Tina Guo has traveled the globe as a classical cellist performing in symphonies and as a soloist in front of millions. She can usually be found in the studio composing for projects such as Sherlock Holmes, CSI: NY, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. But there is another side of Tina people might be unfamiliar with; she has a huge passion for metal music. Tina’s debut metal album, Cello Metal, contains five covers of iconic metal anthems as well as five original head bangers. Preorders are available now on iTunes and the album will be released everywhere August 4th.
Why did you decide to put out a metal album?
I’ve always loved metal and industrial metal and it’s been a dream to put out a full-length album! I started writing the original songs on this album 10 years ago. The first one was “Eternal Night”. I remember writing the first version of the song in a van while driving through Australia. I was in a really cheesy crossover girl band at the time and we were doing a performing arts center tour for six weeks. I kept trying to get the band to play heavier music but they weren’t interested in playing metal or anything resembling metal so I just started writing my own music. Because I play so many different styles of music and got caught up in performing (I was in the Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour for two years, and was lucky to get to perform and travel with many different artists, and perform my own classical concerts) as well as recording for film/TV/game scores, it was hard to find the time to finish what I started until two years ago when I left the Cirque du Soleil to focus on my own musical goals. I met Frank Klepacki backstage at a Video Games Live show that we were both featured in during San Diego Comic Con in 2014. He’s an amazing video game and soundtrack composer, as well as a killer drummer, guitarist, bassist, and programmer. We kept in touch and he asked me to play on his solo metal album. I felt like we had a very similar taste in heavy music. After I recorded for his solo album, I asked him to produce and help me finish writing three songs that I never finished. These three are the first songs on the album: “Child of Genesis”, “The God Particle”, and “Eternal Night”. Frank also played the drums, rhythm guitars, bass, and keyboard on these tracks.
What song from Cello Metal are you most proud of?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite but I do love “Child of Genesis”, the opening track because it really captures the blend between Gregorian chant, medieval classical, throat singing and industrial metal. I love Rammstein so much for the energy and power in their music. I’m also very interested in ancient world music and mysticism.
What was it like working with all the guest artists that appear on Cello Metal?
I feel pretty lucky to get to have worked with so many amazing friends on the album! It was kind of a natural process and very smooth. Al Di Meola for example asked me to tour with him in Europe last year so I asked if he wanted to do a guest shred solo on one of the covers I was working on at the time, “Sanitarium”. We took an hour during rehearsals in Germany and conveniently we were in a recording studio. It was seriously mind boggling to watch his fingers fly! I took a short clip of him recording and it’s up on my YouTube page.
The super sexy and talented Nita Strauss and I first met while walking down a runway in our underwear 8 years ago. It was at a Coffin Case fashion show and I remember both of us standing next to each other in lingerie and wondering what we were doing. We were nervous, being the two musicians out of all the models. I then ran into her two years ago when we played in the video game music band Critical Hit and got to spend more time together. She’s so amazing and an awesome friend. I owe her some cello-ing on her solo album!
I met Wes Borland when we were both featured at the League of Legends World Tournament at Staples Center. There’s video of the performance up on YouTube. He’s an incredibly kind, modest, and creative artist. I had no idea he was such a talented painter too. We were playing with Danny Lohner on bass (Nine Inch Nails), Joe Letz on drums (Combichrist), The Crystal Method, and a giant symphony called the Hollywood Scoring Orchestra. We all opened the Season 3 Finals with a massive song written just for the occasion. I’m really grateful that Wes found the time to lend his talents to “Raining Blood.”
My friend Jason Charles Miller produced the five cover songs on Cello Metal and introduced me to John 5. Actually, my very first CD that I snuck into my ultra-conservative home growing up was Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar. I listened to it secretly with the volume turned down to 1 and my ear up against the boombox speaker. I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but classical music but a cute goth guy in middle school lent the album to me! Although John 5 didn’t play on that album, I first learned about him when he joined Manson’s band in 1998. Honestly I was super intimidated having been a fan for so long but when I went to John’s house and chatted and took some obligatory photos together for Facebook, I couldn’t believe how down to earth and sweet he was. Needless to say, he’s also a monster player.
John Huldt not only did the solo on “Cowboys From Hell” but he also recorded the rhythm guitars for “Raining Blood,” “The Trooper,” and “Sanitarium.” He’s one of the most versatile and talented musicians I’ve ever worked with and is also an amazing soundtrack composer! He plays in my live band as well.
On the cover songs, Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper) played the drums. I met him seven years ago when he recorded drums for the song “Queen Bee” which was remastered for this album. My friend Logan Mader (Machinehead, Soulfly) played rhythm guitars for “Cowboys From Hell” and “Iron Man” in exchange for me playing cello on his new album with his band Once Human which debuts this September. We’ve worked on many projects before and I’m really grateful for our ongoing collaboration. The awesome Marty O’Brien (Kilgore, Lita Ford) played bass on the five covers and we’ve been friends for years, having first met through Facebook. He’s another virtuoso and awesome human being!
Why did you choose these specific songs to cover on Cello Metal?
My musical background is in classical music. My eight hours of practicing a day since age seven was completely devoted to traditional European art music, so my knowledge of metal and rock was pretty limited. I wanted to explore some metal classics almost as a way to educate myself. There were so many but we narrowed them down to five. Also, it was necessary to find songs where the melodies were possible to play on the cello. Anything with too monotone of a vocal line wouldn’t work since it’d just sound really stupid playing the same note over and over on the cello!
