Q&A: Doug Jenkins of the Portland Cello Project

The Portland Cello Project (dubbed PCP by their fans) is no ordinary orchestra.

With wildly energetic performances including covers of Outkast and Radiohead songs, this Portland based orchestra is the perfect fixture for music enthusiasts who’d rather drink a few beers in jeans and a R-shirt than a couple glasses of champagne in fur coats and cardigans. Co-founder Doug Jenkins took a brief moment away from working on Jollie Holland’s new album to answer a few questions. Portland Cello Project performs Beck’s Song Reader April 3 at Yoshi’s.

How long have you been playing the Cello?

I’ve been playing more than 15 years.

What got you into playing the cello?

That’s a long story, I’ll just give you the short answer. Basically even from when I was a little kid it was my favorite instrument; it was beautiful. From the first time I went to a symphony I knew it was the instrument I wanted to play. It had the coolest sound and voice to it.

Portland Cello Project interpreted all of Beck’s Song Reader in 2012 with some great guest appearances, how much fun was that?

It was a blast. To have sheet music that was sketched out for 20 songs that have never been recorded, and to be able to put your own spin on it was incredible. The songs were so well written, too.  It wasn’t just a silly songbook. It was actually beautiful music. The whole thing is a work of art-with McSweeney publishing it and putting so much energy into how it looks. Everyone really put their heart and soul into it.

Did you listen to other interpretations before you recorded?

Not really, we basically went into the studio the day we got the music and were already recording. It was only a week after it came out and no one else had really gotten to it yet and no one else influenced us. Part of the fun was that no one had heard it. It was this sort of unadulterated thing. We tried to stay pretty close to the music and to what Beck had in mind. We had a feeling ours would be the first one out. I’m excited to hear the more avant-garde “Christian Metal” versions. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving for years to come.

Have you ever been contacted by some of the artists you cover (Missy Elliot, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Pantera, Outkast, Radiohead)?

Well, Beck posted one of our videos on one of his pages. And Jay-Z posted a link talking about us, but we are usually contacted by their PR people.

So no courtside Brooklyn Nets seats with Jay-Z?

Haha, no I wish.

Who comes up with what you play?

It depends. Either we hear something on the radio or a fan suggests a song or someone in the group wants to play something. It comes from everywhere, and it’s constantly influx and growing. That’s what makes it fun. It’s constantly something new.

You have a lot of energy for an orchestra. Have you offended any composers by deviating from the normal, more conservative symphony experience?

No, because we don’t ever pretend it will be a traditional experience. People are very supportive and we keep it positive. They know that when they come to our shows there is going to be people drinking beer.

Has your nickname ever stirred controversy?

Yeah, of course, but that’s the point right?

You guys play with anywhere from four cellos to twelve. What can we expect here in San Francisco?

Oh Gosh, I want to say six? We will have both percussionists and our bass player. Laura Gibson will be singing some of the Beck songs. It will be a nice, good ensemble where we can balance the jazz stuff and the rock stuff. There will be some exceptional players.

What can we expect in the future from PCP?

We are regrouping right now. We have 12 new songs but I’m not sure if we’re going to release them. We might just record 12 new songs. I can’t even say what we’re doing cause we have so many options. We’re going through a phase of what we want this next album to sound like, and we want it to be really good. We’re mainly going to focus on original material.

Lastly, you guys live in Portland-a big food town. Is there anywhere in SF you’re looking forward to dine?

I am really sad to answer this question, and should probably make up a fake answer. Believe me, I am more than depressed to tell you that we will literally drive into San Francisco, do our sound check, play the show, and then leave. Whenever you don’t even get to stay overnight in such a wonderful city is really unfortunate.

Written by Anthony Presti

Anthony Presti lives and breathes music. He not only writes about some of his favorite musicians around the globe but also plays as a singer/songwriter. With an eclectic taste in music, his favorite live act is The Devil Makes Three while the band he's seen the most are the Deftones. Presti is always a passionate bay area sports fan, avidly following the Giants, Warriors and 49ers.