The Mad Violinist and the Symphony Crack Orchestra may just be the best band you've never heard of.
The Atlanta-based instrumental collective led by Ashanti "The Mad Violinist" Floyd and guitarist Matt Barrett is bringing its incendiary live show to Winnipeg for a three-night residency at the Pyramid Cabaret. The genre-spanning crew is looking to bolster its Canadian fanbase after lighting up Indie Week in Toronto last October with a successful run of shows.
Stateside, a pair of albums -- 2011's Addiction and 2012's Fiend -- have earned the SCO a faithful following, but eagle-eyed hip-hop heads might recognize Floyd and Barrett's names from other projects. The pair are seasoned hip-hop producers whose credits have graced such Grammy-winning recordings as Lupe Fiasco's The Show Goes On, Nicki Minaj's I'm the Best and Fantasia Barinno's album Back To Me.
The duo also served as backing musicians for Alabama rapper Yelawolf before parting ways to start the SCO in 2009. Floyd and Barrett wanted a project that would allow them to experiment with different genres -- including pop, jazz, fusion rock, gospel, classical and, of course, hip hop -- and put their musicianship front and centre.
"In the beginning it was just Matt and I," Floyd explains. "When we were backing up Yelawolf, we weren't just backup musicians, we were front-men musicians. We'd be like MCs with our instruments. I know both of us learned a lot about how to be entertainers."
Besides, the SCO doesn't need a singer when it has Ashanti's violin to provide the melodic anchor. "The violin is the closest you can get to the human voice. It's the voice of Symphony Crack," Barrett says.
SCO has anywhere between five to seven members among its ranks. Everyone in the band plays a minimum two or three instruments and, like Barrett and Floyd, have all done stints as sidemen. "Our trumpet player has played with Janelle Monae. I used to tour with Lupe Fiasco," Floyd says.
Floyd, 30, jokes that he came out of the womb with a violin in his hand. His mother, Patrice Floyd, is a gifted classical/gospel violinist and professor who has taught thousands of kids, including her own.
"My twin brother and my two sisters also played, and my dad played the piano. Music is my family," he says.
He began his string studies on the viola at age three and started performing in church before moving on to blues clubs when he was 14. After two semesters at the Berklee College of Music, he'd already made a name for himself as an arranger.
Floyd's biggest musical influence remains his mother.
"She makes people cry. Someone walked into her church and proposed to her once," he recalls with a laugh. "She makes the violin sing."
Barrett, meanwhile, is a student of YouTube. The 29-year-old Nashville native is a self-taught guitarist, but grew up steeped in country music culture. Vince Gill was a Sunday dinner regular at his grandfather's house. His uncle is venerated banjo player Larry McNeely, who collaborated with country legend Glen Campbell.
Both Barrett and Floyd grew up surrounded by live music. The act of putting bow to string and fingers to fretboard is what drives them.
"For so many years, music has been so digital. Music recycles itself, and I think we're coming back to a point where people want to hear that raw sound. Live music never died. Musicians always stay working. We always have a place in sound. We're rooted in analogue music, but we're young. We love all kinds of music. We love club music, but we feel like this is more refreshing for people," Floyd says.
While both have seen success in the studio with other acts, the SCO represents a kind of freedom.
"Our passion is getting on stage," Barrett says. "The chemistry, the energy -- it doesn't compare to the studio."