Pop and rock classics get a makeover with some intense cello playing. Yes, you did read that right. LTW’s Dave Jennings tells us all about it.
This band is nothing if not well-named as it is comprised of just Luka Sulic and Stepjan Hauser, two cello prodigies from an early age. However, when you hear the sound they conjure from this usually less than prominent instrument, and see the passion that accompanies their performance, you begin to understand just why so many people are becoming captivated by their style.
Championed by no less a figure than Elton John, the Balkan duo, whose interpretation of Michael Jacksonâs ‘Smooth Criminal’ went viral and became an internet sensation, are about to release their second album. The album, IN2ITION, which is released on March 4th, features collaborations with a diverse collection of big names from across the rock and classical sphere such as Lang Lang, Steve Vai, Naya Riviera and Elton himself. In fact it was due to the popularity of their YouTube video that Elton John, fascinated by what he saw, recruited them as his support on his 2012 world tour and saw them earn rave reviews. Since then, the duo has gone from strength to strength and recently spoke to Louder Than War about their development and ambitions.
Luka began playing cello at age 5 and Stepjan when he was 8, both of them coming from musical families. Although they were from different countries (Luka is Slovenian and Stepjan is Croatian) they have known each other from an early age as both represented their countries in competitions and describe themselves as being “great rivals but also great friends with a great chemistry between themâ. They share a love of a wide range of musical influences – classical, rock and film music – and it was after they had finished their studies in Britain (Luka at The Royal Academy and Stepjan at The Royal Northern College of Music) that they began to think of doing something a little different. They put together the arrangement of ‘Smooth Criminal’ and havenât looked back since.
Luka explained about their idea of using the cello to re-interpret rock classics: âClassical music can be a little restrictive at times but the cello is such a versatile instrument and we have so much energy. We tend to go a bit mad when getting involved in the music and if you do that in classical music they sort of frown on you so we looked for a way of trying to show our enthusiasm. In an orchestra, the cello is not really considered a lead instrument but we were determined to change that. You need to hear a certain rhythm and melody in a song that can be recreated on a cello and there are many classic rock tracks that can be done. Having said that, some Queen and Jackson tracks have not really worked when weâve tried them, thereâs a real symphonic sound going on with some Queen stuff that we canât do.”
When asked about the possibility of throwing in some punk covers, their answer hinted that it was probably something they hadnât yet considered but amidst the hilarity Iâd like to think I may have planted a seed for their next career move. However, before that happens, the new album has an impressive list of collaborators including Lang Lang who shares their desire to break out of the classical genre and joins them on Coldplayâs âClocksâ but as the duo are keen to point out, “Every guest brings something special. Elton has always wanted to do the Fleetwood Mac track âOh Wellâ so he suggested doing it. Thatâs the great thing about working with different people, the ideas and suggestions they bring. Weâd love to work with Sting, U2 and AC/DC in future, you never know, we can hope! However, great credit has to go to Bob Ezrin our producer. Heâs worked with many top names like Pink Floyd, Kiss and Aerosmith and he worked really hard to bring out a strong sound. Thatâs why choice of songs is so important, remember, the sounds got to be big enough to fill auditoriums with just two instruments.â
Understandably when approaching such tracks as âHighway to Hellâ, the arrangements have to be very intricate and Luka gave an insight into how they do it. âIt depends on the track, with AC/DC, Stepjan would play the Angus Young part and I play the other, whereas on other tracks I may play the melodies. The main challenge is to create as cool a sound as possible as we donât use backing tracks.â
You may never have heard âHighway to Hellâ done like this before (with Steve Vai):
One of the tracks on IN2ITION is the self-composed âOrient Expressâ but it wasnât intentionally written. âIt was all very spontaneous; we didnât have a classical or rock-type approach to writing it because we didnât plan to write it. We were just improvising in the studio, using a sample for a hip-hop type beat and adding more layers and we suddenly thought we were on to something. Itâs turned out very nicely and we think it would be great for a movie. Itâs called âOrient Expressâ because the rhythm is like that of a train but the melodies are from our Balkan roots. The Orient Express actually ran through our home area in the Balkans so it all seems to fit.â
I mention that I knew a music teacher who, having seen a video of the duo in action couldnât wait to show it to her students. âThatâs great to hear, thatâs exactly what we want to achieve. We want everyone to share our passion for music of all styles and narrow the gap between rock and classical. We certainly hope to attract more young people to classical music. When we grew up we loved the great composers and classical musicians as well as rock music, each genre has its own heroes. Even now, weâll listen to all types of music, it just depends on the mood really, and weâre always looking for something new.”
2CELLOS have a hectic schedule over the next few months and many plans for the future. âWe tour the Far East, USA and Europe over the next few months promoting the new album. After that we want to do another album, maybe movie music with a full orchestra, after that we could do another rock album, we can do whatever we feel.â
Two things struck me about 2CELLOS: First, theyâre going to be pretty big in 2013 and, second, they have the talent and potential to be around for quite some time.
Words by Dave Jennings. More writing by Dave on Louder Than War can be found here.