A lot of shows these days are a full sensory experience. It’s not just the music that matters right now; it’s all about the presentation, too. Bands are looking to professional stage lighting for that extra oomph to their set.
Alex McArthur of McArthur Lighting has been making a name for himself locally and nationally. From creating trippy, colorful lights that coincide with the music to atmospheric ambiance, McArthur Lighting transforms the show experience into ultimate face town. McArthur has worked with local bands like Silo Effect and The Southern Belles, and also with national bands like Dr. Dog and Keller Williams. We think genres besides jam bands are really missing out by not incorporating the visual aspect of the show. We caught up with McArthur to see how one gets involved in this aspect of production, what types of venues he lights, and how tour is the coolest part of the job.
Sounds of RVA: How did you get into stage lighting?
Alex McArthur: Well, in June of 2010, I purchased some lighting gear and my initial concept was to design for The Silo Effect. After doing shows with them for a few months people noticed, and I was called to work with other bands such as Farm Vegas, PBR, and The Shack Band. This was not what I planned for, but I really love live music and to support local groups, so it made sense to expand. I then started to do corporate events, music festivals, etc. Things kind of took off after that, and since October of 2011 I have been a full time LD. Richmond has never quite seen this type of lighting for their local shows, so it has always been a well received experience for the fans.
Was Chris Kuroda an influence? Anyone else?
My initial inspiration did have a lot to do with Kuroda, particularly his older work. There was one video, Twist, from their Island Tour run that just lit a fuse inside and really inspired me. I have always enjoyed live stage lighting, but didn’t know it was what I wanted to do until well after college. Other designers such as Saxton and Waful were big inspirations; I saw groups such as Papadosio and realized it can be done grassroots style. I had a dream, and was extremely fortunate to be able to pursue it. I can see the path ahead of me and haven’t looked back since.
What is the biggest venue you’ve done lights in?
I was blessed with an opportunity to work with Dr. Dog in Fall 2012, and was exposed to a 2 month national tour. While on the road, we did some massive events including Central Park NY, Ford Theater in LA, Majestic in Detroit, and Boulder Theater in CO. These were certainly the biggest shows I have done. One of my favorites was Newport Music Hall, it was a sold out crowd and I received lots of praise from fans afterwards. I felt like I had just walked off stage as a musician, it was extremely flattering. I also work lots of music festivals, and have been working with 81 Productions at Camp Barefoot for the past 3 years. This is always my favorite weekend of the year, and hosts about 3000 attendees. To me its not about the size of the crowd but the energy of the fans, some of my favorite shows have been <500 people. Its a very unique feeling to control the visual element to a live show.
Do you play music as well?
I’ve been a musician my whole life. I stole my dad’s ‘67 Fender out of his closet at a very young age, and have been playing guitar since. I played saxophone in middle school band but never went too far with it. I used to play with some friends in high school and was big into the punk/metal scene. Again, never really went anywhere as a musician but have always found a lot of happiness working behind the scenes. I am extremely passionate over music, it has always dominated my thoughts and actions. Live shows are my idea of church. Its kind of like a gas station, every show fills up my soul with love and energy. I’m addicted to music.
Did you have any kind of lighting training?
I started this as a hobby, and I fell in love with the design aspect almost immediately. My whole mindset was “Shit, I don’t want to see a Silo show unless I’m involved,” and lighting was my way to get in. I trained myself, just like I did with guitar. Ive never had a formal lesson/teacher. With lighting, it was A LOT of trial and error. I lived on Floyd in the fan and set up my gear in our basement, we had lots of bands come play down there so it was good practice. I learned the hard way about all lighting concepts, which is my nature to learn by mistakes. Once I found out one concept, I never made that mistake again. That has kinda built up to this point, I am designing my own console using GrandMA, and its yet another trial and error project. I have started reading a lot more since I became full time, maybe one day Ill take a class.
Do you go on tour with bands…like are you going on the upcoming tour for the Southern Belles?
I tour with lots of bands/DJ’s. I have done several tours with Silo Effect, Shack Band, Southern Belles, Peoples Blues of Richmond, to name a few. I do lots of work with The Shack Band now a days, these guys are like family. We have had some wild times! My major tour was with Dr. Dog, I have plans to return on the road this coming fall as well. This experience was hands down the coolest thing I have ever done. We toured all together in a massive tour bus, explored the whole country, and got to hear one of my favorite bands for nearly 50 shows in a row from the best seat in the house. Life on the road isn’t always easy, but it sure is worth the experience. My most recent efforts have been with MTK, a producer from here in Richmond. Normally, I hate on the DJ acts who simply “push play” but this guy does some amazing work and does live mixing on stage, so he earned my respect pretty quick. We toured the East Coast this spring, and really had a blast. Were designing a new stage plot that will blow some minds, so keep your eyes open for MTK. I will be doing a few shows with The Southern Belles this summer and couldn’t be more excited to work with those guys again. Right now my focus is Festival Season, and prepping for my fall tours.
Anything else you want folks to know?
Anyone reading this that has a dream, do not hesitate to follow it. I am living proof that dreams come true, do what you love and you will find happiness.
I am working to spread RVA love all over the country. This city is beyond description, we are so very lucky to call Richmond home. Support local music! I do want to say a big thanks to my family and to all my friends, both musicians and fans, who have supported me. Without your support I would not be doing this. I dedicate all my work to my late employee Adam Baker. He helped me for lots of shows in my early times, Thanks Adam.
photo by Chad Harvey