Metal Chick of the Month – Tina Guo

A true metal cello Wonder Woman!

She might not be a pure Heavy Metal woman, but her superior skills and her passion for music truly make her unique. Armed with her flammable cello or with her whimsical erhu (the same two-stringed bowed musical instrument used by Taiwanese metallers Chthonic), she has been embellishing stages, movies, television and video game scores with her refined technique and stunning looks since around 1994, when her unparalleled career kicked off. Born on October 28, 1985 in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, a global financial centre and transport hub and one of the most populous cities in the world with a population of more than 24 million as of 2017, but currently residing in Los Angeles, California, United States, here comes the internationally acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Chinese-American cellist, erhuist, recording artist and composer Tina Guo (or 郭婷娜 in Chinese), a woman with a multi-faceted career and mastery in a wide range of genres, showcasing a deep and strong passion for musical exploration, artistic expression and technology. And of course, among all that, there’s still time for her to demonstrate her appreciation for our good old heavy music.

Tina Guo was born in Shanghai to father Lu-Yan Guo, a concert cellist, and mother Fei-Fei Soong, a concert violinist, both artistic directors of the California International Music and Art Festival, an annual event held in San Diego, California. She began playing piano at the age of 3 in China, but once she moved to America at the age of 5 with her family, she began violin lessons with her mother. At the age of 7, she began studying the cello under the instruction of her father, with both her parents forcing her to practice 6 to 8 hours a day. She then continued her professional cello studies with Slovenian cellist Eleonore Schoenfeld (1925–2007), one of the most influential cellists of the 20th century (who also taught Guo’s father), at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music on full scholarship.

During her freshman year, Guo started dating a guitar player of an 80’s-style classic Heavy Metal band, and after attending one of their shows one night at The Whiskey in Hollywood, she started to think about how she could incorporate the cello into the metal style, experimenting with pedals and different techniques while trying to figure out how to play the cello and sound like a guitar player. While the fingering for both instruments were virtually the same, it took her three years and many YouTube videos to figure out what she was doing. She eventually left USC in her junior year, despite having a full scholarship to attend, after she found it increasingly difficult to balance performing and going to classes. Her parents were very angry and didn’t understand her decision at the time, getting used to the idea after a while. As a matter of fact, she claims to hold a Bachelors in Metaphysical Theology with a focus on Eastern Philosphy from the International College of Metaphysical Theology, but this is an unaccredited distance learning degree mill.

Her career has reached such a complex and diverse level I’m pretty sure you’ve listened to the cello by our Asian virtuoso at least once in your lifetime in a movie score, in a video game, or in a multitude of other media platforms. Known for her distinct videos showcasing her talent against theatrical backdrops and elaborate costumes, she has already appeared in her career as a soloist with the San Diego Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra in Mexico, the Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece, the Petrobras Symphony in Brazil, and the Vancouver Island Symphony in British Columbia, not to mention her participation in the Civic Youth Orchestra at the age of 10, her performance with violinist Midori Goto in Dvorak’s American String Quartet at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and her four national tours of Mexico and Italy performing the Shostakovich, Dvorak, Haydn, and Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos. Tina endorses Larsen Strings, Yamaha, Line 6, Sennheiser, Focusrite, ENGL Amps, Voodoo Lab Pedals, Coffin Case, Samson, Reunion Blues, Analysis Plus Cables and Apogee Electronics.

Among her countless other projects and appearances as a special guest musician, some of the most interesting ones are her performance with the Tenerife Symphony and Choir in the Canary Islands performing Batman: The Dark Knight; her 2017 Australian tour with an all-girl crossover band named Metaphor; her 2008 Grammy Awards performance with the Foo Fighters; her 2011-2013 tour as the featured electric cellist with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour; her performance for the League of Legends World Championship to a sold out arena at Staples Center in Los Angeles and an audience of 33 million streaming online; playing the electric cello in a super-band with The Crystal Method, Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Danny Lohner (NIN), Joe Letz (Combichrist) and the Hollywood Scoring Orchestra; playing with Brazilian guitarist Victor Biglione in a Jimi Hendrix Tribute Concert at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro; performing as soloist on music from Vikings, Dexter, Game of Thrones, and Chicago Fire with the Krakow Symphony and Polish Radio Choir at the Krakow Film Music Festival; and completing an acoustic tour and two sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall in 2016 with Blues Legend Joe Bonamassa, as you can see in the song Black Lung Heartache.

