YOU NEED HANS… - A Chat with Pyro Shooter Hans Lundberg
A pretty brilliant Zen-conversation with Hans Lundberg who blows shit up and sets fire to things for a living.
BY STEFFAN CHIRAZI
When you look up Hans Lundberg’s official title on one of the rooming lists, it says he is the “Pyrotek Shooter,” which is pretty much on the money. It is Hans’ job to make sure that the flames go where they are meant to, that the other pyro goes off when it is meant to, and that the band knows where they need to be when things are going off. He stands by the stage with what can only be described as a Steven Spielberg-esque sci-fi movie-project-kit-looking-box (with big buttons and a couple of knobs if my memory serves me) and from this box, Hans makes things go “boom.”
Most pyro guys are a bit mental, in the best possible way. You know, the guys you want mixing your drinks at parties because they’d not only make them way-strong, they’d probably set fire to them too! Hans might indeed mix a stiff beverage, but mental he most certainly isn’t. In fact, as our conversation unwound, I found him to be quite possibly the most Zen crew member on the WorldWired Tour. I make that observation with a great degree of positivity; I think it is tremendously cool. And when you do the career-math, it’s probably exactly how you want the man handling the fire and pyro tricks to be.
Steffan Chirazi: I have to start with the six-cent question. As a child, did you have a fascination with fire and blowing things up? Were you a pyromaniac?
Hans Lundberg: Not really. Like any kid, I played with fireworks when I was little, just shooting stuff off in a shed and trying not to hurt myself. We’d go out, we’d have these little CO2 cartridges we’d fill with powder, dig into the sand, and blow up to see what kind of holes we would make. [At this point your So What! editor has to point out this seems pretty “pyro-kid” to me!]
SC: And this was, I’m guessing, in Canada?
HL: Yeah, I grew up in Ontario. So little stuff here and there. Nothing too crazy.
SC: What was your first entry into the world of pyro?
HL: Well, I mean the first thing I ever walked into was doing big pyro musicals. That was my “first beginning” of doing pyro…
SC: Big pyro musicals? Don’t know what those are.
HL: Up in Canada there’s an international competition. Basically there’s a firework show for half an hour set to music. And I walked into that when I was 19, and that’s where I started doing pyro. So I did my first show, I helped set things up, saw what happened, and after that I was like, “That’s amazing. I’m hooked.” So that eventually led into doing this.
SC: So before 19 you’d had no training, no engagement with fire or electricity or any of these things?
HL: Nothing. I walked into that because it was on a barge, and I used to work on boats. I wound up being a carpenter for the first couple years and then played in the field, worked with the shells and learned some stuff, and then I progressed through there until I was running the [actual pyro] crews.
SC: With the greatest of respect, walking up to someone and saying, “Hey, I really like this firework lark. Can you let me do it?” seems a bit odd. How does that work? Someone didn’t just turn around and say, “Yeah, sure, you can do that,” did they?
HL: No, no. I fell into it. A friend of mine knew somebody at the tug company. I was looking for a job on tugboats and the person said, “I can’t give you a job here, you’ll chip paint for two years and then you might get out on the water. You’ll hate it. But this-”
SC: This is a friend looking out for you.
HL: Yes. But this person said that “the show’s [the big pyro musical] coming through. I can get you a job for a couple weeks, you can work on that, do some fireworks and stuff.” And I was like, “Sure, why not?” As soon as I started, they were happy with me, I was happy with what was going on, I continued on with them and wound up working with them for 13 years.
SC: For 13 years?
SC: Okay. Wow. With this company, just doing those shows?
HL: Just doing those shows in the summer. I did other work during the year to kinda make up for it – building houses with the carpentry skills – but it was a lot of fun. You know, you get to blow stuff up, you hit a button, everything goes “boom.” You feel the whole barge vibrating. It’s really a visceral kind of thing.
SC: And to different music.
HL: Different music. Working with people from all over the world, it [was] all international kinda stuff.
SC: So were you in charge of describing what fireworks and pyrotechnics were used in terms of colors or did they come and say, “Hey, we need some pyro, dude, do your stuff.”
