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Behind the Bottles: 5 Questions With Kurt Hugo Schneider

By:  Jay Moye Jan 15, 2014
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Kurt Hugo Schneider

Music Maker: Kurt Hugo Schneider plays Coca-Cola bottles in one of two 'AHH Effect' commercials set to air tonight on the Season 13 premiere of American Idol on FOX.

YouTube star Kurt Hugo Schneider and Coca-Cola teamed up last summer to create a pair of jaw-dropping music videos featuring creative covers of two of 2013's hottest songs. Commercial edits of the viral hits will air tonight during the Season 13 premiere of American Idol on FOX.

In the films, which feature singer Sam Tsui and beatboxing cellist Kevin Olusola, Schneider recreates “Feels So Close” by Calvin Harris and Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks” by playing only Coca-Cola bottles, glasses and cans. Take a look:

The videos are part of the “AHH Effect,” an all-digital campaign exploring the happiness and refreshment experienced while drinking an ice-cold Coke. A total of 61 websites (each extension adds an “H” to “AHH,” stretching to the maximum character limit for an URL) houses original experiences – including GIFs, games, videos and other bite-sized content. Learn more at www.Ahh.com.

We spoke with the 24-year-old composer, music producer and director – whose YouTube channel has more than 3.7 million subscribers – to learn more about the project:

What was your initial reaction to this opportunity, and what were the greatest challenges you faced during the shoot?

KHS: I play a bunch of random instruments and have always used cell phones and other everyday objects to create sounds. But I’d never made music with Coke bottles, so I was really excited about this project. The recording process was challenging because liquid evaporates over a very short amount of time. You couldn’t notice by looking at the liquid, but if you let it sit for 15 minutes, the pitch would become slightly warped. So it took time to get the notes in tune and also to get the right range of pitches. The original songs have bass, full-range keyboards and a bunch of other instruments to get to all the highs and lows. But for this project, we were limited to the “Coke instrument arsenal,” so getting the full range was challenging. I used little glasses to get the high notes and big bottles to get the low notes. It was a fun challenge to interpret these songs in a uniquely Coca-Cola way. And incredibly enough, we didn’t break anything!

Any tips for amateur Coke bottle musicians out there who may want to recreate what you guys pulled off?

First, definitely get a digital tuner and use a dropper as you’re “tuning” the cups or bottles. Because if you’re pouring the liquid, it will not be precise enough and you’ll get the biggest headache trying to find the right pitch.

You’ve collaborated with Sam on several occasions. How did you hook up with Kevin?

I’ve known Kevin for a really long time. We were in school together (at Yale); we both spent really late nights in the music lab working on projects – well before I ever put anything on YouTube. He’s one of the most talented musicians I know, so I’ve been looking for the right collaboration to feature him on. I felt like the cello would work nicely with the Coke sounds.

When you approach cover song projects like this one, what are you looking to accomplish?

First and foremost, it’s a form of entertainment. Ultimately, I want to create something people think is cool and want to watch, enjoy and share with their friends. I also want to challenge myself creatively to keep things interesting.

Any funny memories from the shoot?

We had to build what we called a “Coke-aphone” – on set. In the films, it’s the instrument that looks like hanging chimes made of glass Coke bottles. It was actually built out of a cabinet in my apartment. I had to disassemble it to get it into my car and to the studio. It took five production assistants and us looking at it over a lunch break to figure out how to reassemble it. It was kind of embarrassing, but fortunately we got it to work.

We shot both videos in one day. I was really tired at the end of the day, but it’s always a good feeling leaving the shoot happy with what you captured. When we watched it back, we said “Awesome, now we can all get something to eat and go to sleep!”

Eric Danetz, chief revenue officer for Alloy Digital, the media and creative partner for both videos, said the content resonates with teens and viewers of all ages because it’s both surprising and delightful.

“Kurt took the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, which everyone recognizes, and created something very inspiring that leaves you in awe of what’s possible,” he said. “And if you didn’t know who he was before now, these videos will turn you into a fan who wants to see more from him.”