Furthermore, Tina has already shared the stage in her career with The Tenors, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Josh Groban, John Legend, LeAnn Rimes, Chris Isaak, Il Divo, Ariana Grande, Lupe Fiasco, and Michael McDonald, among others, and has been featured as a soloist on the scores of several movies such as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Inception, Clash of the Titans, Olympus Has Fallen, Escape Plan, Sleepy Hollow, Hancock, Battle: Los Angeles, Predators and X-Men: First Class, as well as TV shows like  The Mentalist, Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, commercials for Apple, Under Armour, and countless video games. As a solo artist, Tina has already released 8 albums, those being Autumn Winds and The Journey (both in 2011), Eternity (2013), Ray of Light and A Cello Christmas (both in 2014), Inner Passion (with Peter Kater) and Cello Metal (both in 2015), and more recently Game On! (2017). Furthermore, you can enjoy some very interesting videos on YouTube where Tina shows all her skills with her erhu, such as “Tina Guo plays music from Uncharted 2 on the Erhu with the GSPO”, and “Tina Guo and Michael Barry Random Jam: Danny Boy on Erhu and Piano”, or simply enjoy some of her official videos and songs like World of Warcraft, Dragonborn, Forrest Gump: Feather Theme and Genesis Rising.

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In regards to Tina’s contributions to the metal scene, she has been featured as a guest cellist in numerous distinguished bands and projects since 2009. For instance, in 2009 she played the cello in the songs The Lone Spaniard and So Far Gone, from the album Molecular Heinosity by American Progressive Metal/Rock keyboardist Derek Sherinian; in the song I Am the Nothing, from the 2014 album The Beauty of Destruction by  American Metalcore act Devil You Know (now called Light The Torch); in the 2017 album Störtebeker, by German Heavy/Power/Progressive Metal band FB1964; in the single Let Down, from the 2011 album Secret Passion by Dutch Symphonic Gothic Metal group Imperia; in the song Duet for Electric Guitar and Electric Cello in A Minor, from the 2010 album Speed Force by American shredder Maxxxwell Carlisle; and in the 2015 album The Life I Remember, by American Groove Metal act Once Human.

Among her main influences in music, we’ll find the most diverse range of bands and artist like Rammstein, Jacqueline du Pre, System of a Down, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Lady Gaga, Apocalyptica, Metallica, Sevendust, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, just to give you an idea of how eclectic our stunning cellist is. Moreover, when asked about what music means for her, Tina said that playing music requires an intense emotional connection, and that she didn’t always have such level of creative freedom in her life due to her strict childhood with her parents, who lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution and who consequently didn’t allow her to listen to any other types of music at home besides classical music. However, it was through a critically acclaimed album by one of the aforementioned influences, the classic Antichrist Superstar by the iconic American rockstar Marilyn Manson, that she got her first taste of Industrial Metal and heavy music in general, getting to know the rebellious music by bands like Daft Punk and Guns N’ Roses from then on.

The indomitable Tina Guo is not our metal chick of the month in vain, having released in 2015 a majestic album of heavy music titled CELLO METAL, with Tina obviously on the electric cello and featuring Wes Borland and John Huldt on the guitars, Marty O’Brien (We Are The Fallen) on bass, and Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper, Alcatrazz) on drums, as well as guitarists Al Di Meola, John 5 (Marilyn Manson) and Nita Strauss (The Iron Maidens). Tina and her henchmen delivered ass-kicking cello-infused cover songs for some of the biggest metal classics with this album, which by the way took around three years to be ready, those being Iron Maiden’s The Trooper, Slayer’s Raining Blood, Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell, and Metallica’s Sanitarium, together with five original songs (Child of Genesis, The God Particle, Eternal Night, Forbidden City and Queen Bee). By the way, Tina spent her entire life savings (a little under US$ 6,000) on the official video for Queen Bee, a metal-inspired take on the orchestral interlude “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and that risk paid off as what’s probably her “most extreme” music video to date (it got an 18+ restriction on YouTube) caught the attention of Hans Zimmer, who at that time was searching for a cellist to play on the score of Sherlock Holmes. “I wasn’t trying to get into the soundtrack world. Actually, I was hoping that Rammstein would see the video and invite me to play with them”, said our skillful cellist in one of her interviews. Anyway, you can have a very detailed listen at Cello Metal on Spotify, and see why this Asian bombshell is respected and admired by the entire world of music, including the always-demanding metal scene.

