Interview: The mighty Zack Kline of the Orange Mighty Trio

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The beautiful thing about a truly gifted musician is that he or she can cut it in any style under the sun. It’s even beautifuler when you’ve got a group in which all the players are that talented.

Enter the Orange Mighty Trio, with Zack Kline (violin), Mike Vasich (piano), and Nick Gaudette (bass). They can play a symphony hall, then get out of their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes, pull on some overalls, and throw down at a hoedown without missing a note. Oftenas with the magical “Billy in the Lowground”—they manage to do both at once and throw in much that’s in-between, including jazz and honky-tonk, all with amazing skill. No need to take my word for it: listen to their splendidly eclectic EP The Orange Mighty Trio and hear for yourself.

Catch them in-person on July 20 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, where they’ll be collaborating with a dancer for part of the evening. On their Web site, they list such influences as the Kronos Quartet, Radiohead, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and more. They sound—they say—like “a large fiddle, small fiddle, and a fiddle you play with keys attached to felted hammers.” Zack Kline sheds some light on things.

How’d the ensemble get started?
I met Mike at Macalester College, but we didn’t play that much together then. Only did a few jazz gigs—including one for the Energy Park Business Association, which was a strange gig. Anyway, it wasn’t until after college that we started developing our own music together. We played as a duo first, and [then] after a couple months with Nick, who I had met a few years before when we were co-teachers at a music camp. I was quite impressed with him [at the camp]: he was playing Bach cello suites on the bass. He had subsequently gone to Cleveland Institute for a bachelor’s and Master’s and moved back to the Cities around the exact time we felt the need for a virtuosic bass player.

How do you come with the material?
The EP is all original, except [“Billy in the Lowground”], which is a traditional fiddle tune. With the exception of [“Prelude”], which we wrote together, I wrote the melodies and we developed them together, finding the right bass and piano parts. Typically, I would bring in a bare-bones melody and the group would add more sections or create an arrangement. It’s nice, because I feel they will write better piano parts or bass parts than I would write. So, usually I only have to write my part and they can come up with theirs—and [it’s] the other way around for their tunes. With “Billy in the Lowground,” we took a basic fiddle tune and re-composed it into something pretty complex. We just kept adding new things and trying new things until about six months later we arrived at the final form. It was a process of experimentation.

Who studied what as their main genre?
We each studied classical from the start and continued through college. Macalester was nice, because the program allows you to play lots of different types of music in addition to classical and you can be creative. I had one friend who did all Irish music for their senior recital and another who did half classical, half jazz. Mine were usually half classical, half my own stuff. At most schools you couldn’t do that—or at least not very easily. In any case, starting with classical, other types of music seeped in along the way for each of us. Mike talks about being exposed to jazz and it being like a revelation. I got into the bluegrass scene in Colorado. Nick was doing some bluegrass in elementary school, and later, jazz and rock. As a creative musician, once you get the skills you need to play in bands, you can just soak up all the styles you like. That comes out in our writing.

Is there a leader?
The way we work and rehearse, we are very democratic and open to anything anyone suggests. On the other hand, I am somewhat leader-ish when it comes to doing the bookings and bringing in ideas.

What about a live album?
I just got a copy of our Cedar show last January with [guitarist] Dean Magraw and it certainly makes me think about it. We loved playing with Dean, and he fit in perfectly.

What’s next?
Well, if we can, we want to teach each other the new stuff we’ve been writing and play it over the summer so we can be ready to record sometime soon.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.