In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
If the phrase "male a cappella group" conjures up an image of students in blue blazers, ties, and khakis singing traditional college songs on ivied campuses... think again. Straight No Chaser (SNC) are neither strait-laced nor straight-faced, but neither are they vaudeville-style kitsch. As original member Randy Stine comments, "We take the music very seriously; we just don't take ourselves too seriously." In the process, they are reinventing the idea of a cappella on the modern pop landscape.
Originally formed over a dozen years ago while students together at Indiana University, the group has reassembled and reemerged as a phenomenon - with a massive fanbase, more than 20 million views on YouTube, numerous national TV appearances, and proven success with two holiday releases, 2008's HOLIDAY SPIRITS and 2009's CHRISTMAS CHEERS as well as WITH A TWIST, released this spring. In an era when so much pop music is the product of digital processing and vocal pro-tooling, Straight No Chaser is the real deal - the captivating sound of ten unadulterated human voices coming together to make extraordinary music that is moving people in a fundamental sense... and with a sense of humor.
WITH A TWIST marked Straight No Chaser's first full-length departure from holiday music, and marked the group's highest debut on the Billboard 200 to date, at #29. Christmas, however, has been good for SNC. The group's 2008 debut, HOLIDAY SPIRITS, hit No. 4 on Billboard's Top Holiday Albums chart and spent two weeks in the No. 1 slot on Amazon and five days atop the iTunes sales chart. Its version of "The 12 Days of Christmas," which incorporates Toto's "Africa," went Top 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart and was Top 10 on the Christmas radio chart. The subsequent CHRISTMAS CHEERS in 2009 was No. 6 Top Holiday Albums and rolled into the Billboard 200 at No. 38, while "The Christmas Can-Can" kicked its way to No. 18 on the Adult Contemporary Tracks chart.
This fall, Straight No Chaser bundled the albums HOLIDAY SPIRITS and CHRISTMAS CHEERS with a never-before-commercially released DVD, "Live In New York: Holiday Edition" to create ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, a 2-CD and DVD box set.
On the road, Straight No Chaser has built a reputation as an unforgettable live act. By the end of 2010, the group will have sold more than 225,000 tickets to 160 shows, more than half of which sold out in advance. Over the summer, the group held a hugely successful residency at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City, where they performed 40 shows in 8 weeks. Although the constant traveling takes its toll, the members of SNC maintain that every night, the direct connection with their fans reinvigorates them. Says group member Ryan Ahlwardt, "When I first auditioned and joined SNC in college, I recall Jerome telling me, 'You have no idea what you're now a part of.' Flash forward a decade, and here we are, touring nearly 160 days a year, singing for thousands of people. To see the joy on the faces in the audience when we are onstage reminds us why we're doing what we're doing."
Even after all the success, the members of Straight No Chaser don't take anything for granted: "To think that the ten of us could go our separate ways after college, start professional lives, and then commit to putting SNC back together after all these years is nothing short of a minor miracle," said original member Charlie Mechling. "With each opportunity to perform that comes our way, we are reminded of how fortunate and blessed we are to be able to do what we love to do."
The group originally came together in the fall of 1996 at IU, basically as "10 guys who happened to be good friends who also liked to sing." Choosing the members carefully for personality as well as vocal talent - Stine, Mechling, Jerome Collins, David Roberts and Walter Chase remain from the original lineup -- SNC set itself apart from other a cappella groups with its contemporary repertoire and dynamic approach, quickly headlining concerts both in Bloomington and on road dates. SNC recorded three independent albums, and John Mellencamp even invited the group to his home for a private performance.
When the founders began graduating in 1999 and went on to jobs mostly outside of music, they chose replacements and established SNC as an ongoing group on campus with future generations of ambitious IU undergrads. More than 50 members have passed through the group's ranks so far. Such was the impact SNC made at IU that the school hosted a 10th anniversary reunion show for the original lineup in 2006, and when Stine posted clips from a 1998 concert on YouTube, SNC's fan base grew exponentially. In 2007 alone, the group's version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" was viewed more than seven million times. Today that number has surpassed 11 million, and the group's cumulative YouTube views clock in at more than 25 million.
Among those viewers was Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, who found SNC's music "brilliant, fresh and totally compelling." Kallman e-mailed Stine, who initially thought it was a prank but thought otherwise when he was whisked to Los Angeles to meet with the label chief. A few days later, the entire group was in New York City to sign its recording deal. The current incarnation of SNC includes later members of the group, including Michael Luginbill, Ryan Ahlwardt, Seggie Isho, Don Nottingham, and Tyler Trepp. "A music career was definitely not on my radar; getting the guys back together, not just for someone's wedding or bachelor party, but to spend the majority of the year together touring and recording, is a dream come true." Stine says. "I pinch myself all the time and hope it continues and becomes a longstanding career."
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Wonderful Christmas Time
Review: It was a Christmas song posted on You Tube a dozen years ago that first propelled this talented group into the limelight and here they are with a new Christmas release which includes at track with Paul McCartney! With an extremely busy touring schedule they are one of the most popular a cappella groups performing today and these years of seasoning shows in the tight arrangements, fine voices and compelling energy of this recording. This recording is a Holiday treat and is sure to be a cappella classic. Cello Greene, Cobbie Caillat and the voice of Otis Redding are also featured.
