Born out of combating pandemic boredom, The Punk Cellist (Ian Flegge) has been crafting cello compositions of notable punk songs since the beginning of 2020. He has single handedly as well as collaborated with some friends in creating over 50 covers and full arrangements on his You Tube page, as well as performed with some of our favorite bands on stage. Punk Cellist released his first demo titled Fall '22 Demo this past fall though Over Caffeinated Records. Contributing Editor Samantha Barrett sat down with Ian Flegge to speak with him about the project and what is next for the project.
I think the first time that I came across you was when footage circulated around when you played with A Wilhelm Scream at the Fest, so tell me how this came about?
So, that started with me having breakfast with A Wilhelm Scream’s the drummer, Nick. I just kind of posed the idea because I was already going to be playing The Fest with a cello quartet. I don't know if you know Gordon Withers. He did the Jawbreaker cover record. He put a quartet together for The Fest. I had this idea of connecting the two because everyone playing cello there knew and loved A Wilhelm Scream. So that was a big plus, right? I already had “The King Is Dead” intro arranged. When I had breakfast with Nick that one time, it was a few months before Fest and I said, “Hey, Nick. I have this idea. I want to mic up the four cellos that I have at my disposal, and I want to play the intro to “The King is Dead” for your set?” and then you guys will walk out like wrestling style and then start playing. He liked the idea and he posed it to the guys, and they all loved the idea. So we had a rehearsal In New Bedford before we all went down to Florida, and yeah, we pulled it off. It was so great. We mic’d up our cellos and no one was expecting it. The crowd reaction was awesome. It was like the best moment of my life. It was magical. They asked me to play their secret set afterwards and a few other shows, I just kind of joined them on stage. They just like took me under their wing because they're awesome dudes and it was a lot of fun and I would love to do that again. It also happened again with H2O as well, when they came through Providence. I got a message from Toby. And he was like, “Hey, you coming to the show?” I was like, “Yeah!”. He's like, “Bring your cello.” The same day in the green room, about 20 minutes before the show he's like, “Alright, let's figure this out.” It was so amazing and OH MY GOD! They're all so cool you know? So it’s him, his son, Rusty, Matt and Adam, and like dude, they're all such cool guys. They let me play the intro to “Five Year Plan” and everyone knew exactly what I was doing right away. Everyone started singing along. It was another magical moment.
With this project, you've been releasing videos of your compositions on YouTube for pretty much over two years? You just released a Fall 2022 Demo, so what made you decide to put “After The Party” and “Clavicle” on this release?
I felt like they are two great songs that go together, like two kind of love songs. When it was coming out, we were pushing to put something out fairly quickly for Fest, and then it got delayed. Obviously, we should have probably expected that. They promised us 8 weeks, so we did it with 8 weeks out. We should have probably been like, alright, we're going to give that plus another like six weeks because that’s what really happened before we got the physical thing.
Yeah, this is pretty much four months now.
So that’s a lesson learned. That’s something that I've never done before.
This is my first one and I'm working with Overcaffeinated Records. He was the first guy to propose this idea to me. I had made a similar sort of agreement with a label when I was with my other punk band, and so we were like, all right, let's do this. He's been a huge help getting this released and getting me on streaming platforms. I might do another one or two smaller releases, either through streaming or also physically so it will depend on what we have as far as funding goes, as well as doing full length at some point.
I'm really looking forward to the shows in March. The March 30th show is going to be in Providence, and we just had a Brooklyn record release show.
So those are your record release shows for your Demo release?
Correct and I will also be having a Philly show planned through Overcaffeinated Records and Homebrewed events, they book a lot of acoustic shows in the Philly scene.
So that will hopefully happen in April or May. Hopefully it will be like one show every month or what the budget can afford right now. And I hope we can set some cool bands on, and we'll have some fun.
For this project will it continue to be a collaboration project for you with your idols, or is it going to be at some point a solo venture?
I'm definitely down to collaborate with anybody. Right now, it depends on my schedule at this point, during the pandemic I had a lot more free time. So unfortunately, I can only do little and shorter projects, typically solo ones, which are easier. The coordination of sending tracks, editing and all that stuff, becomes a little bit more complicated when you add more people into the mix so I haven't had as much free time to do that, unfortunately. But I would love to. One of my dreams, as the Punk Cellist, would be to have a larger orchestra playing my arrangements of these songs. I mean, that's really the goal is like pack in a theater of aging punks so they can have a nice night out and maybe not hurt their ears as much and maybe not get knocked around in the mosh pit. They can drink champagne or whatever fancy drink they want to drink, while they watch us perform like “The Decline” by NOFX or something, you know?
I think that would be so cool, but I think that dream is still kind of far away.
Well, I also think that you know what you're doing. What you are doing right now is so different than you know, the normal festy like music. We're allowed and should like different things, and I think you are different enough, but familiar enough.
Yeah, I've heard a lot of string covers of different songs and it goes so far away from the original that it loses me. I like making almost, not identical recreations, but the structure is there. It's the same. Basically, you know of the songs themselves, and I think that's really fun because then it's just the transformation of the timbre of the string instrument. You're really hearing what the bow can do and the instrument itself can do to recreate these sounds. It's something that I find very interesting just hearing it recreated like a first listen in the studio, you know what I mean? It always hits me every time. So I know I'm doing something neat when I love what I'm doing. It gives me goosebumps.
