty amazing. Enthusiastic crowds, classic venues, and the band was on fire. A good way to end a tour!

     
How many fines did you accumulate and what were your DA road infractions?  

Uh, I didn't really keep track! I definitely shelled out some cash, as did we all. I had the dubious distinction of being the person who broke the previous tour fine record amount (the combined total, not an individual total), of which I'm both chagrined and somewhat proud. The infraction that put us over the top was a sustained monitor ring during one song in Pittsburgh. It seemed like it was Richard's monitor mix, so I was concentrating on that, but then realized it was Mr. Zorn's mix. I rarely had that kind of problem with Pete, so it threw me off. FINE!

     
     
   

More About Russ Cole

     
Please summarize your background. Where do you call 'home'?  

I live in Arcata, a small, very liberal college town in far northern California. I came here 33 years ago to attend the university (Humboldt State), and pretty much stayed. In 1987 I moved cross country to NYC to make a name for myself as an engineer, and to play music with some old friends of mine who were all living there at the time. Returned later in 1988 and became the house sound engineer for Center Arts at HSU, a title I had for 21 seasons. In the midst of that, I left again in 2000 to move to LA. I was hired to be the production manager at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. What should have been an amazing thing quickly turned into a difficult situation for everyone and within 7 months almost the entire senior staff quit, myself included. I came back to the same house and job that I left and resumed life here. This is one of the most beautiful places in America (ocean, rivers, redwoods), and it's always a pleasure to return home.

     
How did you become interested in music?  

I've been into music since I was a young kid. My parent's listened to the popular records of the day, like Sinatra and Tony Bennett, but my father had a lot of albums by the Four Freshman, as he'd grown up with them, so I got to hear this very sophisticated, lush vocal group in the house all the time. Later on I got into rock and roll through the Beatles, just like everyone else in 1964. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, which was a very rich environment, culturally, so I was exposed to a lot of amazing music from an early age.

     
Who got you started?  

My grandfather on my mothers side was an amateur filmmaker in Brooklyn. He would create soundtracks for his little 8 millimeter movies, and used a reel to reel tape machine to record audio letters to my family. We had one at my home that we'd use to tape return messages, so I started recording tapes when I was 7 or 8 years old. That was the beginning of my life-long interest in sound.

     
Please list all the instruments you play.  

I don't really consider my myself much of a musician these days. I used to play a fair amount of guitar, but have lagged in recent years. No good excuses for why I don't now! I also used to play bass, and some percussion too, as well as singing.

     
Are you self-taught or formally trained?  

As a sound engineer, I am pretty much self-trained. As I said earlier, I started recording at an early age, so some it came naturally when I got into high school. When I moved to Arcata, I became friends with a guy who owned a sound company and I started working with him. I learned much of what I know on the job, though equipment is always improving so one has to stay abreast of new technologies. I suppose I'm still learning new things, which is a good thing.

     
What genre of music do you consider your work to be?  

I have worked with almost every category of music imaginable…Rock, folk, jazz, country, reggae, punk, classical, klezmer, theatre and more. You name it, I've probably done a show that featured it at least once in my career.

     

With whom have you recorded/ toured?

 

As mentioned above, I've done sound for so many different kinds of music. Over the 30 + years I've been doing this, I've worked with literally hundreds of artists, big names and small. My touring resume is smaller, but the artists that I have been on the road with besides Richard are Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Jenny Scheinman, and Myra Melford, all fantastic musicians and great people too. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to work with the caliber of artists that I do.

     
What is the strangest venue or gig you've ever played?  

There's been a lot of odd and challenging gigs over the years, but the one that immediately springs to mind is an event for Rolling Stone magazine at the old Hollywood Athletic Club. It was held IN an Olympic-size swimming pool (empty, of course), and it was a three story room (originally with diving boards on each level), so it was an acoustical nightmare. Very weird and a rough day, but one of the performers was a DJ who used 3 turntables who was amazing. To this day, I've never seen a DJ who came close to doing what he did, so maybe it was worth all the agony I experienced (and maybe not)!

     

What is your most memorable musical experience?

 

Don't get me started… compiling a list of those could take me a few days.

Here are two -

(As a spectator) Sonny Rollins, closing out the Jazz tent one day at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1995. Easily one of the greatest sets I've ever witnessed. Wildly ecstatic playing and an incredible audience. I thought I might spontaneously combust while I was dancing!

(As a technician) I was involved in a project involving a number of Russian musicians who were brought together by a guitarist who lived here in Humboldt. He spent a couple of years travelling back and forth recording an album with players here and there. When it was complete, the university brought 7 of the Russians over to collaborate with 10 of the Humboldt musicians for a series of concerts. This was before the fall of communism. In fact, there were recordings of demonstrations from Red Square in Moscow that we worked into their performance. It was one of the largest ensembles I've ever worked with, but such a great experience and quite memorable.

     
What's the most 'rock star' thing that you've ever done?  

Sorry, I'm not allowed to talk about it!

     

On what dream tour would you love to work with any past or present artist/band?

 

I get to work with the artists I really want to - NOW!

I'd also love to tour with Gillian Welch, or the David Rawlings Machine. Someone from the past? Maybe Dylan on the UK electric tour in 1966, just because it would've been an incredible thing to witness that little slice of history up close.

     

If you had to give up music - what would you do to be creative?

 

Unlikely I'll ever give up music, but I also like to take photographs and I'm pretty good at it, as an amateur…

     

What advice do you have for people who want to pursue a musical career?

 

Be sure you love it! It can be a long haul, and challenging on a number of levels, but if you love what you're doing, it can be very rewarding.

     
What is next for you?  

More shows, more touring, more music. Bring it on.

     
     
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