An Interview With Renowned Violinist NINA DIGREGORIO On All Things Femmes of Rock and Bella Electric Strings!
Posted On 08 May 2018
Nina DiGregorio, a Yamaha string artist, is a classically trained violinist, bass player, writer/arranger, vocalist, and pianist, but is most well known for being a pioneer of the electric rock violin, as well as a music business mogul and entrepreneur. She has performed as a soloist and string arranger with the some of the biggest names in the business. She arranged and performed strings with The Killers for President Obama and on one of their recent albums. Television credits include the Latin Grammys with Shakira, being featured on the Beyonce “I am…Yours” DVD and both “David Foster and Friends” DVDs and PBS specials, alongside Josh Groban, Michael Bublé, Boz Scaggs, and Peter Cetera among others, as well as the featured soloist with Charice. Other television credits include a performance with Andrea Bocelli for the DVD and PBS special “Amore Under the Desert Sky,” The Muhammad Ali 70th Birthday Celebration, “Michel Legrand and Friends,” “Bell’aria PBS special,” and America’s Got Talent Season One with Bella Electric Strings, of which she is founder, writer, and lead violinist.
She was the solo violinist in Toni Braxton’s band for 2 years. Nina was also featured in a recent Blues Traveler performance, dueling with harmonica virtuoso John Popper on The Devil Went Down To Georgia. Other performance credits include Stevie Wonder, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Wayne Newton, Cee-lo Green, John Legend, Johnny Mathis, Smokey Robinson, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Donna Summer, Mary J Blige and Jay Z, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Marco Antonio Solis, and many more. As a writer/arranger, her work has been heard in shows such as “Toni Braxton Revealed,” “Beyonce I Am….Yours,” The Fab; Beatle’s Tribute Band, The Las Vegas Tenors, The Killers, The Yellow Brick Road Symphonic Rock Show, as well as on many studio recordings.
Nina’s work with her project Bella Electric Strings can best be described as, “imagine if Hendrix played a violin.” Utilizing full effects pedals and blistering solos, she brings to life many famous rock tunes for electric string ensemble. On top of opening for Michael McDonald and Charlie Daniels, Bella recently performed as the featured string quartet with Richard Marx in his Las Vegas show. Richard also hired twenty Bella girls to be featured on camera performing with himself, Kenny Loggins, and Eric Benet for a DirecTV special that aired over the summer of 2016. Bella Strings has also had the privilege of being affiliated with the prestigious “Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp,” performing alongside such artists as Kip Winger and Todd Rundgren at the facility. The group keeps a busy corporate schedule, as well as traveling for Yamaha String Educator Development Seminars, in which Nina’s arrangements are featured around the country to demonstrate the Yamaha Silent and Electric violins.
Nina is also well known throughout the music community as a successful entrepreneur. Bella Strings has become not merely a band, but a household brand in the world of strings. What began with a single electric string quartet has now grown into teams of performers on the roster throughout the US.
Nina created/produced a rock production show called “FEMMES OF ROCK starring Bella Electric Strings,” which has been selling out theaters nationwide. Other creations include Bella Bottoms; a disco string show, an LED Laser string show, Trifecta; a vocal string show, Jingle Bellas; a holiday string show, among others.
Nina holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo, as well as a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance. She also holds a Master of Music degree in Violin Performance from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She was a recent recipient of the coveted Distinguished Alumni award from the University at Buffalo; one of the youngest to receive the award. Nina proudly endorses and recommends Yamaha Strings, Ultimate Ears, Audio Technica, Galaxy Audio, and Anvil Cases.
Learn more about Nina DiGregorio in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So how has 2018 been treating you all so far?
2018 has been a wonderful explosion of tour dates for us. We are tired, but extremely grateful for all of our opportunities.
What is one musical goal that you have for this year?
The realistic goal would be to finish our first original single (we mostly perform unique cover songs).
The unrealistic goal would be opening for Paul McCartney or The Who by year’s end. 🙂
Can you recall the moment when you all thought you could be in Bella Electric Strings together?
I remember back when I was performing as a member of a few major artists’ bands, and whenever they would have issues and cancel a show for whatever reason, I’d head home and not get paid. It was at that moment I decided the string players needed to come out and front our own show and control our own destiny. It was early in my career.
Was it hard to come up with a name that you all thought fit your sound and who you are?
Our collective of 30+ female string players is called Bella Electric Strings. We were originally Bella Rumore (which is Italian for Beautiful Noise), but no one could remember it or pronounce it, so we changed it to something more descriptive. Our production show name Femmes of Rock was originally Violin Femmes. We thought it was a fun play on words until we realized it may be confusing phonetically, so we changed it to Femmes of Rock pretty early on before we were doing any major touring.
What was your runner-up band name?
About 300 other choices that we found out were already taken when we searched, LOL. The hardest part of finding a name for a band in today’s day and age is finding one that isn’t trademarked.
