Ken Oak Band brings Asian flavor to cello-based sound

By Eric Chung | November 9, 2006

Ken Oak asked to make sure his stir-fry included rice. He looked at me as if to say, "Yeah, I know, I'm Asian." We sat in front of the gelato bar at Nolan's on 33rd. I jokingly asked him how it was and shockingly enough, he replied, "Not bad." Ed Gorski who was on stage quickly put his acoustic down and nabbed a bite, "Hey, someone get me one too!" The two make up the cello rock group Ken Oak Band. They liked the food here, last Saturday, at Charles Commons.

Everything in this world changes, and Ken Oak Band is no different. Some of these changes involved the loss of members and others have arrived the creative process and new fans. Change has been good for Ken Oak Band as they are on their third national tour while having hopes of Europe and Asia. Their new album, Vienna to Venice, released last month, features a song that appeared on a previous recording. "It's a song we like but that album is out of print now. We rearranged it on the new CD for our new fans," Ken said.

So, what is cello rock? Well, the cello component was brought to the band by Ken Oak, a Korean-American musician who was trained in classical music. At one point in his life he was in an orchestra. However, after high school, things changed. "After that, I started picking up guitar and just did that for a while. Then I met Ed two years ago and started the band with me on cello," Ken explaied. The rocking-out component is done by both of them -- most visibly seen in Ed's elastic expressions while he's on stage.

"Working with a cellist is great, the sound it makes, it's like waves coming in and out -- it does something to the time," Ed replied when asked about Ken's choice of instrument. Today it's only a guitar, a cello and a pair of voices that make up their sound. "It's hard sometimes without a drummer..." Ed said. "Yeah, you just have to count A LOT! And when Ed makes that scrunched up face, it means he's trying hard to not screw up," Ken joked. Not only does Ken Oak Band rock out with classical instruments but they're full of fun and a chill duo to hang out with.

"I can give you a name for every song we've written," Ed said of their first completely co-written album, Vienna To Venice. Before, they had other members, but now it's just Ed and Ken and they've successfully combined their new ideas with old ones to create a balanced sound. "We're open to lots of ideas, sometimes experimental, especially with the way I play cello, but not all our songs are about love or romance." For example, Hey Andrew is about Ed's grandfather who recently passed away. They told me that interactions with people are the things in life that move you the most. Sometimes they write about life in general but more often than not, it's about different kinds of relationships with people, love, friends, family and others.

Bringing these ideas with them on their third tour has been long for them. The two have been hitting many colleges other than Hopkins. "Sometimes it's tough at colleges because we don't have the audience's full attention -- kids are doing work and whatnot," Ken said. I too was thinking about doing work down listening but I realized that it would be unfair to those on stage pouring their soul into the stories that they have woven so carefully.

Their performance was full of a somber air while Ken sang heartfelt lyrics, pulling his bow across the strings of his cello, his left hand gently wrapped around it's neck, and Ed strumming away while arching back slightly and tapping his foot, deeply immersed in the waves of the cello and music, but this was broken up by their comedic routines in between. Ken played a portion of "May the Force Be With You," a song from Star Wars as he led into one of their own. Well, I think I was the only one laughing -- so much for being a nerd.

Before "Hey Andrew," Ed joked, "Even though Ken's never met my grandfather, he feels cares deeply for some odd reason," adding lightness to the air. "Saw a picture of him once," Ken added. They created the perfect balance between heavy and light as they had created in their new album and hopefully in the successful career that is ahead of them.

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