How long did it take you to write the original tracks from Cello Metal?
I started playing around with ideas 10 years ago when I was 19 and still in college at USC for classical cello performance. As I was busy with my career in other types of music over the years, the songs just somehow never got finished. I have a huge collection of unfinished ideas in many genres that I’m getting to slowly. After meeting producer Frank Klepacki onstage at Video Games Live at San Diego Comic Con last year, he helped me finish the songs and the musical energy was right. Everything just flowed super smooth from there. I tried to work on the song ideas previously with other band projects that I’ve been involved in but there were always issues with different musical taste. I guess when it fits it fits! The two last songs on Cello Metal are re-mastered versions of previously released songs. Basically the only songs I released in the metal genre in the past decade. “Forbidden City” I wrote, deeply inspired by Rammstein, and Jason Charles Miller also produced and did additional writing on that track. “Queen Bee” is a metal version of “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” and my very first experimentation with heavy music and electric cello.
So, why metal? When did you become interested in metal music?
I don’t really know the answer to that. I think it’s just in me. To me, classical and new-age/world music (which I love) are ethereal and esoteric. Metal is more raw, carnal, visceral, pure power, adrenaline, sex. I love to explore every part of myself as a person and I guess it applies to my interests musically as well. I wasn’t actually exposed to any metal before I went to college due to not being able to get my hands on any albums. I did manage to sneak in Antichrist Superstar and also Guns n Roses’ Appetite for Destruction on a cassette tape. I also had a CD from Daft Punk that was broken and only had one functioning track that I found at a garage sale. That was the extent of my non-classical musical knowledge before age 18. When I got to college and was able to use the Internet to browse online and meet more people, my natural curiosity just went crazy. My first time in a rock club on Sunset was watching an ex of mine who played guitar in a metal band. I remember going to see them and being so intrigued by the environment and vibe of the music.
What musicians (from any genre) are your biggest influences?
Jacqueline du Pre is my favorite cellist. I must have watched her Elgar Concerto performance over 1000 times. Pure passion, music, and emotion flows through her and I love that. I love Rammstein, and also am very in awe of technical virtuosos of which there are so many. I think there’s something to be learned and admired from everyone, in every style of music. Of course I also love soundtrack/film/TV/game music, as it’s a blend of every style and genre. Epic music rocks.
When did you begin playing metal on the cello?
I started experimenting when I got to college and purchased my first electric cello from Yamaha. I remember watching YouTube videos of Yngwie and Steve Vai shredding and being mesmerized! My Rammstein discovery came later and my obsession with technical playing evolved to more of an obsession over capturing a certain feeling, or music that moved me.
After beginning on piano and violin, what drew you to the cello opposed to other instruments?
I started piano at age 3 in China. My mom is a violin teacher, so after I moved to the US at age five, I started violin lessons but I was really awful. My dad is a cello teacher so that was the next option and it was basically a situation where I was forced to play. There’s no way I would have practiced for 8 hours a day if someone wasn’t forcing me to, and I’m really really really grateful for that now. Muscle memory and learning something at a young age really makes things easier as an adult as now playing cello is a part of my body and my being. I didn’t really like playing the cello before age 18 as I saw it as something I was forced to do. Perhaps I wasn’t emotionally mature yet but I wasn’t able to see music as a way to express emotions but rather as something to be technically competitive in. I think after I was able to grow as a person and really explore myself and be exposed to more types of music and musicians, my love for playing grew. I realized it was a tool for expression and connection, and creating something larger than myself. Music is a way to connect with others on a level you can’t in day-to-day life.
You’ve played in front of some huge crowds throughout your career. Do you still experience nerves before any shows?
If I’m not nervous before a show, it’s a really bad sign. It means I don’t care anymore. I started feeling that way at one point in my life after doing a show for a long period of time and that’s when I knew I needed to leave and find a new challenge and journey.
Do you still practice every day?
Yes most of the time! I usually practice classical music, and also whatever music I’m prepping for upcoming shows. This fall I’m doing a short tour in Europe that I’ve already learned the music for. In January I’m touring with an amazing blues guitarist including two shows at Carnegie Hall (tour hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t say who!) The week immediately after, I’m doing two concerto dates playing the Saint-Saens and Haydn C Major Concertos in California and Texas. So I’m mostly focused on practicing the classical pieces. Every time I review a concerto or a piece for an upcoming performance, I try to approach it in a fresh way and see if there is phrasing that I can do differently, and possibly find new and better interpretations for the material. I also love to write new cadenzas for each time I perform a concerto that has one. Right now I’m also prepping for the Cello Metal record release show in Hollywood so it’s basically a Haydn/Black Sabbath back and forth kind of situation here at home.
What advice would you give to someone picking an instrument for the first time?
I would say that music is what you make of it. I recently purchased a Native American flute and it’s so interesting to me that the flute was designed so that it doesn’t take an incredibly large amount of time to master in order to play emotionally. However if you’re picking up a western instrument, and I’m sure the same applies actually to all instruments, I think it’s good to get the basics down and really spend time to practice those carefully. A good teacher is super important, and if that’s not possible, utilize a lot of YouTube tutorials and slow practice to make sure to build as much of a foundation as possible.