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Music Blog

Beside the Question: Portland Cello Project

by Austen Diamond
- Posted // 2013-01-31 - Not many bands come with a mission statement, but the Portland Cello Project do. And not many bands are up for answering a brilliant set of idiotic questions, but the Portland Cello Project sure are.

To wit, the indie chamber orchestra’s mission is: “To bring the cello to places you wouldn't normally hear it,” “to play music on the cello you wouldn't normally hear played on the instrument” and “to build bridges across all musical communities by bringing a diverse assortment of musical collaborators onstage with them.”

How successful are they at fulfilling their goals? Well, the Portland Cello Project have toured everywhere from punk clubs to sports bars to theaters, they’ve covered the likes of Pantera, Kanye West and Britney Spears, and they’ve collaborated with folks like The Dandy Warhols, Crooked Fingers and, on their current tour, Alialujah Choir. Check, check and check!

The Portland Cello Project will play The State Room Friday, Feb. 1. More info here.

But first, PCP general manager and artistic director Douglas Jenkins took some time to answer some stupid questions:

City Weekly: It seems like Portland is above the bell curve on this whole cello-player-in-every-band thing. And since you have somewhere around 10 at any given time, what does that make you?

Douglas Jenkins: Oh, no -- in that case, I suppose we're the data that should be omitted? By working too hard, did we make ourselves irrelevant to the whole?

CW: So, the cello is kind of like a big violin but way better at smuggling drugs or collectible Muffy Vanderbears across the country?

DJ: It also makes for a longer-burning fire.

CW: When you were reworking Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” in your head, rather than the line “I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one,” were you singing, “I got 99 problems, but storing sandwiches in my oversize violin ain’t one”?

DJ: Oh ... I can't come up with one better than that, so I have to go with, "Yes."

CW: Has Portland Cello Project ever been asked to do jingles?

DJ: More often, we're asked to write epic instrumental stuff to make you want to get a credit card or fly on an airplane than actual jingles. We're bad with the word thing.

CW: If you wrote a jingle for Rogue’s Voodoo Bacon Maple Ale, what would it sound like?

DJ: “Rogue, Rogue, the magical fruit. The more you eat the more you toot?”

*Editor’s note: Jenkins sent this in an e-mail a few hours after the original answers were sent:
STOP THE PRESSES!
I have better jingles. Use whichever you like best:

“Coffee and donuts when you awaken,
Now you can add beer 'cause it tastes like bacon!
Rogue's Voodoo Bacon Maple Ale!”
Or ...
“When your stomach's feeling low-spirited
Check out Rogue's Bacon Ale on the food pyramid
Beer ... now with bacon!”
Or...
“Here's one that's like a singalong anthem:
Voodoo donuts! ... Portland!
So good you'll go nuts! ... Portland!
Wish you were here! ... Portland!
Rogue artisan beer! ... Portland!
Mustache! Rain! Hiking trail!
Rogue Voodoo Bacon Maple Ale!”

CW: Would you ever rework/perform/record a Chris Brown song?

DJ: That guy writes songs? I thought he was just the star of that TV crime drama called TMZ.

CW: OK, now for a couple of real questions: You've collaborated with a number of Portland greats -- Horse Feathers, The Dandy Warhols, Laura Gibson, etc.. How is PCP reversing the typical role of symphony-band collaboration?

DJ: Well, we're a chamber group, which means we're inherently more flexible and performance is more integrated. Normal symphony-band collaboration is: The performance is booked over a year in advance; the band hires an arranger to do their work; the symphony plays it as written with minimal -- usually just dynamic -- feedback from the band. In our case, we sketch out an arrangement, play through things, and often re-write -- sometimes entirely -- the arrangements based on feedback from the artists. We never play with a conductor in collaborative work, and so the band or singer takes over that role, leading the group.

CW: Talk about the collaboration with Alialujah Choir. What should we expect to see at The State Room?

DJ: We'll join them for a few songs on their set. They'll join us playing their instruments on some of our songs -- especially the Beck stuff -- on our set. Their music is absolutely beautiful.

CW: If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?

DJ: I would make you this. And we would be admired and despised by all for the rest of our days.

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