WWBW: We're here with the fusion group PROJECT Trio! To start out, let's get an introduction from everybody.
ERIC STEPHENSON: Cool. My name is Eric Stephenson. I’m the cellist with Project Trio and this is my voice and that’s what you get.
GREG PATTILLO: And I’m Greg Pattillo. I play the flute.
PETER SEYMOUR: And this is Peter Seymour. Thanks for making time for us.
WWBW: So like I said, I’m a big fan. I know about you guys, but I’m going to be asking these questions as if I’m a reader that’s never heard of you before, which I can’t imagine, but I know we do have quite a few that have not. My first question is how is the tour going? You guys are out on tour right now?
PS: Absolutely. We just got off a nice summer session. We’ve been up to a lot of projects. We’re recording. We’re making videos and now our season just began. We’re up in the Pacific Northwest doing an educational residency at Puget Sound University. We’ve got a concert tonight, and we’re traveling all over the United States over the next three months here.
WWBW: So the nature of your tour is more educational in scope?
ES: This tour is actually a residency at a college, but everything we do has some reaching out as part of what we do. We are performing artists, but as performing artists these days it’s important to dip our toes in all kinds of different areas, so everywhere that we go, we are doing some sort of education. And that is really K through college. This trip is more focused on college students; teaching classical musicians to step outside the box. We’re actually working with the string orchestra here who are going to be performing with us.
PS: The next tour we’re going to be performing with a small youth orchestra and we also go around to different communities and go out into the community in a lot of different ways.
WWBW: How would you describe or characterize just your general concept of Project Trio, of what you guys do on a regular day-to-day basis?
PS: We call ourselves high energy chamber music. And like Peter just mentioned, it’s not only performance and writing music that touches on lots of different genres and styles, but also covering all the bases between performing and education. So we try to incorporate as many different styles and choices and teach people that there are people that still play these instruments, and these instruments are cool and they’re great to play with each other and a way to learn the language of music through collaboration and off the page and general creativity.
WWBW: That flows into my next question, There’s classical, bluegrass, blues, techno, hip-hop, and even beat poetry in what you guys play. Is it safe to assume that your listening appetites are the same as that kind of diversity, or what are you guys listening to right now?
GP: Absolutely. We really enjoy a wide swath of music. We grew up in what is now known as the golden age of hip-hop, but we’re hardcore classical musicians at a musical conservatory. We believe all musicians should be passionately listening to music. Also, a big part of what we’re out there advocating is watching live music. There’s a disconnect now between the music on your phone and watching a concert. We’re concert artists so we are out there advocating for performance music. Also we’re super into pop music. We are listening to modern day music that comes out with modern day artists and artists that have been past for hundreds of years.
WWBW: That’s great. Are there any particular favorites that you guys have right now?
PT: Favorites? Absolutely. Like, I don’t know. I’m going to just start listing all of the hot pop artists out there right now.
WWBW: Name them.
PS: Yeah, I like Kanye. Great. Rihanna. Some people that are not so current – Miles Davis, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix – even less current.
GP: Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Brad Mehldau is amazing.
ES: There are so many different artists out there playing great music.
WWBW: Would you guys say is there one bandleader in the group?
PS: Everybody plays their role in the Project Trio. One thing that’s unique about our ensemble is that it’s actually just the three of us. We don’t have agents, managers, record labels. So the three of us take on all tasks of everything that needs to get done. There’s a lot that needs to get done.
WWBW: How did you come across this particular instrumentation of flute, cello, bass? Was it just a natural fit? How did you guys – maybe a little history on how you guys met and formed as a group?
PS: The three of us met in the late ‘90s at the Cleveland Institute of Music. We were all studying classical music very intensely there as college students. But the three of us and our friend group were also into lots of different styles so during our college years where we were really focused on our classical training and classical background. We were also listening to music, hanging out playing a lot of different styles of music.