I watched some of your you tube videos. I find it so fascinating that you can take one song, and produce four different videos for different compositions, so it's almost like you're recreating different Instruments just with one instrument.
Oh, absolutely. I do feel like I have a “drum track” going with how I play rhythmically with my bow, because I can do something called a chop. That's a technique where you sort of slide the bow forward as you go down with it and you hit the string and it creates that sort of like motion or sound. It sounds kind of percussive and I can combine a note, that sort of chop technique to create like a palm muted guitar, or even like a snare drum kind of sound. I'm thinking about all of that when I'm arranging these parts.
Who does the production for your YouTube videos, and how has social media factored into your viewership?
My YouTube ones where I stack 4 videos? Oh yeah, I've been doing all of that myself. That's been my most intense learning curve in this whole process. Everything else unrelated to the music. Recording the music, I'm pretty used to doing that kind of stuff. But yeah, regarding the video and like now the transition to vertical video like with TikTok and Instagram reels, that was a whole journey for me full of confusion and pain. Oh my god, I'm still learning every day for sure.
Yeah, I've been discovered by most people is a band sharing the video that I posted of their cover. That's how I break the algorithm. Like when A Wilhelm Scream shares a post of my cover, or New Found Glory does, or Propaghandi does, Toby from H2O etc. I'll get a bump of 100 to 200 followers at a time, you know and that repeats just over and over. You do have to post a lot for that to happen. So it did take some time. I don't know how many covers over the past two years, but I think I've done about 50 covers. About 25 a year or so that is pretty good. That's always there and we're currently (me and the label guy) picking songs from that list to put out a full length later this year, Hopefully by the fall, I will have a 12-inch vinyl and hopefully a few flexis.
So many things to record in one year and that is great. I read somewhere that you started playing the cello at a really young age. So how did you fall into choosing to play the cello?
My family is very into music. My dad is a jazz guitar player. He got his Master’s degree in education and guitar performance. My mom is the director at a nonprofit theater, she's also a vocalist and piano player. I've been surrounded by music my whole life. I played the violin in 3rd grade through my school. During the Spring concert, I heard the cello for the first time, and I said “Oh my god! I love how that sounds!” It just captured me. So, I've been playing the cello since the 4th grade, from when I was like 9 years old.
That is great and I'm sure the drums and everything else just followed suit.
Yeah, that was one year later in the fifth grade for me, so around ten. I was lucky enough to have a basement to come home to, my sister was in middle school when I was in high school so I could get home at 2 PM and have like an hour to play without bothering anybody. I would just put on my CD player, and play Linkin Park, or Green Day, or Simple Plan, or like Sum 41 and I would just play drums to those songs.
How did I start the band? I played in the Rhode Island Youth Orchestra and the bass player played electric bass too. He played upright bass for the orchestra, and we got to chatting and I told him that I played drums and he's like, oh, you want to start a band? So, then we started Half Hearted Hero. So, it's funny that I met my punk buddy through the orchestra.
That's usually how that happens.
You know that's the perfect nerd meet up spot. I guess.
So, you just mentioned your other band, so how does this project differ from that?
Doing everything myself is very different. I used to really just take care of social media and take care of drums. That was all I had to really worry about, I didn't really book shows, never really dealt with the label. I just kind of generally knew what was happening. This project is definitely me jumping feet first into a lot of things. When I started doing this myself, it's also now 2023 instead of 2007, when we started right? So, there was MySpace, and we started there literally. I remember taking our first album shot or our first promotional shot for our first album, it was alongside like a main drag (road), and someone yelled out the window of their car “MYSPACE!” Yeah, people would yell that, we literally got MySpaced back in the day. There was zero promotion like there is today. Like you have to be a content creator at this point, It's kind of insane how much things have progressed in such a short amount of time with being in a band. I'm lucky, I really am, because I can wear many different hats with this project I can be an accompaniment for a band or like an acoustic thing, I can lead a band doing some sort of like punk cello karaoke thing, I can arrange parts for commissions for artists, I can play weddings etc.
Which has actually been one of my busiest things, prepping for weddings coming up. I have lots of contracts this winter prepping for the 2023 wedding season. Some people are even booking into 2024 already, so it's pretty cool. I did not expect that part, but there isn't anybody doing emo or alternative wedding music right now. That's right up my alley and I love that. I've been playing weddings since high school. My high school orchestra teacher had these wedding books with wedding music in it that she handed out to the chamber groups. Like the top players from high school orchestra and we played weddings as high schoolers. It was so cool. So that trained me for where I'm at right now currently doing that type of thing. It's really not stressful as it would be for sure if I had never done it before.
It's also cool how I've sort of taken all the stuff that I've learned as a musician growing up and sort of applied it into this one thing that all comes out of this one instrument, the cello.
So final question, what does the future look like for The Punk Cellist?
I would love to just continue collaborating with cool people doing cool music things, whatever that may be. Hopefully more shows. More covers hopefully, I hope to do more short form content just to kind of just like throw up a cool chorus of a cool song that I really like, you know, I feel like I was giving myself too much pressure to cover entire songs, I could probably post shorter snippets of songs and then kind of just had more fun with it. So I think I'm going to try and do that. I'm going to speak that into existence right now.