“It’s exciting! We have a lot to look forward to! It’s exciting times for Primitivity!”~Natalie Spehar
The DC-based all-cello ensemble Primitivity is a group featuring 3 classically-trained cellists (and a drummer) that’s part of a seemingly expanding genre known as cello rock. You’ll see there’s a few, but certainly more than I knew existed (I did know about Apocalyptica).
“Primitivity was just cellos”, explains cellist and leader Loren Westbrook-Fritts. “The 1st album is just a tribute to Megadeth, and I did that thing with just cello sounds–It was all acoustic, and then it grew from there into being more similar to Apocalyptica with processed cello sounds and drums, but it’s also become its own thing, different from that in the last year.”
Primitivity has existed in various forms with Westbrook-Fritts, drummer Robbie Burns and cellist Devree Lewis. Natalie Spehar is the most recent recruit.
Their first CD Plays Megadeth For Cello was, as Loren described, an all-Megadeth tribute CD and self-recorded by him, and this record, by the way, did catch the attention of Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. “He liked it a lot”, added Westbrook-Fritts. “The whole band listened to it on their bus! I gave them each a personal copy!”
Symphony of Destruction (Megadeth cover; Live at the Mansion at Strathmore, Bethesda, MD 2011)
As far as Primitivity’s compatibility with the dynamics of a rock band, Devree Lewis puts her spin on it: “Cello is great to cover the kind of music that requires a band, because we have the great bass sound, and they can sing really high. So, with 3 cellos in every song, we cover bass, middle, high at almost the exact ranges that you would find with bass, guitar, vocals. In Primitivity, we switch those out and cover it pretty well, I think.”
“It lends itself really well to being processed like that, too”, adds fellow member Natalie Spehar. “It’s not like an annoying string sound, especially using real cellos, you get a cello sound, and it’s rich, and then when you add distortion or anything on top of it, it makes it something that’s really unique, and seems to be pleasant for people listening.”
“We’re using cello with pickup”, added Westbrook-Fritts, “and after that we use a lot of effects processor stuff. Actually, once the sound goes out of the pickup, it’s processed very similar to the way a regular guitar would be processed in a rock band. After that, it’s kind of like a real rock band situation when we play an electric show. When we do acoustic stuff it’s just straight-up cello.”
The group is planning on making an all-new recording, and according to Westbrook-Fritts, it won’t be a covers collection like their previous one. “Right now the way it was originally planned out, was to have it be all original tunes, because the fees associated with doing a cover CD are ridiculous, and it doesn’t help with the direction of the band, which is to be as original as possible. We play a lot of covers live, because people enjoy them, but we also get a lot of positive feedback on original music, so that’s the direction we’re going to stay in. We’re going to work on it in the summer. It will be done, give or take in the fall, depending on how quickly we can get it all finished and mastered and everything.”
“We talked about the possibility of doing a live-in-concert recording, too!” added Spehar. “We’re playing with the idea of making that happen.”
Due to regional issues, a touring Primitivity has been sort of an “impossible dream”, but there are some possible efforts to change that.
Spehar explained, “We’re all very busy doing freelance things, and 2 of us teach in public schools, so, we’re sort of glued down into the DC area, but we’ve been fortunate to do really well here, so we’ve been playing with the idea of maybe this summer or sometime soon, securing a chunk of time and going on tour somewhere. We’re working out the details, but we definitely want to expand it!”
Has playing this kind of music expanded or enhanced their playing of classical music (the other half of their music careers)?
Devree Lewis thinks so. “Since I started playing with them, I feel so much more comfortable. I also solo with the Tango Orchestra [Pan American Symphony], and it has changed the way I play with them. It reminds you that you’re there to have fun. It’s not about the performance or the nerves, it’s about the music.”
Natalie agrees, “I definitely think that this kind of playing all along has made me versatile, within a classical situation, too, it’s just more comfortable.”
Convergence (Live 2/4/12)