Platinum Blonde Life


David "Gurn" Kaniski Rocks Steady with No Doubt

Even before No Doubt had a record label, the band's dynamic live performances of its new wave/ska-influenced music earned them a devoted following. Their breakthrough, 1995's Tragic Kingdom, brought Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Adrian Young, and Tom Dumont several thousand more fans and established them worldwide as a band that takes having fun very seriously.

No Doubt was definitely in full party mode while recording Rock Steady, its latest and possibly most upbeat release to date. “Hey Baby” quickly became a ubiquitous pop single and it's been followed up by the hip-hop-flavored dance hit “Hella Good.” To record the album, the band first headed to Jamaica, with the intention of incorporating the island's dance hall vibe into its music. While there, the group worked with legendary production teams Sly & Robbie and Steely & Clevie. Then it was off to London to work with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, William Orbit (Madonna) and Nellee Hooper (Soul II Soul, Björk); No Doubt was in the UK and halfway through the album on September 11. Unsure about releasing a party record in light of that day's tragic events, the band eventually regrouped and went back to doing what it does best. The album also includes collaborations with the Cars' Ric Ocasek and Prince; its emphasis on fun makes a great case for music's healing properties.

The fun factor was definitely the cue from which lighting and set designer David “Gurn” Kaniski created his tour design. “I'm using lots of primary colors, reds and bright greens. There are a couple of songs that break that theme, but it's a really fun band and they don't want to get too serious as far as color goes,” explains the designer. “With my set design, I'm using the album graphics for the soft goods. Then in the last section there is a big gold ND logo sculpture; it's a very stripped-away look.

“I really love their music — plus they're all from Orange County [CA] and so am I,” he continues. “My high school used to play them in football and lose. We get along well — the band members are all super-nice people. They're very communicative and they don't make you feel that you need to candy-coat certain production realities; there isn't anything you can't tell them. It's so much fun to light them, especially because the new album has these funky beats and layered synthesizer undertones.”

Kaniski worked with VLPS senior account manager Steve Roman in Los Angeles to put together his lighting package. “Steve always does an incredible job,” says the LD. “To me, the PARs are as important as the moving lights. It's all integrated, so the prep is very important. Steve's eye to detail for that is very good.”

Kaniski chose his moving lights for very specific applications. “The 2416s are awesome — they're incredibly bright — and I have the VL7s on the front truss so I can use them for projections,” Kaniski says. “I had custom gobos made of the album cover art and some of those are edited into breakups as well. I also like the 2402s — they're kind of hard-edge/soft-edge lights and they're very quick. The first leg is theatres, so it's very clean and basic. But even with this relatively small production package, I would feel comfortable going into an arena with it. It's not a rigid box design — it's really flexible as to where the truss points go. They can squeeze in or open way out and still produce the same effect.”

One of the show's more unusual effects involves the two High End Systems Cyberlight automated luminaires that are located behind the FOH lighting position. “The whole design concept had four traveling drapes from the sides and I was going to use the new Catalysts for projections,” Kaniski explains. “Then it fizzled budget-wise, and crew-wise, but the band really liked the idea of having the logo projected and bringing the audience into the show more. I also wanted to loosen up the rig a bit more — there is kind of a broken front truss that helps to break that fourth wall. Having FOH projection really brings the audience into it.

“So I transformed that idea into custom gobos with the logo on them in the Cyberlights,” he continues. “It's kind of a battle to position them there in some venues because all the seats are sold. But you can almost get a footlight vibe from them as well. For some songs I just have them on in Congo Blue and that adds a bit more depth to the stage. I had done something similar for a Smash Mouth tour, but for them, it evolved out of having a FOH DJ position. For this, there was no other way I would have been able to get such readable graphics on the curtains.”

