Home | News | Black Eyed Peas Tour with MOTU Gear

Black Eyed Peas Tour with MOTU Gear

Document Actions

The summer mega-tour season is in full swing. As usual, most of this year's blockbuster tours involve MOTU gear in a variety of roles, from flexible playback of backing tracks on stage to multi-channel recording of each performance for future live CD and DVD releases. Recently we caught up with Paul Davies, one of the busiest "Go To" guys for the big tours, to hear about his current projects and to learn how the Black Eyed Peas now use three different DP/MOTU FireWire rigs for live shows across the US and Europe.

Paul, thanks for checking in. I understand you're very busy these days?
Yes, as a matter of fact I leave in two days to work at the Live8 show in the UK.

No kidding? Who is your client for this show?
Well actually, I'm working with Abe Laboriel Jr, Paul McCartney's drummer, and I'll also be working with Peter Wiltz and Mike McKnight on the Madonna gig.

That sounds like a juggle!
At this level it's like the Olympic Rings. Everybody knows each other and we help out with different artists. I've also been working with the Black Eyed Peas since last Fall, and I'll be joining them again later in the Summer.

Tell us how you got started using MOTU products.
I started as a drum tech and one of my first gigs was helping Gary Wallis, who played percussion with Pink Floyd. Through the Floyd connection, I started working with Paul Carrack and Mike and the Mechanics. That led to me moving to LA where a friend asked me to sub for him on a Madonna tour, where I worked closely with Madonna's drummer at the time, Jonathan Moffet. I then went on to do similar work with Sonny Emery playing drums for Paula Abdul. I also worked with Danny Serafine, who was playing with Chicago at the time. With Danny, that was the first time I was involved with live backing tracks. Dannys kick drum was fed to a Garfield Time Commander, which then drove the Performer sequence.

These days most drummers play along to a click, as opposed to driving the sequence, yes?
Oh yes. It's much easier to play along with a click than to try to generate the click with a kick drum, but in Danny's case, he needed to be able to control the tempo of the song, so the Garfield into Performer allowed him to do that. I was there to babysit the rig in case Danny double triggered a beat or missed something. If needed, I could take over running the sequencer manually from the side of the stage.

And you still do that type of work now.
I do. A couple of years ago I was working with Kenny Aronoff, who was playing with both Melissa Etheridge and Michelle Branch. Michelle Branch had been using ProTools for on stage playback. When Kenny came on board, he wanted to be able to control sequence start and stop, song selection, advancing to marker locations, and so forth. The ProTools rig required that it had to be next to the operator unless Kenny wanted to get into something like a HUI, which he didn't. Kenny plays the drums really hard and we kept having problems with the Firewire cable connected to the 002 interface falling out. Also we wanted simultaneous control from the side of the stage in case I needed to jump in and take over for Kenny.

So we switched the rig to DP and an 828 FireWire interface. This was a major advantage for several specific reasons. DP can be controlled by remote MIDI messages. Kenny has a computer monitor on stage so he can see the transport and markers list. He has two drums pads labeled Start and Stop. He uses an Oxygen 8 that set up so each key cues a different song or marker within a song. DP allows us to have multiple independent sequences within a single file, so Kenny can call up any song with one key press, start and stop with a tap of the drum stick, and move around inside the song via markers. I have the actual computer in front of me at the side of the stage in case I need to take manual control. When I started working with Melissa Etheridge, Stefanie Eulinberg was the drummer at the time. I ran the backing tracks myself, and then when Kenny joined the tour, he took over running the sequencer from on stage. For Kenny it was important that he had that creative control.

After the Melissa tour, I was splitting my time between Faith Hill and Paul McCartney. A friend of mine was working with the Black Eyed Peas, and they needed some help so I got that call.

Together, Digital Performer and MOTU audio interfaces are well known for their reliability during live performance, as confirmed by BEP drummer Keith Harris in an interview published in the June 2005 issue of Modern Drummer magazine. In the article, Harris cites past problems with other systems crashing in the middle of songs and the BEP's recent move to Digital Performer as the solution:

Though Harris appreciates the band's ability to get though that type of situation, it's not something that will likely happen again when the band heads out on tour to support Monkey Business. On the Elephunk tour, Izo was triggering all of the samples from an Akai MPC 2000. "That was cool, because we had the samples cut up and we could play them in real time to have more of a feel, in case tempos changed or something like that," Harris explains. "But now we'll each be using Digital Performer to run some of the tracks. I have an electronic rig now, so I can trigger samples and Tim can do his thing as well."

I guess your credentials preceeded you?
Well they didn't ask for a resume! Actually, Printz Board, who plays keys for the Black Eyed Peas really knows his stuff and he grilled me. They had had the same types of issues with Pro Tools that Kenny had. They had tried using Tascam MX2424s for playback, but the Tascam doesn't have a built-in mixer and editing on that machine is not as easy as on a computer. With a Hip Hop band like the Black Eyed Peas, song structure can change at any time and they needed backing tracks that could be flexible. So I told them about my DP rig and they invited me to show them how I did it.

My personal rig is a G4 Powerbook with DP and an 828mkII interface. I transferred all the Peas tracks into DP and then used DP as a front end for both the 828mkII and on a second back up computer with the 002. We use two computers so we have a backup. We use all MOTU interfaces now. The Peas wanted to see this rig in action because it already had a reputation with other major artists. I had had success with DP on other tours so I felt comfortable putting my hand on my heart and saying "this is the way to do it". The Black Eyed Peas now have three separate DP rigs.

Why three rigs?
They travel so much that transportation of equipment back and forth across the Atlantic becomes cost-prohibitive. We have a European rig, a US rig, and a third rig that can travel with us. Each rig uses LaCie D4 drives. I like those drives because I can put two of them into a single rack space and they've never let me down. I travel with a pair of Powerbooks and update all the files when I get to the rig.

Is this a stable configuration?
It has to be! I can honestly say that I haven't had a single crash with DP 4.52.

And how do you use DP on stage with the Peas?
Keith Harris, the drummer, runs the sequence, just like Kenny did with Melissa. I'm on the side of the stage if they need me to jump in and take over.

So you are no longer a drum roadie?
Well I still do drum tech work for Abe with Paul McCartney, but now with the Peas I'm taking care of keyboards, as well as editing and running "the box".

Sounds like if you ever do write a resume, it will have some pretty good references on it!
Oh sure! And I'll still be using DP and MOTU interfaces to get my job done!

Learn more about Paul Davies.