Recently I met with Jon Loeser, (FOH) engineer to country music stars Rascal Flatts, at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, TN to catch up and see what was new since we last spoke.
[LL] So, what’s been going on since we met two years ago?
[Jon] We just finished the “Back to Us” tour and for the most part we are just finishing up for the year. Since two years ago, we have had a couple of different band members, a guy named Mike Hicks playing keyboard and also Kevin Rooney playing percussion and a number of the electronic parts, so it’s changed up a little bit with a new album and new music. We didn’t do a full production tour last year, we did all festivals and fairs and we basically didn’t carry a PA, instead we used whatever the local venues had. There are obviously some caveats to the local PA, so I carried my own front of house gear, same Studer, all that good stuff.
[Jon] Normally we have some advancing we can do to make sure that it’s not below a certain level, but you never really know what you’re really getting into until you’re there seeing the person deploying it. And a lot of times, if you’re doing a mobile stage or festival type of thing, the positioning where they fly the PA is different every day, and it’s not great for me if my singer can go in front of the speakers, so there are some days where that is more so the case than others which can be challenging.
[LL] Tell us a little bit about the team that you work with.
[Jon] Since the last blog we’ve only had one audio crew change and all the rest of the people came back, which was great.
[LL] You guys are “lifers” here aren’t you?
[Jon] Yeah, there’s a lot of lifers! Stuart, the monitor guy has been there around 15 years. I’m going on seven years, and I’m relatively new compared to a lot of the guys. On the audio crew we’ve kept most of the same people. Sound Image has been really great, and these guys work enough where you know they like to keep people busy, so they stay on with them. I’ve done a few other gigs here and there but I’ve pretty much been exclusive with them for the whole time I’ve been with Rascal Flatts. Over the winter we get a little bit of down time, I’ve had a couple of opportunities over the years to go back and work with artists that I’ve worked with before, to fill in for people that I’ve passed it on to, things like that.
[Jon] Over the summer it’s every weekend and then normally we do two weeks of west coast and though we didn’t do it this year we typically do a Vegas residency that lasts three weeks. It’s usually April to October that we are booked solid with maybe one or two fluke weekends off when one of the artists might have something going on. For the most part we work all through the season and over the winter we’ll do private events and one-offs here and there but it’s not too many. Typically November and December, we might do two to three shows, maybe five, something like that and then January and February it’s kind of the same way and then it starts picking up in March.
[LL] Are you primarily in the US for the shows?
[Jon] Yes, the majority of their shows have all been in the US. Since I have been with them I’ve gone to Australia twice for really short stints and then we’ve gone to Scandinavia and the UK, but most of their fan base is pretty much in the US. With other artists I’ve kind of gone all over. It’s nice in a way that there’s not as much long distance stuff.
[LL] It seems like Country music is a little more localized than some of the other musical genres.
[Jon] Yeah, it is. It’s kind of one of those things also, especially in Europe where you really have to work it a lot. I think some artists will really put the time into being over there a lot early in their career and it works out for them. When we have been over there, it’s interesting, sometimes the artists that are more popular or less popular it’s obviously different from what it is here. We’ve ended up opening up for people that would normally open up for us, or vice versa, so it’s just different.
[Jon] Before Rascal Flatts I had used JBL PA all over the place. I had never carried it before as a constant thing, I came into it with the gig. The band was carrying Vertec at the time, and I took over from a guy who had chosen Studer for front of house. I had never used it before, so not having any real experience with it, it was presented as a “try it before you go with something else”, and I ended up sitting in the shop with it and with the multi-track and playing around, and I loved it. Honestly, between the sound quality of it and the workflow there is nothing else out that I really liked mixing. Even now, the console I am using is ten years old and Studer has been awesome with updating things, not only software but hardware as well, to where it doesn’t feel like it’s out of date. There is still not another console that has won me over more so, I’ll say, even though there is a lot of new stuff out.
As far as the PA systems, I came into this gig with a variety of experience on a number of Vertec PAs. Previous to the I-tech world and to version 5 settings, it was kind of wild west with what you got, all over the place, so some days you would have a great Vertec rig and some days it would be a little rough. When I first started with Rascal Flatts, Crown came out with version 5 with the I-techs and standardized everything. The PA they had carried previously, they brought it out, and it was the best sounding Vertec rig I had ever heard because it was deployed right, it had all of the right parts, and it had the right settings. So I was very impressed, even then, with the JBL 4889s, and as we have updated stuff, we are on the V25-IIs, and there’s nothing else out that has the power and clarity that I really like, especially the power. I mean even though we see all different kinds of PAs and I mix on all of it, nothing has the tonal properties that I really like as much as the VTX does. I’ve also really loved the A12s, when I have had a chance to hear them. I’ve mixed on them a couple of times in demo situations where I went out to Northridge once to demo them and it was amazing. And now I’ve heard it at the Ryman in Nashville, and it sounds great.
[LL] Is the JBL VTX PA something you are carrying when you are in more of a standard venue versus a festival setting?
[Jon] On our real tour we carry a full VTX system. It’s around 60 V25-IIs, a number of subs and some VT4886s. This year I started using the little LSR 705s, the powered ones, which are great. I really like the little bit of processing that they have built in, plus my whole signal’s digital so it’s nice that they have AES inputs. So that’s been great.
[LL] What has your experience been like using the JBL Performance Software Manager?
[Jon] My System Engineer, Paul is a whiz with it. He’s been working with it since it came out. The amount of stuff that he can do with that is very impressive. I used to do all of the time alignment myself with my tablet and now I literally give him the left, right, ups, separate feet from the ground, subs – everything as far as zones, separation and time alignment, all is done in Performance Manager and it’s been great. I don’t always know exactly what he’s doing but I know it gets the results that I want.
[LL] With Rascal Flatt’s most recent album are you finding that your mixing techniques have changed at all?
[Jon] Not really, their music has always been eclectic style-wise, so it’s just new songs, not new methods, it still sounds like Rascal Flatts. With the new members things change, some of the back team things have changed a little bit here and there, but overall the mix is stable. They have ballads and up tempo, but within that there isn’t that much of a difference. As they have progressed they have changed some of the older songs to be more updated too. So the whole sound has evolved a little bit.
[LL] Any favorite songs on their new album?
Thank you Jon for the update on your work with Rascal Flatts. We look forward to catching up with you again down the road!
If you liked this article, be sure to check out our previous Insights article with Jon: GOING COUNTRY WITH JON LOESER, FRONT OF HOUSE ENGINEER FOR RASCAL FLATTS.