New York, NY (May 25, 2017)—Noted FOH engineer Dave “Shirt” Nicholls died May 24. A renowned specialist in mixing metal and hard rock, over the course of a 27-plus year career, he worked with likes of Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold, Corrosion of Conformity, Stone Sour, Hell or Highwater, Sick of It All, DragonForce, Diamond Head, Obituary, Power of Expression and Andrew W.K., among many others. The cause of death has not been announced at press time.
A Birmingham, UK native, Nicholls originally started out as a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, piano and drums, but became a tape op in a local UK studio and supported acts on the road, eventually taking over the house console on one 1990 excursion when a group sacked its FOH engineer mid-tour.
Form there, his career only went upwards. A gregarious family man with an infectious smile, Nicholls was regarded as a consummate professional, always determined to get the right sound for his clients. "The first rule of sound engineering is there ain’t no rules," he told Pro Sound News in 2004. "Do whatever you have to do make it work for you and the band."
Nicholls worked with Slipknot for 15 years, starting with the band’s tour supporting its 2001 Iowa album; however, he inadvertently cemented his place behind the band’s FOH desk during tour rehearsals for the group’s 2004 tour for Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses).
“It was quite funny,” he recounted for PSN. “We had eight stacks of EV MT4 subwoofers set up in a 3,000 capacity venue. On the second day of rehearsals, the band came in to rehearse the five new songs that they’re playing in the set for their new album. After about the third song, I looked up from the desk and there was a cop on stage. I was like, ‘Man, that’s interesting. Look at this guy…what could he want?’ Basically, he came to arrest whoever was in charge of the sound.
“So, there I am, holding onto this desk. Apparently, they were having complaints from a few miles away because the subbass was so punchy—and that was just from eight stacks of MT4! One of the guys in the band came up to me and said, ‘So, the first day of rehearsals you get the police to come to shut us down—you’ve got the job…for life!’”
Nicholls was the FOH engineer for Slipknot from 2001 onwards, as seen here on the band's 2015/16 world tour. (l-r): Dan Bowers, system engineer; Dave “Shirt” Nicholls, FOH engineer; Rob Lightner, monitor engineer; Bill Gleespen, systems tech; and Adam Schuler, monitor assistant.
In the wake of Nicholls’ passing, numerous acts paid tribute to their fallen friend online. In an extensive Facebook post, Slipknot called him “the tenth member of Slipknot [who] brought our art to the surface,” adding, “We all learned so much from him over the years and shared some of the best times with him while out on the road. Shirt was one of the kindest people you could ever meet. His heart and passion was everything, and he had a smile and laugh that would light up any room.” Elsewhere, Joey Brutalford of Hell or Highwater noted on Instagram, “I truly don't know how to express my gratitude for this man. Ultimate example of how to act in life. Rest in power brother.”
A GoFundMe campaign, set up to help cover funeral expenses and provide support for his wife Vanessa and their family, is filled with remembrances from industry colleagues like Solotech Nashville head/former Metallica monitor engineer Paul Owen, who remarked, “Normally words don't escape me, but I am at a loss today, and will miss my dear friend so much. My heart goes out to all Shirt’s family at home and on the road. Love you, Shirt.”
Go Fund Me campaign for Nicholls' Family