How do you think being from your hometown has influenced your sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group?
Buffalo, NY and its suburbs (like Lewiston, NY where I am from), are very classic-rock oriented communities. I was exposed to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Who, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, etc. growing up, and the rock and roll bug bit me young. I tried for years to emulate Eric Clapton’s “woman tone” on a violin, so it has definitely influenced my sound.
Nina, I am curious to know how being in Bella Electric Strings is different than anything else that you have been a part of over the years?
It is different because for the first time I wasn’t relying on another artist for income, creative material, instructions, etc. I was totally in control of my own destiny.
Why is the right place for you now?
I can’t imagine at this point ever being reliant upon someone else again, or waiting for the phone to ring to see where my career will take me next. If I want something, it is my job to go out and make it happen.
So where did the idea for Femmes of Rock first come from?
We had someone attend a Bella Strings performance in Las Vegas for a corporate event. After the performance, I received an email asking if we were capable of headlining a 90-minute ticketed show for his theatre. I said yes first, and then scrambled to write a 90-minute show shortly thereafter. It went over so well, we decided to really do it the right way and put a lot into the production.
Can you talk about your most recent 5-song EP? What was it like putting that collection together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process? When do you hope to put out more new music?
We basically had to finish everything within a few weeks to meet a deadline for our March tour dates. It was a lot of work writing arrangements, recording, and dealing with going back and forth with our producer on mixing and mastering. The biggest thing I learned from our first effort is this: Do not schedule string and vocal recording sessions in the same day. Singing when you are not a singer is exhausting and nerve-wracking! We are hoping to have another release ready to go by Christmastime this year.
What was it like being on America’s Got Talent? Would you change anything about your appearance on the show if you could? Do you recommend other aspiring artists try out for it?
It was one of my first experiences in entertainment, and I wish I knew then what I know now. Our segment ended up being shown on nbc.com even though Piers Morgan hated us. The Hoff was totally into it though. We were actually talking about doing it again now (years later), now that we really have a spectacle to see! It never hurts to have national television coverage and can really kickstart a career.
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
They are fulfilling in different ways the same way that they are exhausting in different ways. The stage is physically exhausting and the studio is mentally exhausting. On stage, we experience the euphoria of a wound-up adrenaline-filled live audience. It is immediate gratification. In the studio, it is a more intellectual fulfillment. When you know you’ve written a killer arrangement, or recorded a special solo, and you are the only one who knows what the finished product will sound like whole in your head before it is revealed to the world.
How do you think being a musician and in this band gives you all the most joy in life today?
The best part about it is getting to play music that I love, with people that I love. There are worse ways to make a living.
With everything going on in the world today, how do you think your music is a reflection of it all? And if you don’t think it is at all, why is that? Do you find that the music being made today in general is reflecting these politically and culturally charged times?
I believe that times are different today than they were in the 1960’s, politically. With the existence of the internet, and all social media outlets and how much they are ingrained into our lives, I feel like politics in all directions has become something almost numbing that hits you over the head wherever you look. These are very divided times, and that’s why I’ve decided that our shows would be a catalyst for happiness, togetherness, and joy. Whether you voted for Trump or Hillary or someone else…we can all coexist for 90 minutes and lose the divide through music, for a short while anyway before we go back to Facebook.
How important do you think social media has been to this band?
It has largely enabled me to have this career. We do not have a record deal. We were not discovered by a rep or management firm. We started in the early days of Facebook, before you had to pay to get fans to see your posts. We built this group on free social media and word of mouth with happy customers.
Do all you help to maintain all your sites or is one of you more into it all? Or do you rely on your PR/management team to handle it all?
My umbrella company, Bella Entertainment Group provides all sorts of services, management being one of them. Michael Licata and I do a lot of the social media, but I also rely on the band members to contribute photographs and blogs of our adventures as well.
Who would you love to work with in the future? Who are some of your favorite artists right now? What do you think would be a dream collaboration for this group?
It’s funny that you mention that. David Bowie and Paul McCartney were the ones for me. When Bowie passed away, I decided I wanted to work on a Bowie song anyway, even if he would never hear it…so I wrote a string arrangement to Life on Mars which we just released. Here is the video and explanation about why I wrote the arrangement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cN7aJeh7cE0
With David Bowie being gone, I would love to work with Paul McCartney. Pretty much I would just retire after that because I could do no greater thing. I also have a lot of respect for Lady Gaga and her musicianship, and it would be a really cool women’s empowerment collaboration if we ever worked with her.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs? What do you hope they take away from one of your shows?
We are very involved with Yamaha in helping to give clinics to young students. It is very important to us to see young people take a rejuvenated interest into studying their instruments after seeing one of our shows. We hope that non-musicians can take away a sense of money well-spent…and have them leave thinking they’ve never seen anything like it. We want musicians to be inspired and know that it is possible to make a living doing what you love, we are living proof of it.