Last summer, Sonny Satterfield and Thom Roberts teamed up to form a partnership, named The House of Blue Lights, after LSD closed its Nashville shop, where Roberts was head of the electronics department. Their working relationship began when Satterfield was programming for a show in the shop's dark room. "I was having some problems writing some chases," Satterfield says. "I asked for his assistance and he helped me for about an hour. We worked really well together, we just clicked. My next project was Godsmack and he got involved with programming that; it turned out really well, and we just took it from there. We became really good friends and good partners--we have a lot of the same ideas and we think the same way--and it's just been a good relationship. Even though Thom is in the background more than I am, because I'm operating the show and on the tour, Thom plays a big part in what you see. What you see is as much me as it is Thom, because we work very tightly together on the design and on the looks. It started off as kind of a fun thing for him to do with me, because he had gotten out of designing and operating for a long time, and it just progressed into a little business." Roberts has worked mostly in country music for the last 10 to 15 years. "Prior to that I was in some rock-and-roll stuff," he says. "I worked for Morpheus Lights in the 80s, but I've been in Nashville for 20 years now."
Disturbed Music as a Weapon 2 2003 tour
On a project, Roberts says, "We discuss the equipment and basic layout, and any specific needs Sonny has for a show. I lay it out in VectorWorks, and we go back and forth until we're happy with it. I program, and he throws ideas out, and we bounce ideas off each other until we're happy with the looks." Satterfield lives in Texas, several hundred miles from Roberts, so how does this partnership work? "There is no actual formula," Roberts explains, "but we try to do at least one preliminary meeting together with the artists and/or management to get their feelings, thoughts, concepts, and generally be sure we are on the same page. After that, all communication has been electronic--e-mail, phone, fax, whatever it takes--until actual on-site programming begins. We have discussed putting a password-protected page on the website that all concerned parties can access at any time, and I am sure we will implement that in the near future. It would obviously be better to have more face-to-face time, but schedules and finances simply do not allow for it. And Sonny and I know each other and trust each other so well, and know what we are trying to achieve, that it seems the communication is almost innate. I think we have only had one (easily correctable) misunderstanding in all the projects we have put together this way."
One of the team's recent projects was the Music as a Weapon 2 tour for heavy metal band Disturbed, who toured the US earlier this year, recently made the festival rounds in Europe, and is joining the Ozzfest late in June. Check their website for a tour diary by photographer Rafa.
Satterfield's resume also includes work with Rob Zombie and Pantera. With this kind of intense music, the LD likes strong, simple looks. "I'm a believer that the human eye, when viewing something like a light show, can only grasp certain things, so I'm a fan of single-color looks and no more than two-color combinations. And you don't always need to use all the lights at one time. A lot of times my show is full on, but I do a lot of shutter chases with these bands because the music is moving quickly. When I do bring up a static look, I like to bring in a two-color combination, I usually do bring in all the lights, but then I also have a song at the end [of the Disturbed show] where I just use spotlights and Studio Colors on the cyc, and the whole beginning instrumental of the song runs with just those lights, then for the chorus, just the hard-edged stuff comes in, so I try to mix it up."
"It's a very open, friendly collaboration," Roberts says. "There's no ego, no attitude at all between us; we both take each other's ideas and go for it. I think we do really well together. And then he goes out and tours with it and I look for the next act. But as often as not, he pulls in the next act because of someone who's seen the show, and he's got a more well-known reputation in the rock-and-roll world than I do. I'm just really happy working with Sonny, it's a great partnership, and I'm really looking forward to doing something more in the fall when he comes off the Ozzfest." Roberts is currently on tour with Randy Travis for whom he has designed since 1995.
Photos © Rafa