PICTURED: Dirty Cello, from left: Alex Farrell, Mana Contractor, Rebecca Roudman, Jason Eckl and Jeff Wheeler. Photo by Jason Eckl

by Tim Pompey

When you think of the cello, you think classical. You think Yo-Yo Ma, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. The band Dirty Cello is none of these. Dirty Cello is about fun, and that point is vital to lead singer and cellist Rebecca Roudman.

“The audience can expect high energy blues, rock and Americana,” said Roudman, “all in the format of an entirely unplanned set list that we evolve throughout the show.”

Roudman’s foray into these genres happened while she attended college at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward. Like many young classical musicians seeking to escape their straitjackets, Roudman found her outlet in rock and roll.

“During that time, I was asked to play in a lot of rock bands,” she recalled. “I was playing the boring cello part where I just play[ed] long notes in the background. I was getting jealous because I got to hear what the singer got to sing, I got to hear guitar players play these chord solos, and I thought to myself, ‘I want to be up there, I want to be shredding the solos, I want to sing,’ and that’s what changed my mind about the role of a cello player.”

But first, if she was going to shred, she had to learn to improvise, a significant problem if all you do is sight-read. Learning how to fly free took study and a little performance practice with names like Ry Cooder. But her efforts paid off.

When she finally debuted for a band and improvised a 15-second solo, Roudman recalled that a bunch of people cheered, and it was “one of the more memorable experiences of my life.”

So whose music does Dirty Cello play?

Roudman’s response: “Basically anybody who shreds on their instrument. Slash, Jimi Hendrix, these are my new idols and who I want to sound like.”

The band also incorporates blues, bluegrass and even fiddle music. “I always liked fiddle music,” said Roudman, “so I try to incorporate that, which is a little strange, trying to sound like a violin on a cello.”

Roudman’s journey has also taken her to some strange places, not the least of which was the show America’s Got Talent, where Sharon Osbourne complained that “when I die and go to hell, your music will be the soundtrack.”

Roudman didn’t take it too seriously, especially since the publicity launched gigs that brought the band to China (twice), Israel, Iceland and other international locations. Dirty Cello has also played at the bottom of a cave, an Irish castle and a nudist resort.

NAMBA Performing Arts Space is less exotic than these locales, but she enjoys playing there all the same. “There is something about an intimate space like NAMBA where the audience is up close,” Roudman explained.

And if you’re so inclined, you might request Bach during the show. Just don’t be surprised if it ends up sounding like Led Zeppelin. Dirty Cello is all about the fun.

Dirty Cello will perform on Saturday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. at NAMBA Performing Arts Space, 47 South Oak Street, Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 805-628-9250 or visit nambaarts.com.