Transcript of an interview during the November concert
in Berlin, Germany (2014)
By Sarah Thust
[Steve :] The most touring that we’ve ever done in one country, has been in Germany. It’s really a key place. We love it here, the fans have been very supportive here; we sold almost 25,000 tickets in Germany on this tour. Which is fantastic, we’re really excited about that.
One of the first international performances we had was in Berlin and it was an exciting time for us. We were just getting started. You know, there were two sold-out shows in a row and the German people seem to really appreciate deeply classical music. So they’ve been very appreciative of this façade of our music. John is full German, his parents aus Hamburch, so that’s fun as well, that he speaks a little bit of Deutsch…
[Jon :] I’ve spoken some German in the interviews I’ve done. I did an all German interview in Berlin, I was very stressed out, but somehow I pulled it off.
[Q: So you didn’t grow up with it?]
[Jon :] No, ich habe immer auf Englisch geantwortet… Doof… [laughs]
[Steve :] We have an original tune called “Berlin”, we wrote for the city of Berlin… It’s the only original we’ve written on behalf of the city, so there’s a lot of ties that we have with Germany.
[Q: And those ties grew over the years?]
[all:] Yeah, two and half years… Two years… When did we come to Berlin? That was a couple of years ago. [Jon :] I would say that a big part of it was Sony Germany. It’s just fantastic! They really believed in what we did and put together an incredible plan. [Paul :] They got us on some really big TV shows: Mario Barth, [others:] Frühlingsfest, Verstehen Sie Spaß, some national news shows.
[Q: To make a hobby become your success - you guys did that – it also needs a lot of skills. Am I right?]
[Paul :] In the beginning it actually was pretty straight forward of what you needed to do… With YouTube and Facebook people were starting to build their channels by putting out a weekly video on YouTube.
So… all these things combined, I always believed in the beginning that it would take off. Because if we just kept putting out videos consistently, then it would just happen - and so it... But a lot of miracles had to come about to make it happen, that’s for sure.
[Jon :] I think it’s both. I’ve seen a lot of really skilled artists that just never get the break, or they focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time. It doesn’t seem that they ever get an idea that really touches people or that goes viral. To get a viral idea it’s like we try all the time and we can’t come up with it. And we’re like: “Hey, what’s going on? We’ve gotta pray. We’ve gotta ask for some inspiration to help us out here.” And we feel like that’s when the inspiration comes with: “Ok, that’s viral!” We know how it feels, because without those viral ideas, those germs of inspiration it’s just… we know… we’re like “That’s crap, let’s throw it away.” We throw away a lot of ideas, but for those special ones… They stand out. Those ones we use.
[Q: But how do you find those ideas?]
We don’t settle for the stuff that doesn’t feel right. We know how it feels when it’s viral. It has a certain feeling about it. It would be really easy to just settle and be lazy, but I think we’re all very determined until we feel, we call it chills up. You know when an idea gives you chills up your body, that’s when you know that it’s a viral idea.
[Paul :] We do go through some bad ideas, too. I think sometimes that’s part of the process, we have some doozies. [laughs] But that gets the process going and just throwing out anything and not being afraid. We always like to think: What’s the craziest thing we could do? Ok, if we wanted to do this and make it really fun, enjoying ourselves and be something that’s totally different – we’d put it out there, what we want to do the most and would just go for it.That usually works out. [laughs] [Jon :] Put a lot of thought into it, a lot of skills, a lot of things… Steve growing up was always messing around with video. He was a video director as a child and really developed that skill. And Paul’s videographer skills and Al has been working on his music skills… A lot of work goes into our music… years and years and years of hard work. But the thing that’s cool is when somebody has a gift for something then that work turns into passion, it turns into fun and you almost can’t take credit for it anymore. When somebody tries to do it without that gift… it’s horrible, it’s torture.
But I do, I feel like my piano work once I got to a certain level, it was just like watching a kid with a brand new video game. I was just always wanting to play the piano and it was something that was fun. [Paul :] That’s why we’re always trying to find new things that keep us excited and keep it fun. [Jon :] So I think it’s both. It’s hard work, but I think there has to be a gift.
[Al :] But we don’t believe in coincidences though. We do feel like we all came together on the divine intervention. Too many things happened to call it coincidence… Jon walking into Paul’s (piano) store and then starting the videos… And then Jon and Steve had been playing together for … [Steve :] … 15 years before the piano guys started. It isn’t an overnight success. [Al :] And then Steve moved into my neighborhood and then Steven and I met and we started writing music together and then he introduced me to Jon and Paul… And here we are now and it’s unbelievable. We can’t take credit for that, but I echo what these guys said. We all have different skills, but together our skills are multiplying. We make each other better and together we’re a lot stronger than we could be on our own. And we just having a blast.
[Q: What was one of the bad ideas you’ve had?]
[all laughing, joking] [Paul :] I’ll give an example. Let’s take the Charly Brown video. [others:] Oh yeah, that’s a good idea. [Paul :] I remember we were talking and trying to figure out what we’ll do and somebody came up with the idea: Let’s go to the park and we’ll get some kids and dress them up in really bright colored shirts and have ‘em come show up in the park and start dancing as Jon & Steve are playing. I put that idea up on Facebook, saying: “Hey, what do you think of this idea?” And huh… [laughs and weeps over his forehead] [others:] “That is cheesy, that is stupid, don’t exploit children, …” they said. [Paul :] We were like: “Oh ok!” We were stuck for like two hours, trying to figure out what to do and then out of a sudden somebody was like: “Hey, what if we did the opposite of that and did it in a senior living center home?” And all of the sudden it was just like: “Yeah, that’s it!”
As Mormons, we are followers of Jesus Christ. We live our lives to serve Him and teach of His eternal plan for each of us. (The Church of Jesus Christ)
[Steve :] When Al and I were first working together four years ago, we both really had the same ambition and we voiced it to each other and that was to create spiritual music. Not religious music that was exclusionary, but spiritual music - try to find inspiration, pray for inspiration, so that when people heard the music it would somehow help them in a way, even in a tiny small way, but out of small things come great things, you know. Our life is one big snowball, sometimes we don’t realize all the little things amass into what we end up becoming. Music is such an integral part of somebody’s life, we underestimate its effects on ourselves. It’s the soundtrack of our life that has such a play on the choices we make, the people we hang out with, the things we do. When Alan and I talked about creating spiritual music together that was sort of what we locked into and Jon and I had been performing that kind of music for a long time, Paul was excited about the concept. So it was a loose, very vague concept… it sort of happened organically… But the first appetizer at all was let’s create something that has a positive effect on the world somehow, but not in a cliché cheesy way, but in a way that is meaningful to us, to our families and hopefully, as an extension to the people that listen to our music. And we’re very, very excited and grateful that this has occurred. I mean the feedback we’ve gotten from people is that they listen to our music, when they need a lift, when they need help or they found our music in a really miraculous way and it brought their family together or got them out of a hole they felt they were in... That never gets odd! [Jon :] Someone wrote that comment that they were going to commit suicide and they were like: “I just happened to find your video” And… what were they saying? [moment of silence] Stuff like that… You’re like “Really?!” That is better than a payday; that is better than a gold record, in my opinion.
[Steve :] I remember when this mother emailed us and said that her 18 year-old son wanted her to watch our video on Youtube and she was like: I don’t wanna watch what my 18 year-old wants to show me on Youtube, I know it’s gonna be something I don’t wanna watch. And she said, he proceeded to show me one of your videos and they had this moment where mother and son were enjoying something together on the internet which is so exceedingly rare. And that moment was so valuable to us, because it’s like “oh, what a great thing to be able to be part of.” We don’t take credit for, we just feel like it’s feeling the brotherhood and the sisterhood that exists on the earth, enjoying nature, feeling god’s spirit, whatever you wanna call it. That’s kind of what we’re after… Doing something that rather builds up the world than tears it down.
[Q: What role does music play within families?]
[Al :] First and foremost we’re husbands and we’re dads. We have 16 children between all of us and they are everything to us, they are the world to us. Whatever we do, the most important thing is to be successful at being fathers and husbands. All this is awesome and it’s amazing and we feel very blessed, but if we’d ever let our family life wobble or break apart then all this is not worth it, it really isn’t. We get a lot of inspiration from our family and we wanna create stuff that families can enjoy together. There’s not a lot of movies, music out there that families can really enjoy together. So if we choose songs and if we shoot videos, we have our family in our mind. When people come to our shows, families come together and it’s so cool to see little kids all the way up to the grandparents together, enjoying it, laughing, some people crying, just having a blast. That’s what we concentrate on [laughs] and...
[Steve :] I’ll tell you an experience from my own family: My father… very … very… very, very… how do I put this… my hero in life, very much into classical music and very little other music. In fact, I grew up on classical music so much that when I was 16 and started to drive I’d have classical CDs in my car and my friends would be like “What’s this?” They take it out and put other music and I was like “Wow, I’ve never heard this music before!” So I started getting into that music, and I felt to some degree my relationship with my father separated a little bit when I started listening to the music that he didn’t listen to. And I’m not saying that everybody should only listen to music that their parents listen to. But is there a kind of music where parents and children can come together? For me, that’s been this music. I mean I used to play in bands and my dad would come to the show just to support me, but he did not enjoy them.
He really didn’t until this happened: He’s coming to the show and he’s hearing classical pieces that he loves and I’m feeding him Adele and One Direction and Coldplay. He doesn’t care, because it’s in the context of a richly steeped classical music buffer and I think it’s so fun that we can enjoy that together and I value that. And it’s brought us closer together and I hope that’s something that’s happening out there and we feel like it is, because of the feedback we’re getting. […]
[Paul :] Well I don’t a… I think… um… there’s a saying by (you shall know them), but I’d say, you know, I don’t know if... if some people don’t like it that’s great [cautious], but … [Jon :] It’s not for anybody! [Paul :] It seems to be growing and doing really well, so we’re having fun, and we’re seeing success with it. Whatever you call it, I think it’s working. [giggles]
[Jon :] I love going on Ticketmaster reading reviews, you know there are 95 per cent of five stars. You see, they come back from the concert, they go to Ticketmaster and write a review. Those are the people I’m interested in. I know if a critic comes to the show, that’s what he’s there to do. [Steve :] That’s his job! [Jon :] You can’t take it serious, you really can’t. You just gotta do what you gotta do.
Steve and I for sure… if somebody went to see Wu Yawen on night on the classical piano and then comes to see me this night, it’s not even gonna keep me in comparison, but as long as I can hang with people like Billy Joel and Yanni – these types of piano players – I’m good enough, you know what I mean? As long as I can play my own stuff. If you want to be a classical performer, you don’t even have time to write. [Steve :] You don’t have time to do anything else! [Jon :] [pause, searching for words] All you have to do is practice other people’s music 10 hours a day. That’s what you do.
[Steve :] And it, it, I’m so grateful, our personalities don’t even make sense for that. I could not play 300 year old music over and over again and trying to compete with anybody out there. I have too much ADHD, that wouldn’t work! This… our… what we’re trying to accomplish is an entertainment package. Some of classical music factors into that, but it’s not all about classical music, pop or technique either, it’s about the feeling. And once we focus on the feeling critics will always criticize that, because they may not have the same feeling as the guys sitting next to them. But for us it’s just putting ourselves out there authentically, not trying to be someone else. It’s about just being ourselves and we found that, we found the place of Piano Guys and we love it and I think people can see we love it. No matter what’ll happen, there’ll always be critics, but for us, we’re so grateful we get to do what we get to do.
[Al :] I like what Steve said, you know. It’s not just about classical music, it’s about original music, it’s about pop music and it’s about movie scores. So it’s really four things… [Steve :] But there’s fun in there too. [Al:] And there’s Goofy… Yeah. [Paul :] One of the things I don’t think a lot of people understand is that, there’s a lot of tracks going on in the music, and a lot of people don’t realize is that we’ve got a piano and then there’s a symphony. And that symphony is just one guy. [Jon :] There’s no symphony in the world that could play the way Steve p… plays, when he puts all those tracks together and the end result is impossible to duplicate, that’s why we could never really have a great satisfying piano guys show for an audience member trying to do it with a symphony. You know, that would be disappointing.
[Steve :] I guess I’m kind of confused at the innovation part, too. Because I don’t know of anybody out there that’s done all three Batman themes across 50 years with only Cello and Piano using all the bat mobiles and batman locations. [all talking over each other] [Al, laughs:] That’s innovation mania, really! [Steve :] It’s like putting an African spin on a Coldplay tune, that’s never been done. Putting vocal textures, piano and cello together and doing Kungfu-Panda on the Great Wall of China. [all talking over each other] This is really lame! We should really innovate! […] Give us something we can chew on, critics! […] [Al :] Nobody is doing what we’re doing and as successful as we’re doing it. That’s not to brag! [hysterical laughs] [Steve :] Anyway, you’ve hit a vain with this. [laughs] We’re having a bless at the end of the day! [Al :] We’re having a bless! [Jon :] Yeah, we will. [each artist repeats that again] Well, thanks for your time and the interview, Sarah!