Q&A: Light legend LeRoy Bennett of Seven Design Works

All things withstanding, LeRoy “Roy” Bennett, a founding member of Seven Design Works, might have one of the most unique perspectives in music today. Those unacquainted with the name might be more familiar with his work with Trent Reznor, most recently as the stage and lighting designer for Nine Inch Nails’ Tension tour, a flood of damaged pixels envisioned by Reznor and long-time art director Rob Sheridan.

It’s a live show with a befitting title. Reznor and company haven’t lost their edge over the years, and his intense presence onstage needs an equally powerful visual counterpart. Bennett and his crew responded with an array of seemingly autonomous moving lights and screens, sometimes shielding the band with a synesthetic glow, and other times hovering over the stage and blasting the audience with overwhelming brilliance.

But the thing that gives Bennett his perspective is his résumé, which is, in a word, varied. Besides a long and award-winning relationship with NIN, his client list includes Reznor’s other big project (How to Destroy Angels), The XX, Skrillex, and Rammstein—not to mention potentially less-instinctive artists such as Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, and Yanni. (Yes, the Yanni.) No less impressive are past clients that include Prince, The Cure, and Madonna.

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The key, according to Bennett, is appreciation for the music. “If somebody writes a great song, it’s a great song,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who they are.”

“Every song the artist does is its own story,” Bennett adds. “There are certain dynamics in each that the audience responds to—high and low points, big orchestrated moments, high-energy angry moments. We accentuate what’s happening through color [and] through visual displays.”

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Looking to the future, Bennett has his eye on the upcoming stars of the world. “There’s a lot of young bands that are coming up, of which I’m really appreciative,” says Bennett. “This is why I started Seven—so I could work with them through my partners. I want to let them know that they can come to me and I can give them my theories and approaches to design, hopefully helping them improve their live branding.”

At the end of the day, everything comes back to where it started for Bennett—a love for music’s ability to reach into the world and touch its listeners. “Every day there are more and more artists that I love,” he says. “I listen to music constantly, and I’m always searching for new artists to listen to—not just as clients but also for inspiration.”

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