Meet Andi Watson, most notably known as Radiohead’s lighting and set designer, and now Superfly’s Executive Creative Director of Live Entertainment. We sat down with Andi to learn more about his career roadmap, what inspires his creativity, and some advice he would give to those interested in getting into the same line of work.
Photo by: Hannah Drabin
Let’s start with a little background. Before you joined the Superfly team, for those who don’t know, what were you up to?
I have spent most of my working life as a lighting and production designer for some of the world's most creative musical artists. I am probably best known for my collaborations with Radiohead but I have also worked with a large number of other ‘stars’ as well as a collection of lesser known artists. In addition, I have designed lighting for theatre and corporate events, created standalone ‘art’ installations and spent far more time that I would have liked in TV studios.
You and Superfly go way back! How did you first get introduced to the team?
After Radiohead played Bonnaroo in 2006, I worked with Jon Mayers on a proposal for the site’s tower and the zone around it, but for various reasons we didn’t proceed with the plan at that time. Years later we reconnected and the tower plan was revisited and the result was Lucy, our fabulous Mirror Ball-topped, rope-lit-delineated tower and her collection of container art. That then led to me designing the Main stage for Outside Lands which pulled me further into Superfly’s creative gravity.
What does your role at Superfly as Executive Creative Producer of Live Experience entail?
I see myself bringing my skills and understanding of design and creativity to the existing Creative Production department and leading the team as we move forward with the huge number of creative projects we’ve got in the pipeline this year and years to come. Whilst we will be streamlining processes and improving documenting projects, our primary focus is using our creativity to solve problems and imagine the unimagined.
What drew you to Superfly? What are you most excited about?
I’m truly excited to be working with such a creative and exciting group of people on a wide range of diverse projects. Working on the Bonnaroo Tower area and the Outside Lands main stage was really rewarding and introduced me to a large number of the Superfly family. I honestly feel that there is a great–perhaps unique–energy within the company, and I relish the prospect of spending more time with Jon thinking up crazy projects whilst exploring the United States in his RV.
In a previous interview you said that the music inspires you, as well as art in various forms. How do you integrate that inspiration into your work? What’s your process?
I absolutely take inspiration from the world around me in all its forms. The sky is probably one of my greatest influences. I was incredibly lucky to have parents who gave me the freedom to be creative whilst teaching me to be inquisitive and to explore the beauty of the natural world and the people, art, and creativity within it. When I start a new project I always immerse myself in the music to the point of it being an almost subconscious soundtrack. That way I can imagine how I want it to be visually represented in a world without constraints. I then bring those ideas back into the real world and see how best to bring them to reality in the real world with all of its limitations.
You said before that you always try to push your own boundaries and that Radiohead gave you the freedom to be creative and to develop your own ideas and style. What moments represent some of your proudest work?
I think there is a moment after all the crazy amounts of hard work when you are finally in front of something that you have created and you can’t quite figure out how on earth you actually made it happen and you can’t work backwards to make logical sense of how you got there. I think those moments are wonderful. Of course, when your mom and dad or partner love what you have done it makes up a little for all the sacrifices that were made.
When was that moment you decided you wanted to build a career in designing lighting and staging?
Back in the day, you couldn’t go to school and learn about entertainment staging and lighting. When I attended university in the UK, I completed an engineering degree. Simultaneously, I was very much involved in the entertainment committee–promoting and producing shows, selling tickets, designing the posters. During the shows, I found that the sound equipment and setup on stage was always pretty much the same and actually kind of boring. But all of these bands brought someone to handle the lights and the results were always different. For me, it was amazing to see how each interpreted songs through light, bringing unique ideas to the stage on how the light should be utilized. I was immediately drawn to that.
Even though I had a few job offers on the table post graduation, I really thought about what I wanted to do. Fortunately enough, a lighting company noticed the work I did in university (there was a time when I had to build a computer from scratch with little chips, wire it up, and write the software to bring it to life). They were so impressed, they asked me to join their team. Five weeks later I was out on tour with Prince, and I’m suddenly living on tour buses. In reality, I don’t think there was a single moment that made me realize this is what I wanted to do–rather a series of events that led me right here.
When you were younger what was one thing that you were super curious about?
I have always been curious about how things work–that’s probably how I got into engineering. But that inquisitive nature applies to everything, including weather patterns. When you sit under a tree and look at the light of the sun and the way the light moves in the wind, you realize it has to do with patterns, systems, processes, and rhythms. The way the world works is super fascinating, because you know everything that’s in the world is from the world. We haven’t invented anything, we’ve just transposed ideas. I’m fascinated by how rainbows work. Light is amazing. What’s so incredible about it is that you actually can’t see it. Light is entirely invisible and because of this, it allows you to see things. To me, that’s magic. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being inquisitive about how things work.
What are some of your goals for the team this year?
I obviously want to continue doing everything Superfly is good at in the realm of creative production. I come from a very different kind of world historically to the Superfly world. There are a lot of elements I can bring here that don’t currently exist and a lot of things that are totally new to me. With the new properties we have coming up, we have the chance to tell some amazing stories. I would love to continue to explore adventurous creative concepts and implement them in our upcoming work. We’ve got an amazing energy and a bunch of people across three offices–we should take inspiration from absolutely everything.
What would you tell someone who wanted get into this same line of work?
Be prepared to live out of a suitcase for months on end and have very, very little sleep. I have been very lucky but I have worked very, very hard to get where I am. I have also had an awful lot of fun, too!