In our Winter 2011-12 issue, we profiled electric cellist Tina Guo. Here, more from our conversation with her.
Audrey Magazine: What is the story behind your first solo record?
Tina Guo: The last record that I put out, I wasn’t really trying to get [distributed by a major label]. Most of the music, I self-produced, self-wrote, self-recorded. I did it just to do music and then I realized I had enough to for an entire album. I put it out through my own label and distributor and Universal wanted to pick it up.
AM: So you when you were recording, you did not see that it would be packaged as an album?
TG: In the liner notes, each one was inspired by some kind of drama or occurrence or what not in life and its usually when I’m feeling extremely emotional one way or the other whether its negative or positive. It was very organic. I wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to record and album and put it out.” I just write music and I record and then I had enough material and I put it out. It was a very free form, free style.
AM: Do you plans for another record already?
TG: The next album I’m going to do, I’m going to put together an industrial metal band, more focusing on certain genres because this current album is very expanded in genre. It’s classical to new age to rock and metal. It’s a little bit all over the place but it shows my range of style and genres that I like to play into. The next album will definitely be more focused.
AM: What are some of your favorite songs on the album?
TG: Well, honestly I’m very kind of bipolar or schizophrenic. I really like “Forbidden
City,” which is the second to last track. And it’s like industrial metal … heavy, very Ramstein-inspired. On the other side I really like “Winter’s Starlight” which is the piece that I wrote and its for a female choir, which is just me and my vocal layers and I think four cello layers. So it’s all organic cello and vocals. That’s more new age, Enya, meditation, yoga, classical music.
AM: For your music videos, did you do art direction and concept for all
TG: [For the music video] “Queen Bee,” I had a costume designer and the director
helped a lot with the conceptualization but everything is a bit of a mesh together. For me, I’m always in control. I don’t have people telling me what kind of image or what kind of music they want me to do. It’s always me. Of course I have outside help. I’ll bring in other people that have more experience if that’s their expertise and we’ll work together. I do have a very definitive vision of what I want to see or hear.
AM: Since you don’t have anyone telling you what image to portray, what do you want people see you as?
TG: I want them to see me as me. I’m multifaceted. I’ve had people tell me I should hone in on only one thing. Like back in the day when I was doing only classical, my manager at the time, who I fired of course, was telling me that I shouldn’t do any kind of crossover stuff because it would ruin my classical career. Which to a certain extent, the classical world is very conservative so it has harmed my classical career a bit. But everything has its price. I’ve been touring and playing as a classical soloist since I was 9 years old. It’s not that it’s gotten old, but it’s the same music, with the same orchestras, doing the same tours, I don’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I want to do something that’s new and different. I want to pioneer something that’s never been done before. Not that there is anything wrong with pursuing the art form of classical music but I try to find a balance of doing both. So right before I did this tour, I did a tour of Italy, all purely, strictly classical. Then I also did a tour of Mexico that is also classical. I don’t really think or analyze what I feel like playing is what I want to play.
AM: What were some of the memorable performances?
TG: Hans Zimmer, of course. I’ve worked with him on Inception, Sherlock Holmes and some other films with him and his company. Playing live, I did a gues appearance with Carlos Santana on Dancing with the Stars. We did one song with India Arie and the band and that was really nice.
I don’t have any super favorites. I try to take away from every musical collaboration, whether it someone that you know the name or other L.A. local bands that I play with. Every musical baby that I make with different groups and different people is a new creation and a new experience. I like doing a different range and styles and working with other people.
AM: You’ve been touring and playing at a young age; how did you choose the cello?
TG: I started the piano when I was 3 and then I switched to violin when I was maybe 6 and then cello when I was 7. I didn’t have a choice. I was forced. My dad was a cellist and my mom plays the violin. It kind of runs in the family.
AM: How about now, what do you think about cello?
TG: Now, I like to think of the electric cello as a completely different instrument. It’s
more like the guitar.
AM: You have a lot of classical training. What do you think is the importance of technique versus style?
TG: With classical training it is definitely a really important foundation for basic
principles for technique and playing. Technique is always developed with muscle memory. I used to practice maybe 8 hours a day. Now it’s a lot less because it’s already ingrained into my body, but it’s very important to have the basic technique so that your musical expression, your artistic expression is not limited by what your fingers can or can’t do. If you’re playing fast and you’re thinking, “Am I going to be able to play this,” you’re already out of being connected to the source that you’re trying to express your art. Technique is the most important thing that you should develop and work on and once you get past that, you’re able to play anything, there’s nothing you can’t play physically, that’s when you can start creating art.
AM: Were you at all bitter about your robbed childhood?
TG: Oh my god, yes. Of course. I used to be very resentful, angry about that. Until I left for college, I went to the movies maybe three times for 18 years of my life. I never went out, the usual sob story for Asian kids who were forced to practice. But I’m very grateful for it now because if I didn’t, not waste your time, but spend your childhood running around hanging out with people there is only so much time in the day. You go to school, do your homework, you need 6-8 hours to hone in on those technical aspects. So now looking back I’m grateful for it because I wouldn’t be here.
– Rhea Cortado