Straight No Chaser A cappella, all the time
By John Benson
For the most part, the a cappella world holds no boundaries.
If you have the pipes, you can sing nearly everything. Just ask vocal group Straight No Chaser, which arrived in 2006 as a YouTube sensation with more than 12 million views for its unique version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Since then, the 10-man act, which was formed on the Indiana University campus in the mid-’90s and disbanded before finding overnight success, has been tackling all types of music over its various EPs and albums.
The list varies from Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall” to Coldplay’s “Fix You” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” but what’s missing is metal. Apparently, the falsetto vocals and high-flying guitar riffs are troublesome.
“There’s a phrase we toss around about particular songs, ‘Are they a cappella friendly?’” said singer Dave Roberts, calling from Wichita, Kan. “The issue with heavy metal is that the distorted guitar doesn’t lend itself to a cappella very well. The songs tend to be beat heavy and guitar driven, and that can be tough to arrange for a cappella. In fact, we did a hair-band medley last summer in Atlantic City, and it kind of fell flat. It was just tough to reproduce that full sound with just 10 voices.”
Instead, the group is focusing on its next EP release, “Six Pack Vol. 2,” which includes covers of Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” There’s also a creative mash-up between Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” that the act promises audiences attending Straight No Chaser’s Friday show at the Covelli Centre will enjoy. Actually, Roberts is looking forward to returning to Youngstown. He has fond memories of Straight No Chaser playing at last year’s Skate for the Cure event.
“Ohio is really a great spot for us, and I have no idea why,” Roberts said. “Maybe it’s sort of the Midwest thing. We get a really great response in Illinois and Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. It might be because we sort of grew up next door.”
In case you can’t tell, Roberts is soaking up every minute of Straight No Chaser’s unlikely road to headliner.
“I absolutely feel like it’s too good to be true,” Robert said. “Every year, I’m shocked and amazed we’re still filling theaters, but it’s a good thing. In my previous life, I was working at a bank in Manhattan, so that kind of an accounting job will always be there for me. Right now, I’m just enjoying this and trying to ride this wave as far as it’ll go.”
Considering the unlikely rise of Straight No Chaser from obscurity to touring sensation, not to mention the fickle nature of success, Roberts admits he’s unsure how long the act’s current wave of attention will last. To some extent, this is true for any professional act, but you kind of get the feeling these guys, because of how they arrived in the spotlight, are more in tune with the proverbial clock ticking on their 15 minutes of fame.
“Who knows, man. We have no idea how long it’ll last,” Roberts said. “Still, we feel like it can go on almost indefinitely given there’s a resurgence in popularity around vocal music with ‘Glee,’ ‘Sing Off’ and these types of show on TV now. We’re real excited about it and not trying to put too much expectations on it other than we know we’ve got stuff booked up for the next year. We’re just focusing on doing the best we can, putting on the best show. We’ll just see what happens.”