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Steve Joseph (“Steve J”)
How Steve got into Pyro is very interesting. He tells his story: “My father started buying me fireworks when I was 5 years old. Since then, I have had a fascination with fireworks and fire. In 1998, I started doing it professionally and I got a license in the State of Louisiana. Then I did outdoor shows, casinos, and fashion shows with simple pyro.”
“My first professional tour was with Pantera, long time friends of mine from New Orleans. Pantera wanted to bring pyro into the show like Ozzy did, so we talked to Jem Effects, the company I work for now. I did pyro for the last two years of their career. The Nickelback guys came to one of the shows and told me if they ever decided they wanted pyro, what they saw that evening was exactly what they wanted. In 2001 Nickelback went to the top of the charts all over the world. A good friend called me and said Nickelback wanted me to do some pyro. That is how I got hooked up with Nickelback.”
Pyro Pete had a huge influence on him. “In 1984, Pyro Pete was doing pyro for Mötley Crüe and Ozzy. I had always heard about him and I met him that day. I had the chance to tell him he was my idol and I was a huge fan of his. It was just one of those things that fell into my lap. If you love music, like I do, it is the chance to be the artist to paint the picture. This is a quote from Dimebag Darrell: ‘It was the frosting on the heavy metal cake’.”
“You have to have sound and lights to do a show. You have to have stage gear, but you don’t have to have pyro. The fans have paid the ticket price to come and the security, equipment and the building and provide the music. This is just one way to pay them back. It’s our way of saying thank you for coming out to the show.”
I told Steve that Blast, a Production Manager on the website, helped me with pyro questions. He thought it was such a fitting name!! (By the way, Blast, THANK YOU for the help with these questions.) Here are the questions and answers from Steve:
1. What is your primary concern that you have when you are doing a pyro show inside or outside the venue? “Safety is priority #1. If there is ever a doubt in my mind whether something is or isn’t safe for whatever reason, there is no fire. Inside the venue there is 1/100 shows that one kid can make it through security and gets up on stage. My crew may or may not realize what part of the song we are at and that pyro is going to go off because they are concentrating on different aspects. When you are doing a pyro inside the venue the audience, band and crew’s safety is first. When you do an outdoor show it is always the wind issue. Lighting can set off pyro devices; it is rare, but it can happen.”
2. Who figures out the cues for your pyro? “It is a combination of everyone. I will suggest something but then the band will say let’s do it here. Also, the lighting director is giving us his opinion, too. I am not the most experienced pyro guy; there are a lot of other pyro guys who have more experience than I do, but I do know the music. When I hear Nickelback’s music, I know what I want to paint in that picture to polish it off.”
3. Is it the artist or the pyro operators that put the pyro together? “It is 50/50. The artist has something in mind and sometimes it is a totally perfect idea and sometimes it is just totally unattainable. They are close to the vision on what they want, yet sometimes they don’t know how to say it. It is up to us to ask if they want to do this or how about doing this for the show.”
4. How has technology and pyro techniques changed over the years? “As far as preloaded devices such as gun powder and the sparks shots they haven’t really changed. I think right now it is important to know the music. If you are just shooting off pyro in the beginning and the end it is sort of predictable for the audience. I like to catch them off guard. Throw it in the middle and also be more creative than just doing pyro in the beginning and the end of a show.”
5. How long does it take to set up all the pyro in this show? “I have a 4-hour set up time. I have 10 minutes to an hour inspection time by the fire department.”
6. How do you think things have changed with Pyro since 9/11 and the Rhode Island incident? “It started in Oklahoma City. After the Oklahoma City bombing, the gun powder and pyro got regulated and then after 9/11, it got double-regulated. At that time it was still easy for pyro to be obtained with a permit. When the Rhode Island incident happened, it was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now the fire departments everywhere are telling you what you can and can’t use. Everybody’s perception of what happened was misconstrued. Pyro didn’t kill everybody; it was that the guy did the pyro illegally without a permit and inspection. If he would have gone by the rules those people who lost their lives would still be alive.”
