Dec 2011 11

 

A virtuoso in every sense of the word, Tina Guo gives ReGen a brief travelogue of where she’s been on her musical journey.

An Interview with Tina Guo

By Ilker Yücel

Classical, metal, industrial…no stone is left unturned for Tina Guo. Renowned for her exceptional skills as a cello soloist, her life and career have taken her on a journey full of the same musical diversity she exhibits in her music. Appearing in symphony orchestras around the world, including the San Diego Symphony, the Bari Symphony in Italy and the Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece, among others, Guo has earned accolades from the classical world for her expressive style and skillful precision, having even been featured on high profile film scores for Iron Man 2 and Sherlock Holmes. Crossing over into the realms of pop, rock, and metal, she’s shared the stage with some of the most revered names in the industry, all the while maintaining a rigorous schedule performing around the world for various concert events and film and television scores. Forming her own label, Guo Industries, and releasing her debut solo album, The Journey, featuring a selection of classical and soundtrack works alongside original compositions, Tina Guo is a virtuoso in every sense of the word. In this interview, Guo talks to us about her musical mindset, her affinity for industrial/metal, the current surge of classical instrumentalists in the genre, and a little of what lies ahead on her musical journey.

While you’ve touched on various genres in your work – everything from classical, new age, industrial, metal, etc. – in what ways do you feel that your experiences making music have affected your approach on your solo album?

Guo: I’ve been playing classical music since I was three, and went to USC, one of the best classical music schools, but always dreamed of breaking new ground in industrial metal music on the electric cello with a ridiculously grand theatrical show, technical virtuosity, and musical integrity…and sexiness also. [Laughs.]

I feel that metal is my flip side, my alter-ego to my classical, proper, classical cello soloist side. I love both: one is emotional, the other visceral. One is esoteric and enlightened, the other is savage and wild. As a human being and artist, I’ve always craved to fulfill both parts of my being.

What is the typical songwriting process like for you?

Guo: Most of my songs are written stream of consciousness, so I just push record and go…or I will hear an entire piece preformed and written in my head randomly, usually while driving, and then go home and record all the parts. My new solo album, The Journey, is very varied in genre; everything from classical to new age to electronic to industrial metal, and it is all different sides of me as an artist and human being expressing my soul.

Metal and industrial are both aggressive forms of music that have crossed paths on many occasions, although in the metal community, it seems that many audiences are still somewhat resistant to the idea of programming, keyboards and such. What are your thoughts on the ways in which these two genres have developed over the years into what they are now, and how much of your music reflects these feelings with regard to the more poetic, introspective, emotional aspects?

Guo: Honestly, I don’t think much about people who aren’t into this or that. I just make music, that’s all. In life, generally, I’m very analytic, but in music and art creation, I just feel and go. I just create from a space of nothingness. I don’t try to limit or categorize myself or my art. That’s something I love the most about non-classical music; it’s the freedom. My music is music; I guess there are industrial and metal elements, but there are others as well, and the sound can morph and change constantly and continuously. I love the theatricality of Rammstein. I love bigger than life. Fire. Godliness. Power. Roar!

Until recently, you were collaborating with Matt Zane of Society 1 in a band called Lotus Rising, releasing one single on iTunes and several preview songs. Without getting into any personal details on what happened with the band, what can you tell us about the ultimate fate of Lotus Rising with regards to the music? How much of your solo material – on The Journey, future releases, and your live performances – is adapted from this project?

Guo: Lotus Rising was our child for a period of time, and a lot of love and pain went into the project. In the end, it didn’t work out, and I believe Society 1 will be taking some of those songs and putting them on their new album, and I am credited. I always try to keep things on a loving and honest level, so hopefully things will stay there.

The Journey includes material written by you as well as renditions of classical works by Chopin and Rimsky-Korsakov, and a soundtrack piece you recorded. How do you feel that this combination of material best exemplifies you as an artist at this point in your life?

Guo: I didn’t plan anything. The album was just a collection of my music I had made in the past year.

Also on the album is a collaboration with Godhead’s Jason C. Miller. How did you come to work with him on ‘Forbidden City’ and how do you feel his style and experience affected your songwriting and/or production process, not just on the song, but overall?

Guo: Jason is a good friend and an amazing producer. ‘Forbidden City’ was originally recorded to have vocals over it in a previous band that we had together (before Lotus Rising), but it remained unused, so we took the track, rearranged it a bit, and I shredded over the whole thing. We worked with a great team, and I’m very happy about it and hope to work more with Jason and Jamison Boaz, who did the programming. Both of them also played guitar/bass on the track.

A little gear talk: tell us about your electric cello. It has a very interesting and unconventional design; how much of this design is functional to your playing technique, and how much of it is simply for visual aesthetic?

Guo: The new Cambiare GUO Electric Cello was visually inspired by my love for metal/industrial metal and wanting to have a fiercer-looking instrument. The playing technique is only reflected in that it has a long end-pin, since I play the electric cello standing. It’s always a challenge balancing the cello and playing it at the same time…requires some practice and experimentation with changing my arm and body positioning.

There has been a surge of classical instruments in underground alternative music thanks to artists like you, Emilie Autumn, Unwoman, Rasputina, TyLean, etc. While it is not uncommon to sample classical and orchestral sounds, to what do you attribute this wave of classical instruments appearing in goth/electronic/industrial as the leading sound as opposed to simply being a textural accompaniment?

Guo: I think that when artists come out doing something new/original or perhaps technically advanced in a way that others haven’t been able to reach before, using non-traditional instruments, it causes ripples. Everything is cause and effect. I’m sure eventually all kinds of instruments will develop as commonplace parts in underground alternative music as well as in mainstream music.

Your repertoire has been rather diverse, not only stylistically – playing in different genres as mentioned before — but also instrumentally, since the cello is commonly associated with classical music. What sorts of challenges have you encountered, professionally, and creatively, in bringing the cello into these different styles of music?

Guo: All challenges and preconceptions disappear when you make the music. I don’t feel like musicians need to limit themselves in genre, and I do these songs to express myself and to show the range of my musical capabilities. People always like to gawk at things that are different, whether in a positive excitement for new developments or frightened bigotry and closed-mindedness…or just simple curiosity. I have never cared very much for opinions that are limiting. Yes, my classical career has been harmed slightly a few times that I can recall; a symphony on the east coast cancelled my concerto date with them after seeing my photos on my website, which are extremely tame and completely clothed. I was upset at first, but honestly, in the big run, I want to bring my music and share it with as many people as possible, not just in the very small genre and world of classical music. Most people are very supportive and open-minded, as I’ve found out. I’m loving the journey.

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