Working at the Grammy Awards with one of the most talented singers of our generation seems like it would be pretty awesome, right?
According to Joe Zavaglia, it absolutely is.
Currently in the UK getting ready for the Brit Awards, Joe took a moment to chat with WOHM about the Grammys, Adele, Nikki Minaj, Kreayshawn, living in Portland and his business State of Sound.
So coming from someone who’s lived in Brooklyn and Portland, are they the same city?
HA. This is a great question. While there are similarities, the energy of the two cities couldn’t be more different. In Brooklyn/ NYC things move faster and with more intensity. It’s an expensive city so you’re always working to support yourself as well as pursuing your creative passions. It can be a constant hustle to balance both. There’s always so much happening that you feel pressured to constantly “make the scene” so you don’t miss a random opportunity. You want to take it all in, but it’s nearly impossible. It’s not a negative thing, just different. You’re constantly moving but you’re loving every minute of it. You have to sharpen your claws and thicken your skin a bit but once you’ve found your community those folks will be loyal, helpful, and brutally honest.
For lack of a better term it’s “easier” to live in Portland. It’s obviously more affordable and that gives you a ton of breathing room. Creatively you can work at your own pace and that’s why I think there’s a ton of great music in this city. I moved here in 2007 because I was spending 6-9 months a year on the road and I wanted some peace during my downtime. Here in PDX I can just be. I can enjoy a cup of coffee on the porch at 1pm and not feel guilty, like I should be doing something else.
I think we could all benefit from living in both cities for a while.
How did you end up working at the Grammys?
I’ve worked with Adele since early 2009. We spent most of that year on tour and that was the first time I worked at the Grammys. I did all of her promo stuff as well early 2011 before 21 dropped (TV appearances, etc), but sadly I had to say no to doing the tour this year. I started my own event solutions company here in PDX called State of Sound Inc. and I had a few conflicting shows. It was a hard decision to make because I knew she was about to become a household name, but I had made commitments. They found a top notch replacement for the touring cycle, but they still bring me in for the awards shows like the Grammys and the VMA’s.
Best story from the show?
I’ve got two.
As you know this was Adele’s first major performance since her vocal surgery. She always has a bit of stage fright, but she was very nervous going into this. She ended up nailing it. You can even see it, as soon as she got through the first chorus she was confident and really enjoying herself.
Ordinarily she would have been whisked back to her dressing room to change and then brought back to her seat, but she waited back stage for us so she could hug every member of the band and crew and say thank you. It was really beautiful.
Now not as interesting or emo . . . As we were waiting for them to strike Taylor Swift’s huge set so we could get ours onstage I was chatting with the crew from Foster the People. We got on about gear failures and I realized we were about to perform. I had a total “knock on wood” moment. I quickly looked for something made of wood and about 5 feet from me were Springsteen’s guitars. I very gently and respectfully knocked on the Boss’ Telecaster and proceeded to stop talking until after our show.
DJ Fatboy is Kreayshawn’s DJ, is from Portland and has Swag tatted on his middle finger. Did you see him there?
I didn’t. It’s funny you mention Kreayshawn. I became aware of her when I did the VMA’s this past September. Spoiler Alert BTW. On the rehearsal days of these awards shows they place large printed photos in the seats where artists sit. So most reaction shots are scripted and rehearsed in advance. I noticed Kreayshawn’s photo and I was like ” who the hell is this chick?” I looked her up and had Gucci-Gucci stuck in my head for 2 weeks
Be honest, have you ever cried during one of Adele’s performances?
I’m laughing because I’m thinking of that SNL skit. I can tell you this I got a little choked up when we hugged after the Grammy performance.
What was the crowd’s reaction to seeing Nicki Minaj’s performance?
Hard to say. We were backstage dealing with gear when she performed. I watched the replay. I think it would have been fun to watch from the crowd in the moment, but I also think there was a lot of eye rolling. It seemed many of the evenings performances were more about spectacle than music. Everyone seemed like they were trying to “out-production” each other at an event that’s there to honor music not video cubes, ice sculpture pyro, or massive choreography. By the time Nicki Minaj came on I think a good portion of the crowd was over it and ready for it to end on the note it did. Watching a few rock n roll legends play some Beatles tunes.
How long will you be in London?
I leave tomorrow AM and I’m back next Wednesday. The Brit awards are Tuesday night. I’m excited to see how different it will be. This is my first UK awards show.
Is it hard working sound for every other singer after doing sound for one of the greatest?
Ha. You know it sounds cliche, but I treat every artist with the same respect. I work at the Doug Fir a few nights a month so I’m constantly working with young bands. I pass on advice, and I work just as hard to create what they’re looking for sonically as I would with any artist I tour with.
Adele went to the Brit school. So she’s been trained on things like mic technique and has an understanding of room acoustics and reflections. Not only are her ears amazing she understands there are limitations, and it’s my job to find that perfect medium.
With the young indie bands a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. They don’t always understand that recording and live sound are two entirely different worlds, with different tools and techniques. I love the DIY culture here, but it puts me in the position of having to correct a bands requests. Just because it worked well when you mixed it on your laptop doesn’t mean it’s going to work live.
Who are some of your favorite Portland based artists?
I love Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside. Also, Radiation city, the Dimes, AgesandAges Fruit Bats, Vagabond Opera, and a new band called Pure Bathing Culture. The Decemberists will always have a place in my heart. I mixed a show for them at Central Park in 2006. I was really hoping they’d win at the Grammys
Tell us about your business.
State of Sound is a full service event solution company. While our focus is providing sound systems for live events we also offer lighting, video, and event management & planning. We do everything from outdoor concerts to charity auctions to conference AV support.
State of Sound or SOS as we call it really shines in its ability to coordinate multi act festival shows. Both my business partner and I are touring professionals. We’ve done all the major festivals here and overseas. We know how things are supposed to work and we bring that knowledge, expertise, and energy to every event. While I more focus on the music side of things these days I’ve been involved with all types of live events for over a decade. I worked for companies back in NYC that would handle everything from Fashion Week to meetings at the UN. SOS is bringing that level of quality and professionalism here to Portland, OR.