Takénobu: In search of a scene

Classically trained cellist follows a nontraditional path

Nick Ogawa has traveled an unlikely career path for a cellist. After trying his hand at countless styles, the classically trained musician has come full circle as a composer. Ogawa, who records under the name Takénobu, played violin and cello throughout his childhood, but grew tired of traditional classical music's "stuffy" demeanor. As a college student, he experimented with other types of music, including bluegrass, blues, folk, and pop, plus looping and recording techniques.

"The versatility of a string instrument where you can pluck and bow, and the timbre of bowing layered many times, sounds so good," says Ogawa, who has adapted his cello to different musical styles.

In his first recordings as Takénobu, Ogawa returned to traditional classical compositions, but he quickly branched out to write more complex arrangements that layered multiple cello tracks over one another. Over time, his work started to draw similarities to the likes of loop-based string acts including Andrew Bird, Owen Pallett, and the Books. Takénobu received an unexpected boost from online streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, which in turn led to increased iTunes sales. That early stroke of luck allowed him to pay his bills as well as write, record, and own all the rights to his music.

Ogawa was able to develop an audience from afar without a strong local fan base — a rare reversal of conditions compared to many other emerging acts. But he was itching for a live audience that would allow him to play more visceral music. The urge followed him from New York to Atlanta in 2008, where he's continued to evolve his live show.

"I would always hear that my music is 'great for studying' or 'great headphone music,'" Ogawa says. "I just wanted to play at the Earl and 529, bigger scenes where people were having fun and people didn't have to shut up."

To do that, Ogawa expanded Takénobu into a full-fledged band. He recruited violinist Brian Harper (Blee's Company) and drummer John Craig (Sealions) to fill out the songs from his latest record, Climactica, during live performances.

While Ogawa's recent embrace of pop songwriting has translated into a more lush and accessible sound, he wants to rededicate himself to instrumental music. His next project may come in the form of film scoring or arrangements for a youth orchestra. Whatever lies ahead, it'll involve pushing his creative boundaries as a composer, cellist, and producer.

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