Q & A with Guitar & Cello Duo, Montana Skies

Guitar-Cello Classical fusion is the description of the duo, Montana Skies.  All I know is that I clicked the link and I instantly smiled.  I love cello-guitar duos; absolutely a wonderful combination of tone, color and musical textures.  I am intrigued by any ‘classical’ duo who has the nerve to mix it up!  Just what the classical world needs to spur interest and support!  (IMHO)

From the website:  “Their name, Montana Skies, is a metaphor for musical freedom, and they continue to follow their creative instincts far beyond traditional boundaries. In concert, these award winning musicians delve into music from Pink Floyd and Rush to Vivaldi, and House of the Rising Sun, as well as their own originals that have been featured everywhere from NPR to the Travel Channel. Montana Skies seemingly non-stop tour schedule has taken them all across the US as well as to Canada, Asia, and Russia; and their dedication to their musical vision has helped them build an enthusiastic grassroots fan base along the way. Combining elements of classical technique, jazz improv and the power and energy of rock n’ roll; Jonathan’s guitar wizardry and Jenn’s blazing electric cello combine to create a sound that is truly remarkable. While the music defies simple categorization, it is a fusion in the truest sense of the word. It’s been called everything from chamber rock to psychedelic strings. Whatever you want to call it, rest assured, this ain’t your grannies chamber music.”

Q & A with Jonathan (guitar)

I will bypass the obvious question, where did you meet?  I would like to jump forward to how do you keep this together?

Well, frankly, through a lot of hard work.  We have been playing music together for a long time and put out our first CD in 2000 and our first CD as Montana Skies in 2002.  We love playing live and touring as much as we possibly can, so that is how we keep it together.  Music is a passion for both of us, so despite dealing with a lot of hard circumstances on the road, it is all worth it for the chance to share our music with audiences

Cello & guitar, for me, is a mighty good combination.  I’ve had only a handful of occasions to purchase CDs of the combo and never have seen the combo live.  This must be a new experience for everyone?  Especially with your choice of repertoire.

Yes, it is.  We’re probably not the typical guitar and cello combo either.  In addition to playing the acoustic cello, Jenn also plays the 6 string electric cello, which she stands with and we also fuse the acoustic sounds with modern electronics.  (Jenn is also in an ad for the Steinberger electric cello this month in Strings Magazine.)  I use a laptop which interfaces with customizable midi pedals and we do a lot of live looping, to create ostinatos and repeating lines.  We also use our instruments percussively quite a bit.  I even whip out some screaming electric guitar distortion, which works surprisingly well on the classical guitar. Honestly, it’s not only new for the audiences, but a lot of times for us too.  We are always trying to push our boundaries and come up with creative and inspiring things.  It keeps it fresh for us too.

You mention on the website that you both compose and arrange.  This must be a real challenge; but I imagine it pays off when the arrangement works?

Yes, we love to do both.  I think by virtue of the fact that there isn’t a lot of music for cello and guitar, we have really arranged and composed most of the music that we do.  Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s fun at the same time and we don’t really feel constrained at all by pre-existing repertoire.  The sky is really the limit and we love to keep it interesting with new music.

I am downloading your Live from the “Mable Barnes Amphitheater” MP3 album from your website as I write this (major plug), you also have a DVD available?  What other projects are in the works?

Yes, we actually did that DVD in 2008.  We are going to record more videos soon.  I am not sure if we’ll do a DVD, or just release it to our fans on YouTube.  We have recently been releasing tracks directly to fans on our mailing list as well.  We just recorded 4 new tracks that are available on our site for free.  We’ll also be recording more new original pieces this summer and will probably release them as a CD in the fall.

It seems that you are very busy touring and will play just about anywhere.  Any good road stories to share?

Yes, probably too many to share here.  We’ve played in lost of interesting places.  We’ve played in concert halls, rock clubs, biker bars, for a transcendental meditation group and last summer we even played at a nudist colony.  One of the funnier stories was when we were backstage at the Seoul Arts Center, in Korea.  We had just arrived the night before on a 15 hour flight and were trying to get our bearings backstage before a performance.  Jenn came and asked me if I could figure out how to use the toilet in her dressing room.  What?? I thought..  how hard could it be.  We’ll, I came in and saw why she was having trouble.  It was completely different than what we were used to. It had lot’s of electronic buttons instead of the typical knobs.  So, I figured one of them was the flush button.  Unfortunately I can’t read Korean, so I took an educated guess.  I pushed the button and some lights started to flash and then a whirring sound as a small arm extended from the bowl. A couple of seconds later the arm started shooting water out at us, several feet in the air!!!  It was the electronic bidet.  Even worse, we couldn’t figure out how to turn it off!  Luckily the janitor was close by and helped us out.  Thank goodness we weren’t in range of the bidet. 

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