Take a bow and rock out

They break music taboos by reinterpreting classic rock anthems on their cellos, and now they are on their way here to perform at the Malta Arts Festival. Ramona Depares interviews Stjepan Hauser, one-half of the internet sensation that is 2CELLOS. An edited version of this interview was published on The Sunday Times of Malta.

2CELLOS. Photo: Smallz Raskind

Photo: Smallz Raskind

In 2011, their rendition of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal put them on the international map, while their cover of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck racked up some 20 million views on YouTube and secured this duo’s reputation for rocking out with audience or without.

And rock out they certainly do, albeit using two cellos rather than the traditional guitar, bass, keyboard and drum combo. Croatians Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser together make up the (pretty self-explanatory) 2CELLOS, and never has rock sounded so versatile.

Their music broke down boundaries between genres in a way that many purists will disapprove of – but that all genuine music lovers will delight in. Their overnight success didn’t take long to attract the big names. From performances on the Ellen De Generes show and Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show to an appearance on hit TV show Glee, performing with Elton John and jamming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers… the duo have done it all since they shot to fame three years ago.

And now, they are set to bring this verve to Valletta with a full concert during the Malta Arts Festival.

How did you two meet – were you friends before forming a duo together? How did you decide to start playing together?

We were actually considered to be the biggest rivals, and there was always some tension between us, as well as the friendship! We met as teenagers while taking part in different competitions and masterclasses in Croatia, and the moment we met there was a strong chemistry between us.

During a summer camp that we both attended, everyone was going out and partying, while the two of us would get drunk and start playing duets together.

After camp was over, we rarely saw each other, but we still followed and compared each others’ careers and successes. Ten years later, we met in London once again; I was living there and had just finished my studies, while Luka was there reading for a Master’s degree.

Since then, we haven’t looked back. We had always wanted to do something together, but there was never really a chance because we lived in different places.

Finally, the opportunity we had been waiting for came along. We decided to change the world together and to do something unique, crazy and exciting. The first video we ever did was for Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, and our lives changed overnight.

Were either of you in other music outfits before or is this your first collaboration with another musician?

Yes, we played mostly classical combinations. Luka already played in a duet with another cellist, but they only played classical music. He was also involved in another duo with a guitar player. I myself played in a piano trio (violin, cello, piano).

You will always find conservative people and classical snobs, but who cares about them?

You are well known for the way you combine classical with rock/pop – how did you come up with the concept?

We wanted to do something that could reach a wider audience and attract young people to the cello. Most people are not aware how cool the cello can be, and how many possibilities it has. We are trying to change that and show them all the variety that a cello can create.

We didn’t want to limit ourselves to classical music, as the cello is capable of so much more than that when we use our creativity, imagination and virtuosity to the fullest.

We also had this rock animal inside of us. It was always there, even when we performed classical music. We like all kinds of music and it makes us happy that we can play so many different genres. It really is rewarding.

Was the public’s reaction immediately this positive?

Yes, we had huge support from the masses since the very start. And at the same time we didn’t lose integrity in classical music world, as the arrangements we do are even more demanding than most of the standard cello repertoire, so we got all the respect from fellow classical musicians.

Do you ever get any criticism for the mingling of the genres from purists? If yes, what is your reply?

You will always find conservative people and classical snobs, but who cares about them?

What is the biggest challenge when performing this kind of music?

Our shows are very demanding, and they take a lot of energy as it is only two of us. We have to create as full a sound as possible, trying to sound like a whole band on only two instruments, which can be very tiring.

What makes good music?

Anything that is honest and straight from the heart can touch people.

Your best experience on stage so far was – and why?

Jamming with Red Hot Chili Peppers on stage. It was an evening we will never forget as we just met on stage for the first time and started improvising together. It was so spontaneous and inspiring.

Are you fans of the bands you re-interpret? What music do you listen to when not playing?

We like all kinds of music, from rock to pop, soundtracks, classical, country… and we only cover songs that we like.