Drake is always reaching for new ways to define what Peak Toronto looks like. Last week, he unveiled a gaudy promo for a new OVO store which doubled as a video for "Gyalchester" and was also the biggest look Yorkdale Mall has ever received. That visual, though, pales in comparison to the surprise stage setup for this year's OVO Fest: a near-perfect replica of the CN Tower, a Toronto landmark and Views cover star.
The stage was developed by American firm GP-SK Design, who've worked with Drake since his Club Paradise tour in 2012. They also designed the ambitious sets for Kanye West's 2007 Glow in the Dark Tour as well as his Watch the Throne Tour with Jay-Z. Future, Rihanna, Bon Jovi, and more superstars make up the rest of their clientele. "Really that's what we do," says co-founder Guy Pavelo, the "GP" in the company's name, over the phone, "It's figuring out something that doesn't exist." According to him and partner Steve Kidd, Drake came to them with the idea for the CN Tower stage about four weeks ago, just after Canada Day. "It took 1,537 people working 24 hours a day 40 months to build the CN Tower in 1972," says Kidd, "Drake gave us exactly 22 days." We talked about the challenges of creating the structure, as well as what working with Kanye at his most particular was like, including figuring out his favourite font to read.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Noisey: When did Drake approach you to do this project?
Steve Kidd: Okay, so some background. Guy and I have worked with Drake for six years. We design all the touring sets, we've produced and developed his shows for him. This one was a little bit unique because as I just mentioned, it was four weeks ago when he asked us to do it, this impossible task of recreating the historic CN Tower. Guy and I went to nineteen different fabrication companies and were basically turned down by everybody.
Did he ever mention this idea earlier?
Steve: That was the first time he started talking about the tower. It was definitely the day after Canada Day.
Describe the designing aspect. You can get technical.
Guy Pavelo: I'd sourced out the literal plans of the tower from when it was originally built in the 70s. I got the true dimensions and we had an idea of the area we wanted to capture, the big observation deck plus some the spire above it and some of the base below it. I got the dimensions of the Budweiser Stage, got the dimensions of the tower, and then physically scaled it to the venue. The scale was accurate. We added the performance deck. Having a big stage sticking out of the tower doesn't make any sense but we worked it out. It's all aluminum, there's a box truss core, and then every single piece was handmade from scratch. All the walls from the performance deck down are suspended from the tower in the centre so our tower practically stands upon itself on the floor. We almost completed it to be a free-standing object, which we thought was pretty cool. SGPS Systems from Vegas ended up building the project and then we trucked it up [to Toronto]. It was a huge undertaking done in a short time by a couple dozen people. Without them it wouldn't have come together. Even Drake was saying how accurate it was, and we weren't even done.
Did Drake give any input in terms of design?
Steve: To a degree. [It] was just "I want the tower." [laughs].
Four weeks isn't that long. Was it right up to the wire?
Steve: We really finished up Sunday evening. We moved into Molson on Tuesday. Wednesday Thursday and Friday we had 24 hr crews on site building this monster. On Saturday, Guy was just able to start programming lighting. I'm Facetiming Drake and he's saying "I have to come see this." We've done a number of designs for Drake but I think this one really hit home for him. First thing he said to me was, "Can we take this on tour to Australia?"
The tower's going on tour?
Steve: No, we built a non-touring structure. It was a one-off for the city of Toronto, it was a one-off for OVO 8.
So, moving on to the other tours you've worked on. How did you get those cool light-up ball sculptures to work on the Summer Sixteen tour?
Guy: Magic. Lots of pain.
Steve: A lot of programming, a lot of misdirection. [laughs]
Guy: It was about three months of programming. We needed to make it evolve. We rewrote the whole system, how the winch works. We were the first ones out with this system. [Drake's] art team found a time lapse of an art installation, I think it was in Japan, of these little balls that moved in mid-air. It was like, "Oh here, make this." It was a great example of him looking outside the box.
What is your favourite Drake tour you've worked on?
Steve: That's tricky. Summer Sixteen is probably the closest one because it was the development of a new product that utilized 3D space and kinetic objects that weren't just in the stage. We were able to put a lot of gusto and effort into that one. It's not about throwing more tricks at it, but utilizing what you have. And with his mind, we've been able to grow as he's grown.
Would you say that's a general design principle that you have?
Steve: You're the first person to hear this besides Drake but we're about to go to Australia and embark on another leg for him down there. And we're about to push the envelope on what you asked earlier about how you make the kinetics work and that sort of thing. I won't give you the tools on what we're actually gonna do but we're gonna take it to the next level and make a new [standard] for everybody else. We're gonna be above average and deliver something that is creative for the artist and creates moments for the fans. And that's what I think people love, is taking out their phones and capturing that moment with the artist living in that space.
I have to know this because I'm an enormous Kanye West fan but what was it like working with someone as design-oriented as he is for the Glow In The Dark and Watch The Throne Tour?
