Interview with 2Cellos about their (much-deserved) success story
It's amazing how much can happen in a very short period of time. Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser can confirm this, because their lives were turned upside down literally overnight. It can all be blamed on Michael Jackson and their adaptation of his song Smooth Criminal , which became an overnight (well-deserved) hit on YouTube and opened the door into the music world for them. Luka and Stjepan have not changed much in the year and a half since I last spoke with them, [still] cheerful, honest, willing to joke, but at the same time very focused. We’re going to talk today about their early years, their breakthrough tothe present and the future…
Your success story, which is the success story of the 2CELLOS is all more or less known. What about before - where and how did you meet?
“We’ve been meeting at various seminars and competitions since our teenage years, and although many see us as each other’s biggest rivals and competitors, we have actually always been good friends."
So they knew each other, were competitors... were there occasions when you were competing against each other?
"Yes, of course we knew one other and we’ve actually encouraged one another - and I think this has been a very healthy rivalry (laughs). Against others, but we competed, as I recall, only once, namely in the Lions Grand Prix in Rijeka. We were two teens, and both in the finals; I [Author's note: Stjepan] I won. (Laughs) "
Luka, you're started playing cello when you were five [growing up] in Maribor; by the time you were 15, you had already started studying in Zagreb. You had graduated by the time you were eighteen?
"Actually, yes. It was exhausting. I also attended the academy in Zagreb and completed high school exams and graduated [from both high school and music academy]."
Your father was a cellist - was he the one that recognized your talent so early, and encouraged you?
"Yes, my father enrolled me in music school when I was five years old. He sometimes practiced with me, but was too nervous and anxious, so my mother, with stronger nerves, quickly became my main supporter."
Stjepan, you started in your hometown, Pula and followed a similar path as Luka - education, performances, awards, recognition at home and abroad, and involvement with the biggest names in classical music. What about the cello impressed you?
"I listened to the cello on the radio when I was a kid ... and it had a warm, pleasant sound. My mother enrolled in music school, and so it began. Later I admired the master cellists such as Rostropovich, Jacqueline Du Pre, Shafran, and others. "
I am convinced that your success will have a positive impact on young people starting to play the cello - what advice would you give them? Them and their parents?
"It's amazing how much response we receive. Children love music and, consequently, want to enroll in a music school, and learn how to become a cellist. Music schools are complaining that they don’t have enough instruments, or teachers to accept all applicants.
We are pleased by this enthusiasm. One of our goals is to bring young people to cello. Our advice? They should keep doing what makes them happy and what they love [Anyone who wants] to become a top musician (or anything else!) needs to know that there is a lot of hard work, studying and sacrifice ahead of them. At the same time, they must be able to express their creativity and discover what they love and find their own path.
How are your parents, extended family and friends dealing with your success?
"First, they are proud; like us they also sacrificed to invest in our futures, but they also are concerned that we take care of ourselves, our health, because the constant travel and performances are very hard and stressful."
Have you already experienced a moment of crisis, when it was just almost too much, and you wished you could just stop and do something else?
"Yes, there have already been some difficult times. For my entire life, I focused on cello and music, and there were moments when I wanted to quit, when things didn’t go according to plan ... But a love of music and the cello always wins. "
Stjepan, prior to your success with 2CELLOS, you were already active in pop music: you have collaborated with Oliver Dragojevic and Damir Urban and others?
"Yes, I have always been interested in venturing into other waters and have always been fascinated with the possibility of using the cello in other musical genres. Collaborate with Oliver... I'm a big fan of his, so this was a dream come true. "
Luke, you on the other hand are more at home in classical music?
"Yes, that’s probably true. I’ve played classical music my entire life; it [classical music] will always be my love and passion because it’s a part of me and I know that I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. "
I heard something about the first "2Cellos moment" happened when a mutual friend, a director from Pula, suggested that you should venture into pop waters?
"No, 2Cellos is our idea. We were looking for someone to make the spot. "
So it all began with the spot for the song Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson?
"That's right. This was the first arrangement we created together; we recorded the spot and - bam! Our lives changed overnight, and everything has been very chaotic ever since. "
The [sense of] 'Chaos' is also linked to Elton John and his call. Luka, what did it feels like when your phone rang, it showed an unknown number, and when you answered it, Elton John was on the other end?
"When he called the first time, I was obviously nervous and anxious, but in that single conversation ... I realized that I had no reason to be tense or nervous because Elton is really warm- hearted, and [even] after these  years, full of enthusiasm and above all, support."
How is it to work with him, watch him... undoubtedly one of the world's greatest musical icons?!
"It's unimaginable! It’s a unique and unparalleled experience. In a short time we learned a lot, especially how everything works and the ‘rules’ of show business! Thanks to this experience, we’re now ready for anything. It has been the ideal opportunity to see how [everything works], performing every day - in sold-out theaters and before thousands of people. Working with Elton and the whole tour [touring experience] boosted our self-confidence! "
Could you share an interesting anecdote?
