Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cookies. Fish and chips. Rock music and string sections.
Some things were meant to be together.
Granted, rock music and string sections arent quite as iconic a pair as those other three delectable treats. In fact, they may seem an odd couple at first glance.
But for decades, rock bands looking for a fuller sound have embraced their classical counterparts. The Beatles used strings to augment their pop genius, while The Polyphonic Spree, a 24-member pop army from Dallas, employs an upright bassist, a harpist, two violinists, a cellist and even a choir to create its happy soundscapes.
Music fans and writers have a variety of names for this hybrid: symphonic pop, chamber pop, orchestral pop (or ork-pop for short). For these people, often found lurking in record stores or at college radio stations, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds is the holy grail.
Too often, though, stringed instruments are used as an afterthought in rock music an experiment by an ambitious pop fiend, or an extravagance by a band with a load of the labels money to spend. In many cases, the sound of the strings is used as decor on an album, not as important pieces of furniture.
And that drives Ross Seligman crazy.
Seligman, a 29-year-old New Jersey native, is the leader of Echo Helstrom, the Portland-based ork-pop quintet that will play in Bend on Wednesday (see If You Go). Since he was a teenager, Seligman has wanted to incorporate strings into a rock band not as background noise but as the key element.
I have no idea (where it comes from), I just was always really attracted to it, but I also always felt like whoever was doing that wasnt doing it the way I wanted to do it, he said, citing dinosaurs like Electric Light Orchestra and The Moody Blues. The strings were always sort of padding in the background. Sort of not really important, so that if you took them away, you almost wouldnt notice.
I really wanted to figure out a way to make them just as important as everything else.
Seligman says he doesnt know where his ork-pop affinity comes from, but here are a couple good guesses: His father was a big classical music fan, often playing both Bach and rock around the house. Later, Seligman remembers digging the complex sounds of David Bowies Ziggy Stardust album.
Of course, he also had an uncle who produced world-music records for a living.
I was a big nerd when I was a kid, he said. Everybody was listening to whatever was (popular) and I was like, Check out this thing from Uganda.
When Seligman moved to Portland and began studying jazz guitar at Portland State University, he looked for potential band mates among the students around him.
Im a big believer in playing with people who are better than you, he said. I thought, Ive got to find a bunch of orchestra nerds and make a band.
It took a few years, but Seligman says he now has his dream lineup, including the classically trained Alessandra Dinu on violin and Will Amend, who plays the upright bass with a bow.
With the band in place (almost drummer Randy Rollofson has since joined), Echo Helstrom recorded its second album, The Veil, which came out last fall. Its a fine slice of ork-pop though more rock than pop with plucked violin and bass where youd expect guitar riffs and Dinus searing violin lines where youd expect a guitar solo.
I gave (all the solos) to the strings, because who wants to hear another guitar solo, man? Ive heard so many of them, Seligman said. I felt like I had to prove that it could be done in a way that wasnt a gimmick.
So Seligman has a band full of talented musicians and a lineup that has been solid for about a year. Hes got the string-driven sound hes always wanted. Hes feeling pretty good about things.
The next step? Take over the world, one nerd at a time.
My dream is that one day, in 10 years or something, Ill see little punk kids playing air violin, he said with a laugh. All of a sudden, these classical instruments will be symbols of rebellion.