Interview with the Shirtless Violinist
Matthew Olsen, The Shirtless Violinist, has created a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Halleujah, which is proving quite popular on YouTube. We spoke to Olsen about why he has decided to perform topless, his favourite places to perform and his plans for the future…
What made you decide to start performing shirtless?
I have been playing the violin since the age of 3, and it’s truly a part of my heart and soul. I am also a former fitness instructor and self-described gym bunny – so, naturally, it occurred to me that I might try combining my two passions: music and muscles. Honestly, though, no one has tried to make this happen. The classical music world is very stuffy and the fitness world gravitates toward high-energy dance music. So it’s really no wonder that these two seldom overlap – but it has become my personal mission to change that.
I am on a quest to make classical music sexy.
What has the reaction been to your performances?
When I began my journey as The Shirtless Violinist last summer, I knew the idea would ruffle some feathers in the classical music world. Some people in the community have a rather narrow perspective with little room for exploration and possibly zero room for being sexy. But for every utterance of scandal, I have received a hundred comments of love and support. Like so many other people I know, I am simply an artist working on his art. That’s a very good thing, and I embrace criticism from those who dare to do the same, publicly. Besides, what is art without a little adversity?
What has been your favourite place to play?
Great question, and not an easy one to answer as I have made an effort to play in more and more creative locations, from a waterfall, to a former insane asylum, to a millionaire’s shower — but I’d have to say my favourite place to play was a dusty little path on a vineyard in Napa Valley. The sun was just beginning to set, the breeze was warm, and the only sound (besides my violin) were the distant whinnies of wild horses. Sadly, that picture-perfect spell was broken when an old man came barrelling down the path in his pick-up truck. You should have seen the look in his face when he realised a shirtless violinist was playing on his property.
How much time do you spend in the gym versus practising or composing music?
That’s interesting – I’ve never really thought about that until now! I spend about equal amounts of time: 2 hours in the gym and 2 hours of practising my violin. Six days a week – rest is valuable.
Have you collaborated with my other artists?
In my latest music video Hallelujah I wanted to try something that hadn’t really been done before: Playing my violin with backup vocals. We always hear it the other way around, with instruments supporting a singer – so why not flip that tradition on its head? I teamed up with a vocal quarter called The Sound Four here in the Seattle area, and I think the result is something special. It’s exactly what I hoped to achieve, and I definitely intend on more collaborations with vocal artists as well as other musicians. Who knows, perhaps I need to team up with an accordion-player. That would be new.
I have caught the eye of several businesses and have been sponsored by apparel companies including Rufskin, N2N Bodywear, Marco Marco, and Charlie by Matthew Zink as well as a top violin company – Fiddlershop.
I feel very fortunate to have opportunities likes this.
For those who might not be familiar with classic music where would you suggest they start?
Start with some “best of” collections, for example Beethoven or Bach. They are both masters from different eras and it’s a great way to figure out what you naturally gravitate toward (Are you a Beethoven or a Bach? That would make a fun quiz.) However, if you want to connect with current artists then check out Yo-Yo Ma (cellist) or Joshua Bell (violinist) – either one is a great place to start.
What is next for the Shirtless Violinist?
I am preparing to shoot my next video, a high-energy tribute to the Oscar-nominated film La La Land, complete with 20 choreographed dancers on a massive stage. It’s going to be unreal.
Next month, I will be timing my video release with Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. Will I be Beauty or will I be the Beast? You’ll just have to wait and see. Hint: I look great in yellow.
Videos aside, I have also been fortunate enough to catch the eyes of three broadcasting companies and am in talks to appear on major network television shows this coming summer and autumn.