HL: No, a team would come in from a country with a designer and a design setup, and they would bring their stuff in. I would work with them and the local crew to set everything up, make sure it was all safe, make sure it was to our regulations, and make sure it all worked.
SC: How did you learn the regulation stuff? I would hate to say it was trial and error. I’m sure it wasn’t.
HL: I was trained into it by people who had done it before. The whole thing was fully an apprenticeship.
SC: Okay. Do all pyro guys keep in touch and share tips?
HL: Absolutely. Within our company [Pyrotek], if there’s some kind of issue with a product, or if we like something in particular, or some firing system does something different than this firing system, we let each other know what’s going on so that everybody has a general knowledge and is on top of things when they get something new.
SC: Would you have friends on other tours who are doing pyro who say, “Hey, just so you know, if you’re in this building you might want to think about this,” and so on and so forth.
HL: Not really for a building. The office will keep track of some of the things that we would run into in a particular building, and they would do a site plan and a site inspection. Anything that might be happening that we need to know about, the office will let us know about.
SC: Circling back around to barges, 13 years on them and somehow you “barge” into rock and roll. How does that work? Who was your first rock band?
HL: Well, the first one I worked for… I mean, I wasn’t pressing buttons, I was just working for them, was the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
SC: Great stuff! But what are you doing on the tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra if you’re not pressing buttons?
HL: I’m a pyrotechnician, but transferring from doing fireworks to doing this is quite a bit different.
SC: Educate me, please. I think when the average person sees these things they think, “Wow, those are great fireworks.” So please do explain the differences for ignoramuses such as myself.
HL: Well, the parameters are quite different. When you’re working on a barge, those are relatively large explosives. So when you hit a button, you’re shooting up a shell that’s eight inches, or you’re shooting up something that’s got a great impact to it. But you’re doing it all on a barge, and the only people on the barge are us – the people working there – and you’re a safe distance away from any of the crowd if anything goes off strange or something goes off wrong. And you don’t have to consider anything else except for fireworks and the barge.
You move into this and you’re still dealing with pyro but there’s a whole bunch of different aspects. I mean, you’ve gotta deal with all the rest of the departments and what’s going on with them, how everything interacts together, how things that are moving work with everything; there’s a lot more things to consider in the technical aspect. With some of the pyrotechnics, it’s smaller stuff but you’re also moving it closer to people, right? So you have artists walking close to it, people walking close to it… your safety parameters change quite a bit!
SC: And with this band, am I right in saying that depending on the song, which can change night after night, you have to really be on your game, do your homework, and have a meeting with them to let them know what’s popping where and when?
HL: I talk to them every night before the show.
SC: You do?
HL: Yeah. We’re gonna go over where the pyro is in the song and when it’s gonna happen. So everybody knows what’s going on, when they’re gonna be away from the fire and that kind of thing, so as they’re comfortable with what’s happening.
SC: Is there the equivalent of a “safe word” or a “safe position” if in doubt? Are there “safe” places on the stage that act like that in emergencies?
HL: There are places on the stage that are like that. If they’re out on the wings [in a stadium], or on the points of the stage, then they’re in a safe spot, and they know that.
SC: I’m sure they listen to everything seriously. But which pyro makes them dial in a little harder?
HL: I think it’s the flames [for obvious reasons I suppose – ED]. I mean, they pay attention to whatever’s going on with the flames. The pyro in the show is set at the same spot for every show, but the flames change depending on what song comes into the setlist. So that’s one you’ve got to pay a little bit more attention to.
SC: And have you had to dial them up or dial them down? Do you go into some venues and the fire marshal is on your back because of the ceiling height?
HL: The particular flames we have right now, there’s two heights, and the height we’re working at is the height we’re working at. So there’s no really dialing it down or dialing it up. That’s just what it is. And for the venues we’ve been in and the places we’ve gone, there’s no problem. So there’s no adjustment to the flame. It’s either you fire it or you don’t.
