Q&A with Signature Artist Simply Three: Classical Crossover
Having achieved tremendous success with their classical pop crossover covers, Simply Three (Glen McDaniel, Zack Clark, and Nick Villalobos) were kind enough to answer our questions on all things musical, including touring and their album ‘Undefined‘ that features a rich collection of original arrangements. Get to know the guys below!
You guys are classically trained with pop influences. We’d love to know what made you want to start Simply Three?
Nick: As we studied music in college each of us felt that we were being groomed to eventually win an orchestra job. For most classical musicians that is the main goal. There came a time in each of our music careers where we said to ourselves I don’t want to be in an orchestra. We didn’t want to only play classical music, and we didn’t want to be told how to play the music we were performing. We had a lot of musical ideas that we wanted to express. We knew we wanted to be performers but we also wanted to play other genres of music besides just classical.
We thought to ourselves, why don’t we play the music we love?
We love all kinds of music; rock, metal, funk, pop, rap, I think between the three of us we love every single style of music. We thought to ourselves, why don’t we play the music we love? Songs that we listen to in the car, while we work out, or just jam out to. So we started to arrange and perform the music we loved on the instruments we loved. Those instruments just happened to be the violin, cello, and bass, classical instruments one could say. I think anyone that sees us perform will see that yes we are classically trained but we don’t play our instruments in a classical way, our sound isn’t classical, and our show is nothing like a classical concert.
And that’s exactly how we want it. We get to perform the music we want, when we want, and most importantly, how we want.
What inspired to create your album ‘Undefined‘?
Zack: We have been writing bits and pieces of original songs for several years now. Although we were not composers in college, we found we had lots of original ideas over the years. I think it all began when we started improvising together just for fun. And as we had more and more fun improvising over different grooves and progressions together, I think eventually a lot of cool stuff came out.
We began recording voice memos and documenting our ideas, even if the ideas were small, short, or possibly not very good (which, trust me, most of them weren’t!). A few years ago, when we had enough musical ideas, we decided to record an original album. And we have always been inspired by bands who create original music. Our musical heroes right now are Muse, Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic, Twenty One Pilots, and Coldplay. And one thing all these bands have in common is that they write original songs (duh, right? But it’s kind of an important fact to a band like ours right now), and the music, while often following a pop structure, breaks rules, sets expectations and breaks them, and captivates listeners through unique, innovative musical techniques and sounds.
For years we were rocking out to these bands, showing each other something new we discovered about a song, and we would get really excited about these musical experiences. This happens to us all the time. And so a few years ago, it kind of boiled to the point where we felt strongly that we needed to create music of our own that did the same thing.
We finally decided to put together all those ideas we had over the years, refine them, write new ones, and produce original music of our own. So the album Undefined has lots of really unique things in it, sonically, musically, and structurally, that is kind of melting pot of influence from a lot of our favorite bands. We felt we did a lot of things that didn’t have a singular definition and that couldn’t fit into a single category; thus the title ‘Undefined.’
How different was it creating original works for this album compared to arranging pop songs?
Glen: The process is deeper when creating original works. With arranging, all the substance is already there, so it’s really just a matter of interpreting the material and finding creative sparks to make the arrangement speak differently.
Obviously with original compositions you have to find your own subject material, your own inspiration, and your own structure of voicing everything. It’s kind of like writing and delivering a speech of your own vs delivering a speech that has already been written.
Let’s talk location. The scenes in your videos are amazing, do you have a process for finding the location and creating the video?
Nick: One of us usually has an idea of what we want the video to be. Most of our videos are performance videos so we just need to find a location that fits the feeling of the song. The easiest for us has been to find something outside. This usually involves a day for scouting the locations.
It’s been really fun to visit some of the amazing landscapes of Arizona. From the forests of Prescott and Flagstaff (yes, AZ has forests), to the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, we have shown almost all the landscapes that Arizona has to offer. We want to do the Grand Canyon at some point, but we need a song that would go with it.
You had a busy fall tour schedule! What are your favorite aspects of live performance?
Zack: Yeah, we’re super excited about our fall tour! 25 cities is the most we’ve tackled in a 6-week period, so we’re hyped! One of my favorite aspects of performing live is watching the audience react to what we’re doing on stage. To me, music is something to be shared, and a live concert is the most ideal environment to share musical ideas.
When I am sharing this experience with an audience, I know that I have made an impact – and that’s what music is all about.
The audience is completely focused, receptive, and ready to hear what you have to “say,” and that is such an exciting feeling. We all have something to say, and while it’s not with our voices, music has power to speak many things to the soul. So when I look out and see that happening, the audience’s excitement fuels me even more, and it becomes this exhilarating cycle of energy, enveloped in the power of music. When I am sharing this experience with an audience, I know that I have made an impact – and that’s what music is all about.
Do you have any tips/advice for the aspiring string players and arrangers out there?
Glen: Diligence, versatility, and uniqueness are the three things that come to mind when I think of successful people in any field but particularly the arts. To expand on those three things, you need to be the hardest worker in the room and always hone your craft. It’s also very important to let all facets of the arts influence and inspire you so that you can adapt in most performance settings with ease, i.e. you want to be a pony with many tricks.
Finally, find a way to make your voice special. This is probably the hardest thing to do, but if you can find a way to stand out, success will follow.
What do you have in store for 2018?
Nick: More touring, more videos, and more original music. We of course will do more covers. We will continue to push ourselves in all aspects. Our writing, recordings, videos, and our live shows will continue to get better. We are excited to finally be sharing our originals with everyone, but we have much more to come and are excited to share it.