Rebecca Roudman and Jason Eckl are willing to play music just about anywhere. In fact, they seek out unusual places.
“We’ve played at a Nike missile base,” Eckl says. “We’ve played at the bottom of a cavern where we had to haul our stuff way down underground. And all sorts of weird things like that.”
Sometimes they do these projects as a duo, but more usually as a combo. And no matter the configuration, they always perform as Dirty Cello.
“Being as I was a classical cellist,” Roudman explains, “I thought of classical music as sort of a way you play cleanly and tastefully. And Dirty Cello is not that.” She describes their sound as “rough blues. It’s crazy up-tempo bluegrass, playing it as fast as we can.”
Both music makers are classically trained and work with area symphonies — the Santa Rosa Symphony and the Oakland Symphony for Roudman, plus the latter for Eckl, in addition to this project, and others. And while classical compositions are their “day job,” Roudman says, “My passion has been blues and hip-hop and bluegrass and gypsy music.”
Passion is the right word, too. She says, “At the end [of their shows] we’re barely holding on. At a lot of these concerts sweat is dripping down our faces.”
Roudman started experimenting with “rock cello” after being asked to be a background musician for a number of bands. “OK, this is fun,” she remembers thinking. “I like playing in these bars and these theaters. But it’d be really cool if I was the front person for that.”
She knew she was on to something around 2010 when Eckl convinced her to enter a contest, Vallejo’s Got Talent. “And I ended up winning — I was shocked. And people came up and they were like, Hey, can we buy CDs? And I was like, CDs? This is the only song I know!”
Since then Dirty Cello has played around the Bay Area and beyond, including internationally. Eckl remembers a trip to China where “we had to submit all our music to the censors. And they had to approve every song we were playing. It was kind of interesting, because they also told us: no singing allowed. So it was purely instrumental cello music. And we were trying to figure out what could possibly be subversive about instrumental cello music. Many of the pieces we had written.”
One subversive thing was their name. “Our manager [for the Chinese trip] said that would be misconstrued. So they called it Rock & Roll Cello.
Their first show was well received, based on audience response. But when the duo left the stage the manager informed them that they hadn’t played long enough. Roudman remembers her saying, “No, the contract says you have to play 50 minutes.” A man with a stopwatch literally timed each song they played.
It’s a good thing one of the band’s rules is “remain flexible.” Others include: “Say yes to as many shows as we can handle, and always be able to see the audience” — a rule that came about after they performed once in total darkness.