Q&A with Time for Three

It's rare you come across a band as simultaneously fun and austere as Time for Three. This string trio, composed of violinists Nick Kendall and Zach De Pue and double bass player Ranaan Meyer, play the type of serene orchestral music you'd expect from a group of classical instrumentalists, but they also have an unabashed love of pop music, as evidenced by their extensive list of covers that includes Kanye West's "Stronger," Mumford and Sons' "Little Lion Man," and many others! Check out our interview below where we talk their self-titled, going viral, positive messages, and of course, a few of their favorite things!

GGM: When culling covers for the self-titled, was there any sort of criteria that drew you to these songs?

Nick: The inspiration behind this album is really about collaboration. Being signed to Universal opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of being introduced to new audiences. On the album, there are a couple Time for Three tracks and some carefully picked cover songs, but one of the things we wanted to do was collaborate with artists that are varied in their own genre as our musical tastes are. Also, since we’re an instrumental group that have appealed to people who normally don’t listen to classical music, we’ve known that having a singer would help hook ears. We wanted to be very thoughtful about who we collaborated with. The two singers are Lily & Madeline and Joshua Radin. We know them very well. I knew Josh Radin from when his first album came out. Several years ago, I saw him in a restaurant in New York City, mustered up the courage, and asked him if he’d ever thought about playing with classical musicians. In my mind, his voice is so supremely beautiful, and he’s an amazing lyricist! I couldn’t help but imagine what his voice would sound like couched in our warm, orchestral sound. He came as a guest artist on a series we curate in Indianapolis called Happy Hour at the Symphony. It went great, and when we signed this record deal, we asked him if he’d consider being on our album, and he gifted us four songs to reimagine. Lily & Madeleine also came from that series in Indianapolis. They’re signed to Sufjan Stevens’ label. We had a common interest musically and we thought of them for a very specific thing. We were thinking of doing a cover and Ranaan was inspired by Izee, the Hawaiian ukulele player who basically reinvented “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Ranaan wanted to something with a song that iconic, “Danny Boy,” similar. Lily & Madeleine came up with the vocal line and it’s been a huge favorite. Zach: Branford Marsalis was a huge influence on us early in our career. Rehearsing with him, his professionalism, his approach, he became a mentor in our lives. He was fabulous to work with. Jake Shimabukuro is a guy we double-billed with. Again, a great guy. We thought he was a natural fit. And Alisa Weilerstein is one of the great cellists of our day. She was totally game. Everyone has a connection to us one way or the other, and bonds are spread.

GGM: What’s a song that you’d love to try and arrange that you haven’t had a chance to?

Ranaan: That’s a great question. Just recently Nick and I were talking about doing “Get Lucky.” I’ll tell you what: we really have a lot of arrangements out there now. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately (I haven’t really told the guys about it), but I’m hearing a lot of great music that inspires me to write off that. There’s this song in the movie The Five Year Engagement. Hilarious scene, where the main character sings an incredible song. It’s a ridiculous point in the movie, a guy who never sings, all of a sudden gives this big song that blows everybody away. We’d love to do an arrangement of that song. But I’d love to see Time for Three do originals with that sort of power.

GGM: Speaking of originals, “Banjo Love” has a different feel from everything else on the album, and the video looks like it was so fun to film! You’re in New York having a great time playing. Why did you choose to do that sort of street-performing vibe for the video?

Nick: First off, that’s one of our favorite songs to play. Ranaan wrote that for us inspired by Bela Fleck. The video itself is interesting because there were a couple things that went into that. Like I mentioned before, part of the excitement of being with Universal is that our reach will be so huge. They were really with us in wanting to reach audiences that don’t listen to classical music. One of the things that has been a big challenge for us in the past is having people tell their friends what Time for Three is. Two violins and a double bass doesn’t cut it when you see us live. One of the things that you take away from seeing us live is the communication and spontaneity that happens between three guys that just happen to be playing string instruments. We were just three guys that wanted to have fun, initially. We didn’t even want to start a band, but we were having such a great time making our kind of music. We wanted the video to represent our chemistry, but when you see it, you realize “those guys are definitely from the classical genre, but the juxtaposition of us being in every day environments and engaging people in the kind of fun experience the three of us have, you realize it doesn’t matter if it’s at Carnegie or a train station. The video was to show the dynamics of who we are.

