Metal-inspired Break of Reality coming to Eastman Theatre
06:10 PM, Jan 14, 2014
If you go
What: Break of Reality.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
Tickets: $10, $25, $30 and $40, available at Wegmans, rpo.org, (585) 454-2100 and the Eastman Theatre box office.
Ten years ago, Break of Reality was four Eastman School of Music freshmen playing over the coffeehouse chatter at Java’s Cafe. Three cellists and a percussionist, “playing Metallica arrangements and a few other small things I had written,” says Patrick Laird.
“In general, we had a lot of support from the Eastman community. The students were more in support. Some professors, not to be named, were a little more traditional.”
Ten years later, on Friday night, Break of Reality is taking a short but ambitious walk down the Gibbs Street sidewalk, from its roots at Java’s to the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre stage.
“It may not be the most people we’ve ever played for,” Laird says. “But it’s the most important show we’ve ever played.”
The personnel has changed a few times since those early gigs, when members were classical students at Eastman by day, heavy-metal rogues at night. Laird and percussionist Ivan Trevino are the only two original members. Trevino still lives in Rochester, teaching at Eastman, as well as at the Hochstein School of Music in the past. Connecticut native Laura Metcalf and brand-new cellist Adrian Daurov, who grew up in Russia, live in Manhattan.
Laird, who now lives in Brooklyn, first began playing the cello in the third grade at Harris Hill Elementary, after Dad moved here for Kodak. “Penfield schools are very supportive, they take the arts seriously,” Laird says.
But after two years, his father’s job was shifted to New Jersey. And a whole new music world. “My friends were metalheads,” Laird says. “I’d be practicing Bach, then they would take me out to a Slayer concert.”
Admittedly, Break of Reality didn’t invent the idea of cellos rocking out. Rasputina, a trio of cello-sawing women in the early ’90s, opened for Nirvana on its last tour. They made the cello sexy, if you’re into Goth. More to the taste of the young Laird was the Finnish band Apocalyptica, aggressively interpreting Metallica its cellos. “When I was in high school is when they kind of broke out,” he says. “Now they’re an all-out metal band with the leather, playing with heavy distortion.”
While it followed Apocalyptica’s lead early on, Break of Reality “ditched the leather after freshman year,” Laird says. “We’ve gone a little in the opposite direction, but keeping a little edge.”
Edge like Tool’s “Lateralus” and Killswitch Engage’s “My Curse,” metal songs that Break of Reality will play Friday. They’ll be balanced by covers of Bach and a bluegrass-inspired piece by Turtle Island String Quartet. And the band’s biggest hit won’t be overlooked, a version of the theme from Game of Thrones that went viral on YouTube, with more than 2 million hits.
But after three albums, and a fourth, TEN, planned for a March 10 release, three-quarters of a Break of Reality show is now originals.
“We’re truly a rock band at heart, in the sense that we have the personality of a rock band,” Laird says. “It doesn’t scream metal, but a lot of the foundation of the music is related to metal.”
In particular, Break of Reality departs the classical sphere when it comes to “species counterpoint,” what Laird defines as “the rules of classical composition. Things like never playing parallel fifths, which a metal band would call power chords.”
Power chords. They’re the metal in Metallica. And they’re the reality of Break of Reality. “It’s a funky place that we were in as classical musicians,” Laird says. “What we’ve been trained not to do, in rock music it’s embraced. That’s where we get our power from.”
The band left Rochester for New York City after its members graduated from Eastman, busking in parks and selling a whopping 30,000 albums in six months. “It was an awesome way for us to get some exposure,” Laird says. “It’s also part of the reason why we had to re-group. We burned ourselves out playing the same music. It had become like a job.”
Indeed, the grind cost the band two cellists. Laird and Trevino stayed on, writing the music that would become the 2009 album, Spectrum of the Sky. “Ivan and I needed it,” Laird says. “Turning out that album took us to a new level.”
But the truth is, the trip is long, and you’re never sure if you’ve arrived. In fusing two worlds, Break of Reality can find itself playing the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City, or a pair of sold-old performing arts centers in Alaska. Or a California festival of 6,000 people headlined by the hipster jam band Cake. “We outsold them and everyone else at the festival in merchandise,” Laird says.
Internet music services like Pandora, which constructs playlists for subscribers based on their music interests, have been a big help. “We get 20 million clicks on Internet radio a year, which is incredible exposure,” Laird says. “That leads to tons of album sales, and a growing fan base.”
Pandora. Clicks. Not exactly the language of species counterpoint.
“Nowadays, it’s much more accepted for classical musicians to come across to the other side,” Laird says. “You have to be able to do everything now. In 10 years, and I hope we were a part of that, things have changed. Ten years ago I was afraid to tell my teacher what we were doing.
“In fact, I didn’t tell him for years.”