Some might know Raphael Weinroth-Browne as live cellist of LEPROUS. But he is much more: trained classical musician with a lot of love for metal. He has contributed to more than 80 albums and soundtracks – and his fans are often impressed with cello cover versions of metal classics like Meshugga’s „Bleed“. Time to ask the multi-talent for a talk.
At what age did you start to make music?
I developed an interest in music at a very early age, probably in large part due to having been exposed to recordings in a wide variety of genres as a young child. My parents have a large and eclectic record collection, so there was always music on in the house. Even before I started learning music formally, I always believed that I would be a musician and never had any doubt about my ability to pursue this path.
Which instrument did you start with? How often did you rehearse to reach the level of today?
I began taking cello lessons when I was 9 years old. I soon started taking piano lessons and then picked up guitar, drums, and bass guitar shortly after. I went to an arts high school and then did both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in cello performance. As I grew older, I was surrounded by increasingly better musicians, and as my environment became more saturated with music, so did I become more motivated and inspired to improve and develop my playing. During my university/conservatory years in particular, I was playing cello constantly. Since I finished school in 2015, I would say I’ve been practicing less but performing more. Now I am mainly trying to focus on musical activities that fulfill me the most – I’m finding more and more that playing my own music is what makes me happy and I need to prioritize this over other things.
What were the most important steps or decisions in your musical carrier so far?
This is a big question, so I will try to highlight just a few important points. I think that studying cello at university was a huge step in my development on the instrument, but by the same token, choosing not to continue down the academic path by doing a third music degree was also a very crucial decision for me. I realized fairly early on that I needed to focus on my career and school was actually getting in the way of my professional life. In retrospect, I think the roads I have chosen to avoid have defined me the most: while most of my colleagues at school were doing orchestral auditions, I turned my back on this approach and focused on creating music in unusual musical outfits such as THE VISIT and KAMANCELLO and gained many opportunities as a result. If I had not formed THE VISIT with my partner, we would never have been offered the support slot for LEPROUS; I ended up performing alone at this show and that led to me playing on LEPROUS’ “Malina” album and touring with the band.
You were opening their gigs with a cello solo before “Bonneville” during the recent tours. Was that something that happened naturally during the first rehearsals? I mean, have you been improvising with the opening piece? I believe it differs from concert to concert (haven’t heard them all, as not all were recorded)?
Before the 2017 EU tour, Einar had proposed the idea of doing a cello intro for all of the shows. Most bands use pre-recorded music before they arrive on stage so having a live performer is fairly unusual and far more dynamic and engaging for the audience. Initially, he wanted me to start playing on the line check and continue after the rest of the band and crew had left the stage, thus blurring the lines between the line check and the actual show. This is essentially what I did throughout the 2017 tour. During the US tour this past spring, we were the opening act, so my intro was the very first part of the entire night. On the 2018 EU tour, I began every intro once the line check was complete and all or most of the band had left the stage. The show intro has evolved quite a bit over the nearly 100 concerts I’ve done with the band. I have a longer version for headlining shows and a shorter one for support slots. A large portion of the opening section is completely improvised, with some elements that remain constant from one show to the next. The looping sections have been concretized over time, although again, there is some room for flexibility, which helps if we are running behind schedule or if there are unexpected technical glitches that need to be fixed before the rest of the band enters.
What other instruments have you learnt?
I play piano/keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and some other more unusual instruments, such as the hammered dulcimer and the oud.
Are you an autodidact on those?
I would say that I am pretty natural on most string/percussion instruments and have done most of my learning outside of cello playing on my own without a teacher. There are also some cellistic techniques that I’ve developed independently as they are not traditional and thus not part of classical pedagogy.
You can make a living from playing/ performing classical music?
I am making a living solely off of music, but I play classical music very rarely these days, actually. I never advertised myself as a “classical cellist” and have always pursued more unusual paths on the cello. Forming my own groups and playing my own compositions has been more satisfying and rewarding, and I believe that taking the road less traveled and focusing on creating and not just playing has helped me stand out as a musician and provided me with opportunities to meet my musical heroes. Of course I enjoy playing a lot of the standard repertoire for cello, but I am concentrating on something that others are not already doing. It’s funny that most people assume that I am a classical musician just because of the instrument that I play for a living. I am consciously trying to break that stereotype and not be associated with any particular genre but rather with my own style and sound.
I heard, you can play almost every metal song? So, how can I imagine this bridge between classical music and metal in your life? What are your favorite metal bands and songs?
I am actually much more of a metalhead than a classical music aficionado. I don’t think I would be headbanging and playing the cello standing up while using effects pedals if I was mostly “classical” in my approach. I grew up on metal music and I think that’s why I’ve found myself playing with LEPROUS. Also, if you listen to most of my work, on a compositional level, there is a very strong influence of metal throughout. Some of my longtime favorite bands in heavy music include Meshuggah, Opeth, Tool and Gojira. I don’t really see a separation between musical genres – I just focus on music that resonates with me and try to capture something of that spirit in what I create. I also like to be able to pick up musical ideas and learn them on the fly, which has helped me in many musical contexts. In addition, I feel a certain responsibility to show people that the cello can play just about any guitar riff. When I’m on stage with LEPROUS for example, I want people to realize that it is just as much a ‘rock’ instrument as any other element of the band.
