David Sancious on Synths with Peter Gabriel


Last year marked the 25th anniversary of Peter Gabriel’s landmark album So, and to commemorate that artistic and commercial landmark, Gabriel has remastered the songs and released a massive boxed set containing multiple DVDs, CDs, and a documentary. For the supporting tour, Gabriel reassembled the band, including keyboardist David Sancious, who has also worked with Bruce Springsteen, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, John McLaughlin, Jon Anderson, Aretha Franklin, and Narada Michael Walden. After working the So tours in the late ’80s, David became a go-to sideman for Sting and Eric Clapton—where he shared the stage with Seal, Jeff Beck, and the late, great, Billy Preston.

How is playing the material different this time around?

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Well, we’re being very respectful of the So songs and arrangements, so in that regard, not a lot has changed. We do change things up on a few songs: for instance, we do an unplugged treatment of “Shock the Monkey” where I play acoustic piano.

Since the original So tours, how has the keyboard rig changed?

Wow, a lot! I used to carry two 19-inch racks full of modules, Roland D550s, Korg M1s, a bunch of the Yamaha rack-mounted DX7-like synths and a keyboard controller to handle all of it.

What was the keyboard controller?
The Yamaha KX88, then later the Peavey DPM-C8. That was the best controller ever. Then I’d have a lot of pedals so I could bring sounds in and out. That’s the main reason I sit. I don’t understand how keyboard players can stand—well, I do understand, but for the way I play, I need to use my feet as well as my hands. Now, I can do all of that with one keyboard, no racks. I use this Korg Kronos 88. It has all these wonderful sounds, and puts everything right in front of me. I can see everything right there in its window.

Are you using just Kronos sounds, or are you triggering anything else?

There are a few other things being triggered, but not by me. All the sounds I’m playing are coming out of the Kronos. Peter has one as well, inside a shell that resembles an extra-large Yamaha CP70. Some of the sounds come from Peter’s custom library. He has an extensive library of sounds that he has personally collected over the years, from some of the percussion instruments and Fairlight sounds to his own Yamaha electric grand pianos. The guys from Korg worked with Peter to convert those sounds into the Kronos.

Is there any piece of gear you wish you still used but don’t, new or vintage?

No, I don’t miss any of it! [Laughs.] I don’t miss the tuning problems, the temperature problems, the breakdowns . . . I can get those sounds out of the Kronos. I like having everything in one place. Otherwise, you’re dividing your attention: “I’m going to play this part with this hand, and then my left hand is going to go over there . . .” You’re not actually concentrating on playing.

I’ll tell you, the only thing I do miss are the [multiple] foot controllers. I used to use a number of foot pedals so I could bring sounds in and out while I was playing. My old keyboard had a number of inputs for pedals, so I could run different sounds independently. Now, keyboards only have one pedal input. My Kronos can take one sustain pedal and one [continuous] foot pedal, and I really wish I could add at least one more, but that’s the only thing I’d change. Today, you really only need one keyboard.

Currently on tour with Sting, David Sancious rejoins Peter Gabriel this fall for a European tour. Keep up with him at davidsancious.com.