A Word With Dirty Cello’s Rebecca Roudman

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Rebecca Roudman has played cello professionally in the San Francisco Bay Area for years. Equally at home as a renowned classical cello player or on the cutting edge of pop music, Rebecca Roudman is one of the most exciting crossover cellists you’ll find today.

In addition to her classical skills, Roudman performs extensively with an amazingly diverse selection of contemporary musicians including the Jazz Mafia, Chuck Prophet, Texas blues guitarist Danny Click, DJ Amp Live of Zion I, and her own band, Dirty Cello.

I had an opportunity to interview Roudman by phone and ask her questions about Dirty Cello’s upcoming concert at the Kahilu Theatre (Feb. 21), and her passion for a diverse selection of contemporary music.

How did Dirty Cello come together and how did you settle on the name?
I was classically trained since the age of 7. In college, I was a music major and then a classical cellist. I realized that wasn’t enough for me, and wanted to do something unique, sort of put my stamp on the world. My boyfriend at the time, who’s my husband now, Jason Eckel, who’s on guitar, we started playing in little cafes where we weren’t getting paid. We realized that we had something interesting going and decided on the name Dirty Cello for a couple of reasons. Number one, I wanted to have the name cello in the band so people knew what they were getting when they came to the concert. But then I wanted the other word to be something that was not what you would associate with the cello. Dirty Cello encompasses that. It could be rock. It could be blues. It could be whatever people’s imagination is. But it does bring people to concerts. So, I think we landed on a good one.

Who are some of the band’s musical inspirations?
Definitely Jimi Hendrix! I like not only how he does rock, but also how he’s unpredictable, and we definitely like to be unpredictable in our performances. They’re never cookie-cutter. We might run out into the crowd if we feel like it. We might dance with the audience, even if they’re sitting down. We also don’t have a setlist. So, let’s say we play something rock and the audience likes that, we’ll do another rock song. Let’s say they like the blues — we’ll do another blues song. We like the unpredictability of Jimi Hendrix and we love the singing of Janis Joplin, which is what I really try to do with my lyrics.

It sounds like a very free and creative program.
We don’t do just one thing because one thing is boring. We don’t just play the blues. We’ll do bluegrass. We’ll do rock. We’ll throw in some Eastern European music. We’ll throw on a little klezmer music just for the heck of it. And I’ve even thrown in a classical piece because that’s been sometimes requested. We have a whole smorgasbord of different songs that people will hear.

You’ve played with a number of symphonies but have also shared the stage with icons like Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, and George Clinton. How does one shift genre gears so smoothly?
It’s definitely a different mindset when I’m sitting in the orchestra in my quiet part of that group. But when I’m rocking out with someone like George Clinton, I let my hair down! I just I feel like my real personality is coming through. I can just kind of improvise whatever I’m feeling on stage, and it feels very freeing. When I got to go on stage with George Clinton, who is one of the nicest famous people I’ve ever met, it felt amazing to be in such a supportive atmosphere.

Is there someone you’ve never collaborated with but would like to?
Someone like Bonnie Raitt or someone like that. We did a big blues festival, and on stage was Buddy Guy and Trombone Shorty. It would be cool to collaborate with one of them.

Have you had any weird concert experiences in your travels?
Oh, God, it never ends! This past summer, when we were in Iceland, we’d asked people for requests at the end of our concert, but I don’t think they understood the question. Then they said something in Icelandic, and we didn’t understand what it was. We kind of laughed it off. And then the audience just broke into two-part harmony of an Icelandic song. And we were kind of like, okay! We’ve had bad experiences, too, where we accidentally left our drummer in Budapest. He had to wait 10 hours in the Budapest Airport. He eventually got took business class to Barcelona and arrived two minutes before we played. The show was good, but he was not in a good mood.

Dirty Cello in concert

I guess that makes a great segue to the title of your recent album, Bad Ideas Make Great Stories.
The songs are based on all the mistakes from our travels, adventures we’ve had, or the situations we’ve been in. It’s all very kind of personal for this one song, for example, “No Regrets.” It’s a serious song. But also, kind of funny. It talks about how when we started out as a band, we never turned down a gig, ever! We just wanted to see what it was all about and really got out there and played for people. That led to a lot of awkward situations, like, for example, a marathon contacted us and said, “Hey, do you wanna play for our marathon? It’ll be for 5000 people.” And we’re like, ‘Yes! let’s do it!’ But it wasn’t like that. It was four people running by in twos and threes, and we were in a cave, like this tunnel thing. We’d start a song and they’d run by, and our song was like five seconds long. And then we found out that where they went to the bathroom was in the tunnel.

Have you modified your cello in any way to suit the shows you play?
Oh, absolutely! I used to sit when I played, but nobody could see me. I like to rock-out, dance and really move with the cello. So, Jason actually built me a custom-built stand. It’s for my carbon-fiber cello. People can now see me when I play. I can let it go. I can walk away with my violin when I’m playing and leave my cello there, and it’s fine. Sometimes it will get nice and loud and I have pedals where I can distort it. I treat it like a guitar when possible.

What would you have been if you weren’t a musician?
I’ve never been asked that. I’d say I’d be a baker and have a pastry shop except I’m terrible at cooking. So, I think it’s really good that I’ve gotten the cello player.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
Just that if people are coming to see a calm cello concert, that’s not what they’re going to get. They’re going to get something pretty badass. Some shredding cello… crazy vocals! They’re gonna get a lot of energy from the stage and they’ll leave thinking, “I’ve never seen a cello do that before!” And that’s what we’d like to do.

If you go… Have a good show!

Event: Dirty Cello in concert
When: Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 at 7 p.m.
Where: Kahilu Theatre in Waimea
Cost: $45/$25
Info: Tickets can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org, (808) 885-6868 or at the Kahilu Theatre Box Office located at 67-1186 Lindsey Road, Kamuela HI, 97643.


Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

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