Nick Zinner is known for being the wild-haired guitarist shredding on stage for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but outside of his Brooklyn band, the art punk has been busy making awesome music of his own. In addition to producing songs for bands like Bloc Party and releasing collections of photography, Nick has curated and composed his first classical piece, "41 Strings," which he will be performing for the third time since 2011 this Friday.
Three years ago, the clothing company Loomstate, commissioned Nick to compose an orchestral piece for their 41st Annual Earth Day celebration. The guitarist collaborated with Hisham Akira Bharoocha and Ben Vida of Soft Circle, who had produced the previous years percussion piece with the very original title, "40 Drums." What he came up with was an epic 45-musician piece, consisting of an army of strings, synthesizers, and drums that takes listeners on a moving journey through the four seasons.
Since the New York show, Nick has only performed his extensive orchestral production at the Sydney Opera House in 2012. This year, he will be premiering 41 Strings at the Meltdown Festival in the UK, where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played in a lobby 12 years ago. Joining his list of collaborators this time around are Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Romy Madley Croft (The XX), Gemma Thompson (Savages), Romeo Stodart (Magic Numbers), Lindsey Troy (Deap Vally), Jeff Wootton, Seye (Damon Albarn band) and Simon Tong (The Verve), in addition to students from Southbank Sinfonia and Goldsmiths, University of London.
To find out more about the 41 Strings UK debut and what Nick has been up to, I gave him a call.
From left: Seye from Damon Albarn Band, Gemma Thompson from Savages, Hannah Thurlow from 2:54, Lindsey Troy from Deep Valley, Jeff Wootton from Gorillaz and Damon Albarn Band, Romeo Stodart from Magic Numbers, Romy Madley Croft from The XX Simon Tong from The Verve, Brian Chase from YYYs, Hisham Akira Bharoocha from IIII and Soft Circle, Ryan Sawyer, Andy Macleod from White Magic
VICE: Can you tell me more about how you first came up with "41 Strings"?
The first time we did it was in 2011 for a free event that was celebrating Earth Day. They approached me to write something for it with the tagline being "41 strings." So, I wrote up this orchestral guitar epic thing. The show was really fun. That was the first time I had done anything like that. It was a pretty DIY affair, everyone we used were friends and friends of friends. We were scrambling to get all of the non-union string players. Then we got asked to do it again in 2012 at the Sydney Opera House.
So it’s been two years since your last performance.
I have wanted to do it again for a while. I put the word out and luckily Meltdown offered to put it on. It’s very exciting and kind of terrifying too. I have been rehearsing for the past two or three months, putting everything together and finding the players for it. I have an all-star band.
Is there anything different about 41 Strings this year?
I guess it is all different players with the exception of the drummers and bass. The guitar players who are playing in it automatically bring it up to a new and exciting level. I think the fact that it is one show seems to add a momentum for me. In Sydney we did it twice in one day and this is just one show, so it’s like don’t fuck up, this is it.
Have your feelings about the piece changed at all?
I think about changing or adding things or rearranging some of the string parts, but I feel like, ultimately, I don’t want to do that because it is a complete statement for what it is, so the point is to respect that. I listened to it when I was getting ready and I hadn’t listened to it in a year or something and it struck me as very powerful and emotional. I was pleasantly surprised. If anything I want to do more stuff with strings.
There are going to be student musicians involved?
Yeah, the orchestra is all young players. I think it is important because when you are playing drums and guitars, if you have a typical string section, a lot of them get mad. I prefer to use young players who are used to it.
How many times do you get to rehearse before the big performance?
Three times, I will be getting in and going straight to practice. We don’t even get to practice with the orchestra until Friday. It is all pretty intense.
How long has everyone been preparing?
It depends. Some people confirmed two months ago and then literally I got the last guitar player three days ago. A lot of the guitarists have been on tour with their band or whoever they are playing with. When I was writing it, I wanted to keep it simple so that it was something that people could learn pretty easily. The piece is inspired by the four seasons, so there a few patterns that different instruments trade off on, in the same way certain elements of the season move and feel.
What else are you working on?
I am producing a band in Mali called Songhoy Blues, from Timbuktu. They are super rad. I have to finish mixing their record. I am also doing some producing and writing stuff for the next few months, I haven’t really thought about further than that.
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