All Your Jazz Interview: A conversation with a capella group Straight No Chaser
All Your Jazz is happy to bring you another interview. This time we talked with the popular a cappella group Straight No Chaser. Their debut release with Atlantic Records is entitled Holiday Spirits and was released in November of this year. The group was established in 1996 at Indiana University, and this album marks the reunion of the group for the first time. An exciting group to listen to and to watch, they are a very talented and entertaining group, offering a breath of fresh air for those who love a cappella music.
We spoke with members Dan and Michael and got to know the group a little more. I hope you enjoy:
I wanted to start off by mentioning your latest album “Holiday Spirits.” Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration for the album – more specifically about your reunion to record it?
Well, certainly it is because of the luck of the internet that we are back together. After more than 7 million people watched our YouTube clip of the “12 Days of Christmas,” we were contacted by the head of Atlantic Records. And that’s when he offered us the record contract. When the head of a major label offers you a deal like that, there’s only one answer – YES!
Yeah, it took us all by surprise. We started the group Straight No Chaser back at Indiana University in 1996, and when we graduated, we left a legacy there. So, new people would come in and replace graduating seniors, and we all just moved on – had our own lives and jobs. [The recording] just took on a life of its own last December when the You Tube video broke. When we were contacted by Atlantic, everyone was thinking one thing – let’s do this. When else are you going to get the opportunity to record for a major label? So, a holiday album was the obvious choice because “12 Days of Christmas” was the most popular video.
It can be difficult to bring groups back together, especially those that have large numbers. Was it difficult to get everyone back on board for the recording?
Well, like I said, we all had our own lives going on when we found out the Atlantic Records was interested in us, but one thing was pretty true throughout all the guys in the original group, and that was that we all really love music, we love being together and harmonizing. So we just found a way to make it work. Everyone has a life outside of Straight No Chaser, and one of the things that worked out really well with Atlantic was that they allowed us to keep our current jobs while we recorded, rehearsed and made the album. And many of us still have our current jobs, so we’re able to do both. We’re trying to make it all work, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it by promoting Straight No Chaser and performing as much as we can. Out of the original 10, there were 8 of the guys that were definitely in for Straight No Chaser. Out of the other 2 original members, one member was not asked to be in the group again, and another was unavailable. So, we added 2 guys from the 2nd generation of Straight No Chaser, and those members are in the current professional Straight No Chaser group.
And as far as getting the other guys on board, it was not a hard sell at all (laughing). Everyone was ready to go immediately, and they were thrilled with the opportunity. We all wanted to make this project work equally.
And you guys will be performing tonight, right?
Michael: Yeah, the Concert Hall at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, in New York City.
Have you been on tour a lot since last December – doing music other than Christmas music – or have you spent most of you time working on the album?
We spent most of our time on the album, and we are only just starting to tour now. It’s obviously hard to promote a Christmas album in August, so we’ve been out there going strong since Thanksgiving. We’re going to Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles. What’s cool about our shows is that a cappella music, the stuff we’re doing, appeals to all ages, all ethnicities, men, women – we have little kids and senior citizens there. We have people from all different types of background supporting us, and it shows the potential that a cappella has to reach a mass audience.
One thing that strikes me about your group is that you guys are out there having fun.
Yeah, it’s one big college reunion (laughing).
Many other groups that I have talked to are focused mainly on the business end of it. They might start out with the idea of it being fun, but then it is the production and overall quality of the music that only priority – especially those that are trying to make their way into the scene. On the other hand, your group approaches it from the standpoint of getting to have fun again. That shows in your music, especially in your videos, and maybe that is one of the reasons that people are drawn to your music.
Yeah, and also we’re fortunate to have some really good writers in the group, and we’re also fortunate to have some really good soloists in the group that enable us to cover many different genres – some R&B stuff, classical-based arrangements, and everything in between. We focus our arrangements on showing off everyone, from the high tenors to the low basses.
Were you all classically trained?
Several of us were music majors in college, and Indiana University is known as one of the premier schools for music in the country. Half the guys were music majors, but the other half were not. I was a science major in college, and I just loved music and singing. We all actually met in a show choir at Indiana called the “Singing Hoosiers.” Dan actually put us together – he was the founder of the group. He was in “Singing Hoosiers” with all of us and handpicked each guy that was going to be in Straight No Chaser at the beginning of our sophomore year in 1996. He really hit the jackpot. He got guys that really meshed well personality-wise and vocally, and it turned into one little fraternity. We had a great time in college, and it has definitely translated to this new venture. We’re just having a great time again.
One thing that people may not know, until they are in a group themselves, is that 10 great individual singers does not necessarily make a great group. Can you talk a little bit about that?
There is a special blend with our group, a special chemistry, and a special vibe that the 10 of us have managed to capture. Everyone has sort of checked their egos at the door for the better of the group.
Wrapping up, just two last short questions: Are you guys thinking about doing another album in the future? And is this something that you would always like to make a part of your lives?
That would be the ideal scenario. The deal that we signed with Atlantic is a five-album deal. The funny joke in record labels is that there is no guarantee that you will make all 5 albums, but with the success we’ve had on the Christmas albums, our plans are to make a regular album that people can listen to all year round. So, that’s what we’re planning on. Hopefully we can start working on the next album in January and have something ready to go in the spring. And then obviously, come the next Christmas season, we’ll be promoting our Christmas album again because I think it’s something that can translate to every year. Yeah, so to answer your question, our plans are to do another album very soon.
We hope that the Christmas album will act as a springboard into 2009, and we would like to have another album ready to go in the Spring. So, we’re really not going to get much of a break as soon as the New Year is over because that means we will get back in the studio and do an album of non-Christmas music.
Well, that’s great for your listeners.
Yeah, it’s tough to listen to Christmas music in March (laughing).
Well, we are looking forward to it. The blend that you guys have is amazing, and it was a very refreshing a cappella album. Good luck with the tour as well as with your next album. Thank you both for you time.