I recently spent an entire afternoon gorging myself on Vitamin String Quartet. Ever heard ’em? You might have without even realizing it. Their classical interpretations of rock and pop songs have been featured on TV shows like The Vampire Diaries, So You Think You Can Dance and Gossip Girl. Don’t watch any of those shows? Well, do you live in Concord, NH? If you did, you’d probably have heard them anyway, as a radio station there played Vitamin String Quartet 24 hours a day this past spring and summer. That’s right, 6 months of one group.
You may be asking yourself, “How is that even possible?”
The L.A.-based outfit is crazy prolific. Their releases are too numerous for my short attention span to handle counting. Let’s just say that Wikipedia’s list of albums the group has recorded is (mercifully) listed alphabetically. [Update: If I’d actually read their entire Wikipedia page, I would have noticed the line clearly stating that “their discography includes 261 albums.”] It’s so damn easy to lose yourself in this crowd of albums, and the one I disappeared into the other day was VSQ Performs Music from the Films of Wes Anderson, which is jam packed with cool stuff. The Beach Boys’ “Heros And Villians.” Paul Simon’s “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.” David Bowie’s “Life On Mars.” And don’t get me started on their version of Sigur Rós’ “Starálfur” — I’ll turn into the ermahgerd girl faster than you can say, “ERMAHGERD! STARÁLFUR!”
While I love hearing favorite songs reimagined, and relish the opportunity to hear familiar songs while I multitask (I can’t write a single word if lyrics are coming through my headphones), the thing I actually love most about VSQ transcends the listening experience. It more about what they represent.
They record EVERYTHING, and not just in terms of genre. I’d rattle off a few of the uncoolest examples, but I might as well just cut to the chase and tell you they have an album called Someday: The String Quartet Tribute to Nickelback.
Yup. THAT uncool.
But there’s a sense of fairness to this. Everyone gets a shot. And I bet hearing your songs interpreted by a string quartet feels pretty snazzy. There’s definitely a knee-jerk reaction that takes place when you hear classical instruments playing anything (sort of like how people with British accents always sound smart), and the Quartet’s willingness to give even the most ridiculed group in America this treatment seems noble to me.
But it goes even deeper than that. When you strip away the absurd negativity that people have pinned on Nickelback, what are you left with? Chords. Drumbeats. Melodies. The same building blocks everyone else uses. The same stuff The Beatles employed when they made masterpieces that’ll be revered until people’s ears fall off. When you think about it this way, VSQ’s format becomes an even more powerful equalizer. In stripping songs down while simultaneously classing them up, these arrangements illustrate how all music has a basic, intrinsic value. And while I may not spend my days rocking “How You Remind Me,” I love the idea that the people who do have a chance to hear the song dressed up — top-hat-and-monocle style — so they can dive deeper into its chords and melodies, years after they fell in love with them in the first place.
And yes, taking this stance did guilt me into listening to Vitamin String Quartet’s version of “How You Remind Me.” There’s a harp involved. Just thought I’d throw that out there.
Listen below to their rendition of The Faces’ “Ooh La La,” which appears on VSQ Performs Music from the Films of Wes Anderson, and click here to snag the album on iTunes. I’ve also included their take on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” because of reasons.