ES: We have known each other and been in each other’s lives as friends and colleagues for over 20 years now. Then we all went out and had our different careers, ups and downs, post-college and found ourselves about, now 11 or 12 years ago, in New York City where we finally all focused and got serious about making this group move forward.
WWBW: When you’re doing adaptations like the William Tell Overture, you’re leaving a good bit out. How exactly do some of these adaptations come together?
ES: We go right to the source, which is the musical score to the William Tell. We take the orchestral score and we extract the pertinent information and we don’t really write out our parts like a composer would. We extract musical entities out of it, like chord changes and melodies, bass lines. And then we mold them into our own devices. The taking away of some of the arrangement, the original, is just a way to condense it and make it a little more exciting on our end. We kind of do that with all of the different style we do. We just extract the pertinent information and practically use it in a way that – in the creative way that we can put this on the cello and the bass.
WWBW: Kind of along those lines is there a chief composer among you guys or do you write it collectively?
PETER: We write more collectively because the best person to write Greg’s flute part is Greg and the same can be said for Peter and myself. So its more that we give ourselves a framework or a canvas to paint our parts onto less than actual literal parts to play.
WWBW: You mentioned you don’t necessarily write out the parts. Do you do much improvisation during the live performances, then?
GP: There’s always an element of improvisation, but I don’t think we’ve ever walked on stage and completely 100% improvised anything. So we have kind of goal posts within our tunes and free solo sections for an individual at a time which will involve some sort of improvisation, but the rest of the tune and the form of the tune is very much planned out ahead of time.
WWBW: I notice that your presentation is very warm, engaging and often funny. Some other groups that come to mind are composers like P.D.Q. Bach, Victor Borge. Why do you suppose that comedy seems to be such a natural fit within the classical music that you guys perform?
GP: We’ve really taken it upon ourselves to be entertainers on state. We enjoy getting a rise out of the audience and we like talking about our tunes and ourselves and setting things up so people understand what we’re about. We like to play a lot of different styles so everyone kind of has some access to it. Comedy is a great icebreaker. I wouldn’t say that we’re necessarily a slapstick group per se, but we want everyone to show up and not feel awkward and not feel uncomfortable but rather be inspired and taken aback by entertaining performance.
WWBW: W would you say one of your missions is making classical music maybe less foreboding than it seems to be or do you get any kind of skepticism for that?
ES: We’re advocates of classical music. Classical music is such a broad spectrum. There’s opera and there are string quartets. Those are both classical music but very different parts of it. I’d say that mainly we’re advocates for instrumental music, however, which is kind of non-denominational in the sense that instrumental music isn’t necessarily classical, but we come from a classical background so for us it’s really easy to point things in that directions. There’s such a great wealth of repertoire from the classical music catalog and we really enjoy exploiting that.
WWBW: Do you guys have other personal things that you’re doing outside of Project Trio? Do you tour with any other symphonies or work with other orchestras?
GP: All of us are doing some other things, but our careers are very much focused on the trio. So while we dip our feet in other stuff, I speak for all three of us to say that the main component of what we’re doing is pushing this trio forward. One of the reasons we’re successful is that we are dedicated to it and focused on making it happen. And so, there are other things here and there, but I would say nothing of specific note unless anyone has something specific. But we’re very dedicated and fortunate we are able to do this as our full-time job. We don’t take that for granted either and we put our time and energy into this.
WWBW: When did the whole epiphany occur like let’s become Project Trio? And how did you respond to that internal talent of actually starting it in this group?
PS: I would say that it probably started a few years before our inception. So, you know, I would say 15 years ago and it really did come from all of us being at places in our careers where we weren’t fully musically satisfied. We hadn’t found what it is we were supposed to be doing. We were all out there trying to make our way, but most of our way came from us playing in other groups. Playing in freelance groups. Playing on the street. Playing as pick-up musicians in different places and that we finally wanted to not always be jumping onto other people’s bandwagons. But that we wanted something that was our own, something that we could run and something we could build for the future. So, yeah, a few years before we went full force, we were just having conversations about that. Having conversations and dreams of wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had this and then we started saying well if we had this, what would it be? What can we do with this? And slowly but surely, we made the first performance happen. I’ll say that from those first performances, things went very fast into more performances and to doing it at full force.
