It’s barely noon and the mimosas are already flowing at the Astoria, Queens apartment shared by the four members of Well-Strung, the all-male — and all-gay — singing string quartet. They’ve declared this Sunday a “day-drinking day,” and who am I to object? Just a minute earlier, violist Trevor Wadleigh was walking around in nothing but a towel. Cheers!
Wadleigh, first violinist Edmund Bagnell, second violinist Christopher Marchant, and cellist Daniel Shevlin are toasting the October 2 release of their second album, POPssical, which puts a classical spin on pop songs by artists like Miley Cyrus, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Lorde. Whereas their debut featured classical pieces alongside contemporary songs, POPssical mashes up the two styles. “I feel like we’ve found more of a musical identity by tapping into that blend,” says Shevlin.
The guys are understandably excited about their sophomore effort, especially considering the group’s humble beginnings. When the internationally acclaimed foursome formed back in 2012, all they had scheduled was a summer engagement in Provincetown. “I had hopes and dreams that it would go far beyond that, but we really had no idea how,” says Marchant, who conceived the group with producer Mark Cortale. “We started off with strong energy and buzz in a place where you’d typically see another drag show or Naked Boys Singing! We offered something different, so people connected to that and wanted us to come to their hometowns.”
“We’re still together because our fans demanded it,” Wadleigh adds. “The summer ended, but we kept giving the people what they wanted.”
POPssical was recently funded through a very successful Kickstarter campaign, so it’s clear that folks are still sweet on Well-Strung. “It’s a really good time to be us,” says Bagnell. “In this age of YouTube, there’s an interest in homegrown music and getting back to basics. People appreciate the craft.”
Gay fans in particular also appreciate the group’s good looks, but the guys don’t consider that the secret to their success. “We get asked about this a lot,” Bagnell continues. “It’s important for any performer out there to be conscious of how you present yourself, but I don’t think we feel any extra pressures as gay performers to look good and appease our gay fans.”
“I’m in the gym anyway,” adds Marchant, a sometime underwear model who often bares his impressive biceps in Well-Strung’s photo shoots. “It really has nothing to do with the band.”
That’s not to say they don’t appreciate their loyal gay fanbase. “Our first audiences in Provincetown were almost all gay, and who knows where we’d be now if we hadn’t started there,” Marchant says. “Our demographic widened as we traveled across the country, and now we play for families, children, senior citizens. I love that our show is universal. It’s very out there that we’re gay, and we don’t hide from it, but the media and other people latch on to that more than we do.”
“When we first got together, our show was very focused on us as gay men,” Shevlin says. “We definitely catered to the gay crowd. Then we realized that our music had greater appeal than our gay stories, so we began focusing more on the music. We still talk about ourselves, we’re still being who we are, and we happen to be gay, but it’s not a gay show.”
If there were any fears that Well-Strung might be going straight, they were surely put to rest by the quartet’s recent music video for their mashup of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and Bach’s “Partita No. 3 in E Major (BWV 1006),” in which all four guys primp for hot dates with the same dude. Says Marchant, “If we were going to make a video for that song, why pretend to be dating some girl?”
The mimosas currently have the bandmates and roommates in good spirits, but do they ever get sick of each other? “Totally,” Marchant admits, “but I know when it’s time to go my room and close the door.”
“We’ve had almost four years to gradually become acclimated to each other, getting to know each other’s differences and idiosyncrasies,” Wadleigh explains. “We know when someone needs a nap, when someone needs to eat. It’s like growing up with a sister. ‘Oh, it’s just her time of the month!’”
Somebody call Andy Cohen; this feels like a reality show waiting to happen. But which one’s the villain? Which one’s the goody two-shoes? And, most importantly, who’s the slutty one? “We’ve actually been pursued by reality show producers,” Bagnell says. “But it’s tricky, because we don’t fit as neatly into those roles as they’d like.”
But as four gay guys living under the same roof, surely they each identify with a Golden Girls character, right? “Well, this is Rose,” laughs Wadleigh, pointing to Bagnell. Marchant whispers with shame that he’s never seen Golden Girls. “I’m the oldest, so I guess I’m Sophia,” says Shevlin, “but I feel like we trade off. We’ve all been Blanche.”
SIDEBAR: They've got it going on!
Well-Strung had a viral hit this summer with “Chelsea’s Mom,” a reimagining of Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” which salutes presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. “I figured the video would do alright,” says Bagnell, “but I didn’t expect Hillary and Chelsea to tweet it!” The group was then invited to perform the song for Clinton herself at a Provincetown fundraiser. “She was very sweet,” Marchant recalls. “When we came in, she said, ‘Oh, I see my favorite musical group!’ She told us that when she saw the video for the first time in her car, she had no idea what she was about to watch. She was afraid it was something by the right wing.”
Next, September 2015.