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Kristopher Pooley: On Tour with Gwen Stefani

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There is no doubt that Gwen Stefani is one of the hottest acts in popular music, recently taking a pit stop from her latest tour to pick up a few Billboard Music Awards. Even when going solo, she packs one of the best bands around, featuring musicians that regularly perform with the likes of David Bowie and others. Keyboardist Kristopher Pooley has joined up with this team, a veteran touring musician with credits from Jane's Addiction to Liz Phair. Kristopher relies on MOTU products to get the job done, especially when he's on the road.

We recently spoke with Kristopher at a show with the Black Eyed Peas (fellow MOTU users) on their Harajuku Lovers Tour.

MOTU: How did you get involved in MOTU products and how did they find their way into your live Rig?

Kristopher: I starting using MOTU products when I was about 16 when my parents put me to work sequencing tracks in Performer for their casual band. It was much cheaper than paying a real musician to do it! They still use Performer to this day 4 nights a week. Since High School I've been using MOTU gear in most every application of music that I do - from live to home.

MOTU: That's cool. So this led to you relying on MOTU gear for the live rig as well?

Kristopher: Yeah. My first real tour was with an artist named Kenna. When I came into the band they were using another DAW and were having some problems. I switched everything over to DP for stability. Whenever I join a tour or step into a touring situation, it's one of the first questions that I ask: "Are you using tracks? Are you using DP?" Or I'll ask, "Can I switch the tracks over to DP?"

MOTU: What other tours have you played which have used MOTU gear?

Kristopher: Well, as the keyboard player it usually becomes our job to set up, run, and maintain the tracks. I've done a recent tour with Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie And The Banshees) where I was using minimal tracks on DP and also running Ableton Live in ReWire™ mode so that I could use it's tap-tempo function.

MOTU: Any other recent tours?

Kristopher: I played with Jane's Addiction and ended up doing a lot of recording in my hotel room. So I carried a recording rig with me that included an 828 and DP.

MOTU: What does your current Gwen Stefani live rig consist of and how does the MOTU gear work with your other equipment to get the job done?

Kristopher: In my current live rig I have two Mac Mini's running in tandem. Each has an 828mkII and a MIDI Timepiece AV. DP fires off all of the MIDI changes for my rig, the other keyboard player's rig (Gabrial McNair), and drummer Zachary Alford's triggers and mixer. For keyboards, I'm playing a Moog Liberation, Nord Lead 3, M-Audio Keystation 88 running Reason on a separate laptop, and the old Yamaha DX7 for those 80's sounds. I'm also running my Liberation through a slew of effects on a pedal board.

MOTU: So, all that MIDI gear is running through the AV?

Kristopher: Yeah, the AV is sending to the Nord Lead 3, DX7, Moog Voyager (Gabrial), Korg MS2000 (Gabrial). I'm also sending SMTPE time code from DP to the video people for video sync.

MOTU: Using the SMPTE Time code output of the AV?

Kristopher: Actually, I'm using the SMPTE time code out on the 828mkII's using the Firewire SMPTE Console and its 'Generate from Sequencer' feature. That took some serious coordinating with the video people to get the video lined up just right - a lot of yelling across the arena: "Try five frames later!"

MOTU: What were the complications exactly? How did MOTU help provide the solution?

Kristopher: Well, Sophie Muller, who creates and edits the video, wouldn't have the exact intro arrangement that we do - or there would be some other arrangement issue - because she was just working with the song and the video. Once it got to syncing it with the live show, I would have to adjust the time code start time in order to line up the video. Normally, on a tour of this size, there is another technician that would be doing this and they would work it out before the band arrived or after the band left. I was doing some double-duty on this tour, though, so these issues would have to be resolved quickly right in the middle of rehearsal with full crew, band, dancers, and Gwen standing there until it was done right. Adjusting the code is so fast and easy in DP and the MOTU gear is so reliable. The only challenge was me getting it right!

MOTU: So, the amount of up-front vamping would vary?

Kristopher: Yes, the video wasn't edited with the vamp or intro time accounted for. We would sometimes have an intro of 2 or 3 minutes where we were on click before the video was to come in. This is how the Gwen camp works - they like to work by feel. And I like to work by feel, too. It takes some of the rigidity out of the process.

MOTU: Sure, and why not? No need to hardline the arrangement - not as fluid and not as interesting.

Kristopher: Indeed. Every department on a tour like this has to have a good "feel" for music and the gear should just facilitate that feel. Whether it's lights, dancers, video, or the musicians. The gear that we use just has to be able to work fast and facilitate that feel. And it absolutely cannot crash. I have not once had a DP crash on any tour that I've done.

MOTU: To clarify what you said earlier about the Mac Mini's: They both run DP? Do they do different tasks?

Kristopher: The two Mini's are both running DP in tandem - an A rig and a B rig running DP 4.61 on Tiger. The A and B rig are the exact same thing. I have remote monitors and keyboards run up to me on stage and before every song I hit both space bars. We tried using some other methods of syncing the two rigs together but the 'ole manual space bar hit seems to work the best. I just have to try to hit them at exactly the same time, which keeps things interesting!

MOTU: That would make me nervous!

Kristopher: What makes me nervous is wondering if the computer is going to crash. Thankfully that hasn't been a problem.

As far as Gwen is concerned, she could not care less about the technical side of the tour, but what she does care about is the musical artistry and productivity. She sat with me in rehearsals and we went over basic mix and cue concerns coming from the tracks. Her comments were mostly along the lines of how fast I was able to get arrangement and mix edits done on the fly during rehearsals (things like bringing one keyboard track up and one down). We really don't have many tracks firing though - just click, arrangement cues, percussion loops, a few keyboard parts, and background vocals in our ears, which we recorded to have them firing in our ears during the show for reference. Gwen sings all of her vocals live and the bass player, Gail Anne Dorsey, and Gabrial are such good vocalists that there isn't a need for backing vocal tracks. Gwen is very adamant about it being a LIVE performance.

MOTU: And DP made it easy for you to meet all of Gwen's requirements on the fly?

Kristopher: Yeah, I would say that the ease of editing is DP's second greatest strength for a touring rig. The number one strength, of course, is stability.

MOTU: Great! Thanks a lot for speaking with us, Kristopher.

Kristopher: Glad we got to talk - I'm going to get ready and head over to the venue.