7. What is the biggest show you have ever done?/b] “I will say the show at Slain Castle.”
8. What kind of authorities do you have to have to do a pyro show? “We have a good staff that will send literature about the pyro show and what we use. We have a MSDS sheet that will explain the safety liquid and what it is made of and it will explain our intentions for the show. It also includes a stage plot. We have to contact the fire department and they come out and do an inspection on everything. We also have to have a permit to do the show.”
9. If someone wanted to get into pyro what advice would you give them? My advice to anyone who wants to get into pyro is to go and volunteer at a fireworks show to get your hours in. Then you have to get a company to sponsor you so you can work toward your ATF license. They will grant you a license and you take the state test. They do a criminal investigation to see if you have any kind of felonies. If you do, they will deny you a pyro license. Every state is different. For example, Louisiana requires an indoor and outdoor license.”
10. How do you look at family fireworks now? “It is like asking a NASCAR driver how he feels when he drives in city traffic. ‘You guys think I am crazy going 200 miles in a car you guys are just out of your minds. You see people cutting each other off, not using turn signals, no safety belts’. My response to that is even with parental supervision with outdoor fireworks, you don’t give a child Roman candles. A child will think, ‘That was only 8 shots and it was suppose to be 10’. He is going to look down and wonder where the other two shots are; it’s human nature. I see people doing fireworks in the streets and they don’t have the children in a safe area. They don’t have safety goggles on. If you are going to let children do fireworks they need to have safety goggles and headphones (for ear protection). You can lose your hearing and your eye sight! If you’re going to late bottle rockets and roman candles you need to wear gloves. You have to think about all of the safety measures. Let the children have sparklers and leave the big fireworks to the parents.”
11. How many strikes are in your show? I have 228 pyro pieces and 12 different flame devices. We shoot them 25 times in the show. There are a lot of pyro cues.”
12. How long is your set? My set is about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
“To work for Nickelback is truly amazing. I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you it was the opposite end of the spectrum where there is sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lived to the extreme. We have a very close family and this organization definitely is party and rock and roll, but it is not uncommon for us to have our families stop by here while were out on tour. It is a family-oriented environment here. They take great care of us. The band is never too busy to say thank you to us for a job well done.
I asked Steve about a best gig and he said this is the one that pops into my mind first but everyone that I have worked for is very special. “Every audience has been amazing whereever we go. I believe it is the Slain Castle in Ireland we literally flew in and took helicopters to get there because there was only one road in. U2 had played it the year before and they played to 82,000 people. Nickelback had 62,000 people and when Nickelback finished the sun was going down and the castle was in the background. Every person was singing every word and all the pyro going off. It was a great time and one of those moments I will never forget.”
My worst gig is Canata Hall in Northern California. It’s too small and too windy to do indoor pyro. The roof was too low and wind was too hard and Nickelback will tell you it will blow sparks everywhere and is just not the place to do pyro safely. I had a small fire that I contained in minutes. There was a piece of burlap material that wraps the steel when you hang the motors and the sparks blew way far away from the winds and the winds came rushing in off the harbors and blew a spark on the burlap and caught it on fire. I did put it out and the fire department was there and we are supervised every day. The fire department was laughing and said hey we didn’t even have a chance to put on our jackets on. That comes with being professional. There is always a chance with pyro and safety is priority number one.
His favorites are:
Favorite restaurant on the road: Texas Road House.
Favorite band is Led Zeppelin.
Favorite song is Iron Maiden Wasted.
Favorite venue is Blossom Music Center.
