Christian Walsh, Production Carpenter
I first met Christian Walsh the last Friday of June near Palais Garnier. Paris can be a somewhat supercilious environment; as such, it was the first time in a while anyone had greeted me with such a warm hug instead of the frosty bise. Over the next four days, he told me many intriguing stories about the ins and outs of the elusive touring industry.
Christian is a multifaceted character, mentioning Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński one minute and rigging, trucks, control, or packing air freight the next. He knows a ton about logistics and ways to avoid dodginess with fork lifts but can also chew over Stoicism with the best of them.
Originally from Brisbane, Australia, the 26 year old has worked for Vance Joy, Angus Stone, Nick Murphy, Violent Soho, Amity Affliction, and the Chainsmokers, just to name a few. He played in a diverse group of bands in high school before realizing he could launch his career (and enjoy the same sense of community) immediately thereafter. He thus ensconced himself in the more lucrative aspects of production (pursuing a life on the road instead of formal education) and is currently a production carpenter for Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods Tour. Certainly a long way from driving vans around Brisbane! Yet his favourite venue remains the Riverstage. And when he refers to his work for Vance Joy alongside Taylor Swift, he’s rather colloquial so as not to appear ostentatious.
Yet this considerate man can’t help but attract attention. While we’re waiting for some tacos at Candelaria, I get up to use the washroom. “Are you Aussie?” I hear a girl whisper almost conspiratorially across the table. When I come back, her brother has invited Christian to go sailing should he ever find himself in Boston, Massachusetts. Having spent his formative years with “strictly carefree” parents, Christian even knows how to scuba dive. His personality is magnetic, like the name of the island he grew up on off the coast of Queensland.
“No one has ever asked me so much about my work,” Christian, clothed in a black Dune Rats longsleeve, says, bemused, as I scrawl notes in a bright floral Rifle Paper notebook. We're sitting outside after having perused a brocante in the 3e arrondissement. Christian walked away with a small wooden box that was handmade in El Salvador while I opted for some glassware.
Christian has synaesthesia, which affects the way he interprets colour and sound.
“What colour am I?” I ask shamelessly.
“Tangerine,” he says.
I also ask him what he wishes he were exposed to at a younger age and he readily answers high information music. I'd never heard of such a thing but it evokes mathematical patterns and “building blocks of what is a relative frequency.”
I ask Christian if he can tell me the last time he was truly happy. “I can,” he says. He had a break in the middle of the first leg of Timberlake’s American tour. In the aftermath of the Superbowl, a “massive production,” the Australian rented a private bungalow in LA which he happily describes as “quite art deco. The same place I was at before it all began.” He put his feet up on the balcony. “It was my first break in all the craziness. I just smiled like, Fuck, I did it. It was like getting married in my career. It was huge. I was very much a part of this new team and machine.” The touring production presently consists of twenty eight trucks of gear and there were two months of rehearsal in New Jersey.
The Superbowl alone involved two weeks of rehearsal. Christian got a visa, moved to America, and, incidentally, left the life he had in Australia with the bands and production he worked for his whole career. “People have given up their lives to go on the road,” he asserts. “All of us say that we joined the circus. But I could never think of having a different career.”
“Are you ever nervous?”
“Man, it is seriously like taking a shower,” he laughs. “The whole mystique is gone.”
We get to talking about Christian’s hay fever and the merits of Kleenex. “You can blow your nose with a napkin or you can blow your nose with a tissue,” he says. “It does the same thing. But you notice a difference.” An astute analogy for the importance of quality stage equipment.
“The dude that’s standing on stage in front of 10,000 people is going to notice the difference,” he says solemnly.
“But what if they don’t notice?” I ask. “Does it bother you that they might not know the amount of work that goes into this stage?”
“No,” he says. “I kind of like it. It’s like a secret. I want them to get lost in it.”
RS: What do you look for when you’re simply attending a concert?
