This is the first in a series of articles showcasing careers in the music industry.   While all of us cannot be accomplished musicians, there are many ways to support yourself in the industry.  In this series, we will explore a few of them and introduce you to some very interesting, driven individuals in the process that work hard to bring you your favorite bands, but get little recognition, possibly giving you some insight on how to break into the industry.  

Career Spotlight – Lighting Director/Designer – Interview with Jim Dewey of The Werks

by Ryan Neeley exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich

Photos by Ryan Neeley and B. Hockensmith Photography

I was first introduced to Jim Dewey at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park

Appalachian Jamwich:  Thanks for sitting down to talk to us Dew, we really appreciate it.

Jim Dewey:   It’s cool, I love the Jamwich, and I LOVE Taco (editor Eric Olmstead) and Elise (Olmstead)!

AJ:  Me too!  So, how’s are things going on The Werks first major tour?

JD:  Great – Absolutely amazing – I couldn’t ask for a better time, except for a few minor vehicle issues.  You hear this alot, but I can definitely tell you that I am living the dream.

AJ:  I heard about one of the vehicle incidents – what happened?

JD:  Well, our bus broke down on I-80 11 miles into Iowa on our way back through the country, but other than that we’ve had a really good tour.

AJ:  Seeing them tonight (Soundstage – Baltimore, MD – 11/3/12), man, they’re on fire!

JD:  Yeah, I’m lucky to get to see them every night for sure.

AJ:  Definitely.   So, where did Jim Dewey grow up?

JD:  A really small town called West Salem, Ohio – it’s in Wayne county.  Our grocery store actually had a hitching post (for horses) out front if that tells you anything.   My graduating class at Northwestern High School had 62 people in it.

AJ:  And did you have any siblings?

JD:  I have a little brother along with a stepsister and stepbrother.  My little brother’s a beast on the drums, so look out for him!

AJ:  What type of music were you in to in high school?

JD:   Actually, I was really into metal and grunge back then.  Bands like Ministry, Megadeth, Alice in Chains, Dead Milkmen, groups like that.   It was the early 90’s so the whole grunge and Seattle scene was really big.

AJ:  That’s the same time period I graduated!   Remember Bitchin Camaro (Dead Milkmen song)?

JD:    I LOVE that song!

AJ:  No doubt!   So did you go to college for lighting?

JD:    Not at all.   I went to Akron University and studied mechanical engineering, and took a job in a chemical factory right out of college.

AJ:  A chemical factory?  What types of chemicals?

JD:  Oh yeah, our region in Ohio is big for industrial chemicals and stuff like that.   Our company actually made glue.   I’m not talking regular Elmer’s glue here, this is some super adhesive stuff that they use at NASA and in the aerospace industry.

AJ:   So how in the world did you go from an engineer at a chemical company to running lights for one of the fastest growing jambands in the U.S.?   How’d you get your start?

JD:   It’s really a long story how it all happened.    I bought a house in the middle of the woods back in 2001 and we started having small festivals there – One was called MiaFest and it was for my friend’s birthday weekend in June, and Jimboree for mine in August.   These were not big-money festivals, it was more of a “invite a bunch of friends over that are musicians and jam”  type of thing.  Mia actually came up with the name Earthgrooves for our little group of party organizers.   So I basically went out and bought some cheap lights at a music store – I think they were like $10.00 apiece.   Just something that we could use to put some lights on the bands and make it look decent.   So then I discovered that I needed a way to control them, and I was instantly hooked!  I started buying anything I could get my hands on from EBay.   I slowly but surely began turning a hobby into a career.  I was the house LD at NLQP for quite a while, working with Crazylegs.  I think it was like 2003 or so I hooked up with Funky Bean and started  doing shows with BoomBox down at the Bean Farm.  It was that relationship that helped me hook up with The Werks.  Actually, I how it went was I had run lights for Papadosio for a few shows and then one day at Nelson Ledges Rob flagged me down and was like, hey, I hear you kill it on the lights, how about killing it for us?  I couldn’t have told you one Werks song at the time, but sometime in late 2008, I started doing shows with them and it was an instant fit.

AJ:   So then you didn’t really take classes or apprentice with anyone to learn how to run the board?

JD:   No, I am 100% self-taught.  Really, I just acquired a passion for it and I wanted to learn everything I could.   I spent hours upon hours on forums or other lighting websites and studying instruction manuals, so I really just educated myself due to my obsession with it.  In the beginning, I did a LOT of stuff for free, but it’s more difficult today being that I have so much stuff, gas is expensive, and this is how I support myself these days.

