Welcome to Kind of a Big Deal, a series dedicated to introducing powerful women who are breaking boundaries in their fields. You’ll meet the rising stars and get the inside scoop on how they made it, what they’re working on now, and what’s up next.
You may not have heard of Tina Guo, but you’re most likely already quite familiar with the cellist's distinctive heavy metal electric style. She first caught the world's attention when she played with the Foo Fighters at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Since then, the classically trained cellist has worked on the scores for Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean 5, and shared the stage with music's biggest and brightest, like John Legend and Ariana Grande. Next up: Guo's signature sound will play a prominent role in upcoming Wonder Woman film (out June 2).
She and famed composer Hans Zimmer developed the initial theme, which we heard back at the end of Batman vs. Superman, and now, her solo will play in full as Gal Gadot takes the stage in the upcoming reboot.
VIDEO: WONDER WOMAN - Official Origin Trailer
We hopped on a Skype call with Guo to talk about Wonder Woman, working with Zimmer, and how she got into playing the electric cello.
How did you catch Hans Zimmer’s attention?
Seven or eight years ago I spent my entire life savings to make my first heavy metal electric cello music video. A mutual friend showed him the video, and then he reached out to me. I thought it was a prank call at first.
What’s it like to work with him now?
For actually writing the original Wonder Woman theme for Batman vs Superman, I went into the studio two or three days in a row and we went through so many different ideas. Working with him is high pressure because I want to make sure everything sounds perfect. I've always been a bit of a workaholic, and he is, too. So if anything he just confirmed my unhealthy lifestyle—it's like a contest to see who can sleep the least.
How did you get into the Wonder Woman mindset?
I tried to channel a feeling of aggression and power but in a way that's a little more refined. For me when I hear it, it's just very powerful and strong. I wanted to emulate my favorite band in the world, Rammstein, the German industrial metal band. I love their music because it’s balls to the wall, raw, carnal energy.
Was working on Wonder Woman different for you in any way from other projects?
No. I mean, I genuinely try to approach everything I do with the same level of enthusiasm whether it's a huge movie like Wonder Woman or a little tiny indie project for a friend. But working on this was really amazing because she's a kickass lady who, for me, also balances being feminine. I think it's a very positive message for women that we're capable of anything if we tap into our feminine power.
You studied classic music at the USC before leaving to pursue performing. What drew you to the heavy metal genre in the first place?
I really think it was one of those things where you want to do what you're not allowed to do. I grew up in a very conservative household, both of my parents are classical musicians and they're Chinese. I was literally forced to practice at least eight hours every day, which I'm really grateful for now. But at the time, I'm sure you can imagine that I was a super angry child with a lot of angst. I think that drew me to things that were more dark and aggressive. But I still love classical music too. It's like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of situation.
Do you remember your very first performance?
My first performance I was 11 years old. I played a cello concerto as a soloist with a symphony in San Diego. I remember I was so nervous that I was shaky and sweaty. It wasn't until I was in my 20s maybe after 1,000 performances that I started feeling a little more comfortable on stage.
You wouldn’t think that at all watching you perform.
Thank you, that’s a compliment. I used to be the kid walking through school with a book in front of my face just so I wouldn't have to look anyone in the eye. I was just a really big dork who played the cello.
What is it like for you to play a show now?
Music or art is an amazing way to tap into different parts of ourselves that we maybe can't express in normal life. I think who I am on stage is a pure expression of who I am at my core.
Do you still enjoy playing with classical symphonies?
It's been about a year since I've done a classical concerto performance, but those for me are so high pressure. Not to say that other genres are easy, but to be completely honest, if I mess up a tiny bit playing the electric cello, I swirl my hair around, do something dramatic, and people go ooooh. With classical music, it has to be perfect.
You’ve also recently released an album of game-themed music called Game On. Do you have a favorite video game that you still play?
Actually, I bought the new Nintendo Switch and I'm playing the new Zelda. It’s dangerous because if I do turn it on it's at least six or seven hours of gaming in a row—I'm a bit obsessive. I actually have it with me on tour, but I haven't opened it in three weeks. I’m just being afraid of what might happen.
VIDEO: Tina Guo's Wonder Woman Theme Song Single
Being a woman in this industry, have you ever felt that you have more obstacles to overcome or that you're disadvantaged in any way on your way up?
I deal with men like 99 percent of the time and they're still shocked when I say I usually negotiate my own contracts. Some just assume that you don't know anything about business. But I actually feel like it's been easier for me in a lot of ways. Because if you're a woman in a male dominated industry you do stand out immediately and I kind of feel like you're respected if you work hard and you have the same caliber of product to offer.