Here at Gear Gods, we love a good hard rock, heavy metal yarn. And just as you need the lows to appreciate the highs, the treble to rock out to the bass, sometimes you need the violins to appreciate the drums and the guitar.
Violins are making a comeback in ’22, as a clutch of brave musos are strutting their stuff on America’s corporate stages – putting the string sound front and center.
But let’s take a deep dive back in time to life before YouTube, in 1992, a time when Axl Rose still looked more like a rock god and less like Meatloaf’s younger brother. ‘Weighing in at’ (yes, that’s a reference to the Guns ’n’Roses Use Your Illusion classic, Get In The Ring) 8-minutes-and-57-seconds, November Rain is one of the longest songs to ever enter the Billboard Hot 100’s top ten. Slash is on record as saying the band originally recorded an 18-minute version off the bat.
For metalheads and hard rockers, November Rain is hands down one of the greatest rock anthems of all time. It’s the first music video from the ’90s to enjoy a billion views on YouTube, and it cost the band a cool million dollars to make. There’s Axl getting married in a white chapel (imported into Mexico because it was raining in the US at the time of the shoot), there’s Axl’s supermodel girlfriend Stephanie Seymour (in the ’90s true fame meant dating a ‘supermodel’), there’s the white dress she’s wearing… and then there’s Slash’s guitar solo, which absolutely shreds!
Coming in at the 6-and-a-half-minute mark when things start to go tits up at the wedding and the November Rain starts pouring down on the bridal party, footage of Slash atop a piano is interspersed with the New Mexico desert wedding chaos. Axl is hammering away on the piano keys at an orchestral rock concert, and Slash starts the greatest ever ’90s version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven of guitar solos.
Axl has had his fair share of career controversy as one would expect from a heavy metal heavyweight, but perhaps what he has not been given credit for is the sweeping string arrangement that accompanies Slash’s allegedly improvised guitar solo (making it all the more impressive). “Allegedly” because Slash and Rose have beefed over the song’s symphonic ballad origins.
A lot is going on in the video, but there’s time in the spotlight for the orchestra, the string section, and the conductor even. This was a rock-meets-classical-music mashup before such a thing existed. The cellos kick it off, and the violins bring it home. They are the yin to Slash’s yang.
Fast forward thirty years to now and the cool kids of today might not even recognize what a fast forward button on a tape deck would even look like. Thirty years is a long time. The pandemic has done a good job of slowing down time even further, as well as inadvertently killing the live music scene. Stadium rock bands seem to be a thing of the past, with musicians turning to social media to strut their stuff.
There’s good news though: if you’re in the Big Apple, there are artists at the epicenter of cool that are bringing back the big string sound, mixing up 90s nostalgia with modern-day EDM beats. Artists like Asher Laub, an electric violinist are pioneering the sound of intense violin music while giving smaller crowds the tunes they need to let their hair down and get their groove on as we play around with whatever we define as the ‘new normal’.
Even Dylan, before he went electric, was playing small bars in Greenwich Village, making a name for himself. Chances are that if you’re witnessing corporate entertainment NYC it’s being brought to you by Fiddlers Dream Productions and their band of merry men and women. Asher is a violin prodigy who got tired of performing classical music in concert halls and ambitiously chose the path less traveled and took classical music to the masses.
Those masses are being entertained by him as a Long Island DJ, where he combines playlists of rock ballad requests with break dancers, mixing up the nostalgic hits with new stuff that keeps audiences entertained and educated. Anyone can beatmatch on the 1s and 2 with the right tech; only Asher can do it while playing beautiful violin music while a bar-mitzvah or a Bollywood violinist-themed party is on the go. A bride walks down the aisle as the Long Island wedding DJ plays November Rain and you’ll be reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
As small gigs across America are opening up, we owe a debt of gratitude to the hard rockers like Axl Rose that paved the way for modern-day musicians to blend genres and brave new musical frontiers. We critics give music categories, while the artists break them down and blur them into one. Do yourself a favor and spend some time on social media checking out violinists like Lindsey Sterling or Nicola Benedetti and see how pedigreed musos are schooling us plebs on the classical music sound, bringing their skills into the pop culture realm.
Sure, we need the heavy guitar to mosh to. But we also need the strings section to chill out to too. We can’t all get famous making beats on FruityLoops in our bedroom. There are some classically trained musicians that are braving the local entertainment scene to showcase their art form and give us hope that happier days lie ahead.
They’re on social media, showing us how they make their music, combining their old school musical sensibilities with a new school savvy that we’re better off with now than we were in the ’90s when Netflix specials and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the lives of our favorite musicians was limited to shows like MTV Cribs.
While you’re online looking for an electric violinist to listen to, be sure to check Sea of Strings, Asher Laub’s gift to the internet ether that shows off the violin sound in sultry ways that’s just perfect to chill out to after a good night’s rock and roll.
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