In the last two years, cello and percussion duo Nineteen Thirteen has managed to play some outside shows, but this Friday’s gig at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts will be only their second gig indoors since the pandemic started.
This exquisite and complex musical pairing of Victor DeLorenzo and Janet Schiff is difficult to explain, and every time I try, I eventually tell people just to go see them to see for yourself.
“Think of it like an orchestra of two people, made of hundreds of cello and percussion,” explains DeLorenzo, who many will remember as the founding drummer of the Violent Femmes. “This group is unique in many ways. The cellist can multiply her single instrument into the force of 1,000. Most people are surprised that there are only two of us on stage.”
It’s really a multi-layered experience that magically works in a beautiful sort of way, and from my perspective, it’s even more interesting live than on records. Fortunately, fans can once again see Nineteen Thirteen indoors on Oct. 29, and again on Dec. 2 at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company.
Friday’s show is special, too, because the band is dedicating to the memory of their friend Mike Hoffman, the acclaimed Milwaukee musician who passed away this week.
We caught up with Nineteen Thirteen before their upcoming gig to discuss how the pandemic changed their band’s creative process in advance of their new single that will be released in December.
OnMilwaukee: How does it feel to be playing music again live after such a long time without indoor shows?
Janet Schiff: Playing the past few shows felt really natural, stress free, and like a huge release. We played a couple of outdoor shows this summer (Museum Of Wisconsin Art and Fringe Festival) and this show at Sharon Lynne Wilson Center will be the second indoor show in almost two years. It feels wonderful to perform again with Nineteen Thirteen.
Victor DeLorenzo: Our recent performance at the Jazz Estate was jam-packed. I get the sense that people are hungry to get out and see live music after so long. People are starting to get used to gathering in groups again, we sense a growth in enthusiasm and attendance. It always feels great to practice and hang out with each other and work on the Nineteen Thirteen music.
What did the band do to occupy your time during the pandemic?
(Schiff) We recorded some new music! We made an audition video with our song “The Reason Why” for a Tiny Desk Contest, planned for the day live music concerts would return, like now, and continued to work on maintaining industry contacts, (and) we discovered new sounds and despite the uncertainty we cultivated our duo’s creativity. I also started collaborating with a visual artist for the duo called Luna and Cello. Oh, and I bought a new blue, electro acoustic cello.
We are also recording with Ramprapanna Bhattacharya, a sitarist I met online. We have recorded a 30 minute Raga with sitar and cello. This should be released by the end of January.
(DeLorenzo) I released two solo albums (“Tranceophone" and “Spoken Word”) and I’m in a recording project called Night Crickets. And of course working with Janet on the next Nineteen Thirteen album which has a working title of “Cello And Drums Forever”to be sung to the tune of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Tell me a little about “Cello And Drums Forever.” Does it sound consistent with your previous work, or do you consider it an evolution of sorts?
(DeLorenzo) This next album necessitated a rethink on how we have usually recorded. In previous projects, Janet would come to my studio and we would record and I would handle most of the engineering duties and the final mix before mastering the recording. During the pandemic, we shifted to a remote model where Janet laid her ideas down in her own studio, and then I would play drums to mixes of those tracks and then things would be fused back together in post-production.
(Schiff) Only recently have we begun to explore the live experience of these pieces. Some songs are still under construction. Things have evolved. As a result of the shift in process and the new compositions of music has taken on a very expansive feel. There are hundreds of overdubs of the cello — something that is entirely possible with my looping pedal for live performances.
(DeLorenzo) And while we are keeping continuity between this project and previous releases, some of the drum tracks are ones that are grown from drum solos and demos from my vault. These particular drum tracks are like archival footage that haven’t seen the light of day in many decades. In other pieces on “Cello And Drums Forever” Janet’s cello and her writing have emerged to the foreground. There is actually very little in the way of other instruments on these recordings.
(Schiff) While I always prefer working in person, the pandemic has allowed Victor and me to explore what we do from a very different angle. I am curious to see how others respond to the new songs that traverse dance club music and back to chamber rock and sound art.
What’s it like to play at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center? I read that your last show there was sold out. Are you used to drawing such big crowds, because I usually see you guys in smaller venues like The Estate or Linneman’s.
(Schiff) What an honor to perform at Sharon Lynne Wilson Center! We are so happy that Wisconsin Music Ventures is featuring us in this Wisconsin Artist Series. The last time we played there we saw new and familiar faces. I’m proud to play at SLWC and all of the fine venues that we've been invited to perform at. I love to hear the cellos echo in the larger halls.
(DeLorenzo) We have played the Pabst and larger venues before, and there we get the benefits of clarity of sound, more varied sound systems and support. We love the intimacy of our local clubs scene, but at a the same time our music can fill a large hall and people can sit and really take in all of that meticulous layering of the cello that Janet does without fearing beer might be spilled upon them.
When you came together in 2010, did you anticipate you’d still be writing and performing music 11 years later? Clearly, you’re both different personalities, but you do have a certain chemistry together on stage and in the studio.
(DeLorenzo) Janet is the First Lady of the cello and I am the moderator of the debate. And we are great friends. The support we have for each other and the ability to be ourselves and be different speaks volumes. There always seems to be something new to talk about. There seems to always be some new challenge in life to tackle. We are a musical and artistic team, Nineteen Thirteen.
(Schiff) Yes, I did. Working with Victor for all of these years has been so wonderful. We love to plan releases, compose, record, and perform together. I hope it’s really obvious how lucky we are to work with each other and how satisfying Nineteen Thirteen is as a creative force.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.