Review: Under The Influence sees the acclaimed a cappella group reimagining a selection of their all-time favorite songs alongside many of the superstar artists and undisputed music icons that made them famous. Produced by Mark Kibble, founding member of the legendary a cappella group Take 6 and one of Straight No Chaser's primary influences, the album includes unprecedented collaborations with some of popular music's best and brightest - including Phil Collins, Dolly Parton, Rob Thomas, Seal, and Jason Mraz - as Straight No Chaser put their distinctive and inimitable spin on songs known and loved the world over.
Review: They have become one of the most popular contemporary a cappella groups performing today and have an extremely busy tour schedule with dates throughout the country. This EP release handily demonstrates why they enjoy such popularity and shows a sophistication and maturity that comes from performing so steadily. This release will please all fans of contemporary a cappella and will have you singing (and perhaps dancing) along with the group.
Review: The perfect gift for everyone on your list! This special edition 2 CD + DVD box set includes the best selling albums Christmas Cheers and Holiday Spirits, plus a DVD of the group's Live in New York Holiday Edition Concert Special. Included a 14-page booklet featuring childhood photos of all group members.
Don't Dream It's Over
Review: You all know SNC's story, about these 10 all male Indiana alums posting the vid "12 Days of Christmas" from their Collegiate career on YouTube, getting over 10 million hits, reuniting as an a cappella group, releasing two hot Christmas CDs, and doing live performances at major venues across the country. You know, the usual! Well, "With a Twist" adds some dynamic, cutting-edge arrangements and wonderful new covers to SNC's repertoire. With a smooth, polished sound and rock solid vocal percussion reminiscent of Rockapella, The House Jacks and The Blenders, Straight No Chaser is showing off some formidable vocal chops here! Twelve well-chosen cuts, beginning with a Reggae take on a medley that seamlessly and surprisingly segues J. Mraz's "I'm Yours" into Harold Arlen's classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow;" an upbeat, rhythmic arrangement of Ed Cobb's Soft Cell hit "Tainted Love," another Reggae look at Crowded Houses' "Don't Dream It's Over," a rich, harmonic rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You," a big fun, swinging medley of S. Morris' "You & Me & The Bottle Makes Three" with a surprising segue into the Glee hit "Single Ladies;" a nice cover of Oasis's bluesy "Wonderwall," Queen's "You're My Best Friend," an amazingly arranged version of Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," the Red Hot Chili Peppers' moody hit "Under the Bridge," and finally, Barry Manilow's "One Voice," featuring guest vocals by Barry himself! It's clear from "With a Twist" that SNC is playing with the big kids now, performing and recording on a level with some of the top groups in the a cappella world, and, as a favorite of ours in their Collegiate days, we couldn't be happier for them!
Review: Since their posting of a 10-year-old video in 2007 of a live cut of their version of the "12 Days of Christmas" on YouTube garnered over 10 million hits, these 10 male alums of Indiana University have gotten back together, recorded the best-selling "Holiday Spirit," and have been on one long reunion tour! "Christmas Cheers" is Christmas collection #2, and we have to say that the guys have not been sitting under the mistletoe, munching fruitcake. The arrangements on these 15 songs are sharp, innovative and funny, the leads and background harmonies recall groups like Rockapella, the Blenders and The House Jacks. Listen to the hilarious "Christmas Can-Can," the hot arrangement of "We Three Kings," the brilliant parody "Donde Esta Santa Claus," a wonderfully raucous Rockabilly "Hey, Santa," one of the sleaziest "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" we've ever heard, a priceless overweight Elvis lead on "Santa Claus is Back in Town," a crazed "Jingle Bells," a drunken "Who Spiked the Eggnog" and finally hear the guys absolutely nail the song that caused all the gefuffle, "The 12 Days of Christmas." None of these songs is left alone, every one has unexpected surprises, samples, segueways, asides, faux horns and kazoos, you name it. It just goes to show--creativity, humor and great a cappella are stone winners now, and will be winners 10 years from now. "Cheers" to one of the best Christmas albums of the year!
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Review: In December of 2007 SNC, one of our favorite male Collegiate a cappella groups, posted several videos of past performances, including a 10 year old video of a live cut of their version of the "12 Days of Christmas" on YouTube. To say it caused a sensation would be putting it mildly-6 million people saw it during December, with an additional 2 million seeing it since then. Combined, Straight No Chaser has received over 10 million views of their videos on YouTube. Formed a dozen years ago while students at Indiana University, this phenomenon has caused the group to reassemble and re-emerge, a process covered on a series of webisodes, covering their rehearsing together for the first time in 10 years, doing their photoshoot, and then recording this album, "Holiday Spirits." Even the New York Times told the story of SNC in their Arts & Leisure section in September of 2008. All that excitement aside, the album is great! 14 songs, all group-arranged, especially by group member Dan Ponce, who also wrote the lovely "Christmas Wish" and "Indiana Christmas." "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Jingle Bell Rock," "The Christmas Song," "This Christmas," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have Heard on High" and Brian Wilson's classic "Little Saint Nick" show off the smooth harmonies, brilliant leads and killer arrangements that made SNC one of the best Collegiate groups. Then "The 12 Days of Christmas" shows us what the fuss is all about. It contains samples of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and suddenly the song has morphed into Toto's "Africa." It's funny, surprising, perfectly realized and all done with the human voice, all of which was not lost on the delighted live audience. The album finishes with "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," the Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" carol "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," "Carol of the Bells," and sublime covers of "Silent Night" and "Auld Lang Syne." We couldn't be happier for the success of talented SNC, who haven't lost a half-note since their college days, and can enthusiastically recommend "Holiday Spirits," one of the most enjoyable Christmas recordings we have heard!