Innovator, Designer, Artist – LampShopOnline talks to LeRoy Bennett
LeRoy Bennett has had a stellar career. After working with the likes of Prince, Paul McCartney and many, many more, you can imagine our excitement when LeRoy took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak to us.
LampShopOnline: When did you know you wanted to be a lighting designer, is there a specific moment you can pinpoint?
LeRoy: It’s interesting how I came to this point. I’ve always had a great love for music since I was very young. I grew up in a musical family so it became a big part of my life. I saw music, I didn’t just hear it.
I knew I wanted to be involved in the music industry, I graduated from high school and worked with a local band that was doing a club circuit up and down the East Coast of America. They had a little lighting package and I ended up taking care of that and running the lights. I learned that I did not want to be onstage and could perform musically in my own way through blending lights. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but that was the point where I discovered that I could get out my musical emotion by running lights.
After that I went back to Rhode Island and worked as a technician for a lighting company where I learned about touring. The next company I worked for was based in LA, the director put me forward to be a designer for his client. It was 1980 and that client was Prince.
LampShopOnline: So was this big break with working for Prince your way of breaking into the industry?
LeRoy: It was a series of very important and interesting steps when it came to me breaking in. Phase one was discovery of my passion for visuals, then learning the right skills was the second phase. Learning the correct skills was so important. So many young designers now don’t do that, they don’t get their hands dirty and that’s a problem on many levels.
LampShopOnline: Who has been your favourite artist to work with and why?
LeRoy: So many people ask me that question! I don’t really have a favourite. I’ve been lucky to have been able to work with big artists. Almost all my clients are pop stars who are very good at what they do and very creative.
I have an appreciation for all of them. I worked with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and he’s a genius musically. He loves to push the boundaries of every aspect of his art and in turn gives me the freedom to do the same thing. I worked with Paul McCartney who has an incredible catalogue of music, he’s also a great artist. With Beyoncé it was the same thing; she’s a hard worker and a very talented woman. She’s very driven and knows what she wants to do and is a great person to work with.
LampShopOnline: Are there any shows or displays you’ve been especially proud of during your career?
LeRoy: I haven’t reached the best show I’ve done yet. There are plenty I’ve created that I think are good. With Nine Inch Nails the technology made it a great show, how we pushed the boundaries. The Prince shows I did were also very innovative for the time. For the tour that I did with Paul McCartney, the whole stage was a half-pipe with projectors which each had their own screen. It was like a tic tac toe (noughts and crosses) box.
There are aspects of all shows I’m proud of, but I know that I can do better. I’m constantly evolving what I’m doing and I don’t have a particular style. I tailor around the artist. Artists are only as good as their last show. They can put out an album that isn’t their best but they’ll put on a great show that will be remembered.
LampShopOnline: What inspires you?
LeRoy: Fashion, architecture, furniture, food, all those things. [Laughs] Music in general. I draw from very abstract things. I have a great appreciation for many styles of music and I love fashion. Even things in nature inspire me.
LampShopOnline: Did you face any challenges when you started out in your career?
LeRoy: There were always challenges. The challenges of venturing into new territories, going out of your comfort zone. The only way you can grow as a human being and an artist is you have to go outside your comfort zone or you’re never going to grow. You’ll never be the best person you can be.
It’s a blessing to have a challenge, life is boring without them. Prince used to put me in situations when I was young. For instance, with the Purple Rain movie, I was up against these big movie artists from Hollywood and he was telling them that they had to listen to me. They couldn’t quite wrap their head around it so the challenge was to get these guys to understand it and figure it out. The Superbowl halftime show too, working out how to you get the visuals on a grand scale set up in six minutes? Every day’s a challenge!
LampShopOnline: Advice to a young person wanting to break into the industry?
LeRoy: When I started the business was still relatively young, it was in its formative years and I was part of helping to push that forward. It’s very different now. It was renegade then, it’s very corporate now. There’s a lot more competition.
Doing what I do is not a job, it’s a passion. You don’t do it for the money, it’s an art form and expression of how you feel about something. You have to be motivated to operate that passion and to me that’s what it’s all about. You can be very technical but if you don’t know how to do it in an organic, passionate way it becomes very sterile and lifeless. You really have to have the passion for it. There’s a lot of compromise too, like building a show, you have to know when to give but still maintain the integrity of what you do. It’s politics and compromises and understanding the parameters of what you do. There are a million different ways to get to an end result, you just have to pick one.