When vocalist, cellist, guitarist, and pianist Nick Gregg was brainstorming band names around the lunch table at his high school in Austin, Texas a funny moment from the censored version of Die Hard came to mind. Bruce Willis' original line: “Yipee ki-yay motherf---er," is morphed into: "Yipee ki-yay...mother falcon!" The name stuck.
Almost five years later, what began as a group of high school orchestra students jamming after school has become a musical tour de force. With a nine-piece string section, multiple horns, a bassoon, and a glockenspiel, the 18 young musicians of Mother Falcon are merging classical music and rock in a way no group has before. Ahead of their showcase in New York—where they’ll be playing at Joe’s Pub and Littlefield—Abby Haglage talks to the founder, Nick Gregg.
A lot of high school bandmates have undoubtedly tried to do this, but you seem to be the first ones that have been successful. What sets you apart?
I think it’s two things. One of which is the community itself. We’re based in Austin, Texas, and they—even at the beginning—were really receptive of having classical instruments in a rock setting. But also we’re made up of a lot of music majors and I think going through this classical program has given us a unique understanding of the way music works.
It seems like you vacillate between 10 and 20 members at any given time. Do you think you’ll ever head in the direction of a set number?
No, I like the way that it changes. I view this band as an eclectic family, so with family you have dinners and long-lost cousins come in. So we have a standard set of 12 or 15, but, for example, when we go to Chicago, there are some other people that will join us.
How does it work, with that many people writing the songs?
It’s similar I guess to how orchestration works. There’s usually a core group of three to five of us writing the songs. The reason we don’t end up with that “too many cooks in the kitchen” feeling is because everyone knows and understands what the roles are. The song will start as a skeleton sort of, and then we attack it much like an orchestra, getting all the parts to intertwine. So by the end of it were having sectionals—the violins are playing their part, etc. We’ve been working at it for a long time.
So maybe that’s why you’re successful, because the 18 of you are used to working together and sharing the spotlight, so to speak.
Yeah, there’s a lot of shedding of the ego, which really helps with the writing. No one has “lead singer syndrome,” that you experience in so many other bands. We all recognize that these instruments are the forefront, all of them.
But you’re the brain behind all of this, right? If anyone would be allowed to have the "lead singer" syndrome, it would be you.
I’ve been in so many bands as the supporting cellist, that’s probably why. The collective flair that I get at points is so much more interesting. The rhythm section should have the biggest ego because they're holding the songs together, but they’re the most malleable.
Do you have to turn people away who want to join at this point?
As of now we’ve sort of capped our roster. It started out as a quartet in high school. The story is that I walked across the street and saw this guy playing accordion and asked him to play at the Texas Review and he just joined and completely changed our band. The first two years a lot of people were joining, but now it’s sort of solidified. Although we do host a summer camp.
Cool. What for?
It’s for younger musicians. Part of the reason we do it, as I said before, is because the community is so supportive of it. So we’re doing D.I.Y. classical repertoire, teaching younger kids (middle-school range) how to do this. We teach them everything from how to mic their cello to how to book a gig. We’re trying to get this whole D.I.Y. aspect of rock with classical roots. Teaching them that they don’t need to drop their classical instruments for the guitar.
So how did you guys decide on the black and red outfits?
That’s something we learned from orchestra—it goes along with that shedding of the ego. It was my idea to continue with the black because I think it makes it all about the music, not what we look like or who looks better. We’re all equal. Also, the accessibility of black. There are so many of us that it would be so distracting and overwhelming for the audience if we all wore cool, hip outfits.
That’s smart. So the focus is on the music as a whole, not the 18 of you as individuals.
Yeah. And actually, there’s this thing I learned that my dad told me—I think this is true so hopefully it’s not the bending of the truth—is that during the Napoleonic wars the German army would wear gold, red, and black—gold would cover urine, red would cover blood, and black would cover the dust/soot. So as the army walked into whatever village they were going to, they looked pristine from afar. I thought that was smart.
That’s interesting. Actually, you have enough people to actually be an army.
Ha, yes. Or a really badass football team.
True. So what are you listening to these days? Or do you only have time to listen to your own stuff?
Ha ha, yeah, Lil Wayne style, right? No, I listen to a lot of other stuff. The thing about studying architecture is that it gives you a lot of time to listen to music while you work. So I’m digesting different artists constantly. I’m really into electronic music—house and techno. I love the fabric. I was reading an interview with Swans and they said, “Melody is dead.” And I thought, wow, that’s sort of true. The thing is it just makes me realize how much there is out there that’s available for us to do. The imperfections are what makes the music good.
Have you guys “made it,” in your view?
Regardless of how all the press in the world feels about it, I know that when I’m on stage, I’m having the time of my life. There is nothing better. Things have come and gone, but this band is really the most stable part of my life. So I want to ride this out until the end, Titanic style. If it does fall down, I want to be playing in the quartet on the top deck, sinking with it.
Will you ever put your architecture degree to use?
I’m really interested in the emerging of architecture and music. I think that’s where bands like Daft Punk are doing so well. They’re combining performance and theatrical qualities with music, so you’re getting a package. People should be expecting more from music. So on this tour, I’m trying to create an environment where people walk in and essentially get a free airplane flight to wherever they want to go.
Are there relationships within the group?
We’re definitely all friends. Some I’ve known forever and some that I’ve just met. The rationale of the band is if you're doing something really well, just do it. That’s why we don’t have bickering. Our one rule is no relationships within the band.
Does that work?
I hope so! The last thing I want is a bouncing bunk-bed in the back of the van and then a messy breakup.
So no one is dating?
If they are, I don’t know about it. I think that it might be inevitable, but as of now I think we’re doing okay with it.
What track are you most proud of?
That’s such a tough question. I think “Sleep” is a great song. I think it’s one of the fullest integrations of the band. It took a year of editing.
This is my passion. I’ll be burning bright for however long I can.