And Tina is not only an accomplished cellist, but she’s also a writer, a philanthropist and a very successful businesswoman. As a writer, her first published work was called “Event Horizons of Yin and Yang”, a collection of philosophical prose and poetry. As a philanthropist, Guo is a passionate supporter of the Academy of Music for the Blind, Partners in Health, Animal Welfare Institute, Homes for our Troops and Child Find of America. For instance, in 2015, she released a Charity album with 13 composer friends called Tina Guo & Composers for Charity, with 100% of the proceeds from the album going directly to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation in support of music education. And last but not least, as a businesswoman, she runs a Los Angeles-based venture named Tina Guo Contracting, which provides exclusive musicians and entertainment for live performances, recording and corporate events; she has a sample library that composers and producers can purchase and use; and above all that, she started her own music instrument line, named Tina Guo Strings, selling custom acoustic cellos, carbon fiber cases, and colourful “unicorn hair” bows for the violin, viola, and cello, with her first products available being the Tina Guo Model 300 cello, the Tina Guo Elite Master Art Model 600 cello, and a full line of custom Tina Guo bows. As a matter of fact, she has been self-managing her career since the beginning, having only signed an exclusive recording contact with Sony Music in 2016, as she thinks it’s very important to understand the business aspect and see everything that’s going on, especially because managers are always going to have other clients they’re dealing with.

However, despite being a successful musician and entrepreneur, she hasn’t been immune to sexism yet, noting that image sells in the performing world, and as a young Asian-American woman she’s more than familiar with the challenges that come with working in these two very white male-dominated spheres. “As a performing artist, we don’t only listen with our ears”, she said in one of her interviews. “If I look different or wasn’t as young, I might have a very different experience.” You can get a sense of all the awesomeness surrounding Tina as a musician and as a woman by watching several videos on YouTube where she’s either playing her cello or talking about her career and skills, such as “Tina Guo and her troublesome cello”, an interview with Tina Guo on classical and electric cello, or a mini-tutorial on playing fast, proving she’s more-than-ready to conquer the entire world of music and arts no matter how sexist that world might be.

Equipment
Gand & Bernardel Cello (Paris, France, 1878)
Custom Tina Guo Model Yamaha SVC-210
Erhu (Shangai, China)

Tina Guo’s Official Facebook page
Tina Guo’s Official Twitter
Tina Guo’s Official Instagram
Tina Guo’s Official YouTube channel

“When I make music, I am completely pure, naked, and open. I long for the moments when my outer shell no longer matters. I hunger for every genuine tear of sorrow, joy, or understanding shared. When you can hear me for who I am, and see me in a way that doesn’t involve looking at me, but rather looking through me, only then can I be satisfied.” – Tina Guo

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Concert Review – Mötley Crüe & Alice Cooper (Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON, 08/22/2015)

Toronto witnessed, for the last time (or so they promised), a true masterclass on how Hard Rock from the 1980’s should be played and done in the 2000’s.

OPENING ACT: The Cringe

Motley Crue_The Final TourFirst things first: I want to apologize for the delay of this review. For those who doesn’t know me, I’m Renata, Gustavo’s friend, and I’m Brazilian. In August, I spent the month in Canada with him and his wife – my BFF for more than 15 years – and now, back to Brazil, I had the proper time to put down in words my experience in this concert. Secondly, I had no idea that there would be an opening act for that night and The Cringe turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. This band from NYC has been following Mötley Crüe on the second leg of their North American tour and it wasn’t different in Toronto, where they were responsible for warming up the fans as the Air Canada Centre was getting filled.

Although sounding very different from the main attractions of the night, The Cringe had a very good performance with their Alternative Rock and got a great response from the fans of Crüe and Mr. Cooper. In nearly 30 minutes, they showed songs from their 10-year career and had time to celebrate good old Rock N’ Roll with a medley of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, and a cover of Thin Lizzy’s classic Jailbreak to close their setlist. Formed by very talented and experienced musicians, they know how to captivate the audience, especially John Cusimano, a very charismatic frontman.

The Cringe will soon release their fifth album, Blind Spot, so if the new trends of Rock N’ Roll please you, keep your eyes on the band’s updates on their official website.