GGM: Can you talk a bit how the "Stronger” arrangement for Stomp Out Bullying came about?

Zach: Sure! That came about a few years ago in 2011. At the time, we wanted to do a music video with some sort of message. We tripped onto doing a story with “Stronger” about a high school student who plays the violin and isn’t that “cool.” There’s a guy who gives him a lot of trouble. As we brainstormed the idea, it just became clear that it was the right thing to do. What spawned it was when our producer was wearing a karate kid t-shirt one day and it made me think about how the Karate Kid gets picked on and how despite that, through learning discipline, he overcomes it. It made me think about what would if we did the same thing but for a musician?

GGM: I’d read that the video was inspired by your own stories. Are there direct correlations between that video and your own lives?

Nick: With string instruments, it’s not always the coolest thing. For myself, I was definitely tormented. I went to a small private school, and unfortunately there was an upper class kid who always found it easy to pick on me. The scene where the violin is used as a baseball bat is a reflection of what happened to me once. Dramatized, but similar. It’s based on real experiences, but we also realized not only instrumentalists go through this up. It’s anybody who feels like they don’t fit in because they’re creative or for whatever reason. The story, while true to us, is very broad.

GGM: We generally like to ask touring musicians about a crazy or funny road story, but yours has already gone viral! Do people stop you on the street now being like “hey I saw your video, screw that airline!” or things like that?

Zach: That definitely gave us a spike because it happened a couple weeks before our record dropped! The timing was great! As much grief as that pilot gave us, we feel like we should’ve taken him out to dinner because he ultimately did us such a service!

GGM: What is your favorite classical piece?

Nick: I can say that growing up, I had this really eclectic cassette mix. “Song of the Fates” by Johannes Brahms. I sang it in my high school choir. So gorgeous! Zach: It depends on what mood I’m in! There are a couple. Vaughn Williams' Fantasia on a Theme blows me away. If I brought one composer to a desert island, it’d be Beethoven. Ranaan: Mine would have to be Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique.

GGM: What were some of your favorite records growing up?

Ranaan: For me, the Reiner Symphony Pathetique by Tchaikovsky. The way the theme comes back in in the first movement just destroys me every single time. I’ve never heard any recording done quite like that.

GGM: What are your favorite movies?

Ranaan: I think the Big Lebowski would definitely be one we all love. All three of us love Quentin Tarantino too. Inglourious Basterds, Django, Pulp Fiction. Nick: Going back to what Ranaan said about Big Lebowski, a lot of times on the road, when we’re dealing with really upsetting moments, it’s a huge stress reliever to be able to refer back to the movie with lines that apply to the moment. One of the guys quotes Big Lebowski verbatim, and that really helps. Anchorman too!

GGM: Books?

Nick: I was given A Moveable Feast and then we got slammed, schedule-wise! I’ve mostly just been sleeping. Zach: My mom is a former high school English teacher. If I want to read a good book, I call my step-mom. She recommends me classics, like Catcher in the Rye, Grapes of Wrath. I love Mark Twain’s writing! I think it’s so clever how he gets philosophical messages out in a cool way. Ranaan: The last thing I read was Bossypants by Tina Fey. I’d recommend that.

GGM: TV Shows?

Nick: I was hook, line, and sinker into Breaking Bad. One of my friends is a producer of a TNT show called Murder in the First and I’m totally engaged in that. The first two episodes were incredible. Zach: I subscribe to HBO Go, and the cool thing with that is that you can go back and see shows like Sopranos, Newsroom, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Eastbound and Down. True Detective. Ranaan: I just finished Orange is the New Black, and I loved it.

Check out Time For Three's self-titled album here!

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