Conventional lights handle a lot of the audience lighting as well. “There are some mini-Molefay audience lights with color changers on the back and mid-stage truss so it's a very open audience wash,” Kaniski says. “It's not really defining the fourth wall — they're not just on the downstage truss, they're kind of breaking that and going into the set, which is cool. There are also Cyberlight Turbos on the back with the 2416s that shoot through the trusses. It's an asymmetrical design as far as the hang goes, but I'm keeping it balanced; nothing is hung symmetrically on the truss, but they are kind of mirrored on the truss behind so to appear balanced.”

Kaniski programmed the show on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console with an expansion wing. “The idea behind programming the lighting was that I wanted to have a really interactive show with the lighting director, Adam Burton,” Kaniski says. “I did a base look on the cue list and then have only half of the instruments used in that cue. The other half are all on interactive channels, like the wing or the submasters, that he will trigger. It's like playing a keyboard, which is the way we used to do shows in the 80s. I felt that if I put it all on cues and chases, it just won't have that feeling.”

“It's a lot of fun to run every night,” Burton adds. “It's very sexy music with sexy lighting.”

“Since I had programmed the list of songs they were going to do, it's pretty straightforward,” Kaniski says. “I didn't program some of the ballads extensively, but there is a verse/chorus hook in there. Then if they throw in a new song, Adam can expand on that, especially as far as timing goes. And, I keep in touch with Tony, the bass player, because he's the one who really keeps an eye on the look of the show.”

Drummer Adrian Young also had some ideas. The show begins with no one onstage, just the drums glowing in multiple colors. “He has Lexan drums and he put these little screw-type fluorescents in them,” Kaniski explains. “It's kind of unfortunate because we don't have control of dimming them. It's a lot of light, but Adrian really loves those drums and he put a lot of thought into the colors. I originally had some lights to match them that were going to be hanging like backyard party lights, but they also got phased out by budget restrictions.”

The tour also doesn't carry its own spotlights, which can be a lighting headache. “There is a way to light the band that is specific to how they want to be lit — and it's different from most bands with a front person. They all have input in every aspect of their tour. They walk onstage as a unit — it's definitely not the band and now Gwen Stefani. So, I have some ellipsoidals on the front truss with color changers to mimic the spotlights for Adrian. Normally, I wouldn't have them on a drummer. For the ballads, there is usually something special, or if someone isn't playing at certain points, they aren't lit. But for the most part everyone onstage is lit all the time.

“You never know what shape the spots in any venue will be in,” he continues, “so spot calling may change depending on who has the worst spotlight. Add to the mix that Tony has dark skin whereas Gwen is platinum blonde and is usually wearing white or something sparkly. Tom is usually wearing white as well. So it's this battle to find the brightest spot to put on Tony. And they notice. They are so perceptive — they'll tell you if a light is out or if the curtain isn't pulled back correctly. I would notice those things, but you don't expect the artists to. They are always cool about it, though, and it just makes me respect them more.”

The band toured US theatres through the middle of May and is now traveling through Europe. Stops in Japan and a return to the States are scheduled for the fall.

Catherine McHugh is a New York-based freelance writer. She can be contacted at [email protected].


Lighting Designer
David “Gurn” Kaniski

Production Manager
Jim Pettinato

Lighting Director
Adam Burton

Lighting Crew Chief
Patrick Thomsen

Lighting Technician
Andrea Mack

Stage Manager/Bass Tech
Luc Stampleman

Production Assistant
Jonie Conati

Roland Castillo

Lighting Supplier
VLPS Los Angeles
Steve Roman

Lighting Equipment


Vari*Lite VL2402s


Vari*Lite VL2416s


Vari*Lite VLMs


Vari*Lite VL6Cs


Vari*Lite VL7s


Vari*Lite VL5s


High End Systems Turbo Cyberlights


Mini Molefays with Wybron Coloram scrollers


three-cell cyc lights


ETC Source Fours


Tomcat six-lamp PAR bars


four-lamp ACL bars


Lycian Starklite followspots


Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II control system


Reel EFX DF-50 hazers


Columbus McKinnon 1-ton hoist motors


20.5" truss