JUMP ABOARD THE GYPSY TRAIN
A FUSION OF CULTURE AND GENRE
INDIE WORLD FUSION
Pioneering a new genre through a common tale of dedication, passion, and sacrifice.
Bennet Cerven longed for something more. He was a virtuosic violinist with a cushy Wall Street job. He led a charmed life surrounded by friends, and was always within reach of a cozy Midwestern family home base. But it wasn’t enough: where were the journeys that stripped life down to the essentials and built your character from the ground up?
For Bennet, life would have remained muted. But two and a half years ago, he put everything into the streets, and traveled musically, physically, and soulfully—virtually around the world—with his music being his guide as he reclaimed and redefined his life. He’s documented the story of his personal and musical travels with the band The Trouble Notes. The band’s emotive, pan-cultural music functions as both personal memoir and a United Nations of sound.
“I always believed I was going to pursue humanitarian efforts, and I just felt unfulfilled and lost with where my life was at,” Bennet reveals. “I romanticized my grandfather having fought in the Great War and running off to explore foreign lands. I felt I needed my own adventure.”
The Berlin-based trio is Bennet Cerven violin, Florian Eisenschmidt guitar, and Oliver Maguire percussion. Their music doesn’t need words to convey stories or foster connections. The Trouble Notes resonate across genres and cultures with visionary and accessible compositions. The trio’s aesthetic conjures the intrepid contemporary sounds of EDM, hip-hop, indie rock and stoner rock along with the disciplined traditions of classical, gypsy, and jazz.
The Trouble Notes story begins when Bennet moved from Indiana to New York City and finally began take ownership of his prodigious musical gifts. At the age of four, he began playing violin, and by 15 he was classically trained performing with orchestras and wowing audiences in competitions. The problem was that classical music bored him. Instead of drilling musical exercises, he began to devote his practice time to playing along to the television and the radio. Applying schooled technique with imagination in a contemporary music or cultural setting would wonderfully prefigure the spirit imbuing The Trouble Notes.
In New York, he found himself longing for a creative outlet to medicate his soul while it felt numbed by Wall Street. He found himself often alone on the band of the East River, filling his spirit, improvising from his heart. He also found solace in the demand for violin in the bustling and diverse music scene.
Stripping away the flash and distraction of a career in finance, Bennet began to heed an inner call to pursue a form of international diplomacy. He began to realize that call was coming from his violin—his music was meant to spread healing and joy worldwide.
“It all happened gradually, there are little whispers, and then one day you wake up and say ‘screw it,’” he reveals. “Something emotional happens, and what you’ve been thinking about for months becomes a reality.”
By the time Bennet decided to cut ties and move to London, he already earned his bones on the streets of New York. “If you can work on the streets of New York, you can work anywhere. There, you’re lucky to get five seconds of anyone’s time. That where I learned about showmanship, dynamics, energetic performance, and how to speak to audiences,” he recalls. Soon the adventure began: London, Ireland, Prague, and, finally, Berlin where The Trouble Notes have a home, friends and girlfriends, and a dedicated fanbase.
Along the way in this journey, something special happened: one man’s quest became a cultural movement. In London, after a transcendent jam in Hyde Park, Bennet found a creative and ideological soulmate in percussionist Oliver Maguire. His command of hip-hop and beats and traditional rhythms, and gifts for intuiting the energy of the crowd has been crucial to shaping the group’s panoramic artistry. Upon meeting, Oliver packed up his life to become a seeker. The two found their missing comrade in Berlin. Guitarist Florian Eisenschmidt comes from the studio and rock band circuit. With The Trouble Notes, he predominantly plays nylon string guitar—an instrument suited to subtle fair such as classical and flamenco—propulsive urgency, capturing the dynamics and excitement of hard rock and psychedelic rock.
The group’s name is irreverently playful, just like their music can be. It conjures the concept of learned musicianship—when thought as a twist on “treble notes”—and it conjures their daring virtuosity, as in they are playing the “the trouble notes.” But most appropriately the handle evokes daring creativity, music that stirs up something within the listener.
“When you create from openness you break rules and forge new ones that shape your music,” Bennet explains. “We reference styles and cultural signifiers in a modern way. We mix klezmer, Oriental musical motifs, Mediterranean scales, and other inspirations in a simple Western songwriting context.”
The results are an invigorating music experience that profoundly shows a slice of world peace. “We wrote each song on the street, they tell our stories, other people’s stories, and they tell the story of the environment,” Bennet says.
Highlights in the band’s catalog include “Catalonia Calling,” “Court the Storm,” “Ghosts Of The Red Sand,” and “Cristoph.” These, along with others in their vast repertoire, are being recorded for The Trouble Notes debut album. “Catalonia Calling” is about vivacious love being muted by the demands of everyday. Here, the lovers in the narrative drift away in their thoughts to the carefree days of their love when it was untouched by daily responsibilities. “Ghosts Of The Red Sand,” powerfully unites Arabic, klezmer and western traditions for powerful statement on international harmony.
“Cristoph” uses brash dynamic shifts juxtaposing sorrowful balladry with euphoric, almost manic, musicality to showcase the power we have inside us all to shift our emotional perspectives. “The character in the song is an archetype who many of us encounter daily in our lives,” Bennet reveals. “He is a man who is living in the streets, drowning his problems in alcohol and living a lonely existence. He walks the streets in utter contempt of anyone and everyone – including himself – caused by an inescapable dark and tragic past filled with haunting memories. Suddenly, Cristoph has a moment of clarity, a realization that he can escape from his present circumstance. It lies within himself. Forgiveness and Redemption are now reachable. He realizes that only when he changes his own way of thinking, can a very sad melody become something exciting, moving and emancipating.”
The Trouble Notes have built a large fanbase spanning numerous countries, headlining sold out shows in Germany, UK, Czech Republic, Italy and the United States. They have performed on many prestigious international festivals and live on major media networks in multiple countries, including on WBEZ Chicago’s “Worldview”, BBC Radio Lincolnshire, Metro Radio UK’s “Nightowl” with Alan Robson, Deutschland Kultur Radio, and “Sons Urbanos” on Canal Bis in Brazil. Their song “Ghosts of the Red Sand” was selected as the theme song for RBB’s “Auf Augenhöhe.” Recently, they’ve been selected to be the musical guest performers at the 2015 European Film Award, and they’ve been nominated “Indie Artist of the year” 2015 by Cultural Magazine Indie Berlin. This past December, the first run of The Trouble Notes’ self-produced show, The Prologue, debuted to a sold out audience at Lido Berlin with 570 people in attendance.
Up next, the group will tour their show, The Prologue, around Germany, Italy, Austria, and Hungary. This spring, the trio will record their debut album amidst heavy interest from publishing companies in Europe. On the live performance front, The Trouble Notes will make exclusive European festival dates, and in October, will bring the new album to the United States for a two-month tour which will introduce the group to many new markets.
With a homeland tour on the horizon, Bennet takes pause to reflect on his transformative journey. “When people ask me what I want out of this music, I tell them: number one, I want to write music that moves people,” he says. “That’s you how do something good for the world.”