Interview: “I describe it as a cross between Cirque du Soleil and Burning Man…” The immersive world of Think:EXP
Think you know Pink Floyd? Think again. Or, to put it another way, Think:EXP.
Think:EXP (or Think:Experience to give it its full title), is the brainchild of Scott Page, the former Floyd saxophonist turned tech entrepreneur, backed by some of the best musicians in the business: Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, Kenny Olson of Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker and Fishbone bassist Norwood Fisher.
Together, they have created ‘Beyond The Wall’, a Pink Floyd experience with a difference – a live concert under a 360-degree ‘video dome’, with psychedelic visuals, cutting edge technology and THX surround sound – that’s unlike anything else in the music industry today.
To date, the group has performed a couple of dozen shows in Los Angeles, but as Page explains, the time is now right to bring Think:EXP out on the road, first across the US, and then potentially to Europe and further afield.
“I describe it as a cross between Cirque du Soleil and Burning Man,” Page tells 909originals. “For us, it’s about exploring where the music industry goes next.
“Where is the money in the music business these days? You can’t sell music any more – only 1% or 2% of all the artists on Spotify actually make any money from it. You need to come up with new ways to generate revenue.
“Plus, people are so inundated with content these days. There’s so much music out there. So, what can you do that separates you from everybody else?”
As you might expect, the genesis of Think:EXP harks back to Page’s time on the road with Floyd, in the late 1980s, which followed on from his work with Toto and Supertramp.
“When I went on tour with Pink Floyd, I decided if ‘I’m going to be on the road for two years, I’m going to use that time to educate myself’. So I studied business, because was always interested in the business side of the music industry.
“Dave Gilmour would look over at me and see me reading In Search of Excellence or something like that, and he would say ‘What are you doing, Scott?’. I would reply ‘Dave, I’m going to go and build me a business after I get off the road here’.
“He would always laugh. Needless to say, a lot of musicians aren’t the most business-orientated type of people.”
That particular stint with Floyd, the Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour, saw the group step up its visual presence, with vast light shows and projections to illuminate the music. Page himself embraced the music’s visual element – he was the proud bearer of arguably the ‘finest mullet in rock’ [see the Tweet above], for a period.
“I can’t believe I had that haircut!” Page laughs. “The Momentary Lapse Of Reason tour was particularly fascinating, because it was a massive undertaking.
“I remember seeing a tour pass that had the number 160 on it; that meant there were 160 people, at least, responsible for moving that show around. You had thirty or forty trucks on the road, going from venue to venue.
“One of the things that Floyd was really good at, though, was the ability to create a real experience. I remember talking to Dave when we were rehearsing, and he would say ‘make it grand enough and they will come’.”
Post-Floyd, Page threw himself into the world of computers, exploring new ways of engaging with an audience that was starting to embrace CD-ROM technology. He established several tech startups, one of which, 7th Level, gave rise to Tuneland, the world’s first interactive musical cartoon.
In 1992, captivated by technology’s ability to raise the bar in terms of customer experience, he unveiled a show in Las Vegas called The Grand Scientific Musical Theatre; a massive undertaking that combined music, video, 3D technology and world-class audio-visual technology.
“The whole premise of that was about bringing together the latest technologies and marrying it with world-class entertainment,” he says. “We had lots of musicians on board too – Graham Nash, Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren, John Entwistle from The Who. It was a big variety show, and we raised a million dollars for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“From a technology point of view, it was about building a sandbox for tech companies in Hollywood to come and play in.”
Fast-forward a quarter century, and a chance phone call led to Page revisiting the concept, as well as returning to his first love – music.
“Norwood [Fisher] called me and said that he and a few guys were doing a residency at this club called The Peppermint Club, in downtown Los Angeles. ‘We’re doing a classic album every week, top to bottom, and in a few weeks we’re doing Wish You Were Here,’ he said. ‘Do you want to come here and play?’ That was really a pretty magical night.
“I already been thinking for a while about doing a Floyd-type of show because it’s such a rabid audience, and I really felt we could create a business model around it. So, after that first night, the next thing you know I’ve put the business plan together for Think:EXP.”
As Page explains, the fact that he has such accomplished musicians around him provides the backbone from which to develop a musical experience like no other.
“I have played with a lot of great musicians, and I’m honoured to have been able to do that. With Think:EXP, these are some of my favourite guys, the way they play their instruments is unique, they have such personality.
“We’re not really a tribute band, were more of a business model. We don’t want to go out and do 100 shows as a cover band playing Pink Floyd – we want to take the music and bring different concepts into it.”
As Page explains, everyone has “seen and heard Floyd a million times”, but few can say they have done so while lying on a bed ‘wired for sound’ under a massive dome – just one aspect of the ‘Beyond The Wall’ experience.
“It’s really gone back to the idea of creating that ‘grand experience’, taking the knowledge that we had before and bringing it to the people today,” he says. “A combination of the old school and the new school, in a way.
“We’re talking with companies that are bringing new technologies to the table. There’s one where you put these shoes on and basically turns you into a speaker. I haven’t tried it yet, but as they say, once you listen to music this way you’ll never listen to music any other way again.”
As for the visuals? “The first shows were more of a psychedelic jam, with cool visuals and the band playing, and it worked really well,” says Page. “But the real opportunity is creating narrative that goes along with the music – that will make it really special.
“Everybody knows the Floyd story and the Floyd music, so we’re building a narrative around a completely different storyline. Instead of being too literal to the Floyd concept, we’re taking it and exploring it in a different way.”
All but one of the group’s concerts have been complete sell outs – “we put the tickets on sale too late for one of them,” says Page – with many punters returning again and again.
“When I was with Floyd, it was very interesting to see parents bringing their kids along – the music transcended generations,” he says. “With our shows, there are similarities; the audience is generally a combination of Floyd fanatics and younger kids that want to be immersed in this 3D experience. The demographics are really interesting.”
Page and co. also have plenty of ideas about how to bring longevity to the concept – once Floyd has been perfected, they plan to turn their attention to other artists.
“The idea is that our first ‘experience’ is Think:Floyd, and on the back of that, we may also do Think:Bowie, Think:Hendrix, Think:Doors and others,” he says. “There are a whole lot of ways we can explore all these iconic artists.”
The story has only just begun, in other words. And as for Page’s particular favourite from the Pink Floyd back catalogue?
“I always loved playing Us And Them, because it’s got a great saxophone part,” he says. “I love playing ballads, and that song was always very emotional for me. It was always my favourite song to play on the tour.
“Floyd’s music is really interesting in that it’s simple in its chord structure, but complex in its form. It wasn’t difficult to play; it was more about tapping into the unique vibe of it. Dave Gilmour is a guru and the master of melody, so it was really about being true to the original concept and not trying to be too adventurous.”
For more information on upcoming dates, visit www.thinkexp.co
[Main photo from Think:EXP Facebook page. Thanks again to Eileen Shapiro for organising and to Scott for taking part]