On the Road: A Quick Chat with Hip-Hop Violinist Damien Escobar Mary Zakheim February 14, 2017 Personal Travel Essays 15 Comments If you already thought Damien Escobar was unbelievable, you might want to sit down as you learn more about the multi-talented hip-hop violinist. You already know the basics: 13-year old Juilliard graduate, amazingly talented violinist, on an epic comeback from his 2012 career nosedive that left him sleeping on the New York subways. (If you’re staring at your screen with your jaw on the floor, see part one of our profile on Damien to learn more about his journey). But where has his journey led him? To a pretty great place. In January, Escobar wrapped up a yearlong tour, he plans to release his new album, Boundless, in March, and he’s slated to kick off his Heart & Soul tour this May. Not to mention the various entrepreneurial endeavors he’s involved with — violin design, wine collections, and children’s television production — all while traveling from state to state on a tight schedule promoting his music. Is anyone else tired? Escobar isn’t. The excitement in his voice is contagious as he talks in-depth about his tour, his television show, his routines on the road. If anything, it sounds like he’d take on more work — and gladly — so long as it somehow brought the joy of music to new ears. “Everybody’s not going to understand it, they’ll like what they like, but everything evolves, you know? So it’s an evolution of what classical music was.” Escobar says of his music, recalling a moment when his violin instructor told him that he wasn’t playing in a way that Bach would approve of. “I looked at her like she was absolutely crazy. I’m like, ‘Hold on for one second – Bach was alive in the 1600s and he was an innovator.’” He Did Fusion… Before It Was A Thing Escobar’s music — a hypnotic blend of classical violin finesse over modern hip-hop beats — is exactly that: an evolution of music. It seems like this kind of fusion is something like a movement as of late. Think Glee and Step Up, Hamilton and La La Land. But Escobar came before all of it. Learn more about what Damien was up to between 2012 — when Nuttin’ But Strings broke up — and now in part one of our two-part series on the violinist. He started mixing classical and hip-hop in 2004 when he and his brother’s Nuttin’ But Stringz took their act from the subway to the stage — a move that had been a long time coming. “I grew up in a household with a single mom who couldn’t afford to give us the things that we wanted. But she taught us how to go out and get it for ourselves. So my brother and I, we were on the subways making money since I was 10,” Escobar says. “It turned into an amazing 10-year career together — that had its highs and lows — but we won Emmy Awards, sold millions of records, and we became those guys that crossed over classical violin to mainstream, we were the innovators of that.” But if you thought that Escobar would be content with the already jam-packed life of a traveling musician, you obviously haven’t been paying attention. “Violin is the main thing that I do, as an artist. Music is something I love, but there are other branches of music that I’ve embarked on this year,” Escobar says, explaining his ventures into children’s television, violin design, and a line of wines due to debut at the end of this year. “The problem when you deal with things that have an old tradition – like wine has an old tradition, the violin has an old tradition – they don’t typically like artists that are rebels, and that’s kind of what I am, so they [a potential collaborator] passed on the opportunity. So I said, ‘You know what? That’s okay.’ And I started my own line of wine.” On Tour: A New City Every Day This sort of determination and hard work is evident is every bit of Escobar’s life — on and off the stage. He just spent the past year on the road, hopping from city to city to promote his album Sensual Melodies. Most times, he spends less than 24 hours in each place. “We get in in the morning, I do a lot of press for the show and I’ll visit a school, talk to some kids, and then I’ll do sound check, perform the show, meet and greet, and then I’m back on the tour bus, on to the next city.” He rattles it off like the routine that it now is — this life of a musician on a nationwide tour. Sometimes, he notes, they do get to spend a couple of days somewhere along the tour route, usually in a town that’s not on most people’s bucket lists. “Bloomington, Illinois… It’s the most random city in America, but it’s so awesome! It’s so cool!” Escobar laughs as he recalls his time in the town. “Oh my goodness, we ate like five deep dish pizzas and were extremely stuffed and then we did a photoshoot in the middle of the street and there were cows walking behind us — it was the greatest moment — and we randomly went and did hot yoga… We had a really good time because there was ‘nothing to do’ there and it kind of forced us — my entire team — it forced us all to be social, to hang out, and just really enjoy the moment outside of performing. It was a really cool moment.” Escobar makes a point of making sure his team gets to enjoy the tour holistically — they do hot yoga whenever they can find it and travel with a massage therapist to ensure that everyone is at the top of their game, not just professionally, but mentally and physically as well. “We’ll wake up, we’ll do hot yoga,” Escobar says. “Mental wellness is extremely important to me. I want to make sure everybody is in the right mental state, I want to make sure everybody is happy, I want to make sure everybody feels heard. That way, we’ll have a successful tour and a successful team and everybody is enjoying what they’re doing.” And the good vibes are showing: Damien has a community of fans across the world who are clamoring for him to add their city to his Heart and Soul tour that kicks off in May. He’s got a few famous admirers as well. “Since he’s not in office anymore, I can finally share this story,” Escobar says. “A friend of mine, she worked in Barack’s executive Cabinet and there was one year that they went to the vineyard. A blocked number calls me and I hear my music blaring in the background and she’s on the phone and she’s like, ‘Can you hear this?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s my music — what’s going on?’ And then I hear a voice come on the phone and just says, ‘I love this shit.’ And I’m like… Barack?!” He adds, “I never know where my music reaches and who it reaches.” There you have it, folks. Damien Escobar: an entrepreneurial hip-hop violinist and America’s crooner-in-chief.