"There are too many of them. (Laughs) You could write a book just about them"
How does the audience respond at concerts – does it vary by country? Is the excitement at "home" – in Ljubljana, Maribor and Zagreb, higher than in other cities? Are the Japanese fans [enthusiastic] fanatical?
"It’s more or less the same everywhere. People scream and run wild. (Laughs) But I think they’re the loudest in the US, where people at the concerts are more relaxed. "
Among the performances, which ones are special [to you] - your fall tour, [your appearance on] the TV series Glee, performing [for Prince Charles] at Buckingham Palace?
"Ellen , Jay Leno, Glee ... every performance is unique and each one is great. It would be difficult to highlight just one. "
It’s absolutely amazing that you made all these appearances, and arranged and recorded songs for the new album, In2ition? How did you choose the songs, and what about the ones that didn’t make it onto the CD?
"It wasn’t easy, because this time we chose songs that not only suited the cello but also the guest singers and musicians. We are very happy with the final product because it came out [feeling like] the songs were written specifically for guests. We are not done; there are still many songs, since cello is a very versatile instrument with endless possibilities.”
On the first album, we only heard the sound of the two cellos; this time you elevated the sound with guitar, piano, drums and even vocals. The CD sounds great, but will it be harder at concerts?
“It will be difficult to schedule the dates with our guests, but we hope to occasionally revive the chemistry on the concert stage."
How were the guests chosen? In addition to Elton John, Zucchero and Steve Vai are the most well-known - did you chose them, or did you have help, advice from your producer, Bob Ezrin ?
"We made the choices together. We wanted Zucchero because we both like the way he sings, and because we knew that the song ‘The Book of Love,’ which was translated into Italian for the CD, would sound great. Bob helped with Steve Vai."
Speaking of Bob Ezrin, he produced your other tracks on the CD. How important was his role, since he is one of the best producers in the world, producing [among many others] Pink Floyd’s famous The Wall?
"Bob helped us create a richer sound and more interesting arrangements. Everyone contributed to the sound of the album; we’re pleased that we had great chemistry amongst us and that everything went smoothly, without any problems. "
You’ve done an arrangement of Elton’s Candle in the Wind; he sings the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Oh Well.’ Will you be doing a joint original piece?
"Our collaboration has never stopped, we will continue to work together. We recently worked on his upcoming studio album."
What about 2CELLOS own songs?
"They will come in the future."
It seems like it can’t be any other way, but you are on tour all the time [so don’t have time to work on original pieces]. How are your listeners reacting to the new music, how is it being received?
"The guests on our album [are not on tour with us], so it’s just us. Near the end, our friend, excellent drummer Dušan Kranjc joins us and then the real rock and roll show starts! "
The charity concert in Ljubljana at Cankarjev dom at the end of March sold out; in June, they were back in Slovenia – on 8 June, they played in Koper, and on 28 June will be Ljubljana in Congress Square. How do two young and successful artists look at the current situation in Slovenia and Croatia, where more and more people are facing poverty?
"Well, it’s not only in Slovenia and Croatia; in many places it’s even worse. Of course, we have a serious and heartfelt hope that the situation will improve soon. We have to think positively and move forward. We are looking forward to our performances in Slovenia and we hope that we will once again be well-received."
In the last two years, you’ve visited almost the entire world; would you like to visit some unusual locations - for example, the Great Wall in China, or the Pyramids of Giza...
"(Enthusiastically) Yes, we love unusual places and we’re more than open to such ideas."
You will certainly not be bored - what plans do you have for this year?
»A solo World tour! We’ll visit all the places where we went with Elton and some new [places], too. It will be an exciting year! "
Luka and Stjepan’s debut CD, simply titled 2CELLOS, was released last year - a quickly done response to the sudden, well-deserved success of the Smooth Criminal video; the CD was released very quickly, at least compared to this year’s In2ition and is a simpler, more modest [album] because all you hear really is 2 cellos. The selection of songs is interesting, and at times surprising - from U2 , Guns N' Roses to Muse, Coldplay , Trent Reznor [Nine Inch Nails] and of course, Michael Jackson. The first time you listen to them, it would seem that the fast masterful [performances] are more interesting, but sophisticated listeners will be much more impressed by the complex and technically demanding performances on the "slower" tracks.
In2ition was created a little more carefully, although - as is clear from the interview, in even less time, under the watchful eyes of seasoned producer Bob Ezrin. The range of music selected this time was even more varied - from their "mentor" Elton John [performing] Fleetwood Mac, [and] AC/DC and The Police all the way to Muse, Prodigy and Rihanna. While at first this might seem unnecessary, when [you] hear it, it becomes clear the sounds of the piano, guitar, drums, and various voices add depth and enhance the experience and are the perfect complement to the complex musical arrangements. The next step? In any case, [it will bring] original music; we are certain that the Luka and Stjepan have an extremely bright future.