WWBW: What kind of advice would you give to readers that may be in the same situation as you were like 15 or 20 years ago? If they’re looking to do something similar?
PS: Get out there and start performing. Start performing music you like with people you like as much as possible. Don’t wait for some kind of performance to come to you. Get out there and play and if the only place you can find to play is out on the street, go out and play on the street. Because performing more and more will create the next situation. So, put yourself in as many performance situations and opportunities as you possibly can and by doing that it will inform your next decision and it will start to define you as a performer and it will start to define your performance career. But really, if you want to be a performing musician, there is nothing else you can do except start playing your instrument in front of people wherever they are.
WWBW: That is…
ES: And that means also playing in front of them on the internet too. You know, we love to play in front of people. It’s two-fold. We play directly to audiences when people are with us. But, there’s such a great whole world of engaging audiences that aren’t directly in front of you. So, it’s actually a unique opportunity and it’s a unique time in a musician’s life where there is audience out there. Go find your audience.
WWBW: Right. I mean it’s safe to say too that Greg especially got his fame at You-Tube being the beatbox flute player. Is that right?
GP: Absolutely. I was literally working at a grocery store when that happened.
WWBW: That’s pretty inspiring. That is great. So, I was perusing on your website a little bit and I’ve read a little bit about it, but can you tell us a little more about your initiatives with the studio and what that’s all about?
PS: Our studio is about to happen is just about…I don’t know, I think three more weeks at the beginning of October and this is something that we’ve been doing over the past couple of years. We started off trying to throw and were successful at throwing summer music festivals where we would get people to come for a week and we wanted to spend more time with people. So now, I believe we’re doing six weeks. Is it six weeks?
PS: Six weeks. We bring people to New York City. We give them access to studios. We have a great relationship with the You-Tube studio. We talk about modern issues like video, audio recording, finding your voice in a crowded field of musicians, and learning to survive as a musician today. We talk about things like making money. Not a lot of people talk about. We talk about…really we’re trying to connect the dots what we feel higher education, you know higher education trains musicians so well but doesn’t necessarily how to have a job after school. We can’t necessarily give people jobs, but we know how to use our city and use what we found in our past to really inspire people. We get a lot of people trying to be part of the studio and we’re excited. We’re really looking forward to the folks we got coming to see it.
WWBW: That sounds great. A real entrepreneurship for musicians it sounds like. Is there an age restriction or age limit on any of those?
PS: Really, we’re focusing on people who have pretty much already gone through a college program. So, you know, our age range has been anywhere from 21 and 22 on up. So, there’s no age restriction though. So, if you’re over 18 and you want to skip the college experience, feel free to come to the studio. But yeah, it really is for people that are trying to find themselves as performers and what an opportunity to also have an immersive New York City experience.
WWBW: That sounds awesome. So, could you guys describe what exactly the equipment that you guys play on? Like brand names or strings that you play on. Maybe just go around the room each of you just kind of describe a little bit about your equipment that you use.
ES: My Project Trio cello is a Lewis & Clark carbon fiber cello and it’s really great for touring because the cello goes in the checked baggage hold of the airplane and they try to destroy it every time. But, they haven’t destroyed this one yet.
WWBW: Is there a specific tour case you use for that?
ES: I use…It’s an English company called Stevenson. Stevenson with a V unlike my name, Stephenson with a PH. And it’s also a carbon fiber case and it’s falling apart these days. And then, I also play on a carbon fiber bow. A Coda bow.
WWBW: Oh great.
ES: So, basically all of my great that I play on is to withstand the rigors of us touring all over the world and going on airplanes.
WWBW: Yeah, I’m sure that’s very important. What about different kind of strings or accessories you use?
