Kille Knobel and Nimblist Serve Up a Unique Design with a Darkly Lit Forest of Ropes
Temple of the Dog consists of vocalist Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam members Stone Gossard (guitar), Jeff Ament (bass), Mike McCready (lead guitar), and Matt Cameron (drums). The band released just one album in 1991, but its success really grew much stronger the following year when the band members, along with TOTD guest vocalist Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, emerged as music industry icons.
Last year, the original TOTD band members reconvened to mark 25 years since the release of that self-titled album. We spoke with lighting designer/director Kille Knobel and production designer Spike Brant, who both have a history with Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
Familiar Faces, New Looks
“Kille and I have a very long and special relationship with Pearl Jam and, specifically, “Smitty” [tour manager Mark Smith],” says Brant. “The vibe of everyone involved was very comfortable, smooth and calm. Everyone that I talked to when the tour was announced was excited about it. We were coming off the large Pearl Jam shoot at Wrigley Field, and the brief for TOTD was completely different. We designed into one truck and a very tight budget. It was a great challenge on top of the design parameters defined by Jeff Ament.”
“I knew while it was a familiar crowd, it would be a very different kind of show,” says Kille Knobel. “The Temple of the Dog touring personnel was largely comprised of Pearl Jam staff. Having worked with both Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, I was delighted to be asked to participate,” she adds. “It was really fun to have the opportunity to challenge ourselves and to step outside of our familiar world to achieve something that felt very different. No one wanted it to feel or look like a Pearl Jam or Soundgarden show.”
The Production Design
With the trees depicted in the TOTD “Hunger Strike” video as a key starting point, the team came up with ideas on a production design. It would be impractical, of course, to tour with actual trees, so instead, the design team came up with the idea of using a forest of ropes instead.
“Through the inception process, we explored many options, from realistic to abstract,” Brant notes. “The idea of the ropes creating the tree shapes satisfied all the requirements of the design; organic, transparent for the 360-degree shows, packed small, played big. Once we had the concept and approval from the band, we reached out to our partners at Atomic Scenic to manufacture them. They are Nimblist’s (formerly PEDG) preferred scenic vender and part of the Rock Lititz production community. With the Nimblist office in Lancaster, PA, it was awesome to be able to drive 15 minutes and look at prototypes and work through the many steps of the design process in person, as pictures can’t replace being there.”
As for the lighting design, “we were given some pretty specific starting points that we got to run with, for the look of the show,” Knobel continues. “Key lighting concepts were the feeling of darkness, starkness, unconfined washes, hidden sources, asymmetrical lighting and heavy floor lighting. I was asked to not use any ‘cones’ of lights, which I knew meant graphic hard edge use and gobos. The hard edge in the air was up there to help out lighting the ‘trees,’ and when I used the fixtures overhead, pointed anywhere except the trees, they tended to be very zoomed-out and soft.
“We used a semi-monochromatic approach in color, erring on the side of less-rich and unsaturated colors — a lot of white, sepia, and what I call ‘no color’ and ‘dirty’ versions of blues, greens, and ambers,” Kille adds. “We did break the self-imposed constraints for some songs, but similar to the hard-edge use, it felt refreshing, because it looked so different. The only changes I really made once we got going was fine tuning, or if we added additional songs.
“While the rig was very small, we had several options to light the trees in terms of angle and fixture choice.” Kille continues. “We were able to treat the trees as a backdrop and it turns out rope is a very neutral material to light. I was able to get a lot of nice breakup and color modeling. Some songs the trees were soft, some textured and some of the prism and rotation work looked pretty wild on our punk rock set.”
Relying heavily on Solaris Flares as a wash source, Knobel notes that they were her go-to light on the tour to achieve big baths of light. “I rarely used them as a strobe,” she says. “We didn’t want anything to feel too digital, so any multi-cell chasing, both on the Solaris and the [Claypaky] B-Eyes, was done to look cool in the air and not seeing the source. I am not a big fan of seeing honeycomb LED sources but rely on them, because they are such an effective and versatile wash source. There were a few raised eyebrows when I spec’d the B-Eyes, but you cannot beat lighting an entire band from one side with two lights. I’m a huge fan of the Scenius spots, but this was my first time trying the Profiles and thought why not make them the entire hard edge package. I missed some of the gobos of the spot, but these lights are still hands-down my favorite hard edge.”
Kudos for the Crew
Knobel enjoyed working with what was, in her words, “the most overqualified small tour, lighting crew ever!” Her team included longtime crew mates Dan McDonough and Josh Henderson. “We’ve worked together for years, and we are like family. To have both of them on this tour, and Mat Burden as stage manager… the total dream team. I was lucky enough to get to work with Joe Bay for the first time, he is a phenomenal young programming talent and we’re going to be seeing his name a lot in the years to come. Upstaging as usual, did a beautiful job of providing us with the lighting gear. Everyone had to wear a lot of hats, and Ryan Floyd, our rigger was one of them. He didn’t bat an eyelash at being asked to step up and lead our rope-and-sheave ‘automation’ tree department, and he did it with a smile, even when those ropes were tangled and lifting vacuum cleaners off the floor mid-show. Atomic Design did the scenic package and nailed it.”
Spike Brant also credited Knobel for her contributions to the show design. “Nimblist has a very long relationship with Kille, going back to the beginning of our careers.” Brant states. “It has been a pleasure collaborating with her on all these shows in recent years. We were honored to have Kille ask us to help her with this labor of love. It was the perfect design for the band and this moment in time. I am very proud of the work we did together.”
Tribute to Andy Wood
In conclusion, Kille noted how the shows served not just to mark the passage of time, but as a tribute and remembrance. “I think there are a lot of people who are huge fans of Temple of the Dog but never knew why and who the album was written for. Every night was such a poignant tribute to Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone through the music played and the stories Chris Cornell shared. The band did a beautiful job of bringing every audience closer to Andy and his story. It was a powerful bookend to a talent stolen too young by five guys that cared deeply for him. I feel lucky to have been there.”
February 10, 2017