Joey "Cello Joe" Chang is the world's first long distance musical bike touring cellist. He has ridden over 10,000 miles in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Australia.
He's certainly much more than just a cellist.
A: Not only do you play cello, you use a loop pedal, you sing along, beatbox, throat sing- the works. How do you describe your music?
J: I describe my music as classical hip-hop because it fuses cello (which is classical) with beat boxing (which is hip-hop). I also sing about topics relating to social justice and environmental justice. That's a central feature of hip-hop as well.
A: How long have you been "Cello Joe" now?
J: A homeless man named Carl in Palo Alto coined my moniker Cello Joe in 1997. So that would be 16 years now.
A: You're well experienced in biking with a cello. Do you fly with it often? What is your craziest cello travel experience?
J: I rarely fly with a cello. Now I have an electric collapsible cello that I can take as carry-on. I prefer to travel by train, bus, carpool, bicycle, or walking.
I think my craziest cello traveler experience was catching a train from Bristol to Southampton and getting off the train and realizing that I had not unloaded my cello off the train. I immediately called the next station and asked them to grab my cello off the train. I hopped on the next train, got my cello, came back and then went straight to a gig.
A: What made you start playing the cello?
J: In fifth grade I was given the opportunity to try all of the instruments in the orchestra and in the band. I chose the cello because I felt like there would be less competition then playing violin. Had I known I was going to be traveling this much, I might have chosen violin, clarinet, or flute instead.
A: You started out with classical music. What do you think of classical cellists? What advice could you offer to a classical cellist?
J: I have great respect for classical cellists because I realized right away that I would not make it as a classical cellist. That's why I started to develop an alternative style to stand out and distinguish myself.
When it comes to improvisation, my advice to a classical cellist, in that regard, would be to start jamming with bands. Go to some open mics and meet some singer songwriters that would like to work with a cellist.
A: What other cellists and/or musicians do you look to for inspiration?
J: I really look up to Rushad Eggleston. He is the cellist that I want to emulate the most. His band is called Tornado Rider. I host an event in San Francisco called Cello Madness Congress. I have met so many amazing cellists through hosting this event. I look up to all of them. I also take great inspiration from beatboxers such as Rahzel, Kenny Mohammed, Beardyman, and Bobby McFerrin.
I also get a lot of inspiration from other bicycle touring musicians such as Heather Normandale, Justin Ancheta, Gabe Dominguez, Kipchoge Spencer, Paul Freedman (Fossil Fool). I really like the lyrics that the band Cake does because they have such a strong message in them.
A: What is the best thing about doing what you do? What's the worst?
J: The best thing about doing what I do is hearing from people whose lives I've really affected. I also get to travel a lot and have a lot of fun. It's hard to say what the worst thing I do is, but traveling a lot is sometimes stressful. Playing the cello is a physically demanding activity. I sometimes experience pain in my arms and shoulders.
A: What reactions (positive or negative) do you get from audiences?
J: A lot of people come up and say they really like my songs. I have also been told that I suck. I would say the majority of the reactions are positive. Sometimes people really get down and boogie to my music and sometimes they just sit and listen.
A: I love the video of you playing at Burning Man at sunrise. If you could go back and perform at any place you've played, where would it be?
J: Well, I often do go places that I have performed before. If I was to go back to perform at one location again, it would be the plaza outside the Cathedral in Passau, Germany where I played for a crowd of 2,000 people.
A: Any places you haven't performed yet that you're looking forward to?
J: I really want to go and play in Japan, Brazil, and Scandinavia.