Well-Strung. The name alone lets you know this isn’t your ordinary string quartet—and that’s a very good thing. But the group of hunky, gay, classical musicians, singing string quartet Well-Strung isn’t garnering national media attention and a following that includes Broadway vet Kristen Chenoweth solely based on looks—though the skin-tight tank tops they occasionally perform in might help. The New York City-based act is recognized for bridging the gap between classical and popular music with entertaining mashups, weaving hits like Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” with centuries-old tunes from Mozart and Bach.
The Weekly caught up with first violinist Edmund Bagnell ahead of Well-Strung’s October 24 performance at UNLV’s Ham Hall to discuss what it was like playing “Stacy’s Mom” parody “Chelsea’s Mom” for Hillary Clinton, and how the band is making a withering genre more accessible for today’s audiences.
In performing a fun arrangement of a classic song or mashing up orchestral and popular music, how do you choose the tracks? Some we’ll immediately get an idea, and it’ll kind of be done in five minutes. In other cases, we’ll know we want to do this piece of classical music or we want to do this pop song … Then suddenly somebody will play around with the melody, and go, “Oh, hey, that works,” and then it will evolve. It’s all music that we feel strongly about. We’re never just making something work. It’s always something that speaks to us.
Are you trying to introduce the classical genre to a new audience, or are you simply making music you love to make? I wouldn’t say we’re on a crusade to reintroduce classical music to America or anything. … It is music that really is important to us. We’ve all been playing our instruments for a long time, and these are instruments that [have] 400, almost 500 years of music tradition. … It is important to us that, yes, we always incorporate classical music in what we do. We’re going to start doing original music soon, but we would never want to lose our classical roots, if that makes sense. … And we do think it’s music people like. It’s just, people don’t know they like it. [Classical music] is just not part of who we are in 2015.
A guitarist in a rock band can totally shred it up. Can you do that playing classical on a violin? (laughs) You totally can! We used to do this Vivaldi “Summer” piece and that’s pretty rock star, I have to say—this Italian composer, writing 300 years ago. You can break bow hairs and break strings. You can really tear it up!
Well-Strung’s debut album, Popssical, was released this month. Are you already working on another album, or are you focused on touring? This past summer we started doing a lot of new songs that are not recorded on that album, which we would like to record soon. We might be recording some singles; I don’t know about recording a full album yet. I think we’ll let the dust settle a little bit.
Have any of the pop stars you’ve covered ever responded to your songs? Not yet! No, we’re still waiting. We’re hoping. We’re pushing. We’re trying. We would love it.
I know you played “Chelsea’s Mom” for Hillary Clinton. What was her reaction? She was amazing. … The same day we released the video [Chelsea and Hillary Clinton] retweeted it, and then a week later we got invited to perform the song at a fundraiser Hillary was doing. She was talking to these people and she said, “Oh my gosh, there’s my favorite band,” and came over and chatted with us. We performed the song and she came out onstage while we were performing it, and she’s just lovely. It was a really, really cool moment.
This is Well-Strung’s Vegas debut. Are you excited to come to the city? Yes! I am so excited to go to Vegas. I am going to gamble, but I am giving myself a hundred-dollar limit. (laughs) Is Celine still in Vegas?
She is. She just started a new string of shows this month. Oh my God, I’m going to book tickets. … Also, I hear Vegas has this great food scene going on, too. We love to eat, so I’ll definitely go find some great restaurants.
Why should Las Vegans come out to see what you guys do? We feel like we’re exploring new aspects of pop music and of classical music that nobody has really done before. Certainly there have been string quartets that have covered pop songs, but this aspect of kind of weaving in and out of classical to pop and really juxtaposing the two back-to-back and singing while we play, I think you can say we’re the only guys who do that.
I think it’s all music that audiences love, or find that they can love. In the case of classical music, that’s not something [they’re] used to. They find out that, “Wow, this is something that’s accessible,” and it’s good music.
Well-Strung October 24, 8 p.m., $20-$70. UNLV's Artemus W. Ham Hall, 702-895-2787.