This week Rocks Off got a hot tip from our pal Jason that the venerable Two Star Symphony would be playing an evening gig out in Houston's western territories. It had been a good while since we'd seen the local string quartet, and with our Spidey Sense tingling about big things afoot in their camp we made the trek out to CityCentre - which is quite far from the center of the city.
In fact, we were so certain something was coming down the Two Star pipeline - up the fingerboard? - Rocks Off sat down to have a chat after their two hour-long sets at the Monnalisa Bar in Hotel Sorella, where Two Star returns Sept. 14. [Ed. Note: Some answers were more collective in nature and are credited to the entire group.]
Rocks Off: That second piece you played in the second set...
Debra Brown (violin): "Another Little Terror"?
RO: Ah, we were curious about the name, because we've only ever heard it referred to by Ben Wesley as "The Hip Hop Song."
DB: We also call that the "Ass-Kicking Squad Song." If you heard that outside your window, it meant that you're about to get your ass kicked by Two Star.
Jerry Ochoa (violin): Who came up with the name?
Margaret Lejeune (cello): I don't know? I named it, but I don't remember why.
DB: I think it was after B Flat.
JO: B Flat is [Margaret's] Chihuahua.
RO: We know this is kind of a lame question, but who do you count as influences? Do you lean towards more modern or classical composers? We don't hear a lot of big John Williams craziness, but we hear some Danny Elfman.
JO: Danny Elfman is definitely an influence. Dr. Dre, Shostakovich, I think there's some Tchaikovsky in there. Danny Elfman and Dr. Dre are both deliberate influences, probably some Tom Waits and some Shostakovich.
DB: I think it's more imagery than music that is our influence.
ML: Man, I have to say though: Minor Threat. When I was little I used to sit around and learn Minor Threat and 7 Seconds songs on my cello. That's always kind of affected my playing.
RO: You mention imagery - do you see select sets of images in your head when you play certain songs?
ML: I think it's the images that make us write the songs, I don't ever see them when we're playing.
DB: There's a song called "Danny & the Black Cat." I had a superball with a skull inside of it.
ML: And a graveyard! Debra gave it to me. One day I was playing with it and it bounced up and hit her in the face.
DB: Busted my lip...
ML: Rolled out in the street and got hit by a huge truck, in Austin in front of Kerbey Lane.
DB: It was a moving truck with a crate on the front, and it wedged into the crate. There's a superball with a skull in it that's traveling around.
ML: I was in shock because it was my favorite superball I've ever had, and we lost it.
DB: All of that became "Danny & the Black Cat."
RO: Do people tell you what they imagine when they hear your songs?
Two Star Symphony: Yes, and it's never what we think. It's awesome. We have a song called "Cesare," named after a character in an old horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. And this other guy who we did a whole huge project with, Synthesia, thought it was "Caesar," and he had invented this whole Roman-emperor backstory to the entire song. That's what he was thinking of when he did this interpretive light performance to it, and the whole time we were thinking of this 1920's German horror film character who sleepwalks and kills people.
RO: We hear a lot of nautical-themed stuff. Tall ships...
JO: Well, the very first Two Star show was just Debra and Margaret, at an open-mike night in an ice cream shop where you got free ice cream if you were playing.
DB: We made everyone dress like pirates and we only had three songs to perform. But we really wanted ice cream.
ML: The Haunted Mansion at Disney World is always an influence. You know when you're looking over the stairs into the library and all the ghosts are dancing? That has been stuck in my head since I was four or five.
JO: Sometimes when we perform "Another Little Terror" one of us will say, "this was influenced by Dr. Dre and Disney's Haunted Mansion," and it always gets a laugh, but we're serious.
DB: A lot of our music now has been influenced by movement, because we get to work with ballet dancers. [Note: three of said dancers are currently in the pool adjacent to where we are talking, but a manager is about to kick them out of said pool, just before Jerry has a chance to take a dip.]
RO: So, you write while watching them perform, as opposed to their creating performances based on your music?
DB: We've done it both ways, actually.
RO: You folks occupy a pretty unique space with the recent developments in the KTRU/KUHF saga.
ML: Suckfest. You can quote me on that. I grew up listening to KTRU. The Local Show, Vinyl Frontier, on Tuesdays there used to be this show from 10 'til noon, and this guy named Jason Beck DJed the show - it was my favorite show they've ever had. But what were you going to ask?
RO: The question was really just what are your thoughts on the matter. We know you've done the silent-film concert series produced by KUHF.
ML: Right, and they're awesome.
Jo Bird (viola): I think if anybody's going to buy it, [that's] a good station to buy it. But it is completely sad.
RO: Do you think Houston needs a 24-hour classical station?
ML: No. Unfortunately, no. I could see KTRU having a classical show. I've just heard so many new bands on KTRU; it's tragic.
JB: Personally I don't listen to a lot of classical music. I might be one of those weird viola players who doesn't listen to classical music, but I like the music that's on KTRU.
TSS: We're not mad at [KUHF], it's just going to be sad that KTRU won't be there anymore. One of the first things we did was play the Local Show.
RO: What else do you have coming up? We heard the dancers sitting behind us talking about something with Dominic Walsh.
ML: It's called Terminus, and it's going to be at the Hobby Center, October 21-23. November 19th at Discovery Green we are doing five short silent films, and they'll total in length of about an hour. We're doing two [Edgar Allan] Poe films. It's the KUHF silent-film series.
RO: We do believe you're playing with Roky Moon & Bolt soon.
TSS: Oh, that's at Market Square park, September 22.
RO: Mike [Hardin, aka Roky Moon] has written an entire rock opera. Has he enlisted you yet?
TSS: Oh really? No, not yet. We're playing the opening night at Fitzgerald's. We're playing with like a bunch of metal bands. Ed. Note: The show is Sept. 24 with Golden Axe. And we're supposed to be recording with Buxton this month... on the song that's tentatively called Body Count.
RO: Do you have anything that you're really looking forward to happening?
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DB: I'm really looking forward to working with the dancers again.
JB: The silent films, definitely. Margaret's described some of them and it sounds really cool.
DB: We're also working on a project with Dan Workman [of SugarHill Studios] as well. He's always joked around about trying to join Two Star, and he said he's figured out a way to sneak into our band.
Catch up with Two Star Symphony at www.twostarsymphony.com or just stop into the newly facelifted Market Square Park September 22 for the show with Roky Moon & Bolt. The quartet is on that ol' Facebook as well.