Are you among those guilty of ignoring classical music and classical instruments in an effort to avoid snooze inducing pretentious music? Well it’s time to refresh that viewpoint as amazingly original compositions and covers of artists such as The Beastie Boys and Metallica are given the string treatment.
Welcome to the world of FourPlay where preconceived notions of how a string quartet should sound need to undergo serious revision. Band members Lara Goodridge, Tim Hollo, Shenton Gregory (Shenzo) and Peter Hollo between them have a wealth of individual musical experience, which combine to create an exciting musical blend.
The transition from classical string quartet to electric string quartet may seem like a significant jump. However speaking to Peter Hollo, cellist and vocalist with FourPlay, it seems that the transition was more of a natural progression. ‘There was nothing to it, really. We were all Uni students who were into indie, rock, pop and what have you, and felt the strong desire to play that kind of music. We discovered that you could do pickups on string instruments, and as the four original members were all friends playing together anyway, we just decided we’d all get them and do some rock covers. Then the UNSW Band Comp came round at the start of 1995 and we thought we’d sign up, literally as a joke, but a serious enough one for us to put together a short set and go crazy. We did go crazy, and so did the audiences, and after being snapped up almost immediately for a support slot with Max Sharam at the Metro, would you believe, the rest is history!’
Known for their stunning original arrangements, FourPlay have also built a reputation for their interpretations of a diverse range of covers such as Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’, Radiohead’s ‘2+2=5’, and Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’. The mix between original and cover tracks continues to inspire and challenge the band. ‘The initial impetus for the band was covers, although almost from the start we’ve been doing originals too (and these days we play a greater proportion of originals than covers in most sets). We’ve certainly grown more insanely diverse as we’ve gone on. I particularly love the Radiohead cover ‘2+2=5’, which realises a long-term goal of ours to cover that band. And I enjoy playing the Mingus cover, which Shenzo introduced to us, because it lets me go a bit crazy with block jazz chords in the middle, and Shenzo’s soloing never ceases to amaze. I also love our take on the Velvet Underground’s ‘Femme Fatale’, which doesn’t get pulled out at gigs quite as much any more but is still there in our repertoire. We recently did a Sufjan Stevens cover, which was harder work than you might imagine! That man does some complex arrangements!’
Given the wide pool of songs to choose from FourPlay tend to trust in their instincts to make the right cover song selections. ‘Generally we cover a tune because we love it, or at least, one or two of us do. That said, not everything’s going to work, and we’ve developed a fairly good instinct for what will go well (for instance, driving riffs and in general a good rhythmic drive is something we can latch onto with our playing). But we also surprise each other and ourselves quite often. Sometimes we will hear something on the radio that we think will go down really well, and we will give it a go because we think it’ll attract a particular audience. But even then, we’ve got to all like the song, no kind of cynical cover choices really work for us.’
Aside from the musical tastes of current band members, line up changes over the years have also impacted on the musical styles explored by FourPlay. ‘Veren, who was in Shenzo’s role before him, was a great gypsy violin player and improviser, and added those styles and that passion to the band, while still rocking out. Shenzo is a brilliant swing jazz player and improviser, as well as having an abiding (and scary) love for cock rock. He can do the gypsy thing too, but under his influence we’ve brought more jazz and blues into the band too, as well as more experimentation with loops and effects. So our upcoming shows will feature some pretty electronic and post-rock-sounding stuff too!’
The lives of musicians are often a delicate balance between competing priorities like writing, performing, promoting and recording. So does FourPlay find the balance difficult to maintain? ‘It’s a huge challenge. And we do have other commitments, whether it’s other aspects of our lives, our families or whatever. So it’s a continual juggling act. Because we don’t all live in the same city at the moment, we have to deliberately make time for developing new material. At The Studio at The Opera House we’ll have the privilege of being able to combine performing and recording, with all three shows being recorded to multi-track and the best tracks being released as a digital EP, initially exclusively (and free) to everyone who comes along to the gigs. The future is here!’
Speaking of the future what does it hold for FourPlay? Well a series of live dates are scheduled over the coming months, including a performance at the St Kilda Festival where the atmosphere is bound to be energetic. ‘Live music is ALWAYS more exciting, for the listener as well as the musician. I listen to recorded music non-stop, and love it, and when a recording goes well (such as our latest, Now To The Future), it can pretty much capture the perfect sound, but still there’s nothing like playing to an audience that’s right there with you. Strings are pretty emotive, and the audience tends to get pulled along, and pull us along. In the studio you can tweak this here, add this bit there, and if you’re lucky you’ll end up with just what you always wanted from a song. But then you’ll get on the road, and play in a venue with great sound to a bunch of people who are there just to see you, and that’s what it’s all about.’
FourPlay brings a unique perspective and captivating intensity to the crafting of their music, thereby challenging listeners to abandon their preconceived ideas about musical styles and boundaries. With them nothing is off limits and all forms of music are given the respect and attention they deserve.
I originally wrote this article for ‘The Dwarf‘.