Guy: [laughs] Be on your toes. That's what I learned from ['Glow In The Dark'} just be on your toes at all times. One day he might change his opinion, his idea, his mind which hey that's all part of the game. It doesn't matter if your name is Kanye or Bruno Mars or the xx, it's all about the guy up there who is doing the performance and what they are interested in and what they are looking for. Kanye may change his mind more than others and he may stand out a little more because of that and of course, it isn't as pleasant as some may present it. Still, we're here and what we do is whatever we possibly can to make the guy on the stage as happy as they can be and on point.
Was he changing his mind during the tour or during the planning of the tour?
Guy: The planning. Up to two days before the tour kicked off, we were still doing mass changes. And as the tour progressed just the way the show was functioning, we'd have a standard beginning and ending but the middle was always interesting because you never knew. And that was also the time period where he started his speeches at the end of a show, for lack of a better term. So it always became interesting. But yeah we were building and building and then the next day it'd be like "okay tear it all down let's try again." Literally ripped the whole show down.
By tearing it all down, do you mean totally redesign the show?
Guy: Yup. Overnight, start from scratch. It was interesting, so you never know. Just when you think you're done, you might not be done.
Steve: And, you know, I have that same experience with him. I built that Watch The Throne tour with [Kanye] and before it was ever birthed, uh,... you know, Kanye's... he's just exactly what Guy said. He's the type of person that when you think you're finished and you have it the way Kanye says he wants it, you wake up in the morning to multiple emails [with] all the changes that need to be made by the time he comes back in for rehearsal. So with Watch The Throne was that unique chemistry of Kanye and Jay, and then we have those cubes, and a number of other different things are going on that album. And really, quite honestly, that all came about all during the summer and then when we went into the fall we basically built this entire show. Jay and Kanye came and I walked Kanye straight to the stage that he approved, the colours of the stage that he approved, that were all custom colours, not anything you just buy off the shelf. I remember walking up on the stage with Kanye. He looked at me and smiled and he's walking around and said, "yeah the stage is the wrong colour."
Steve: So I said, "here's your email where you said the colour and here's the colour." He's like, "yeah but the colour's wrong so we need to change it." Again, it was a custom colour. There were different decks that he said he wanted painted. And by the way, the tour was to start the very next day in Atlanta. You think you have it, he tells you it's locked in with him, he's good with it, and I don't know who gets in his ear when he's sleeping cause he doesn't sleep all that much, but when he does sleep, somebody must have been in his ear and say "I've got a better video idea for you." Because when you wake up, there's a whole new team of people that have shown up on site that you've haven't even worked with and apparently they're the new content provider.
Was there a name for the custom colour?
Steve: Yeah, but I don't remember what it is. He's the same kind of guy… let's put it this way: when I did the tour books for him for Australia, Kanye has a particular font, I forget what it is, but he has a particular font that he likes to read everything in. I did not do the tour book, no one told me to do the tour book in that particular font. And I had to redo the tour book when we were already on tour in Australia. Redo it in the font that he actually he wanted to see it in. That's how particular the man is.
Also, I want to say this: one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with. Outside of some of the craziness of The Throne, Kanye's done a lot of stuff. In general, he's a really nice person and he just has an expectation that is most of the time unrealistic, but he has a lot of really great ideas. I think when you fundamentally execute what he's looking for, it's all magic. Because when he gets up there and does his thing, he's really great at what he does. So I think he just looks for excellence around everybody. I think like anything else, the wheelhouse is spinning so fast you can't control it. And I think that's what happens with Kanye.
Was that ever frustrating for either of you guys? This unpredictability?
Guy: It's always frustrating. When you finally sit down... it's, ah, you work all day long, you sit down in the chair because you're finally done, and the second you touch the chair, the phone rings and you have to go back to work for another ten hours. It's like rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. You get the "ugh" feeling but then it's time to continue again.
Steve: That's what makes it good.
Guy: Like with Drake a handful of years ago we were doing a lot of the tours and we have all this equipment. We write these real big numbers and all this and he comes into the rehearsal, and saying okay, a real big number, I think it was "Trophies." He's like "Okay I am doing this number and I want you to do it with this light." This is a number that had one or two hundred [light] fixtures running. It's huge. All these guys that came in with him, you know, the camp comes in and they are like, "holy shit! Look at this thing, it's amazing!" He comes up and says, "I want you to do it with one light." And everyone's like, "oh my god that's such a mistake!" It's no big deal, it's what he wants. It's his show. It's fine. And everybody else was like, "oh my God it's a mistake." The tour kicks off, the first number for the first four or five shows that any review you found would talk about was that one. Cause you'd think it would be this big huge showy thing and he made it into super intimate with the single light. It just made it even more powerful by not even using the power to do it. Because that's what makes it more successful. And we've seen that now, time and time again, and it's proven itself to be correct. So it's a good thing.
Phil is a Noisey staff writer. He's on Twitter.