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Take It From Me by Edward Lapple
Photos provided by Dean Snowden
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to go on the road with a big-name rock band? Lots of parties, screaming fans, babes, VIP everything? Well, not exactly. Dean Snowden has been a very good friend of mine for a long time. If that fact doesn’t entice you to read an interview with him, then perhaps the fact that he is the official photographer for KISS, plus their VIP Meet and Greet specialist, will.
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He has worked with a few other groups as well: Motley Crew, Pat Benatar, Trans Siberian Orchestra and Rage Against the Machine, to name a few. I figure that there are at least 100 million people in the world who would pay to have Dean’s job, so I asked him just what it entailed.
Dean: “I take care of all the paid people who come to meet the band. My gig is to make sure that the fans have a good time and that the band has a good time. Most of the photos that I take are for KISS Online. Gene is a big proponent of the web site. It’s a great tool to get to your fans. I mean, obviously, that’s who you’re talking to. That’s who you’re preaching to. Those are your people and Gene and Paul are behind everything that goes on at the web site. There couldn’t be more hands-on people in rock that deal with their own band. These guys get in there… as everybody knows Gene does the work, Paul’s just a little more quiet about it, a little more behind the scenes. They really push that product and it’s a good product and the fans love it, it’s pretty cool.”
BFMN: How big is the operation that you take on the road?
Dean: On this last tour we had seventeen trucks. We’re moving a small city, every night. People often ask, “What is it about?” and it’s about getting up at six in the morning, and building tents, as I do, and organizing the rest of that day including going out to meet the public. You have to talk to the box office, you have to talk to the venue manager, it’s a lot of coordination to make sure the one event, for that hour, happens, without a hitch. Because the guys I work for, they don’t like hitches. And, if there are a couple of them in a row you are probably going to get replaced.
BFMN: Yeah, it’s a pretty demanding gig. What’s the best part of the day?
Dean: My favorite part of the day? There’s probably about twenty five minutes where everything is done and there’s nothing going on and right after that, the out starts. You know, whenever they can start packing gear, even before the show starts, stuff is getting thrown in the truck. As soon as the show’s next gag goes off, they throw that in the truck. Whatever you can do, just to be on top of it. At about two in the morning, we’re done loading out. And we drive overnight for about three hundred miles and, about seven am the next day, we wake up, you know, and you run through it again.
BFMN: How many dates do you do on a tour?
Dean: We’ve been averaging close to forty. I think that we did thirty-eight on this last tour, with the Mexico shows and thirty-seven in Europe. I’ve just basically been home for three weeks and we’d done six months on the road. Three months in Europe, I was home for a five-day break for the gear to get back over and then out in America.
BFMN: So when is there time to have these rock and roll parties and all of this mad road stuff that’s supposed to happen? Do you have to schedule that?
Dean: Those are non-show days. That when all the craziness happens. There’s a lot of steam that’s blown off on the off days.
BFMN: I’ll bet you need those. Even a carnival only tears down once a week.
Dean: Right. We’re coming into Salt Lake City and here comes the circus. We’re coming in for one show and they are bringing in the same stuff and they’re going to stay there for three weeks. It’s like, wow, that must be really nice. I don’t know what that’s like. (laughter) We finally got one walk away night in Mexico City. We set up, did a show, came back to the hotel and then did another show. Boy that’s an amazing thing after doing thirty-five shows and all of a sudden you have, whoa, we don’t have to tear down. I mean, at the end, I went into automatic mode. I took the lights down. I dropped them, I should say, I didn’t undo them and as I was dropping them I’m thinking, I don’t need to tear them down, I don’t need to put them away, I’m done, let’s go, that’s great.
BFMN: You have two main responsibilities, one is the Meet and Greets. What are they?
Dean: I take care of all the paid people who come to meet the band. They get a very generous package that includes a ticket in the first two rows, which most fans can’t even get. Then they also get a signed 8x10 from the band, they get a set of guitar picks and a tee shirt, and an online coupon that they get to use later. In this latest package they also got a flip video camera which was exclusive to us and it was etched with KISS in the back. It was a really cool idea to add to the package. The prize on top of that is they get to meet the band. They get a photo with all of the guys. And then they get to bring two of their own personal items to get signed.
BFMN: That’s quite a balancing act. You not only have to keep the people in the Meet and Greet happy, you have to keep the band happy?
Dean: That is correct and that is my symphony every night that I conduct. To really give the fans that experience and again, it’s a big band to have actually come out and meet the people and do photos with them. I think sometimes our fans overlook that, because Gene and Paul are so good about doing that. But a lot of other bands don’t. So, for KISS to come out and do the Meet and Greet properly it’s quite a treat for the fans, and what that leads into is that it’s a treat for the band because they do get pumped up every night after they come in and we do a great Meet and Greet.
BFMN: Plus, you are also the official photographer for the band. What does that entail?
Dean: Photography is something that I actually studied in school and it has always been a passion of mine. I take a live shot every night. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but, I have to get on stage, climb through the drum riser, and come up over the KISS sign. I do this big shot of the band bowing in front of the crowd. It’s amazing, because, it’s right after, “Detroit Rock City” or “Party All Night” depending on the set, and the crowd is just going crazy and they’re honoring the guys and I get to be right there on stage with it every night, it’s just exhilarating. That’s one of my favorite shots and it gets used a lot as well, like in the tour books and other books that have come out. And it’s an honor and though they do the Meet and Greet stuff, I’ve really taken that to the next level.
BFMN: What kind of equipment are you using now?
Dean: You should have seen it, they gave me a little Power Shot 4 mega pixel. (laughs)
That was the first camera they gave me. I laughed and said, “I’m sorry but I could not present that to the band, without getting laughed at or fired.” So I started getting them into some cameras and we started with a Canon EOS, The Rebel XTI. And now we’ve moved up and I’ve purchased a D-7, which is just amazing and I have a great array of lenses, because everything I do is sort of a different frame. I don’t use any primes actually. I have a ten to twenty Sigma. That’s like my standby that I absolutely love because that will give me the wide shot on the stage and that has to be very reliable for me. I got another new fast lens that I haven’t used a lot and the camera, itself, came with an 18 x 200. I’ve always used Canon, I like their platform. A few of the great photographers that I’ve shot next to, in the pit, Ross Halfin and Neals Losour, talking to them, they say, “It’s just more what you’re comfortable with. The cameras are very similar, it’s what you want to do, whatever you like. That’s what you should shoot with.” I’m more comfortable with Canon so I stick with that.
This tour, after I did the bow shot, right after that we did a check presentation every night, because the band gave a dollar per ticket sold to the Wounded Warriors, so I’d have to fight to get from behind the stage in the time that they could virtually come back out and walk the check out, to get in front, and that was a different shot altogether to get the check with the band in there every night. It’s fun to have that sort of challenge.
BFMN: The Lady GaGa photos turned out really well.
Dean: She was sweet as could be. I didn’t know what to expect and that was in New York and one of our more impacted shows. We had seventy people there for the Meet and Greet and the band doesn’t like to have to walk upstairs because of the heels. It just becomes a dangerous situation and it’s unfortunate and I knew that I was going to get hollered at that night because it was upstairs. But unfortunately part of my gig, in the morning, is making sure that we have the best of everything for what the band needs. Best for the fans, best route for the band, closest to the dressing rooms, how close do I have to be to the power truck to get the air conditioners to work and to get the lights to work? So anyway, I’m up two flights of stairs, basically outside, and I get a call to “Come down to the dressing room with your camera.” It’s always, “Dean. Grab your camera and let’s go.” So hustle up; boom, boom, down there. I realized that I hadn’t even been down there the whole day. Usually I go through the dressing room to coordinate but this was such a late load in, and we had so many things going on and I had to make all those choices, which are generally bad choices, that I kind of had to make. Got down there, where’s the dressing room? Couldn’t find it, so, two of my friends shuttled me through, “Go that way, go that way, make a left.” I go in there and hey, there’s Lady GaGa with the band and it’s like, “Hey Dean grab some pictures.” So I set them up and said, “Hey, that’s not really good,” so I move them over and get a little bit better shot with a lot of perspective going on. They’re full frame pictures and there’s a lot in the shot with the doorway. You know, silly things, stuff that really brings it out and I just clicked off twenty or thirty shots.
BFMN: How big is on line to the band, promotionally?
DEAN: That’s huge and that’s where I come in. Most of the photos that I take are for KISS Online. Every night, that Wounded Warriors check picture that I mentioned earlier and the “bow” picture, they get posted. So fans can kind of go see and say, “Hey.” A lot of times fans will email me back and say, “I saw myself in the front row through your pictures, that was really great.” I always joke with the backline guys, at least there’s four of them. Like when I have to deal with the band for an hour, it’s just me, and them yelling all at me…. for whatever… middle of summer, and we have air conditioners in the tent… you know, there’s a radio going on, it’s pretty festive. Sometimes there’s not a fan and an air conditioners, so Gene will be like, “Dean, why is there no fan.”
BFMN: It sounds like this gig could give you ulcers. Is it fun to do or just a bunch of headaches?
Dean: It’s all about dealing with people. You know, they’re all important and they’re all looking for something different out of the experience and we try and offer something for all of them. And, of course, after they’re done in the Meet and Greet, they just got their big thing signed and they’re walking back to their seat, which is again in the first row or second row and they are gonna get the show of a lifetime. The band gets to meet all of those diehards and then they go right on stage because that last thing before the show starts is our Meet and Greet. At the end of the day I’m a tired kid, but, I couldn’t ask for anything better, right?