The circles of lighting designers for tours is surprisingly tight knit, and one of the names that will keep popping up is Sarah Landau. Along with being one of the most talented production designers and performers in the game right now, she’s also great found a way to find some balance between the worlds of nonstop touring and getting to enjoy life, which anyone who has done it will tell you is no easy task. When we first met Sarah back in 2013 she was on the road with Passion Pit and already well established as one of the top up and coming LDs in the game – since then she’s worked with m83, Grimes and a bucket full of other amazing musicians… and now we’ve finally gotten hold of her for a minute between jumps for a quick interview about her latest gigs and world travels!
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Sarah Landau, and I am a lighting and production designer, a traveler, and a diver.
I was a theatre nerd as a kid, and was turned on to lighting in college after an inspiring and very non traditional 101 course taught by Heather Carson.
After graduating, I worked in community theatre, student productions, and off-off-broadway shows in NYC. This wasn’t paying the bills, but it didn’t take long for the stars to align, and I got a job working in the warehouse at See Factor Industries. There, I learned how to prep and fix equipment, and started going out on local gigs.
Not long after, I began working weekends at Irving Plaza, where i was able to network with bands and hone my programming skills. After less than 2 years in New York, I was hired by the band Brand New to design and operate their tour. I put my belongings in storage and transitioned to a life on the road.
What tools (hardware, software, other…) do you use in your creative process?
In my work, I use my intuition, imagination, observation, emotions, inspiration from nature, art, and psychedelics... as well as grand ma consoles, lighting fixtures, scenic materials... and often a talented collective of colleagues each with their own specialities – fabrication, structural engineering, drafting, video content, lasers, programming, etc.
You've been touring fairly consistently with some huge name artists for several years now – what is your usual cycle for working on projects, including the much needed breaks in between?
Travel, mainly to explore incredible nature and spend time with the people that I love, is integral to my sanity and creative process. So I’ve always known that I needed a career that would facilitate it. When I started touring in 2006, I promptly moved my belongings into storage, and began to use the flights to and from "home" to instead begin to explore the planet. For the first 10 years, it was mostly short breaks--a week in Australia or Europe before or after a tour, a road trip between Coachellas, or a long holiday with my family. New experiences invigorate me and I become stressed by monotony, so I'm recharged from keeping up the pace of touring, but on my own terms. But these days, as I'm doing more pure design work and less on-the-road touring, I've been able to enjoy longer stays--learning to cave dive in Mexico, quality time with my partners in London and Sydney, and trips to places I'd never get to on tour, like Antarctica or Galapagos.
As long as there is cell service, I'm able to work--fielding emails and phone calls from clients, drawing and imagining, soaking up inspiration. I still enjoy the rhythms of touring, so if the music, people, and schedule favorably align, I'll go on the road---but partially as a means to rack up those frequent flier miles that will get me to Namibia, afterwards.
Tell us about some of the recent and upcoming gigs you've been working on!
I've recently been working with Childish Gambino, which has been exciting both as an opportunity for a lot of creative freedom with a big budget, as well as for the experience of working with a large group of gifted collaborators with a shared vision.