Q&A with Johnathan Singer | Live Visual Artist | Dead and Company | Tipper
The best concert experiences have evolved into mind-blowing immersive journeys for the audience, combining sound and visuals. And we’re proud to count one of the best in the business as a Mettle customer. Johnathan Singer is a multi-media visual artist and VJ, who has collaborated with musicians The Grateful Dead, Tipper, Shpongle and visionary artist Alex and Allyson Grey, to name just a few. He also at times collaborates with friends and visual artists, including Android Jones, always pushing the boundaries of art and tech.
Mettle Co-Founder Nancy Eperjesy goes behind the scenes with Johnathan, in a Q&A that reveals his journey as an artist, and how he came to embrace new tools and forms of expression for live performance venues. We’re honored to say that Jonathan includes Mettle software plugins (FreeForm Pro, Mantra, FLUX and ShapeShifter) for Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro in his workflow.
Tipper Ambient Set @ CoSM
Q&A With Johnathan Singer.
Nancy Eperjesy: You’ve been involved in the visual arts from a young age, being a graphic artist and publishing a magazine with your mother, “West Side Life” in Los Angeles. How did all the exposure to the creative people you were profiling shape your vision?
Johnathan Singer: Living in Los Angeles growing up was an amazing thing for there was creative people everywhere. Many of my friends ended up working in the entertainment industry one way or another. As far as helping publish a magazine, it allowed me to meet musicians, visual artists, techies and so many influencers of the arts. Luckily many of these artist became friends. Many of these friends also helped shape my career in the visual arts.
You were also doing street art and graffiti art from a young age in LA. How did that form of the arts influence where you are today? In a way street art is a “live performance” too.
Just like Hip Hop influences music, modern dance, films etc… Graffiti or street art influences multi media, commercials, movies, visual arts, etc… It is the pulse of the next generation.
Johnathan Singer Visuals: RMack_01
Your earliest visual work on-stage was real-time multi-media light shows. Then you evolved into creating original visuals. How did that happen?
When I started working with multi media there was not a lot of software and those that were available were extremely expensive and you needed massive computers to run them. This started changing and slowly allowed for content to be created by individuals. I also was looking to create a style that was my own. I liked animations that took you on a journey. That allowed you to visit imaginary places. Most of these kind of visuals were accompanied by music or some kind of sound track. This is what made me want to put visuals to live music. Music that was exploratory. This is why I liked creating visuals that could be altered and mixed to the music I was into, exploring the combination of both visuals and music.
There’s a lot of pressure for everything to go right in a live performance. Sometimes things go well, and sometimes things don’t. How do you prepare and deal with that?
First of all I pray before every show. But yes, this is one of the toughest parts. Technology likes to make you work too. The most important thing is having back ups that’s from media servers to cables. I run at least one extra of everything. Second is being able to recover as quick as possible. Much of this has to do with diagnosis of equipment. Every gig I learn something new. It’s important to learn as much about production as creating content.
Dead & Company: Playing in the Sand 2/15/18
You’ve toured with the Grateful Dead/Dead and Company, as their visual artist. That’s an amazing experience!! Tell us what it’s like to work together.
Working with The Dead has been a dream come true. In 1993 I was at a Dead show in Las Vegas and they had these huge screens with this amazingly beautiful psychedelic art on them. I had really never seen anything like this at the time. I remember while watching them I said to myself that’s exactly what I want to do. Two decades later I was doing it with the band that had started my visual journey. The Dead is a playground for visual stories. There are so many wonderful tales told through their songs. It really allows you to have a huge palette to pull from, desert scapes to galaxies, dancing skeletons to beautiful cloudscapes, the journey they take the audience on through the night really allows so much to be explored. As far as the creative process, mostly I work with Chris Ragan who is the mastermind behind the looks of the lighting and visual production. He really puts together an incredible, visually stimulating show. He is constantly changing up the looks to keep it fresh and new. That’s a huge part of the Dead, no show is ever the same.
How is that different than the collaborations you do with Tipper?
Tipper is the same way no show is ever the same. It’s amazing I’ve worked with Tipper for almost a decade and not once has he ever done the same show. To me this is my favorite kind of sets. I love being in the moment. Magic happens in the moment. Tipper really gives the audience a journey through his music. This allows for the visuals to be playful, beautiful, intense, and so many other looks and feels. He is also a wonderful person to work and hang with. He’s very inspirational. He has a huge work ethic. These qualities are so important. He allows each of the artist that he works with to really do what they do best. I appreciate that. It’s also a lot of fun to do visuals to his music because he allows for such live improvisation. The live improv is my favorite style of music. It comes from the beginning of my career working with the band Modereko. It was the perfect band to learn from. Some of the best musicians around. Drummer John Molo, guitarist Tim Koza, woodwind player Bobby Read, and a rotating cast of amazing keyboardist including JT Thomas. This band really took a chance on me. They allowed me to come and work with them on tour. They taught me so much! All in all I feel so honored to work with all these legends.
You work with a video crew on larger stage tours.What’s involved in setting up equipment and then having a small window to test things out before the show starts?