Have you ever heard about Leprous before, when they „discovered“ you and asked you to play on their album? How do you recall this moment in your memory?
Yes, actually, I was a fan of the band before meeting the guys and that’s why I accepted the offer to open for them in my hometown.
I was initially a bit taken aback since Einar and Tor Oddmund approached me literally as soon as I had stepped offstage and asked if I would be interested in recording on the next Leprous album. Of course I said yes and we immediately began discussing details; there was also some talk of touring following the release of the record. I was a bit overwhelmed by everything as it all happened very fast, but I also had an intuitive feeling that it was definitely something I needed to pursue in that moment. It’s a bit crazy to look back on this two years later and see how much has happened as a result of this unlikely encounter.
You toured with other metal or rock or prog bands in the past?
I haven’t toured as extensively with any other band as with Leprous. I’ve played on many metal and prog albums. In my opinion, the “prog” label is a very loose term, but I would say that most of my work – despite not usually employing rock instruments – falls into this category, since it is forward thinking and often an exploration of uncharted territory.
I’ve done a lot of studio work for bands in the metal and prog genres. Some notable examples include the last three releases from the Canadian band ‚Woods Of Ypres‘, the debut album from ‚Lux Terminus‘ (USA) and the forthcoming release from ‚Kadinja‘ (France).
What are you currently working on outside of LEPROUS? Somewhere in the web I read that your discography contains even more than 50 albums that you participated in in one way or the other?
I have a lot happening musically all the time outside of LEPROUS. I’m working on new material for a solo album, as well as a new THE VISIT album. KAMANCELLO has another full-length album recorded and nearly ready for release next year. With my band MUSK OX, we have written a new album and will be entering the studio at the beginning of next year to record the material. I am releasing videos of my own compositions and projects as well as cello covers on my YouTube channel every month or two. I have a studio project I am working on with a longtime friend and great recording engineer where I have thus far been playing all of the instruments. On top of this, I’m doing recording session work for a variety of artists, playing cello on film/tv soundtracks, and teaching privately/coaching young cellists when I’m home.
Actually, I’ve now played cello (and other instruments in some cases) on about 80 albums. Many of these of course feature me as a session/guest musician, which is one of the main ways I’ve been making my living over the past nearly 10 years. In most cases, what I’m playing is my own creative contribution as opposed to someone else’s arrangement. I have played on many film and tv soundtracks. I work regularly with an excellent and very established composer in Canada who has done the music for several Hollywood movies such as the recently released Rampage. I have not yet had the chance to compose for film myself, but I’ve always wanted to. I believe it will happen eventually, at the right time.
What’s you favourite Leprous song (to listen to/to play yourself)?
Admittedly, I don’t often listen to Leprous albums these days because I am playing most of the catalogue live on a fairly regular basis. It’s good to get a break from the songs when I’m not on tour with the band. Similarly, I don’t think I have a favourite song to play. We have a different setlist every night so that helps to keep things fresh and less predictable.
When you are on stage with Einar Solberg during „The Last Milestone“, must you concentrate on playing, or is there room for feelings?
Honestly, I am mostly concerned with being as in tune as possible, and providing a rock solid foundation so that he is able to follow what I’m playing. Unlike all of our other songs in Leprous, this one is not on a click track, so it’s important to listen and make sure that everything is lining up together. I don’t focus intentionally on the emotion of the piece, but it is of course always there when we play it. It’s my responsibility to take care of the technical side of playing in a live setting so that the audience can focus on experiencing the various emotions within the music.
Do you have any secret tip of bands from your own country that we might not know in Europe, but you recommend a lot (metal or not)?
Yes. A couple of these artists have already played/toured in Europe, but I highly recommend listening to all of them. Thantifaxath, Ayahuasca, Jessica Moss, The Night Watch, Civvie, Esmerine, Völur, Gates, Uxvae, Alaskan Tapes und Voga.
You play in THE VISIT with your wife. Are there plans for a new album? I believe you must have done a tour with this band? Where did this tour lead you to? I only know about a gig at Wave-Gotik-Treffen (how many visitors did you have there?)
THE VISIT was my main artistic focus from 2013-2016. We have performed in a few European countries, including France, Belgium, Germany, and Czech Republic. To answer your question, our show at Wave-Gotik-Treffen in 2016 was at the “Schauspielhaus” Leipzig in front of an audience of about 700. In the past year or so we have been less musically active, but we are building momentum again; we recently had a sold-out performance this past October at the “Cello Biennale Amsterdam”, the world’s biggest cello festival. We will begin recording a new album in early 2019 and will be performing live regularly again soon.
On this album some songs don’t have lyrics, but your wife just sings vocal sounds. What’s the concept behind this?