Setlist
1. Anything You Say
2. Don’t Know Where I Belong
3. On and On
4. Big Trouble
5. In God We Trust / Paranoid (Black Sabbath cover)
6. Jailbreak (Thin Lizzy cover)

Band members
John Cusimano – vocals
James Rotondi – guitar
Jonny Blaze – bass
Shawn Pelton – drums

ALICE COOPER

Alice Cooper 07When Mötley Crüe announced their final tour, in 2014, they added the legend Alice Cooper as their very special guest and this duo makes every dollar paid in the ticket worthwhile. And I can’t believe I spent all those years of my life without seeing an Alice Cooper’s concert! I can’t even describe it as just a “concert”, it’s so much more than that: it’s theatrical, it’s epic, it has feelings, it has drama, it’s a full spectacle! Mr. Cooper has been around for more than 45 years and he definitely knows how to master the stage. Every move, every outfit, every detail has a reason to be there and every song still sounds very captivating and his voice and stage performance are very unique.

It might be hard to summarize more than four decades on the road in a 13-song setlist, so Alice Cooper kept the focus on his classics, especially in songs from his releases from the 70’s, like No More Mr. Nice Guy, Billion Dollar Babies, Go to Hell and School’s Out (this one played with a very appropriate medley of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall). Feed My Frankenstein and Poison were the chosen ones to represent the 1990’s. The “newest” song of the night’s setlist was Dirty Diamonds, the title-track of his 2005 album, also dedicated to the drum, bass and guitar solos.

Alice Cooper 05The band following Mr. Cooper, by the way, is not there only to support him, they also have a very important role in the show. A fast-and-fierce drummer – Glen Sobel -, a very rhythmic bassist – Chuck Garric -, and three extremely competent guitarists – Tommy Henriksen, Ryan Roxie and Nita Strauss (replacing Orianthi since 2014) -, are there to make all Cooper’s magic happen and make his theatre even more intense. There’s also time and space for snake, bubbles, a giant Frankenstein and a very good performance by Calico Cooper, Cooper’s daughter, as the crazy nurse tying her own father in a straitjacket and decapitating him in I Love the Dead.

In summary, Alice Cooper delivered an amazing setlist, although some great songs were left out, and showed why he is still here after so many years, keeping the classics, the acting and the horror more alive than ever. Alice Cooper is more than a very special guest: he is a teacher of Rock N’ Roll and we all should appreciate the opportunity to see artists like him, who still kick ass onstage.

Setlist
1. The Black Widow
2. No More Mr. Nice Guy
3. Under My Wheels
4. I’m Eighteen
5. Billion Dollar Babies
6. Poison
7. Dirty Diamonds (bass, drum and guitar solos)
8. Go to Hell
9. Feed My Frankenstein
10. Ballad of Dwight Fry
11. Killer
12. I Love the Dead
13. School’s Out (including “Another Brick in the Wall”)

Band members
Alice Cooper – vocals
Tommy Henriksen – guitar
Nita Strauss – guitar
Ryan Roxie – guitar
Chuck Garric – bass
Glen Sobel – drums

MÖTLEY CRÜE

Motley Crue 05Mötley Crüe are the only band that made me travel abroad (twice) to see their concerts. The first time was in 2011, in Buenos Aires, Argentina (and I think every rock ‘n’ roll fan should see a concert in Argentina at least once in life – if you ever saw any Argentine soccer game, you have an idea of how passionate their local crowd can be) and now I had the chance to see them in Canada. Yes, they played in Brazil in 2011 and they are going to play at Rock in Rio on September 19, on the main stage with Metallica, Royal Blood and Gojira. But two things make me sad about this upcoming concert in Rio: 1- this is the ONLY AND EXCLUSIVE CONCERT IN SOUTH AMERICA, which means people from all over the continent have to come to Rio if they want to see Crüe live for the last time – and obviously not everybody can afford a trip to Brazil or got the tickets before they were sold out after 3 hours of sales; 2- the concert at the festival and its structure will be reduced: a shorter setlist and less pyros and stuffs on the show. I’m not even sure if they’ll have Tommy Lee’s roller coaster Crüecifly. And that being their final tour and the only concert in the continent, I think all fans deserved the fullest the band can do.

But in Toronto the fans got everything Mötley Crüe promised in a night full of classics, pyros (and I mean lots of pyros!), energy, with a nostalgic feeling of goodbye and I’m glad I could see all of this. I’m not sure if the tickets were sold out, since this wasn’t the first time they were playing in the country with this tour, but Air Canada Centre was definitely packed.

Motley Crue 09The setlist was the same as executed in the previous concerts, and a Harley Davidson’s engines announced the opening with Girls, Girls, Girls. What we saw after this start was a sequence of great hits that set Mötley Crüe in the position of one of the greatest Hard Rock bands of their era: Wild Side, Primal Scream and Same Ol’ Situation made everyone there sing, dance and feel a piece of the 1980’s with a touch of modernity with all the technology at the stage.

