Over lunch where we feasted on German food, I chatted with DC’s Gordon Withers who has in his 5 years in DC made a name for himself as a highly respected solo cellist. He is also the cellist and guitarist for Baltimore band, Office of Future Plans signed to Dischord Records, and headed by J Robbins. We talked of his band efforts, his cello projects including his current Kickstarter campaign, social media, and of course, vinyl.
I asked Gordon how he ended up playing with Office of Future Plans and what playing with them is like.
When I was living in Florida I heard about Cal Robbins (J’s son who was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy), so I made a cello cover album Jawbox On Cello and gave the proceeds to Cal’s fund, which helped to pay for the cost of alternative therapies not covered by insurance.
I didn’t know J Robbins at that point, I was just a big fan of his and felt compelled to help his family. Later on I moved to DC where we connected. In 2009 he accidentally started to form Office of Future Plans and asked me to join. Of course I said yes, ever since then I’ve been playing with them. Sometimes at rehearsals, I look around the room and still can’t believe I’m playing with musicians I have long respected and admired. It’s still surreal.
I was really impressed with The Office of Future Plans recording for the AV Club. It seemed like a ton of fun, was it as much fun as it looked? And what a perfect addition Damon Locks added, do you think we will see more collaborations like that in the future? Any future plans?
The AV Club experience was a total blast. They bring in bands to do holiday covers, and the organizer Kyle apparently had always wanted someone to do the Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia,” but we were the only ones to actually take him up on it. Damon Locks (from The Eternals) added the perfect element by doing guest vocals.
As for the near-future, we are working on a spilt 7” record with the French band Daria for Lovitt Records. The 7” will have a new song from each band, and it will come with downloads of bonus cover songs, two from each band.
I can’t wait to get my hands on that one, looking forward to more from Office of Future Plans. It has to be insane working with Dischord Records, the pinnacle of success! How is that experience and how do you guys maintain a healthy balance between life and music success, as you all have families now.
Well, we are all older and more established in life than we were in prior bands. We all have a family to support and love, so that is the most important thing to us in life. Family comes first. The cool thing about Dischord Records is that they support our lifestyle. They set deadlines which we have to work hard to meet, but we are also able to maintain a healthy balance.
Touring for months at a time is not something any of us want to do – we might do a weekend here and there but no long stretches. I feel like that is success, at least for us. We are excited to still do music we love, but we are also full time husbands and fathers. We all did long tours when we were younger, but isn’t something any of us desire anymore. Dischord has been amazing to work with, I couldn’t imagine a better fit for us.
What an amazing opportunity. Just being signed to Dischord is success enough, but it sounds like your definition of success is something that younger bands now can aspire to, the pinnacle of success after years of working hard. Congratulations, what a gift!
Yes, definitely a gift. I really do feel that the way we have it now is true success, sort of a re-framed version of success.
Actually, I am glad you asked that question. I discovered The Joy Formidable from The Vinyl District! I remember TVD being one of first to break them and I became a fan instantly. I was inspired to cover some of their songs on cello. One night they played at the Black Cat backstage so I gave them a copy. They ended up using the beginning of one of my covers at all of their shows on their last tour. I went to their last show at the 9:30 Club and they played it. I was really excited to hear my rendition over the sound system, it was unreal!
Wow, props to TVD! You’ve had so much success, how exciting. How long have you been playing the cello?
Since 4th grade, so what 25 years now! I can’t believe it’s been 25 years.
That’s a long time! What made you keep up with it for so long and what advice do you give youngsters to keep at their classical instrument?
Good question. I played in a lot of rock bands growing up so that kept me going. I would tell kids that it only keeps getting better as you continue to learn. In the beginning it’s really about learning the vocabulary. Once you learn the vocabulary, it gets more fun because you can play more and better music. I mean still find myself learning new things even 25 years later.
Now you are working on raising money via Kickstarter to release your cello cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. You reached your initial goal in 3 days, that’s insane! It’s amazing how the internet has really changed what musicians such as yourself can do. Look at Protect-U, because of the internet, they were able to surpass their goal of $5,000 for their stolen gear in less than 72 hours. Using the internet for raising money for a cause, or to help a band recover stolen gear and for you to release your album on vinyl is what I would consider the internet at its absolute best. How has the Kickstarter experience been for you?
Yes, this is the internet at its best. Kickstarter in particular is perfect for self-financing vinyl projects. When I first started with this project, I didn’t expect to surpass my goal so quickly. The level of interest has been amazing!
Are the majority of people funding your Kickstarter friends of yours or complete strangers?
Surprisingly, they are almost all complete strangers. I’ve gotten a good amount of overseas pledges. Maybe it’s because Pink Floyd is an obsession for a lot of people, something more strangers would back because there’s a cult following of Pink Floyd fans.
What does vinyl mean to you for this project?
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was originally released on vinyl. That’s how most people at the time would have heard it so I thought it was important when I release it to have it also be on vinyl, for people to experience it the same way.
Vinyl is the pinnacle of the recording process, the ultimate thing you can do with a recording. It sounds better and warmer than any other medium, and there is such a satisfying tactile element in its bulkiness and charming awkwardness. The best part, though, is that listening to a vinyl record is such a deliberate act. You really have to commit to engaging with the album—you have to physically take it out and manage the playback, you have to use serious equipment, and you can’t walk around like you could with an iPod without missing something. Listeners engaged with Dark Side Of The Moon in exactly this way when it first came out, and I hope they engage similarly with this cello version.
I feel the same way about vinyl, it’s a true love, an experience. What was the first vinyl record you bought?
I think it was Pat Benatar’s Live From Earth … but the John Denver & The Muppets Christmas album will always be my favorite childhood record.
So, you and I both talked about DC and how it’s really such an amazing place for music. In my discoveries, I feel like I unearth a new amazing band every day, but they do have to be dug up sometimes. Which bands in DC do you feel are doing great things right now?
If you would like to fund Gordon’s Pink Floyd project, please visit his Kickstarter. While he has surpassed his goal, more funding means more copies that he can press, with the possibility of 180-gram audiophile quality vinyl too!
Photo: Kelley Jackson (Lucy Pearl Photography)