As a show designer and creative director, Roger Staub has worked in Los Angeles for stars such as Beyoncé, Puff Daddy, Jay-Z and Eminem. Right now, he is once again making a name for himself again with the legendary format «MTV Unplugges» for the musician Stress.
Roger Staub grew up in Thayngen near Schaffhausen. Early on, the trained typographer found himself on the theatre stage, was a bass player in various bands, created projects in the field of stage design and decided to move to Los Angeles in 2006. Success was just around the corner, waiting for him: with his video content design and set design, the creative director has created the gigantic stage shows of superstars such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Maroon5, Duke Dumont and Def Leppard. Since 2018, Roger Staub has been back in Zurich, where he founded his branding agency LoF* and was recently elected a member of the Art Directors Club. For Stress, the musician, he now realised the «MTV Unplugged» session, which was recorded in June in Zurich’s Schiffbau and will be released both as a concert film and album in November.
Roger, let’s dive right into it by discussing one of your more recent coups. You orchestrated and realised the «MTV Unplugged» session in the Schiffbau for Stress, the musician, this summer … what makes this format special?
«MTV Unplugged» means that songs “are performed unamplified” in acoustic form. It is a legendary format that peaked in the 1990s and 2000s with concerts by Björk and Nirvana. After Patent Ochsner, Stress is only the second Swiss artist to receive this honour. In any artist’s biography, this is a milestone, basically a knighthood.
A few words about the cooperation between the two of you …
I met Stress through another project last year and when the request from «MTV Unplugged» came, he asked me whether I would be interested in getting involved here. The common theme is the life story of Andres Andrekson, alias Stress. The pieces were rearranged and the stories were scenographically realised. When the venue was fixed with the Schiffbau, I designed the first renderings for the stage situations. Where does the ten-piece band, the chamber orchestra or the audience sit? I also wanted it not to be a concert stage in the traditional sense, but a theatre set with static lighting and printed back drop, the classic theatrical means you use.
A love of live show staging brought you to Los Angeles in 2006. A courageous step …
Maybe it was brave in retrospect, but it was just the logical decision at the time. It was liberating for me to meet so many like-minded people and I immediately felt at home in these large-scale projects. In Switzerland, we are rather exotic in the field of live entertainment; in LA, everyone is somehow connected to entertainment.
You are known as a quiet and rather reserved person – attributes that are less associated with Hollywood. Did you bring some of the American mindset with you to Switzerland?
I certainly brought some large-scale thinking back with me. What I had to learn was to put aside some of my Swiss restraint. But at the end of the day, these are character traits that you can’t just turn upside down. It is also about remaining authentic.
Looking at your career, your work is very much focused on music …
Music is an important constant in my life. I learned piano, played the bass in my first band and started playing drums 10 years ago. I have a musical understanding that enables me to translate the music into a visual world and my creative understanding tells me whether the song is more «yellow» or «blue». It’s about understanding what’s going on musically and then how you can visually represent this.
What would you describe as your inner driving force, your source of inspiration?
In the end, the concept must above all reflect the personality and vision of the artists. I often find the main inspiration in art and its moods, in its materiality or also in installations. For me, it’s about translating this mood onto the stage situation with other means. But film stills also often inspire me. I try to recreate moods and find it exciting how you can create very different spatial moods by using just small interventions.
Last year you founded your agency LoF*, with which you focus strongly on brand experience and brand exploration. Is experience the magic word of our time?
I think it is, yes. Experience is a major concern for brands. Today, it is much less about a CI/CD manual, but about how one experiences a brand. It is about designing experiential spaces.
So has the spark of experience spread from the stage to the corporate world?
It definitely has. At first, it spilled from the arts onto the concert stages. Today there are many bands that are on stage with some kind of installation. It is often no longer just about the gigantism of large canvases, but about creating entire spaces. This is a trend that brands are also following today. Fashion shows, for example, are massive installations and brand experiences par excellence. Experience is the means to communicate values and make them tangible.
Roger, in conclusion: What’s next?
I’m looking forward to the release of the album! Now it’s also a matter of making this «MTV Unplugged» ready for the tour roadshow starting on March 9, 2024.