It’s not easy to get the attention of Sir Elton John, but for the stringed pop sensation 2Cellos, all it took was posting a killer YouTube video. Now they’re coming to town as members of the Rocket Man’s band. Berwin Song hears their story
First published on 27 Oct 2011. Updated on 20 Dec 2011.
With their slick hair, leather jackets and head-banging playing style, you’d think Croatian cellists Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic were always destined for rock stardom, not classical music. After a decade of concertos and recitals, the two friends got together for ‘one crazy project’ and came up with a wild, duelling cellos version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’. After posting the video on YouTube, the frenetic duo racked up five million views in three months, leading to a record contract with Sony – and a fateful call from Elton John, inviting the duo to join his tour. We talked to Hauser to find out more.
How did 2Cellos form?
‘I met Luka ten years ago [when we were] teenagers in competitions and masterclasses in Croatia. We were both playing classical music since our childhood and had separate solo careers. Although people considered us to be the biggest rivals, we were in fact always great friends and we always wanted to play together but couldn’t because we studied in different cities. It was when he came to London in September 2010 that everything exploded. We started hanging out all the time and started talking about this one crazy project.’
How did you guys come up with the idea of performing pop songs on the cello?
‘There are many reasons for that. We wanted to do something fresh and exciting, and attract as many people as possible to this great instrument, especially young people. We also wanted to revolutionise the cello and expand possibilities; in classical music, notes have existed for 200 years and you can’t change much. There are many rock and pop songs we love and since we have so much adrenaline and energy, we always wanted to rock on cello.’
And now you’re part of Elton John’s tour…
‘He saw our video and was very impressed, then he called on the phone and invited us to join him on tour! We didn’t even have to audition – we just met him in June before the start of his European tour and then we had two rehearsals before going on stage!’
What do you do during the show?
‘We open his shows and play our own arrangements – four songs for about 20 minutes – and then we join the band and play about 15 songs with him, including some of his greatest hits: “Your Song”, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”, “Levon”, “I’m Still Standing”… He has many songs with great string parts which are already written in a signature style, and also in all his beautiful slow songs, it is only him, his piano and cellos. It sounds very intimate and romantic; it gives an extra dimension. And in some songs we also invented our own stuff – “Hey Ahab”, from the new album The Union [Elton’s collaboration with Leon Russell], gets a big reaction, as everyone puts lots of energy and fun into it.’
What’s it like performing with a legend like Elton John? He’s known for sets that sometimes go over three hours!
‘Yes, his shows are so long because he has so many great songs. We manage to get some rest between the songs, but it is unbelievable how much energy he has – the older he gets, the better he is and he never gets tired! It is an amazing honour for us to be on the same stage with him, he is an icon, a living legend.’
Does the setlist change from night to night? Is there any room for improvisation? ‘Everything is planned out, so no major changes. But the performances are a bit different every night.’
Elton is also known for his flamboyant costumes – do you wear something similar?
‘Yes, very often our outfits match his, and it looks great. We haven’t worn anything too crazy so far, and neither has he. We mostly matched in colours. [We’re now] in Las Vegas, and his “Million Dollar Piano Show” features an amazing stage and lighting, the best so far. We are all dressed very elegantly, in Dolce & Gabbana suits.’
Will there be anything special for the Asia tour?
‘Yes, very often we dress in colours that represent the country that we play in, and the audience loves it.’
Any plans to feature an Elton John song on a future release?
‘Of course, on the next album for sure.’