SC: Okay, so I know we went off on a tangent. Back to starting with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. You went from them to whom?
HL: It’s been a while! Okay… I went from them and I was home for, like, a day! I was expecting to be home for, I don’t know, until they called me. So I was home for a day, and by the end of the day it was, like, “Oh, we need you to go on (I think it was) the Jonas Brothers.” And so because it was in Toronto and they were rehearsing in the amphitheater I was like, “Okay, well, give me another day because I gotta get rid of all the food I just bought and take care of my truck that I just put into the shop.” And so yeah, the next day I went down and worked with the Jonas Brothers, which was about eight or nine years ago.
SC: So you’ve been kinda constantly touring for eight years?
HL: Oh, yeah. Yeah, constantly touring for eight years.
SC: Really? No breaks.
HL: Well, within the year I’ll tour anywhere from six to ten months out of the year, depending on the year.
SC: Okay, let’s talk a little bit about the mental fatigue and how you keep your head clear, because you’re doing things that require sharp cues and so on and so forth. I mean, do you have to at a certain point say, “I need to take two weeks off because I’m starting to fog over here”? Does it work like that?
HL: No, it doesn’t really work like that. I mean, you’re on the road and you’ve got a job to do. Right? So you don’t really get sick days, you don’t get time off, you don’t get like a, you know, “I’m not feeling it today” kind of thing. You have to be on your game. And with doing fire on top of that, if you’re pushing a button, right, and it’s fire going off around people, you really have to be on your game. So what I do with that is [I make] sure that I’m in the proper state of mind ahead of time. You know, you’re making sure you’re getting enough rest, as much as possible, you’re making sure you’re eating well, as much as possible; everything factors into your mental state. Taking care of your body. I meditate. I do all sorts of stuff to kind of make sure I’m there.
SC: Yeah, right on. The mental state thing is really important, and the meditation thing is intriguing. Like what, ten minutes a day or a half an hour a day or…?
HL: Oh, anywhere from half an hour to an hour a day and then throughout the day kind of thing, just bringing myself back to center and kind of just holding my energy in place, being conscious of what’s going around inside of me and outside of me.
HL: It really helps.
SC: Did you learn that over a course of time on the road or have you always been someone who adheres to that practice?
HL: I was introduced to the concepts of it very loosely when I was younger, when I was like in my teens. And then I’ve been practicing it for about 13 years regularly.
SC: I’ve gotta say you’re one of the first people who has told me that they meditate and I just think that this is a profession where a lot of meditation would be a great thing for a lot of people, so it’s intriguing to hear you talk about it, so super cool.
All right, let me wrap up. I have to ask you two things. Do you still get a little buzz of excitement when you press that button and a huge wall of flame goes up?
HL: Yes, yes!
SC: Indescribable, right?
HL: Yeah. It’s you pushing a button and fire is coming up, right? There’s a little piece of a kid inside of you still that’s like, “That’s cool!” And then with the fire kind of in particular and a little bit with the pyro, there’s a sweet spot when you’re shooting and you can’t really tell from the outside what that sweet spot is. It’s like a micro-second kind of thing in between being on time, right, and then that sweet spot. You know, when there’s a drum hit or something, and you just get in that right spot, it adds to it. It kind of feels like you’re augmenting what’s going on with the band. And then there’s a little bit of a “high” and excitement when that kinda goes on, because you can feel it happen.
SC: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Finally, what’s the most extraordinary or the most enjoyable pyro you’ve ever been a part of?
HL: Well, I don’t want to kinda toot the band that I’m working for, but when we did the all that DVD stuff for Through The Never, that was quite something. I mean, the stage was pretty amazing and all the flame that we had on the stage, all the moving parts. So the stage we did for that in Mexico, Edmonton, and Vancouver, there was a lot of stuff on that stage. There was a lot of things going on, there was a lot of movement, and what the flames did on that stage, the way it would like “roll back and forth” and the big movements, such as when there was a bang or an explosion and the whole stage kinda lit on fire, and we lit somebody on fire that ran across the stage. It was a lot of fun.