Interview: 10 Questions with Mike Grant – The Black Keys’ Lighting Designer/Director

This is a guest post by regular contributor MirbyGnits


The Black Keys Fan Lounge recently focused on the inspired rich purple lighting design at The Black Keys’ New York Terminal 5 show.

Mike Grant is the man responsible for the skillful coordination of the lighting for The Black Keys on tour.

Mike and I worked together at a music venue in Chicago years ago, that’s how we first met. I think I actually introduced him to The Black Keys’ music (he would have heard it sooner or later anyhow), and to return the favor he recently introduced me to Patrick before a show! It was a very cool thing for him to do, and a dream come true for me. Mike’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

[The interview starts below the photo…]

Mike Grant at the lighting desk. Photo courtesy of Vern Xian

1. How long have you been working for the Black Keys, and how in hell did you land such a sweet gig?

About three years now. Their previous sound engineer and I worked together at a venue in Chicago, and his original recommendation was unable to do the gig due to previous engagements. I said I’d love to do it, and things seemed to work out.

2. What are all of your duties and responsibilities (job description), and how have they changed since you first started?

As far as the touring part goes – getting everything set up and running that involves lighting and set pieces, focusing lights to their positions, running the light show and then tearing it all down, etc. The only thing that has really changed is that we’re now doing bigger things in the show because it’s possible to do so.

3. How does the lighting gear for a show/tour get chosen? Does the band give you guidelines, or just let you do whatever?

I have certain things that I like to use, but I also like trying out new fixtures and moving light sources around. I’ll draw up a design from ideas that we talk about, and then we just pretty much go back and forth until the final set is drawn up.

4. Are the lights controlled realtime during the show? Is it planned ahead of time or do you just freestyle/wing-it?

Well, yes and kind of yes. I control the all lights at a desk at ‘front of house’ (normally next to the sound board). As far as winging it goes, if there’s a song that should look a certain way, the major ‘theme’ of the song will stay the same, but something like, I might lay off a part that’s normally busy because that’s just how it feels that night. Or the complete opposite. Being able to improvise stuff is pretty key.

5. Where do you get your inspiration for the lighting? Does the band give you any guidance, or do you have total control?

I’m into color, it’s cool. Sometimes just looking at a shade of something can put you in a different mood. That alone is, I guess, an inspiration of some sort. Just trying to work with music and putting a visual touch on it. Well, it’s more just when ideas pop up. Sometimes someone will think of something and it gets put in, or sometimes it just fades out and gets discarded. I always try and ask if everything is alright for them on stage, and if it feels right to them. If there’s something that needs to be changed, I work with it. Other than that, it’s mostly just what I think it should look like.

6. Did you have to go to school for this? Do you have to practice at all?

No. I kind of got thrown into lighting, and it just got my attention. You can go to school for it, and I would probably recommend it, but I always feel that field work is the best way to see how it’s done. Not really practice, but plan. I’ll practice sometimes during sound check, as like a trial run to see if there is anything I need to fix.

7. Are you a fan of The Black Keys’ music? How long have you been a fan?

Yeah, since 2003 I think. I’m pretty sure that’s when that show was. Shit’s tight.

8. Does being a fan make the job easier? Harder? How so?

I would say easier. It’s always more enjoyable to work with something that you’re interested in.

9. Do you have a favorite show or tour (and why)? Most memorable moment(s)/experience(s) on the road?

New Years in Chicago last year was pretty sweet. Cold as fuck, but sweet. We also had a really cool tour when it was split with Jessica Lea Mayfield for the first half and Royal Bangs on the second half. Between the three groups, it was a lot of good people traveling around together.

10. Do you work for any other bands? Are you in any bands?

At the moment, no. We’ve been pretty busy. I play in a couple of bands, one being Dream Teens, the other is Young Moons. It’s pretty rad stuff.

Mike Grant behind the lighting console at Lollapaloza 2010. Photo courtesy of Luca Cimarusti

4 thoughts on “Interview: 10 Questions with Mike Grant – The Black Keys’ Lighting Designer/Director

  1. Pingback: 2010: The Black Keys’ Year In Review | The Black Keys Fan Lounge

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