Behind the Backdrop: An Interview With Artist Jeff AlumbaughDuane Serfass
Ever wonder how those larger than life stage backdrops are made?
BAM Magazine recently had the privilege of talking with Rock City Backdrops owner / artist Jeff Alumbaugh about some of the bands he’s worked with and what it’s like to see his artwork share the stage with his favorite rock stars.
BAM: How did you ever get into this side of the music industry?
Jeff: [laugh] I do get asked that sometimes, right along with “Have you ever painted for somebody famous?” [laugh] People get a little curious. My very first backdrop was for a local band called Ice-9. That was back in 1987. In those days, there was no Internet, so making a living at it was certainly more difficult. I didn’t do many drops back then, but I knew I wanted to have my work on stages. I never let go of that dream.
BAM: Did you find other ways to keep producing art during those days?
Jeff: Yes. I decided to move to Las Vegas to get a full-time job painting billboards for awhile. I’m glad I got that experience because it was very valuable when it comes to painting the large backdrops nowadays. I was fortunate to have been at the right place at the right time when I got there because I landed a job with one of Vegas’ top billboard artists. His name was Walt, and I will always remember him. What a great time that was, painting with him up on those boards.
BAM: What inspired you to do this type of work?
Jeff: Mostly it was seeing concerts when the bands were using painted backdrops, way back before the explosion of printing and digital technology. It was pure artwork, and that old school look is very powerful, especially when the lighting exposed the special effects worked into some of the images bands were using.
BAM: So stage lighting is an important aspect and consideration when painting your backdrops?
Jeff: Definitely. Good lighting can turn one drop into many different looks during a show.
BAM: You’ve painted many backdrops over the years. What type of artwork do you enjoy painting the most?
Jeff: I love the diversity and challenges of reproducing complex artwork that’s created by a band’s graphic artist on a computer. I also find it to be a gas when a client gives me creative freedom and tells me to incorporate my own ideas into it when it’s not an official logo or album cover.
BAM: How many backdrops do you think you’ve painted over the years?
Jeff: I counted my client list a little while back, and it was 400+ at that time. A large percentage of those clients had me do more than one piece for their stages, and many have had me paint backdrops for each one of their tours. All in all, I’m guessing over 500.
BAM: Do you get to meet some of the bands you paint for?
Jeff: Yes. I’ve been a little star-struck at times. It’s great jumping on a plane and flying a backdrop in to a concert once in awhile. It’s fun seeing everything that goes on backstage. I also try to make it a point to meet up with [the bands] when they are coming through town. I think it puts it all on a friendship level.
BAM: Who are some of the bands you’ve worked with?
Jeff: I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to paint every project I’ve done, but some of my highlight moments have been painting for Train, Smash Mouth, Tesla , Pat Travers, Anthrax, Quiet Riot, Firehouse, and a few others. My utmost reward is knowing that my work is on stages in front of all the fans of the all bands. It’s great, and rewarding! I feel like a member of the band, and I can’t play a lick. [laugh]
BAM: Sounds like some of these projects can get pretty large in size. What’s the largest you’ve had to paint?
Jeff: Yea, they do get big. The largest I’ve painted to date was my first Tesla backdrop. It was 25 feet tall and 40 feet wide. The art I was given was complex, and it took me almost three weeks to complete.
BAM: That’s pretty big. I remember emailing you the artwork and wondering how in the world you were to paint something like that! I can honestly say that not only did you surpass my expectations, you surpassed Tesla’s as well! How do the crews get something that large hanging on stage?
Jeff: There is usually a long truss that gets lowered down to just above the stage floor. Once the backdrop is tied to it, they raise it back up. That’s known as “flying the backdrop.”
BAM: Do you have anybody helping you paint?
Jeff: No. I paint them by myself. I have a personal assistant to help run things behind the scenes. She’s awesome at keeping me freed up to be in the paint shop.
BAM: Quite a few people know you throughout the rock & roll industry. Do you paint for other genres or any venues?
Jeff: Yes. I’ve painted backdrops for other bands outside the rock genre, and some venues, including The Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood. Love that place! There is so much history at that club. I also painted a large gymnasium backdrop for the Air Force Falcons many years back. I enjoy the variety.
BAM: There have been a lot of great artists throughout history. Who do you admire the most?
Jeff: Hmm. I admire many of them, but by far… Andy Warhol. He introduced “pop art” into the mainstream. A very close second would be Denny Dent, the amazing speed painter. Both artists found their paths to express what they felt in unique ways. Their talent touched millions of people, and their works certainly inspired me.
BAM: Do you see yourself doing any other type of large scale artwork in the future?
Jeff: Nah, I don’t believe so. I love doing stage drops, and I’m perfectly content with keeping my artwork on those stages. It’s my heart and soul. It’s what I do.
BAM: Awesome. One last question. Can I stay for awhile and help you paint? [laugh]
Jeff: Sure, man! Let’s rock! [laugh]
Contact Jeff Alumbaugh and Rock City Backdrops at: