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Interview: The Piano Guys

The quartet let Nisha Shuyi in on their inspirations, their challenges, and the miracles they crossed paths with on their musical journey

Photo: The Piano Guys

What goes through your minds when you come up with new songs?

Al van der Beek: We have a lot of kids, so we get most of our inspiration from our children. Steve and Jon are classically trained, and Paul loves pop music. I love R&B and hip hop. You combine them, and you have The Piano Guys’ sound. We get inspiration from everywhere.

How do you decide which songs to cover and which to mash up?

Steven Sharp Nelson: We always like to say that the songs choose us. The creative process is hard to command. We look for songs that can transcend mediocrity. We don’t want to just put noise out there. We choose anything that has a good feeling. Any idea is game, and we don’t draw the line anywhere, except for one thing – music that has a negative connotation. We are dads, and we don’t want to cover a song that we would never want our kids to listen to or sing. We like to make music that brings families together, that encourages positive things rather than leads to unhappiness.

To date, which has been your most challenging music video to film? 

All: When we filmed ‘The Mission’ at the Christ the Redeemer statue at Iguazu Falls in Brazil. We literally needed miracles in order to film there. We thought we had a permit, so we showed up and then realised we didn’t have permission. The head guy came to see us and said, “You can’t be here, you’ve got to go.” Paul has the gift of negotiation, so he talked to the guy in an honest and sincere way. Before we knew it, he was allowing us to film and even opened up locations that were off limits to public. At the end, he liked us so much he ended up not charging us. It was a miracle, as it would’ve been a lot of money.

We love when we have challenges, ’cause then we know that we have hit territory that is either unclaimed or not travelled. We meet those challenges and we try to surmount them with faith, determination and diligence. A lot of people don’t know this, but most of our videos are not planned. We basically show up and make something happen.

Most viral YouTube music acts try to get out of being named as ‘cover bands’ – what’s your take on that? Or are you leaning more towards originals now?

Paul Anderson: I would love to do more originals, but it’s important to do covers, too, as that’s what keeps you current. We are looking for songs that really connect with audiences. We just love the variety of what we do. That keeps this alive for us. We like to keep our fans guessing because we stay within the confines of our signature sounds. We don’t go too far out to lose people. At the same time, we are always skirting the exterior limits of that circle. Our latest album, Wonders, was really fun to listen to because each song has a different feel and a different vibe, and that’s what we love.

With millions of views for each of your videos, do you feel pressured to keep making music that listeners love?

All: That’s where prayer comes in for us. If we felt like it was completely up to us and our minds, we would all have anxiety disorder. As long as God wants us to keep doing this, we will.

Do you think your music has helped make classical music more approachable to the masses?

All: Yes. Paul grew up not knowing about classical music. But now, because of what we’re doing, he loves it. There’s a younger generation that doesn’t know what classical music is, but there’s also an older generation that doesn’t know what pop music is. Being able to mash these two genres together is about breaching that gap between classical and pop music.

You guys are known for your sense of humour. What’s your favourite prank that you’ve played on one another?

AB: I lost a deal. So I had to ask a couple in the pool at MBS if they knew about The Piano Guys and offer them tickets to our show. But they rejected me. I think they were totally creeped out [laughs]. As a result from having lots of kids, we think we are cool and funny, but I guess we are not. We have this funny brother relationship with each other. We tease and play pranks on one another to keep each other youthful. It’s about enjoying the process, and we have a lot of inside jokes.