Tina Guo is a Grammy nominated composer, virtuoso cellist, recording artist and entrepreneur. She has played on many of the latest soundtracks including Wonder Woman, Batman vs. Superman, and many more. She recently finished an album for Sony Masterworks, which features her re-imaginations of video game music. Tina will be embarking on a live world tour with Hans Zimmer, starting in April. Game on!
You played on the Wonder Woman theme music. It sounds like electric dirty guitar, but is that a cello?
It's an electric cello actually! I have also been recording for the new Wonder Woman movie coming out, super excited about that. :)
Very cool! At age three you started learning piano and then at age seven you started learning the cello. When did you realize that playing the cello and music was a calling?
I was kind of born into the family trade, I think a lot of professional classical musicians generally are! My parents were both classical musicians and music teachers. It was never really a choice… more like…. “You play cello! Now!” [laughter]. I was forced to practice like many Asian children, but I am definitely grateful for it! I practiced for five to eight hours a day every day from when I started playing cello at seven and half. I would be practicing, and I’d hear, “Wrong note!” “Too high!!” from the next room! But, I was able to get a full scholarship to USC for classical cello performance, so I'm very grateful for that. It wasn't until I had left my parents’ home to go to college at 18, that I started experimenting and playing outside of the classical world.
A lot of people can play classical. But not many can play classical and metal.
We're all a product of our environment. When I was growing up, my parents were pretty conservative - we weren’t allowed to listen to other styles of music, it was only classical! Naturally, I became very curious about the ‘dark side’. I think it was seventh grade…. I was living in San Diego, and there was this goth kid named Luke. I was really into him. And he let me borrow the Marilyn Manson album, AntichristSuperstar. That was my first real exposure to heavy or industrial music. And I was rockin’ out to it! I'm a big believer that everything can be learned. With metal – it was the same thing. After I got to college, YouTube was an amazing tool to watch and learn about all kinds of cool musicians I’d never had exposure to before. I watched a lot of Guitar Tutorial videos, videos of Steve Vai and Yngwie!
When did you realize that you wanted to be a composer?
Well, I actually started composing cello music when I was nine. So, I did the traditional classical cello competitions, and I also did some composition competitions. I wrote a lot of cello duets, I wrote some music for piano- I’ve always been writing and composing music.
You recently signed a record deal with Sony Masterworks. Congratulations! Are there still record companies in this day and age? (laughs)
Thank you! Yeah, well it's a very different model now, because people don’t purchase music nearly as much anymore. Most music is streamed… I have been on my own, doing literally everything on nine albums - all production, self-financing to mailing out the CDs, putting together the packages etc. Right now in this moment, I’m learning to let go. It’s really nice to have a company to partner with that has a lot of resources and experience in marketing and promotion. So, for me it's really the support system and a good situation. They are really great!
Your album is based on video games theme songs. How did you come up with this idea?
I was on the Hans Zimmer Live tour last year, and my plan after the tour was to make my next album. I had just done a “Hollywood Greatest Themes” album last year, of themes from my favorite films and television shows, and before that I did the “CELLO METAL” album. Next, I wanted to do video game music. Then, Sony’s London branch came to see the opening night at Wembley Arena of Hans’ show. After the show they contacted me and said they wanted to work together and if I’d be interested in doing a video game music album! I said, “No way!”. I co-produced it with Steve Mazzaro, who is an amazing composer that works with Hans at Remote Control. He’s a Gamer and really into metal as well. He's amazing, plays so many instruments, and writes in every genre. It was a really fun creative process.
You are also a Grammy nominee. Tell me about your nominated album with Peter Kater.
So, Inner Passion is a New Age album I also released last year. It was completely improvised. Peter Kater and I had never played together before. We met only once in person, and wanted to do something together…. Peter has been Grammy nominated now for the 12th time. He’s a very respected and longstanding member of the New Age community. Previously, I had never met anyone that was capable of improvising an entire album and it was a really a fun experience to be able to make music in the moment together with no preconceptions. We did a small record release tour, all improvised- which is also a lot of fun to do- taking audience requests for things/ideas/feelings to improvise off of.
Is there anyone on your bucket list that you'd love to work with, but haven't yet?
Okay, number one is Rammstein. They are my favorite band. The music is not overly complex, but it is about the heavy groove and the feelings it brings up for me inside. They’re powerful, dark, and very masculine. I love their stage performance and I love Till’s voice. I just love all of it. I love them. Please! I want to play with Rammstein. I've been obsessed forever.
Today, a musician has to be much more than a musician, right? You have to be a video editor, marketer, producer, promoter etc. Do you have any advice for today's aspiring musicians, and, what percentage of time do you spend on the business-related stuff as opposed to the actual music?
To be completely honest, I spend more time doing the business related stuff than I do practicing the cello. So thank God, I put in those hours when I was a kid. Usually, every day I spend about six hours, doing e-mails, social media, interviews, and I do most of my own contracts. I recently signed up for Hans Zimmer’s Master Class. That to me is also part of the business, furthering your own education. I only practice cello for about two to three hours a day.
My advice to musicians is that, if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself. You have to fail and try different things, and I've had multiple failed bands…. there are so many things that I have failed that people don't see because they only see the successes. It’s important to never give up and keep trying new things- and learning about whatever it is you need so that even if you do have other people hired to help you in the future, you have a general knowledge of what it is that they’re doing.
A lot of what you do is a solitary, disciplined endeavor. How do you make time for your personal life?
What’s that? Haha! I love music and I love to work- it’s fun and play-time for me, so musical time is also my personal time- but I do love food, nature (hiking!), hanging out with friends as often as I can which is usually once a week or so, the spa, etc.
Ok, how about a rapid fire round? Pizza or sushi?
That's really hard. But I think at the moment now, it’s pizza.
Silverlake or Santa Monica?
I don't think I have ever been in Silverlake, so, Santa Monica.
Classical or heavy metal?
Oh, both! Both.
Silk or polyester?
Oh, polyester actually, because most of my clothes are polyester. Silk is too slippery. LOL!
Power walking or jogging?
Power walking. I can’t run to save my life.
Yoga or Pilates?
Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Black Sabbath or Slipknot?
The classic, Black Sabbath.
John Williams or Hans Zimmer?
Oh, no! You’re going to get me in trouble. Both!
VitaMix or Margarita Mix?
I don't drink at all so, VitaMix.
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research, Editing, Copy | Paul Goldowitz
Extending gratitude to Tina Guo.