At Market Square Park

Head banging strings: Cello Fury combines classical cello & hardcore rock stardom

Head banging strings: Cello Fury combines classical cello & hardcore rock stardom

Is there a cellist out there who started playing the string instrument with visions of rock stardom? Most likely not. It's with genteel melodies like Camille Saint-Saëns' The Swan from Le carnaval des animaux and the prelude from Bach's Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in G Major that many are first wooed to grab a bow.

Here comes Cello Fury, a cello threesome-plus-drums troupe that found a path to heavy metal, punk rock and head banging grooves. The quartet is slated to make its Houston debut at Market Square Park on Tuesday at 8 p.m. followed by a set at Notsuoh at 10:30 p.m.

Simon Cummings, Ben Muño and Nicole Myers met while they were music students refining their classical abilities under the tutelage of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra players at Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University. It was after a random school gig during which they were asked to play some cover tunes that the idea to experiment with popular styles materialized, though neither had training in this type of music. Drummer David Throckmorton, aka Throck, layers jazz, hip hop and vicious rhythms.

From concerts to recitals to informal engagements, Cello Fury emerged as a badass force, one which in 2009 performed for 60,000 sports fans as part of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens game half-time entertainment show at Heinz Field.

Who knew cello and football could mix?

 Cello Fury emerged as a badass force, one which in 2009 performed for 60,000 sports fans as part of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens game half-time entertainment show at Heinz Field.

"I heard a statistic that it's harder to land a job as a classical musician than it is to find employment as a professional football athlete," Myers tells CultureMap during a phone interview. When she was asked if she longs for a traditional chamber music setup, she explains: "We found a niche, we are successful and we are thrilled to be pursuing this genre of music."

Their classical training has served them well, Myers says. Technical feats on the cello can only be mastered through rigorous study. The group isn't shy about calling on what they learned in school to dazzle listeners with virtuosic riffs.

Music education at the college level in the mid to late '90s was in the midst of radical change. Conservatories were beginning to complement tried-and-true performance curriculum with electives that surveyed trends in the business of arts and classes that explored creativity. Out of that environment, Cello Fury developed its signature sound, one which melds tonal harmonies with driving beats and hypnotizing melodies — akin Hollywood film soundtracks.

As the musicians started to compose original music, they made a commitment to pursue a career in show biz. Cummings, who authors many of the group's tunes, wasn't a composition major. He enrolled in composition classes to dabble in this side interest, something he had been toying with through high school.

"The music itself is accessible to classical ears," Cummings explains. "The melodies are very tonal, just like you would find in a classical piece. Using the lower, more gritty end of the cello's register, I add a grungy, edgy bass."

 "Anyone who has any sort of notions about the cello, let's just say they are going to be very, very surprised."

Writing for an ensemble with three identical instruments is tricky when devising ways to affix variety and textural changes. Muño, who also pens the ensemble's songs, exploits the instrument's innate tonal range and tessitura qualities — the low octaves are growly, the middle is similar to the human voice and the extreme high notes are powerful and intense.

"One thing that sets us apart from typical rock bands is our use of different sounds and how we apply dynamics (volume)," Muño says. "All these elements allow us not to have one sound across all songs. When you hear us play different tracks, you'll know it's us, although our songs don't all sound the same."

It's during rehearsals that many of the details are finalized; there's some improvisation between the notes. Studio time often feels like a jam session when the drums are added, Muño says. 

"This isn't a classical music concert," he asserts when asked to describe what Houston audiences should expect at a Cello Fury musicale. "It's a visual show. We play standing up, we move around the stage, we head bang, we 'tear' up the cello — and the crowd gets into it.

"Anyone who has any sort of notions about the cello, let's just say they are going to be very, very surprised."

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Cello Fury will perform two concerts on Tuesday: At Market Square Park, 8 p.m. (admission is free) and at Notsuoh, 10:30 p.m. ($5). Watch the group's original music video above, "Against All Odds."

Cello Fury, press photo, hair
Cello Fury is a cello threesome-plus-drums troupe that found a path to heavy metal, punk rock and head banging grooves.  Courtesy Photo
Cello Fury, black background
In 2009, Cello Fury performed for 60,000 sports fans as part of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens game half-time entertainment show at Heinz Field. Courtesy Photo
Cello Fury, Press Photo
The quartet is slated to make its Houston debut at Market Square Park on Tuesday at 8 p.m. followed by a set at Notsuoh at 10:30 p.m. Courtesy Photo
Cello Fury, press photo, hair
Cello Fury, black background
Cello Fury, Press Photo