Imagine Mozart meeting Avicii or Chopin mixing with Coldplay; strings would replace synths, a stand up bass would supply the beat and lyrics would be sung through a violin. Live performances and music videos would be no different. Technology would create captivating visuals, while the classic orchestra environment merged with contemporary flair.
This unique combination of instrumental and Top 40 is exactly what Simply Three has crafted over the past six years. Covering artists such as Adele, OneRepublic, The Weeknd and most recently, Twenty One Pilots, the group has accumulated over 39 million views on YouTube. Along with their music, fans have been drawn to their attention-grabbing videos and live performances. Although currently touring around the U.S., the trio set aside some time to talk with Life Backstage about their style of music and the individuals behind it.
Thanks for taking some time in the middle of your tour to speak with me! How have the shows been going thus far?
The shows so far have been thrilling! We added some new tech components to the show, and as I’m sure you are well aware, technology doesn’t always work the way you might expect, especially when you add new things for the first time. So we were a little nervous about the new tech, but luckily everything went perfectly, and the shows were a smash! Seattle and Portland had so much energy it was off the charts, and our new visuals and music videos added a fantastic visual element that gave our show a whole new life. I’m really excited for the rest of the cities on our tour to see what we’ve been working on!
For those who have yet to see you on tour, can you give a preview as to what they can expect?
I guess I kind of already spilled the beans in my previous answer haha. But yeah, we self-produced new, custom visuals for the show, and we did our best to have the visuals help capture some of the musical nuances we play live, to really help enhance our music on a new level. We also added several new songs and music videos that we’ll be performing along with, including our newest video “Heathens” by twenty one pilots.
I’m curious to learn more about you three personally. What got you interested in music, specifically, why did you gravitate towards classical crossover?
Well, I have always loved music, and performing in orchestra concerts was exhilarating for me growing up. I love how each performance is unique and can never be repeated exactly the same ever again. So my love for performing, among other things, led me and Nick to start Simply Three in 2010. We love classical music, but I personally knew that performing in a Symphony just wasn’t right for me. Although I still occasionally play with various orchestras, I just have too many of my own that I want to express that I just had to start my own group. So Nick and I had the idea of continuing to play our classical instruments, but play all of the various types of music that we loved, including oldies, pop, and rock.
How does it feel to be at the forefront of the movement reenergizing instrumental music?
Oh man, it feels incredible, honestly. I don’t know if we’re in the forefront of the movement or not – we don’t really think about that aspect of it. But for me, every day is honestly the happiest day of my life, because I get to live my dream; I get to create something really cool, unique, and innovative. And we have such lofty visions and goals that we just never stop working. There’s no time to stop! We’re always excited to be working on the next project that the time and work just happen naturally. Our vision for what these string instruments can do is monstrous, and we are working on doing things that have never been done before. And that’s just so incredibly exciting to me that sometimes I actually break down from sheer gratitude and excitement. And I am so blessed to have a wife who supports me in this. This would absolutely be impossible without her, especially with raising our 2-year-old daughter and our 2-month old son. She is the glue that keeps all this together for me.
Looking at your creative process, how do you decide which songs to cover?
Well, there isn’t really a methodology behind it, but there are definitely a few parameters that we consider when we’re looking for a song to cover. First and foremost, do we like the song? Being a trio, sometimes a certain song is more attractive to one of us than the others, but we always find a certain level of agreement in liking a song before deciding to cover it. Secondly, we consider how the song would translate to our instrumentation. Violin, cello, and bass is a pretty unique setup, so we always try to evaluate how well we can reimagine a song before deciding to move forward. There have definitely been instances where we have passed on a song because the ability for it to resonate successfully as a string arrangement turned out to be lower than we had hoped. Lastly and probably least significantly, we look at how well the song is doing on the charts (if it’s a newer song). This isn’t a huge factor for us, but we sometimes do like to cover what’s trending. If it hits the first two considerations I just mentioned and is largely popular, well, why not give it a shot?
What is the arrangement process like for a cover?
For us, there are times when one person will take the lead and arrange something on their own, and there other times when we’ll get together to work on things as a group. There are also moments when the idea for an arrangement will come to life while we’re just jamming. No matter what avenue is taken, though, we always end up meeting together and playing through the arrangement once it’s on paper to see what works and what doesn’t or how something could be made better. We try to fit things in the arrangement to make it unique in some way, and we always try to pass around the melody as much as possible so that each voice gets its chance to shine.
When working on EDM covers like Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”, how do you replicate the electronic elements that went into the original tracks?
We like to explore natural options first – in what way(s) can we create similar effects on our acoustic instruments? There are a variety of techniques that can be used as effects, so we like to look at those options first. We also like to use our electric instruments in these kinds of moments because the ability to plug in, record a sample, and manipulate the sound through effects software is pretty much limitless. It’s a really cool resource to have.
What got you interested in music, specifically, why did you gravitate towards classical crossover?
My mom loves classical music, so she got me started with violin when I was young. Despite not liking it much to begin with, her interest eventually became my passion. Funny how things can work out that way, right? I’ve always been interested in other genres of music – folk, bluegrass, jazz, r&b, etc. – and grew up dabbling in these genres by playing along with my favorite tunes. I suppose, though, that the professional gravitation towards classical crossover really began in 2009 when I joined the band for Janelle Monaé. Touring with her really opened my eyes to a new world of musical impressions and further solidified in my mind that string instruments really could hang in any setting. So, when I got the call some years later to see of my interest in joining Simply Three, I was pretty excited to see how I could help move the group forward in its vision.
Your music videos are also very creative and quite popular. Recently, you released a video for Twenty One Pilot’s “Heathens” (from the DC movie “Suicide Squad”). If you had to choose a favorite DC villain who would it be?
This is pretty cliche but I do think the Joker is the best DC villain. I especially love how he was portrayed in the Dark Knight by Heath Ledger. He encompassed the insanity, creepiness, and genius of the Joker. A villain needs to scare me and the Joker definitely does that.
What got you interested in music, specifically, why did you gravitate towards classical crossover?
My older sister played the violin so I started on violin at the age of eight. I discovered the bass at an instrument “petting zoo” at Phoenix Symphony Hall. I saw the bass and it was love at first sight. I’ve been playing bass ever since. I’ve always loved other genres of music. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, and Micheal Jackson. Although I loved playing classical music, I always wanted to be involved in popular music. I felt for a long time that maybe it wasn’t possible. Maybe my instrument and how I was trained wouldn’t allow to join in on these pop tracks. But when Zack and I started talking about this idea of Simply Three I began to see how I could be apart of popular music in my own unique way. What I love most about it is that we can do whatever we want. We can get creative with how we play our instruments and push the boundaries of what our instruments can do. I mean, prior to Simply Three, I would have never thought that the string bass could be a percussion instrument. But I show people in every show that it can hold its own as a percussion instrument.
Final question. You also have new original music that is in the process of being recorded. Any idea when it may be finished and released to the public?
We are so excited for this original album! We truly feel it will be the representation of what our true vision of Simply Three is. We are working hard to finish this album by February or March. There is a lot of work still that needs to be done. But we promise that this will be an album unlike any other album a string ensemble has released.
Check Simply Three out on Tour
NOV 05 Straz Center Tampa, FL
NOV 11 New Jersey PAC Newark, NJ
NOV 13 University At Buffalo Center for the Arts Buffalo, NY
NOV 18 Weinberg Center for the Arts Frederick, MD
NOV 19 Ferguson Center for the Arts Newport News, VA