ES: I use some Thomastik Spirocore silver on the low CMG strings and Yardar Forte on the A and B strings. It’s not my normal cello setup but with the carbon fiber, it works well for me. Rosin is whatever I have in my case. I think right now it’s jade rosin.
WWBW: Greg, what do you play on?
GP: I’ve been so fortunate to have been a Gemeinhardt artist now for the past ten years. They are such a fantastic company and they’ve really provided me with a number of amazing flutes. I got the whole line. I have a piccolo, alto flutes, bass flutes. I’ve got closed hole flutes. I’ve got open hole flutes. I’ve got nickel flutes. I got silver-plated flutes and I got full-length flutes. But kind of the precious flutes man that they gave me, they custom made two specific flutes and I love them and I’ve been playing them. Well, one of them I’ve been playing now since the beginning and the other they just got me a very nice…I asked for a custom-made C-foot closed hole flute. Something that can really rip and burn and I love it.
WWBW: And are they all custom made or are any of them for available for some of our readers to purchase?
GP: There’s just the two specific that were custom made for me. But, I actually for my beatbox technique stuff, I find that you can get a lot of mileage on a student flute. You can get a great popping covered sound on a flute that might only cost you a couple of hundred dollars. It may be not your go-to flute if you’re rocking principal flute in an orchestra, but if you’re doing some really cool rhythmic tricks and beatboxing, you’re on a different page and I delight in being able to show up and play on a flute that a 5th grader might be playing the exact same flute. It’s like yeah. You know, this instrument, you can do whatever you want to on it. You can certainly make these crazy beatbox sounds on it. I get a big kick out of that. I’m really into inspiring the youth that the flute is cool. Sometimes, I felt as a youth the flute wasn’t the coolest instrument on the block. But, I’m out here trying to show people the way.
WWBW: And you do an awesome job at that. Are there any kind of specific cases that you use when you’re on tour too? I’m sure the flute can probably just fit into your duffle bag. Right?
GP: Yeah, actually. I have to be careful to remember the flute. You can’t even always tell it’s in the bag. You know what I’m saying? It’s not like the cello or the bass. I don’t have anything specific. Fluterscooter may be a nice bag that I use that I rep that is very cool. Do you know who that is?
WWBW: I do. Yep, I know Andrea. Uh-huh. I have a Fluterscooter bag too.
GP: Well, I kind of have a bit of a bag fetish and I was talking with her and I was like I have a really great idea for a flute bag. So, I use her bag and you know the flute doesn’t have strings or rosin or anything like that. So, I don’t really have too many accessories with the flute.
WWBW: Yeah. Okay, so how about you, Peter? What are you playing on these days?
PS: I have…my main bass is a no-name American bass from the early 1800s. I use Piastro original strings and my bow is a French HR. And when I’m on tour though, I borrow basses. So, I don’t play a similar bass or strings. Bass is very difficult to travel with. So, I play a different bass in every town.
WWBW: Is there any particular brand name that you favor or is it just truly whatever you can get your hands on?
PS: You know, it’s whatever I can get my hands on. You know, with string instruments, it’s way less about brand names. Besides actually this kind of new wave of these carbon instruments is amazing. A lot of string instruments, you know, they’re all old. So, there are brand names, but it’s not kind of brand in the same way that we think of branding. I still love my Pops rosin though. If you want a brand, I have used Pops my whole life.
WWBW: Okay. All right. Well, I think that pretty much rounds out the questions that I had. Is there anything special you guys are working on towards in the future or something else you guys you want to let our readers know about?
PS: Not necessarily. I think we covered a lot. Unless you think there’s something…if you have any follow-ups once you’ve transcribed and written, like if it seems we’re lacking in anything.
WWBW: I really appreciate you guys taking your time to do this with me and I can check this off my bucket list to tell you. I got to interview Project Trio. It was pretty cool.
PS: We’re thrilled to be in the December or holiday edition. I’m excited to see those pictures.
WWBW: Thank you guys so much and have a great day.