CW: You look at it regardless of production. You could have the house lights on. It’s what the band gives you. It’s got nothing to do with the bells and whistles that we give you. [We do that because] if you put a small person in a big room, it looks weird.
RS: Why do you do what you do?
CW: People exploit creativity and make a lot of money off it. I'm doing it for people and music. The greatest synergy is for people who have great respect and a really good message.
RS: Tell me about life in the evolving industry of touring production.
CW: The easiest way I could put it is that if the world ended, armageddon, I’m around the type of people you want to be around. Everyone I know and everything I do is not theory. It’s to do with how you can help.
RS: And there’s no room for the nervous apprentice.
CW: Communication is the key to success in our industry because if you can't efficiently say what you need to say, you get left behind. You need a good sense of direction and a vision of the big picture.
RS: And you call yourselves black collar? A blend of blue and white?
CW: The work ethic of the blue collar and the intellect of the white collar (putting videos together, being able to solve problems). You can’t just smoke cigarettes all day or tell people what to do all day. Everything we do is physical but if you don’t have the aptitude to understand what’s happening in the industry you’ll flunk out pretty quickly. You have to have a lot of initiative. If you don’t find what to do, you’re not going to get asked back. Most of us don’t have résumés. Your trial is the tour.
RS: So what's a production manager?
CW: The guy that represents the show from a logistical point of view. Organizing the gear for the production. "Who are you and what are you gonna bring?" It usually starts with a phone call where we discuss the specs of the stage.
[Note: When Christian was production managing for Vance Joy, for example, he travelled to Louisiana and California to help create custom video panels and lighting. They did 80 shows alongside Taylor Swift in 2015.]
RS: You said your work is dealing with the sort of ideas King Arthur would have had.
CW: The same issues exist today in our game. People skills are the same as someone back then would have dealt with (as opposed to dealing with emails). It’s like you’re in a war. Lots of shouting to get things done. For two hours you work like your life is dependent on it. I love that intensity. A lot of the Americans are ex-marines.
RS: Tell me about the odd things the Americans say.
CW: 1) I appreciate it - that’s such an American thing. Are you kidding me? You knew there was a meal coming, just say thanks. Americans use it to feel comfortable. For Australians, it’s the final frontier, it’s the height of saying thanks.
2) Real quick - you don’t have to do it “real quick,” just do it at normal speed? Once you hear it, you can’t not notice.
3) -Ly words have taken over … literally, honestly…
4) You have no idea/you don’t even know. What do you mean? I’ve researched it. I do know. That’s why I want to go. I do know how good it is.
[Follow his @murica_appreciation instagram here, you won’t be disappointed.]
RS: You're also highly amused by “real life scenarios that go wrong” and situations you witness on the street.
CW: My friend who has the same sense of humour as me, we're always describing situations. You become one person and I become the other. “Where did you put the keys, Tony?” “I thought I put them on my lap.”
RS: You're very imaginative. When do you feel most comfortable?
CW: When I'm around people I trust. Because being around people I like or people I'm fond of is very different.
RS: What grinds your gears the most?
CW: When you’re trying really hard and someone comes in and ruins it all. Sometimes it's not [immediately necessary to elaborate] why I’m doing something differently today because of a different circumstance. We can’t do it the easy way, we have to do it the hard way. People blowing my cover -- I’m still figuring out how to deal with that.
RS: Can you comment further on that Ted talk you showed me by Peter Calthorpe, which relates to the perils of suburbia?
CW: People create lifestyles through the TV, they live through the TV. People transport themselves from one suburb to another. We fucked up, we should have never done that. It’s a hard lifestyle of exclusivity.
RS: You’re “everywhere and nowhere at the same time” on tour. Is it hard to have such an itinerant lifestyle?
CW: There’s a beauty in that which lingers because nothing gets stale. There’s no longevity. There’s about 100 of us on the crew and then we get 100 locals for labour. We’re completely isolated from the rest of the world and then we’re in front of 10,000 or 30,000 people.
RS: What do you love about the touring industry?
CW: We all live and exist together.
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