Friday, January 18, 2008


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- The Bond Story:

If you play around with the layers of meaning in the word Classified, you come up with several permutations: Classical, a reference to the ongoing are-they-aren’t-they debate concerning bond’s musical style; Classic as in first-class or excellent, a reference to their academic and musical abilities; Classy as in superior and stylish; and then there’s the hush-hush meaning of Classified, alluding to a certain suave and sexy spy of renown.

All are relevant to the perception and status of bond, who have defied their detractors and become a musical phenomenon selling three million albums in a field where going into five figures is considered doing well. Their third album Classified is set to bump those figures further into the stratosphere.

It’s not actually hard to figure out why. Sure, Haylie Ecker (first violin), Eos Chater (second violin), Tania Davis (viola) and Gay-Yee Westerhoff (cello) are highly photogenic. But as one of them has pointed out, if that’s all that was needed for success, then supermodels would be able to sell records. There’s a deeper reason. It’s because underpinning everything lies individual musical virtuosity and the sharpest of ears for what a global audience wants to hear. bond are entertainers and see no shame in that. They are a genuinely genre-defying act, willing to go beyond category to explore the joy of music regardless of the cultural hamstrings that restrict the creativity of so many classically trained musicians.

Classified is a return to a more classically oriented style, put over with their trademark verve and panache. With it come explorations of other styles, from African and electro beats, hip hop to Latin, and for the first time a sliver of jazz.

The bonding that was part of the inspiration for their name still holds true four years on. “Our reasons for doing this are all the same. Normally when groups don’t last there’s some sort of conflict of interest; people have different ideas of where they want to go. But we’ve always wanted the same thing”, says Tania. This can be encapsulated in seeking the challenge of the new and wanting to have fun.

“It works”, says Eos, “because we’re all so different in a way. It helps that we had a really strong training. I think that being dedicated to something all your life gives you a good grounding; it’s made us all quite down-to-earth.”

Out of this common purpose has grown genuine love for each other. “We’re all still in love”, says Gay-Yee. You can feel what she means in their presence, all exuding a genuine warmth and concern for each other. “We try and enjoy what we do and try not to take ourselves seriously.”

Fame and money has not changed them, they insist, though they do brandish their sparkly rings with glee. Tania puts it in perspective. “You make a choice to stay the person you are.” Then they all break into laughter. Divas, it seems, R not Us.

Much of the sense of lightness of being that surrounds bond is the love of what they do and the freedom to do it. No one is pushing them to wear sexy outfits. That is who they are. Fashion is big in their life. But more fundamentally, it’s about being in control of your own destiny. Words like “manufactured” and “svengali” hovered in their vicinity at the beginning. But it’s the girls who choose their material and style, and anyone would be foolish to try and push them around. “We’re four women who have been around a little while now, and we’re having so much fun doing what we’re doing. In that respect it’s really cool that we don’t have to take any hass from guys”, says Haylie, explaining hass is a word where she comes from. “We can just do what we want, it’s quite liberating.”

bond are a truly global success. Much of 2003 was taken up touring, particularly throughout Asia. They also fitted in performing and filming a TV commercial for American department store chain Marshall Field’s, and made a commercial in Los Angeles for the Japanese karaoke manufacturer Daiichi Kosho. Then there was their movie debut playing themselves in a scene in Rowan Atkinson’s James Bond spoof Johnny English for which they also contributed the track “Kismet,” composed by Gay-Yee, and played on the Main Theme.

The last part of 2003 was spent recording Classified. Inevitably, with their rich and varied experiences, bond brought with them into the studio the culmination of their global influences. They are still influenced by the club scene from Momo in London to Bed in Bangkok, and popular culture. “We’re all into lots of things. Our eyes are wide open”, says Gay-Yee. And naturally, their ears are too.

The argument over whether bond are a classical act may rage on in some quarters. The girls were banned from the official UK Classical charts because of their beats when their debut album Born was released in 2001. “It’s frustrating to us that artists with no classical training can be in the classical charts when we all have such strong classical training, but there doesn’t seem to be place for us”, says Tania.

But the powers that be also know that bond are a positive force in the classical world. They opened the 2001 and 2003 UK Classical Brit Awards. The intent in the invitation was clear — they are a superb vehicle for bringing a broader and younger audience into the classical world. From their personal experience bond know they are a clear influence on young people whose ears would not have previously been open to classical music. “Parents take their kids to our tours to show them that the violin could be fun”, says Eos.

But bond are also clear where they stand. As Haylie says, “I don’t think we ever thought of ourselves as a classical group. We all trained as classical musicians, so we know what classical music is. It was a challenge for us to create something new and different, taking inspiration from classical melodies. When we play live we use electric violins and distortion pedals and other equipment, we have lighting shows and it’s a massive production, so in that way we’re much more pop.”

The classical inspiration is still strong on Classified. That is exemplified by the inclusion of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who accompany the girls throughout the album. “A full symphony orchestra is a lot more of a unified sound than playing with a session orchestra which may have great musicians but they only get together on the day”, says Tania. “Our album sound is very different from our live sound”, says Haylie. “Our sound is always very big, but this album was really exciting because we did it with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. bond are still at the forefront but we have this massive orchestral sound. In a way that has been going through the first and second albums but this feels more organic.”

bond have played a much larger role in the arrangements and compositions on Classified, having written over a third of the album themselves. They worked alongside Orion, led by producer and DJ Youth (who also worked on their debut album BORN), and successful club DJ and producer Ed Leal, with help on the arrangements by the hugely talented Matt Dunkley.

As bond mature and gain confidence in their identity and musicianship, it becomes clearer they have hit on a nerve and a need globally for music that is both uplifting and transporting. They have proven they had the courage and foresight to stretch the creative boundaries.

The bond bandwagon continues into 2004 with the release of Classified and a worldwide concert tour which will take the girls to Europe, South America, North America and Asia.

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