Hear the Piano Guys Echoes Interview
The world of classical cross-over music is scattered with novelty acts that created a buzz and then faded away. One of the latest is a band called The Piano Guys. They are YouTube phenomenons with superstar viewing stats for their many elaborate videos. They’re music goes beyond simple instrumentation in favor of extensive over-dubbing, electronic effects and even playing inside the piano, something you don’t hear in most classical pop artists.
Talking to The Piano Guys is like being in a room with 5th graders on a sugar rush. Right now that energy just bounces off the walls of the studio, but usually, they’d take it and do thinks like lifting a piano with a helicopter and plopping it down on top of a desert cliff. ”
“We have our own piano movers because, because it’s such a important thing for us,” bursts Steven Sharp Nelson. “And we actually move the pianos ourselves a few videos, just us. We’ve moved it by chopper, by crane, by boat, by train.”
Steven Sharp Nelson is the cellist of The Piano Guys. Sitting with his instrument in New York’s Dubway Studios, the fresh scrubbed impish musician says The Piano Guys are as much about the stunt settings as the music.
“To be honest, The Piano Guys at their purist is our YouTube Channel,” he admits. “It’s about the music but also about the visuals. It’s the feeling you get when you watch these performances and we’re often in crazy places. We’ve got a piano on a train. We’ve got it on a thousand foot cliff, out in the forest. I’m jumping out of a plane with a cello strapped to me you know.”
These settings can be goofy and corny, like their Star Wars parody, “Cello Wars.” “We did “Cello Wars,” enthuses Nelson, “which was five Star Wars tunes by the amazing John Williams stacked on top of each other with two cloned electric cellists battling each other with light sabre bows.”
But they can also be very moving. On a cliff at Red Rocks they visualized their soulful and ecstatic recording of Coldplay’s “Paradise” featuring singer Alex Boye.
The Piano Guys aren’t just pianists. The music is played by Jon Schmidt who is a pianist and Steven Sharp Nelson, who isn’t. He plays cellos, sometimes a bunch of them like on “When Michael Met Mozart.”
“Jon, Al [van der Beek] and I were in the studio and we experimented with all the sounds you could get out of an electric cello and ended up being a 100 cello tracks,” says Nelson.
But it’s not even just the musicians. When The Piano Guys walk in for the interview, there are five not two, with Nelson and Schmidt joined by videographers Tel Stewart and Paul Anderson and engineer Al van der Beek. They are all part of a Piano Guys multi-media collective that began as a commercial.
“Before we all got started as the five of us,” explains Schmidt, “Paul Anderson pulled me aside and you know, he said let’s film a video for my Piano Guy channel, which he was using to push his piano store. And we did an original tune. ….And it didn’t do so well. We quickly found that you know, if we wanted to breakout, we had to include cover tunes.”
Jon Schmidt teamed up with Steven Sharp Nelson and they began interjecting pop songs with classical motifs playing pieces by pure pop acts like Christina Perri, One Republic and One Direction.
“A lot of people think okay, so they’re making classical cool by infusing pop into it,” says Nelson. “And for us, a lot of it is that gratification of the compositional process and infusing classical in pop. like okay, we threw a classical piece, like when we were doing David Guetta’s “Titanium,” okay. We get to the chorus and it’s a DJ chorus. It’s just got a back beat. It’s just all about the beat, right? But then we thought well let’s throw a melody on top of this and all of the sudden it felt like Faure’s “Pavanne” worked so well on the top of it.
The Piano Guys have become something of a YouTube sensation with their imaginative videos. The numbers of viewers who subscribe to their channel seem to go up by the minute. When I walked into Dubway Studios in Manhattan, their subscriber stats were at 1,045,558. At the end of the interview, Paul Anderson goes on his iPhone.
“Our subscribers is at 1,045,808,” crows Anderson.
“Oh, so you went up about 250 since 12 o’clock,” I say.
“About 250 an hour,” he says.
“So let’s keep talking,” laughs Nelson. “We get about an average of 4,500 new subscribers a day, about 500 new Facebook followers a day, roughly, and then about 700,000-800,000 new video views a day is I think where we’re at.
“That’s almost a million, holy!” exclaims Schmidt.
Hear the complete interview in the Echoes Podcast.
~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))
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