Touring with larger stage tours is much different than festivals or smaller theater gigs. First of all creating a strong team is important. Every crew comes in and sets up their part but then all the equipment becomes one. I have several crew members that make everything possible. It’s amazing watching all of it come together. Cameras, screens, lights, audio, graphics all being set up and talking to each other. Then yes, there’s a small window for sound, camera and video checks. Its crucial to be ready for anything, weather, power, technical issues. All of these things take a crew to come together to put on a show. It’s like a bunch of gears working together to make the bigger machine run. There is such an amazing feeling that comes from all of this.
You have collaborated with other visual artists, such as Android Jones. What led you to do that, and how do you find it creates a better experience for the audience?
Android Jones is on a level all of his own. I have had the honor to work with Android several times thoughout the last decade. The first time was a very special occasion where Tipper’s manager wanted to do a very special show for the Fillmore in San Francisco. We created a huge stage show, one that literally fit by an inch on the stage. We had two huge screens and a massive stage design by Carey Thompson. I felt that bringing Android in to projection map on the front of the stage would really bring it all together. Wow what a night it turned out to be. Since then I’ve had the pleasure to collaborate with Android for “Fare Thee Well” The Grateful Dead 50th anniversary shows and most recently the last Shpongle Live Band shows at Red Rocks. Besides Android, I’ve had the honor to collaborate with Datagrama, Double You, and several other VJs. I’ve also had the extreme pleasure to work with a large amount of visionary artists including Alex and Allyson Grey, Robert Venosa, Martina Hoffmann, Amanda Sage, Luke Brown and so many more. There is a surge in the arts community right now; it’s so wonderful to see so many creating.
Visuals by Johnathan Singer – “Mere Reflections”.
When you’re working on very different musical tours, how do you get into the groove as an artist, to prepare the different visuals for the music?
One of the luckiest things for me is I’ve been able to work with artists that I enjoy and know their music. I do of course listen to hours of their music to get into the vibe. While creating the visuals I’ll have their music playing all day. It allows for me to get ideas too.
What software and hardware tools do you use to create your visuals? What do you like about them?
Adobe Creative Cloud is my main go to. After Effects has some amazing plugins that allow you to do so much. I have used several programs including the Hippo, D3, Arkaos for live performance playback. I use a Roland V800HD video mixer and a few midi controllers.
How did you discover Mettle software plugins for Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro?
An amazing artist Martin Stebbing introduced it to me. He knows what I like in visual creation and had bragged about it so I gave it a run and haven’t stopped using it since. After Effects is my go to. I’ve used Adobe products for over 20 years so I feel most comfortable with them. Mettle is my favorite plugin right now. It has allowed me to create so many different kinds of looks. It has added a huge amount of creativity to my work flow. Effects plugins are crucial to creating content, it’s hard to find good ones. I also create large high resolution images too. Not many plugins have given me the power or versatility that Mettle has. I feel that I am barely scratching the surface of what’s possible.
Visuals by Johnathan Singer – “Alien Spectre”.
“Mettle is my favorite plugin right now. It has allowed me to create so many different kinds of looks. It has added a huge amount of creativity to my work flow.” – Johnathan Singer
We know that artists can be very self-critical, but… tell us… what work are you most proud of?
I think recently The Shpongle Live Band last shows at Red Rocks may have been one of the most incredibly visual shows I’ve ever been a part of. I also feel Dead and Company has taught me so much and it allows me to give everything I can back to a genre of music that helped shape me. Tipper‘s ambient sets are also some of my favorite sets. His music is extremely transforming and beautiful.
You have merch! Your clothing line looks amazing. How did you get started in that?
It’s funny, its completely full circle. I started out as a graphic artist and was always creating psychedelic posters and images. That is how I started creating content was by taking these images and trying to animate them. Now I’ve had so many people say it would be great to have one of your images printed on clothes or tapestries so I took a chance. I did a remix poster and ended up selling them out. So I tried again and they were very well received. The communities that I work in are huge supporters of the arts. Art is a huge part of the Dead scene, The Tipper scene and so much of this is supported by the communities. It also allows for the communities to be creative. I’ve watched so many artist come up by being inspired by the music and art. This is such a great feeling. Now I have a full merch line. Its amazing to be supported.
Is your best project “the next one”? How do you keep trying to grow as an artist?
That’s the most important thing is trying to make every show the best one. Every show has its ups and downs. The most important thing to me is to give the best show I can for those who bought tickets to come see you. They deserve the best you can give. It’s also crucial to keep growing and expanding your art.
Clothing lines, live performance. There’s always a time constraint. Do you work better that way?
Deadlines make you put the work in. Creating art is my favorite thing to do. This doesn’t always mean it’s easy. There can be days that everything works and there’s days that nothing works. Time constraints and deadlines just make you stay focused. Deadlines also make you realize this is a job not just a hobby and I better do my best to prepare and create the best art I can.
Johnathan is one of the most notorious visionary artists creating content for world renowned Lighting Designers and VJs. Some of his most noted artist collaborations are with Alex and Allyson Grey, Chris Dyer, Amanda Sage, Tipper, The Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary shows, and Dead & Company.
He is proud to have done multiple productions at Red Rocks Amphitheater (Denver), Soldier Field (Chicago), The Beacon Theater (NYC), The Sony Theater (NYC), The Fillmore (SF), among others.
Find out more about Johnathan SInger on his website.