AJ:  And now you’ve opened up your own production company?

JD:  Yeah, called Earthgrooves Productions. – About 2003 or 2004 is when I think it all started to come together, and I decided there might be a market for a lighting company.  I knew a lot of sound guys, but no lighting guys… So, I just started picking up gigs with bands and networking to get into corporate events and weddings.  I was working full time for another chemical company, GOJO, making soap (laughs) and doing lighting whenever possible.  About mid-way through 2010, GOJO let me go during a massive restructuring and I never looked back.  Been running Earthgrooves full time ever since!

AJ:   Do you have any Lighting Engineer heroes, or people whose work you really dig?

JD:   Besides Kuroda (Chris Kuroda, Phish’s most famous lighting director) of course, I’m a real big fan of Jeff Waful’s work (Umphrey’s McGee) – I actually had a chance to work with him once and he’s amazing the things he can do.

AJ:   Well we think you’re pretty amazing yourself.   Can you explain the coat and goggles that you wear at a lot of shows?

JD:      Well, I had the idea for the “mad scientist”  costume sometime early on with The Werks.  I wanted to do something to add some shtick to the show and also to see if I could freak some kids out.  I had the lab coats with my name patch on them from the lab I was working in at the time.  It was actually a little more wild in the beginning; I had lights set up all around me and was wearing welding goggles and some crazy psychedelic hats.  I think Barn Jam in ’09 was the first time I

The Werks – photo by B. Hockensmith photography

busted it out, and it worked… I scared the shit out of some people!  Not too much later my good friend and fellow costumed lunatic Jeremy McDonough (who would grow up to become Space Panda) gave me some aviator style goggles that he had been rocking as part of one of his stage get-ups.  A year or so later, he gave me an even cooler pair, the pair I’m currently rocking.  I pretty much treasure everything that guy gives me.  He’s a solid dude and a fantastic performer.  Another good friend had actually hand-embroidered “The Werks” logo on one of my coats, but I lost that one… I started with 3; I’m down to one.  People like to take them, hahaha! Anyone that has one, please return it!

JD:     No, it’s all based on the crowd, the band, what’s happening around me.  I don’t usually have a plan or anything set up, I just feel the music and let the lights talk for me.

AJ:  And I notice that you’re actually feeling the crowd and music, getting your groove on so to speak, dancing at the board.

JD:  (Laughs) Oh, you saw that?  It’s hard not to get into the magic of a live show.

AJ:  What do you consider the best part about touring and being on the road?

JD:  Travelling to awesome places and meeting great new friends.

AJ:  Worst part of tour (limit your answers – LOL): Not spending enough time in awesome places. It’s also hard on personal relationships.

AJ:   Any suggestions for people who want to get in the music industry?

JD:   I would say to follow your dreams, don’t get discouraged by failure, and do whatever it takes to make it happen.   I had lots of doors slammed in my face, but I never gave up and continued to learn everything I could about what I wanted to do.   I did my homework so to speak – Every time I saw something that would help me with lighting, whether it was a light or some sort of tool, I did whatever I could to get it.  I’ve always believed that if you work hard enough for something, good things will happen.

AJ:  Great advice. Well, Mr. Dewey, thanks for taking the time to chat with me tonight.

JD:   No problem – shoot – I was just getting started (laughs)!




Favorite stop on tour  Either Colorado or Bells Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan

First Concert – Rush – Presto Tour.  Alice in Chains was like my second or third show

Favorite WERKS show -Hmm – would probably have to be last New Years – so much fun – No counting Werkout of course!

Favorite venue (indoor) – Another tough one – I guess Bell’s (Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI)

Biggest honor – Got to work with (Umphrey’s McGee Lighting Director) Jeff Waful in 2008 when moe. played NLQP

Favorite Festival – Besides WERKOUT?!  LOL  Probably Bear Creek.

Hobbies (besides music) or Potential Hobbies  (if you had time) – Anything outdoors, and preferably dangerous.   Skydiving is still a big one on my bucket list.

Dead or Phish – Phish

Dog or Cat – Cat, I’m a Leo.

Favorite TV show – currently Fringe

Favorite Festival Food – Disc-O-Pizza!

Favorite Drink – Jamesons liquor – My favorite beer is Newcastle

Instruments played Trumpet, Choir, and I got a drum set with I was 13,  then a guitar at 15.

Dream Venue to do lighting at Red Rocks, CO

Favorite festival venue  – Nelson Ledges Quarry Park or Shawnee Caverns – Nelson Ledges still holds a special place in my heart – my bus is still out there!