Tina GuoCellist Tina Guo releases video game music album
By Naughty Mickie

At first glance cellist Tina Guo is a bit intimidating-- she is beautiful, talented and successful, but then you quickly discover that she is also smart, funny and quite easy to chat with. I really enjoyed learning about Guo and what led to her latest album, ďGame On!Ē (Sony Masterworks) . Released Feb. 10, 2017, the effort features covers of music from popular and classic video games including the songs, ďThe Legend of Zelda,Ē ďWorld of Warcraft,Ē ďSuper Mario Bros.,Ē ďPokemonĒ and ďHalo.Ē  

Guo was born in China and moved to the United States with her parents when she was 5. Currently settled just outside of Los Angeles in Sherman Oaks, California, she has played with the San Diego Symphony and the State of Mexico Symphony, as well as artists like Al Di Meola, Foo Fighters, Joe Bonamassa and  Hans Zimmer and for television and film scores, commercials  and on the soundtracks of video games. In 2011 she toured with Cirque du Soleilís ďMichael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.Ē  

TG: My parents are both Chinese musicians, I was born in China, my father is a cellist and my mother is a violinist and theyíre both music teachers so I was basically forced into the family trade. I really didnít have a choice. Growing up it was difficult because I was forced to practice about eight hours a day.

They came from communist China, they grew up during the communist revolution, and I think that kind of mentally combined with their struggle, they were very obsessed with making sure they could do everything they could to help me. That was their perception and looking back on it now Iím very, very grateful, but at the time I was a very angry child. I had no social life, it was just practicing, training, competitions, practicing.

DB: How did you end up crossing over from classical music to rock and other genres?

TG: Itís one of those things where youíre curious about what youíre not allowed. My parents were pretty conservative and I wasnít allowed to listen to other types of music. I did manage to sneak in a couple of albums I borrowed from people. The very first one I was in seventh grade, we were living in San Diego, and in school I was always attracted to the people who were gothic or strange. This guy named Luke, he had long hair and big Coke bottle glasses, he was a dorky goth combination, he was telling me about this Marilyn Manson. I said, "Marilyn Manson, what is that?" So the very first album that I heard any variety outside of some radio and classical music at home was Marilyn Mansonís "Antichrist Superstar," which was the extreme opposite.

That started my love for industrial music, like the electronic end. Not so much the lyrics because I didnít even listen to what he was saying, but partially the angst behind it because I had a lot of frustration, anger and then like the power and aggression. It was a very different type of expression compared to classical music, which in my opinion is slightly more esoteric. Itís a different type of expression. It doesnít mean you canít say the same thing, but itís expressed in a very different way, much more held back. This was new, this was crazy. What is this? I like it.

I heard a Daft Punk CD that I found at a garage sale, but only one track worked and then my best friend, I met her in middle school in eighth grade, she let me borrow her Guns Ní Rosesí "Appetite for Destruction" tape. I heard that, I loved that.

Tina GuoI came here to USC in L.A. in 2004 and that was also the beginning of Facebook. USC was one of the first test groups for Facebook before it went public. Facebook and YouTube had just come out. I also wasnít allowed on the Internet previously, not that the Internet was very fast at that time anyway. In 2004 it was this sudden freedom I went crazy just going on YouTube and listening to different types of music and I started experimenting with the electric cello. I had this little dream, I want to play lead guitar, I want to be a rocker. Thatís when I started experimenting, watching YouTube videos and trying to emulate the sound, the tone, the style of different guitar players. Itís a very different mindset and approach from classical music.

DB: Are you also a gamer?

TG: I played a lot of video games growing up almost by force because I have a little brother. It was mostly me watching him play, but we played Legend of Zelda, Super Mario and then there was Pokemon. Most recently I play Tetris a lot on my phone, thatís my go-to. Pokemon Go I did that for a little while, but I got obsessed and it started becoming a problem so right now Iím on a hiatus from Pokemon Go. Itís a dangerous game.