My favorite roadie story is about Dimebag Darrell. Dimebag would ask me every day of his life, ‘Steve can we blow something up? What can we blow up? Let’s blow something up! Let’s put some gun powder in the ashtrays for the after show so when they put their cigarettes out there are flames that flare up.’ He thought that was funny and those are the kinds of things that Dimebag would like to do. I sat down and I had a couple extra percussion hits left. I said Dime what about this: ‘When the Scrape band is playing, you come out on stage and do something to the singer and I will hit one of the percussions.’ Dime thought that was a great idea. He decided he was going to go out throw a handkerchief at him and when that happened, I was to hit the percussion. We did that and nobody in the band moved; they didn’t flinch. Dime said, ‘Okay, that didn’t work’. Next, when Slayer comes out and sings and he gets to the part Dead Skin, I want you to hit the percussion.’ I did that and all the guys from Slayer didn’t flinch either. They didn’t move or look around or anything. At this point, I have one percussion left. I decided that when Dimebag threw his picks out to the audience, I was going to use that last percussion. I hit it and Dime did a back flip, threw his picks in the air, and hit the floor. Even Vince fell over and started laughing because it scared the crap out of him, too. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t get up. As the band left, Dime was the last one off the stage and the crowd was going wild. He ran up to me and said, ‘I guess blow the mother *o*o*p*s*er up came back to haunt me’. I loved it.”
I asked Steve what about practical jokes and he said on this crew IT NEVER ENDS. Coincidentally, it was the same joke that SHUU talked about a couple of weeks ago. Here is Steve’s version of the joke: “The practical joke that we have played recently is on one of our pyro guys, Brandon, who is very young and on his first tour with Nickelback. He came in a little bit late one day and we decided to play a trick on him by making it sound like he got fired. We had our stage manager, Donnie, come in and say pack your stuff and get going. We decided to turn it around on Donnie. Mike, the bass player, got in on it and told Donnie that Brandon was really fired because Donnie said he had to go. At this point we have Donnie thinking that Mike was mad. We all had to go on the bus with straight faces with Mike and Mike said, “I am not going to put up with all of this foolishness. Brandon is gone and if you don’t get the guys to come in on time, you’re gone, too.” Then Mike started cracking up laughing and Donnie knew it was a practical joke. Then Donnie went across the table and tackled him.
I asked Steve where he sees himself in 10 years. "I started touring and playing in bands in 1982. Now, it is 2006 and I was just thinking about that on the way over. I’d like to think that I would have another five years of touring left. The company that I work for is getting ready to move to Las Vegas. The movie work will always be in California, but the pyro work is in Las Vegas. So, to answer the question, I see myself in Las Vegas being a supervisor at a casino show."
Mike got into the business because his father is the Stage & Effects Engineering Inc. for J.E.M. F/X
“My father influenced me to get into the business. He would come home and talk about his job and I decided I wanted to do it, too. I have been working with him for five years in the shop. After this tour, I will go to Las Vegas to live with Pyro Pete and work out there. My goal is to do pyro as a career.”
I talked with him about what he has done so far with pyro. “I have done 4th of July shows and high schools shows and so far all the gigs are great. This is my first tour working for Nickelback and my second day on the road. (A new roadie on the road!!) . I love being on the tour so far.”
His hobbies are football and snow boarding. His favorite food is sushi.
I told him since he is the new roadie on the tour to watch out for the practical jokes!!
Brandon has been doing pyro for about three years now. No one influenced him to get into the business. Back in California he worked the venue called The Hollywood Bowl every summer. “There is a summer season where we do pyro at the end of every show for the orchestra. I was actually working on a Rolling Stones’ show that happened to come to the Hollywood Bowl. In fact, Mike’s father saw me working and offered me a touring job.”
"Believe it or not, fire just fascinates me. Fireworks and pyro is just so interesting and so much fun. It is fulfilling to see how the audience enjoys the pyro and hearing the audience’s reaction is awesome. This is my first tour and I love being on the road working for Nickelback. I feel like sometimes I should be waking up from my dream. I have been on the road since January and it still feels like a dream.”
“The best gig I have worked on so far with Nickelback would have to be on my 21st birthday. Chad brought me up on stage and I got to shoot some t-shirts into the audience. It was awesome and it was totally so cool!”
His favorite venue to play at is the Fargo Dome because it is so big. His favorite restaurant on the road is the Keg in Canada but he has not gotten to eat at a Texas Road House yet. His favorite bands are Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. His favorite song is Stairway to Heaven.
“In 10 years I still want to be doing pyro. Whether it is on a tour, amusement park, films I still want to be doing pyro in some capacity.”
Next week will be the final interview with the Nickelback crew. Tune in to hear what the truck drivers had to say!!
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