The performance of the band was amazing. Mick Mars is a master of the guitars, sounding so heavy and yet so clear. It is amazing to see after all these years and despite of all his health issues, he is still a great and very technical guitarist, respected by his band members and every fan. As for Vince Neil, I was pretty concerned as I saw some videos from previous concerts, especially one at Sweden Rock Festival, where he couldn’t sing well and follow Dr. Feelgood from the beginning to the end. His voice and his acting on stage is not the same as the early days, this is not a secret, but he was singing very well that night in Toronto. Also, there were two backup singers, that helped to put more energy and action in the songs. But let’s be honest: Mötley Crüe is all about Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee performances! And they didn’t disappoint the crowd at all.

There were few times of interaction with the public but the Crüe boys took time to remember that it was in Canada where they started their very first tour, back in 1982, and how happy and grateful they were to play for the Canadian crowd for the last time. There was also a very inspiring speech of Sixx. If you read one of his books – “The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star” (2007) and “This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx” (2013) – you have an idea of how he messed up in the past and how he changed his attitude to a very positive tune. He told a story about his youth, when he used to steal a pocket knife that his grandfather used to leave on the counter everyday, and one day his old man gave him a knife for his own. The lesson learned was “if you want something bad enough, you keep doing it over and over until you get it” and that was his commitment with Mötley Crüe and their fans, that they are the most important part of the band. Right after that, they played a cover of Anarchy in the U.K., from Sex Pistols.

The most awaited moment was, undoubtedly, Tommy Lee’s drums roller coaster, the Crüecifly. There was a huge steel structure hailing from the stage to the middle of the ACC floor and when the lights turned out and the O Fortuna of German composer Carl Off’s cantata Carmina Burana started to play, we all knew the time had come. Suddenly Tommy started his journey above the fans from Toronto, playing songs from other artists, such as The Beastie Boys, while he and his drum kit were spinning and moving in the trail full of lights and cool effects. Tommy does such amazing things while drumming since the first Crüe’s concerts but he put the concept to a higher level on this tour. He also took a minute to thank the fans and say how he loves them all before going back to his place at the back of the stage. Right after that, it was Mick Mars’ time to make his raw, fierce and heavy solo before the band continued to the final acts of the night with Saints of Los Angeles, Live Wire, Dr. Feelgood and Kickstart My Heart. On this last song, there were two steel structures that took Vince and Nikki for a ride through the venue making it a moment of great celebration for both band and fans.

Motley Crue 13They gathered on the stage and thanked the fans for being there, but that wasn’t the wrap up yet. At the end of the Crüecifly there was a tiny stage, the CrüeNest, and the band walked through the fans to hit it for one last song. There were also 12 lucky fans (that paid a little lot of extra money to be there, obviously) seated on chairs on the back of this stage. A white piano was waiting for Tommy Lee and as he played the first tunes of Home Sweet Home, the ACC got full of light spots of the fans’ cell phones, and that was a really beautiful thing to see. Did I mention that the CrüeNest stage also went up and down? You can’t expect a normal thing when it comes to a Mötley Crüe’s concert. On the screens of the empty main stage, pictures from the early years to the recent days showed the path of this band, considered one of the most important of the Hard Rock Era.

With the sound of My Way, by the legend Frank Sinatra, we knew that the bad things had finally come to an end. If this is really, I mean, REALLY the final tour (some bands along the history showed us that there isn’t really an end unless all involved want to – and sometimes they change their minds), that was the perfect way to say good bye. Again, it’s a shame that many of my Brazilian compatriots won’t have the chance to see a full concert, but let’s hope Mötley Crüe can bring to this part of the planet all the amazing energy they showed to the Torontonians.

Setlist
1. Girls, Girls, Girls
2. Wild Side
3. Primal Scream
4. Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
5. Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
6. Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room (Brownsville Station cover)
7. Looks That Kill
8. Mutherfucker of the Year
9. Anarchy in the U.K. (Sex Pistols cover)
10. Shout at the Devil
11. Louder Than Hell
12. Drum Solo
13. Guitar Solo
14. Saints of Los Angeles
15. Live Wire
16. Dr. Feelgood
17. Kickstart My Heart

Encore:
18. Home Sweet Home

Band members
Vince Neil – vocals
Mick Mars – guitar
Nikki Sixx – bass
Tommy Lee – drums