Actually, all of the songs on the album have lyrics – it’s only our first release “Between Worlds” that has no lyrics. Honestly, Heather is such a good singer that she can convey emotion with sound and phrasing alone. The voice can act as a purely expressive instrument and not just a vehicle for conveying words and concrete ideas. Also, the cello music I write in The Visit is extremely complicated and detailed; sometimes words don’t fit in certain contexts. In our piece Offering, it is extremely unique that the only verse in the song happens after 8 minutes. In this case, I think it has much more impact than having English text throughout.
Is the KAMANCELLO album a single project? Or will there be follow-up albums for this one as well?
KAMANCELLO is an ongoing project which began in fall 2014. We have been performing fairly regularly since then and recently made our first European appearance at the Cello Biennale Amsterdam in October. We do have a second album recorded and it will be released in the middle of 2019. We will also be making our orchestral debut next year playing with a symphony orchestra in Canada.
Why exactly the cello? Why not the violin (which can also express all feelings, I believe).
I never considered the violin as an option. I was asked if I wanted to learn the piano as a child and I said that I wanted to play the cello because it was different from the instruments people typically learn to play growing up. The violin can be beautiful as well, but I don’t think that it speaks to people as universally and on the same emotional level as the cello, and it lacks a low register, whereas the cello can play bass lines and riffs as well as very high melodies. Also, I have tried playing the violin and always found it too small and uncomfortable to play. I think that people usually gravitate towards an instrument that they connect with. I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of which instruments I wanted to play.
What makes a good musician (besides some talent and practicing, of course)?
I think that being a good musician goes way beyond practicing or talent. It has more to do with the vision and imagination of the individual as a player and/or creator. These are the qualities that interest audiences in the long term more than pure technical ability or proficiency.
I would argue that being a good player is not the same as being a good musician. There are so many great players out there but I think that great musicians have characteristics that take them beyond their instrument, such as versatility and creativity in different musical contexts, and a unique and recognizable sound or voice, something of their own that cannot be easily replicated by others. Being able to create an emotion or evoke imagery and ideas is also one of the qualities of a good musician. It is possible even with a limited technical foundation to be expressive and connect with listeners on a deep level.
What do you think makes your style of playing outstanding or unique?
For me, playing and composing are very closely intertwined, so I would say my ideas and creativity are my greatest resource as a musician. Thinking outside of the box and exploring new techniques and sounds has helped me set myself apart and develop my own musical language, particularly on the cello, where I feel like I am moving further and further away from “standard” playing and reinventing the rules based on my sensibility and preferences. As a creative person, I believe it is important to identify and capitalize on one’s strengths to be successful and fulfilled. In this regard, I have been focusing on nurturing my own authentic voice and trying to occupy uncharted musical territory instead of aiming to succeed in saturated markets or following established trends.
What’s the musical partner of your dreams that you haven’t worked with yet?
That’s an interesting question. I feel blessed to already be working with some of the most inspiring and musically compatible people I can imagine. I’ve played with so many bands and artists over the years that I’ve been able to refine who I choose to play with and say no to offers that don’t feel right anymore. I feel a particularly strong chemistry with my partners in The Visit and Kamancello. There are some musicians that I really admire, but I don’t know if they need me or if I need them. Sometimes collaborations are great on paper but not in reality. For now, I have so many good things on my plate that I wish to nurture them for the long term and make as much good music as possible.
What was the most impressive live gig (metal or not) you attended in the past years (outside of the bands that you played in/toured with)?
That’s a very tough question – I’ve definitely had the chance to see many truly memorable shows over the years. Earlier this year, I saw Colin Carr performing all 6 Bach Cello Suites in an afternoon. Anyone who knows this music (and particularly those who have played a concert of all 6 suites) understands that this is a monumental challenge. He was performing the complete suites in a few different cities for his 60th anniversary and quite frankly made it look easy. I don’t think I’ve heard such an effortless and mature performance of that music done by a single player in one afternoon. It was the real deal, and certainly something to aspire to.
What is the most fancy or most interesting mixture (crossover) of musical genres that you would like to realize one day, that you haven’t yet?
You’ve probably already heard other musicians say this in interviews, but when I’m creating new music I don’t think about genres. I find that being too aware of the conventions or hallmarks of genres and styles hinders creativity since it makes the process an overly self-conscious and deliberate one. When making new music, it’s mostly important to allow the ideas to flow naturally without judging them. The best feeling for me is creating or recording something new that I can’t easily categorize or describe to someone else. In the future, I hope to release more music where I play a variety of different instruments, and not just the cello. There will no doubt be a wide range of approaches, and it is very likely that some interesting new combinations of sounds and stylistic elements will emerge from this process. I look forward to surprising myself (and others) with the results of these future projects.
A brainstorming session at the end:
Politicians: I’m happy this isn’t my profession. I believe it is much easier as a musician to leave a positive impact on others and to inspire them to lead fuller lives.
Mythologies: H.P. Lovecraft
Techno music: Joe Satriani’s album ‚Engines Of Creation‘. I discovered that record when I was probably about 10 and I still revisit it now and then. I think it was one of the first albums to combine rock and shred guitar with electronic/techno music (long before more recent “futuristic” sounding releases by Paul Wardingham and others.)
Internet: A blessing and a curse
Yourself in 10 years: Who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
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