Erykah Badu and The Cannabinoids Tour Profile

Nov 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By David John Farinella
Photos: Steve Jennings

UNKNOWNS KEEPS ENGINEERS ON THEIR TOES

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Monitor engineer Kenny Nash

Monitor engineer Kenny Nash

To solve part of that challenge, Williams set up his console in cells that matched the performers' positions onstage, starting with Badu, who was on number 1. The rest of The Cannabinoids formed a circle around her, beginning with RC Williams at Badu's immediate right, then Picnic, DJ Big Texas, A ONE, Symbolic One, Jah Born and Rob Free. “That way, whenever I saw somebody doing something, and I couldn't discern from the mix exactly what it was, I could go right to the cell and know what that person was playing,” Williams explains. “It was easier to bring it up that way than having to jump around a bunch of layers on the console. It gave me a little more control and I knew where to look for everything.”

The setup also helped him ensure that the mix kept up with Badu. “Erykah has such a broad palate to choose from that she'll go off and do something that seems structured to the audience,” Williams says, “and I suppose it is because her instructions are simple: ‘Go with me.’ On the first couple shows with The Cannabinoids, I had to write down certain keywords that she would say to let us know where she was going. That allowed me to set up delays and know what I needed to do EQ-wise. She's so quick and in the moment, I don't even have pages set up. I have one template and I make the corrections as I go.”

As far as outboard gear, Williams will usually use a Summit Audio TLA-100a on Badu's vocals. On this night, however, there was no outboard gear to be found.

Monitor Feeds on the Fly

Where Williams is a relatively new citizen in Badu World, Nash has been with the singer for 10 years. Nash's first introduction came when he subbed for the FOH mixer Gordon Mack III (which is also how Williams got this gig), who was heading out to work with Prince. “We all know how the situation with Prince goes,” Nash says with a laugh. “So Gordon came back; no hard feelings. A little later, he called me, and said, ‘Erykah liked your work and your personality. You want to come out and be her monitor guy?’”

While Nash started out with Badu when she was using personal monitors, the piercings in both ears means that she's back on wedges. During a typical band show, Badu will get kick, snare, Rhodes, backing vocals, drum machine and her own vocals in the downstage monitors. Side-fills get a full band mix, which Nash explains is where she gets her stage vibe.

Just like Williams, Nash had no idea what was going to happen during The Cannabinoids' set, so making sure that the band had good monitor mixes was a bit of a challenge. Turns out that most of the producers wanted everything, except for Rob Free, who wanted his own tracks and a little of Badu's vocals, and Picnic, who wanted himself, Badu and RC Williams.

Nash's history with Badu and her candor made her monitor mix a bit easier. “I've been with her so long that I know what she's looking for,” he says. “If it seems like there's a problem, I'll go stand by the side-fills and she'll give me the yea or nay. If it's really bad, in the middle of a song, she'll say, ‘Kenny.’ I have to stay on my toes.”

Nash works off a PM5D and mixes to L-Acoustics 115XT Hi-Qs, as well as two ARCS and two SB218s per side. Jah Borne, who was running a pair of drum machines (MPC 2000XL and Akai MPD32), got a single 15-inch the first night and then complained to Nash about his monitor rig. “The second night I gave him two double 18s,” Nash says with a laugh. “He played a lot of the 808 stuff and lot of the lower kick drum stuff, so I had to beef up his mix a little bit.”

With three shows under their belt (The Cannabinoids played The Palladium in Los Angeles on September 5), both Williams and Nash are feeling a bit more confident. “We will definitely know everybody is playing,” Williams admits with a laugh. “There weren't any train wrecks during these first three shows, but there were some interesting times. I really think there's something special here that's only going to get better the more we all play together.”


David John Farinella is a San Francisco-based writer.






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