Dirty Cello: Off the Record

From China to Italy, and all over the U.S., Dirty Cello is bringing to Walnut Creek a high energy and unique spin on blues and bluegrass this summer. Vivacious cross-over cellist, and leader of the group, Rebecca Roudman gave us a little tidbit of her life as a musician, the history of Dirty Cello and her experiences traveling the world:

As a professional musician, I think people have a weird misconception about the idea of “making it.” I started out by going to college for music. It was there I got a lot of training and worked on the idea that to make it as a professional musician in the modern world, one of the keys is being a diverse player.  At one point in time, my career consisted of orchestras all over California, session work with everyone from blues musicians to 20th century post-modern avante-garde music to teaching private lessons. Using the fundamentals of my classical training I’ve been able to be employed as a musician all of my adult life. It’s a great feeling to do something I love and get paid to do it. In my mind, that’s making it.

Like many musicians, I’ve doubted my career path at times, especially when I moved into the improvising alternative world from the classical world. My first experience with this came from when I answered a Craigslist ad to play with a blues guitarist. When I got to the rehearsal and there was no sheet music, panic set in. I had been trained in a world where everything was written down and suddenly I was getting directions like, ‘Play something that sounds like the sky.” After a couple of awkward starts and a whole lot of practice at home, I really started to enjoy the freedom of improvising, including sounding like the sky.

When I felt doubt regarding putting together a project as unique as Dirty Cello, what kept me going was feedback from audience members. The early shows were really casual coffee shop style gigs and people would ask to buy a cd. It was a startling moment when that first happened, because I hadn’t even thought of recording one yet and it encouraged to keep doing was I was doing.

The first album I released was called “Rebecca Roudman – Eclectic Cello.” This predates the Dirty Cello project by a little bit during a time when I was backing up a ton of musicians from beat boxers to a Brazilian bossa nova group. I put on the cd a track from all the different people I was performing with and then put together a giant concert featuring everyone on one big night. It was a huge success and the first time I ever sold out a theater show.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Dirty Cello started?

I’m a classically trained cellist and I play with a lot of orchestras including the Oakland Symphony and the Santa Rosa Symphony.While I continue to do that, the Dirty Cello project started as a chance to really let my hair down and go wild on the cello. A few years ago, on a lark, I entered a contest called “Vallejo’s Got Talent” where I started out with a classical Bach suite and transitioned into the Scorpion’s, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” When I won the $50 first prize, I knew we were onto something.

Why is it called Dirty Cello?

When I picture the difference between classical playing and the blues and bluegrass that we play, the classical is clean, and the Dirty Cello band is the opposite. I have to constantly be careful not to start wailing away and taking solos while I’m playing Brahms with an orchestra.

 How long have you been playing the Cello?

I got started on the cello when I was 7 years old – I come from a very musical family and my Mom was putting together her own piano trio and I ended up on the cello.  When my Mom asked me if I wanted to play the cello, I had no idea what it was, but thankfully said yes.

Have you played in the Bay Area before? 

We perform close to 100 shows a year – many of them in the Bay Area. Our most recent performance in Walnut Creek was at the performance hall in Rossmoor where we do a yearly show. We specialize in odd shows in odd places. One of the most unique ones we did recently was a holiday themed concert at the bottom of Moaning Cavern up in gold country.  It was a great show, but lugging all the sound gear to the bottom of the cavern was quite a challenge since there were 235 stairs and we had to make a couple trips.

 What has been your biggest challenge as a musician? As a group?

Figuring out what we wanted Dirty Cello to sound like took a bit of experimentation. We visited heavy metal, tried out some classic

rock, threw in some Irish music, but finally settled on an eclectic mix of blues, bluegrass, and a lot of oldies.  Our fans have helped shape our sound with lots of request ideas, although we’re not ever going to play Freebird.

Do you all work other jobs in addition to touring with the group?

For most of our band members, music is a full-time occupation. From performing with orchestras to arranging, to teaching, to recording everything from soundtracks to hip hop. We’re a very diverse group, but all make our living with music.

What would you like your audiences to know about you and your music?

Every show we put on has an unplanned and improvised set list. We start the show and find out what the audience is into and then rock out to we make sure everyone has a great time. One funny example was when we got hired to fill in a spot at a festival – we got on stage and opened with some big, loud, rock n roll before realizing that unbeknownst to us, we were at a bluegrass festival. A quick retooling of the set let us finish the show in a more appropriate manner.

What are you most grateful for in your life as a musician?

I’m most grateful for the places music has taken me. Dirty Cello plays all over the world, from China to Italy to Walnut Creek!  A great example of the amazing experiences I’ve had happened a couple of years ago when a show in Italy got rained out. We thought we were going to have to cancel until the local promoter got on the phone and found us the ruins of an 13th century abbey that had been converted into a small church. We packed everybody in while being careful not to fall in the giant hole in the floor, and lit as many candles as we could find since the church had no electricity. As the crowd got settled, squeezing in tight to fit everyone, we played an unamplified show that felt magical. The feeling of sharing our music in such a unique place with a unique audience made all of the years of practice and hard work worth it.

What do you love about Bluegrass?

I feel that every genre of music has a feeling behind it. The blues let you share your troubles with the world, rock music gets your heart thumping, and bluegrass is the musical equivalent of a breath of fresh air and a smile for a friend. There’s something that is so happy about bluegrass and the rhythm just bounces.

See them play LIVE on Thursday, June 29 at Summer Sounds at the Lesher Center Plaza!

Visit their website at dirtycello.com or follow them on Facebook at Facebook.com/dirtycellomusic