DB: Tell me about "Game On!"

TG: Being here in L.A. Iíve been fortunate to record for film, TV, video game scores and I had already played on a lot of game scores and performed at gaming-related events. I had toured previously at different gaming conventions, Iíve performed at the comic-cons, so it was already something I was thinking about. Last year I released an album of music from film and TV. I thought I should totally do game music, some of the stuff that I played on the original soundtrack for combined with other music that I loved from video games. I was planning on doing when I came back from tour with Hans Zimmer.

- The first show on Zimmerís tour Guo did was at Wembley Stadium in London. A representative of Sony UK came to see the Zimmer and then asked if she would be interested in a record deal and do a game music album.-

TG: When we compared the notes to which game - I already had a list of the games I wanted to do - and except for two titles they were exactly the same lists so I took that as a nice positive affirmation that this was the right way to go.

DB: Just how important is music in video games to gamers?

TG: I might be a little biased, but I think itís extremely important, just like a movie without any type of soundtrack whatsoever, unless the point is to be disturbing and stark, it will seem empty. Music changes your perception of things. Whether itís a film or a game, if you have a scene, you put different underscore the feeling completely changes.

Whatís interesting about game music is that first of all so much has to be written because game play can go on forever. It also has to be written in a cyclical way and in layers so certain layers can work together. Everything has to meld together depending on how the music is triggered and the sound effects. Itís really a very interesting puzzle piece.

DB: Do you think non-gamers will enjoy your album?

TG: I hope so. What I love about game music is itís not limited in genre and, for me because I came from a classical background of course I love classical music, but I love all kinds of music. What I love about soundtrack music, all soundtrack music, including TV and films, is that itís not limited because it depends on what youíre scoring to. Because of that thereís a little bit of something for everyone. The instrumentation on this album is written for a full symphony, a full choir and a metal band and I play both acoustic and electric cello.

-The album includes jazz, blues and an array of genres. All that may be missing is country, Guo said. -

Tina GuoDB: In your videos you make everything you play, especially classical music, sexy and often funny too.

TG: This is something that I came to terms with recently. When I first startedÖ I had this thought in my head that in order to present myself as a progressive electric cello player I have to be sexy, dark and mysterious or brooding, some kind of thing where I was holding back and not really sharing myself because I was trying to portray this image.

I found that when Iím just being myself itís good.mIím a very open person and Iím into expressing all the different parts of yourself because in the end youth is a very temporary thing, itís also by accident, you donít earn beauty. We are human, we are attracted to things that look or sound good/interesting so I use that where most people would. But I think if you put out a very honest representation of yourself as a person it balances it out.

DB: How do your parents feel about what you do?

TG: In the beginning they were very irate and upset and confused and did not know what was going on.

-Guo explains that she had been at USC for more than 2 years and left because she wasnít doing well because she was constantly touring and gigging. She played various nights at the clubs on Sunset Strip with bands to make money, as well as had week-long concert engagements. She had a scholarship for tuition so her parents were upset, they wanted her to have a ďsafeĒ job with an orchestra, but it wasnít for her.-

TG: I want to have my own say on how I play my music, make mistakes if I have to make mistakes, try different things.

-In 2011 Guo's parents finally relaxed when she joined Cirque du Soleilís ďMichael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.Ē It gave her health insurance, benefits and a weekly salary. -

TG: Now they are very supportive. They donít quite know what Iím doing, but theyíre very supportive and Iím grateful for that.

I love L.A. Itís great. I love being here, itís a melting pot of all different kinds of people who come here to pursue their dreams. I really think if I didnít live here I wouldnít have the opportunities Iíve had. Iím very grateful to be in the right place.

Guo will be touring with Hans Zimmer this April through August, including stops at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles April 14 and Coachella April 16 and 23. She is looking to Spring 2018 to tour with her band in support of ďGame On!Ē

To learn more about Tina Guo, check out "Game On!" and catch her in concert, go to www.Tinaguo.com

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