BOSS Spotlight: Caleb Whelden of Five O’Clock Shadow

In our continuing excitement for the upcoming Boston Sings festival, we’ve been interviewing a member of each professional group that will be performing in Boston this weekend. First, we talked to Tine Fris of Postyr Project. You can find that interview here.  Next, we spoke with Austin Willacy of The House Jacks.  The last interview before BOSS is with Caleb Whelden of Five O’Clock Shadow. Read, enjoy, and hopefully we’ll see many of you in Boston this weekend!

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Caleb Whelden sings with a lot of a cappella groups. After graduating from Ithaca College, where he performed with the renowned male group Ithacappella, he joined Five O’Clock Shadow in Boston and later played a role in founding Slapdash Graduate and Blueprint.

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He is also a member of Overboard, who recently completed an international tour across the United States and the UK (and will be performing Sunday afternoon after BOSS officially ends at 3:00 in Somerville, MA). He will be teaching a workshop at BOSS on “Building Group Sound” and of course performing with Five O’Clock Shadow on Saturday night. You can learn more about the group at www.focs.com.

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First, the news. Rumor has it Five O’Clock Shadow [“FOCS”] has completed a new EP which might just be released very soon. Anything you can tell me about that?

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The rumors are true. We just received 1000 copies of our new EP, “Six.” It’s been 13 years since FOCS has released a new recording and we are very excited about this one. We produced and recorded the album ourselves. This EP is the first step towards recording a full-length album.

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The biggest albums from FOCS (“So There,” “Wonders of the World”) generally featured original songs. Will the new EP follow this tradition, or feature more cover tunes?

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The EP is comprised of five songs; four originals and one cover. Some songs will be familiar to fans who have come to see us recently, but there’s one original song on the EP that has never been heard before. We wrote it specifically for the EP.

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Now, the history. FOCS has been around for a long time. In fact, the group celebrated its 20th anniversary with a concert back in 2011. Did any former members show up or participate in any way?

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We had all but a handful of the former members come back for the show. We had all of them perform, beginning with the first iteration of Five O’Clock Shadow. In fact, I think the anniversary show was the first time the original five members had sung together since 1991. It was pretty amazing to see and hear. We had members leave the stage in the order they left the group and the “new” members went up to perform…all the way up until the current membership. This is the third time the group has done a reunion show of that type and we’re all looking forward to the next one (25th anniversary show, anyone?)

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Late last year, one of the longest tenured (original?) members, “Stack” (David Stackhouse) left the group. How difficult a transition was it for you guys to lose someone whow as so clearly a part of the group’s fabric?

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Actually, Stack was not an original member. Stack didn’t join the group until 1998, when the group was already 6 years old. When Stack announced to us that he was leaving, it was extremely difficult for all of us. That iteration of the band had been performing together for just about 10 years, which is the longest any iteration of the group had been together. Additionally, Stack had been the primary songwriter and arranger for the group during that time, as well as the business manager. To say he was the “driving force” of the group would be an understatement. Most importantly, Stack is like a brother to us and to not have him as part of the group was a difficult thing to swallow.

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Having said that, when Stack announced his departure, none of us wanted the group to end. We found two very talented musicians to replace him (Stack did bass and percussion at the same time…difficult to find someone who can do both) and picked up the pieces. We are all very excited about the current membership and have had a blast performing together.

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For awhile, back in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s, FOCS was at the forefront of a cappella with recording techniques and performing techniques. The group then seemed to disappear a bit, at least from the larger a cappella community (outside of the Boston area). What happened? Is the group, with the performance at BOSS and the new EP, gearing up to reclaim its reputation in the national (or international) a cappella community?

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To be honest, Five O’Clock Shadow disbanded in December of 2003. We were a full time act at the time and I think the road just got to be too much for us, especially two of the guys who were preparing to start families with their wives. We had our “FOCS Farewell tour” in the Fall/Winter of ’03 and our “last performance” was on December 21, 2003. Less than a year after the show, we were getting tons of calls to do shows. We decided to get together over Thai food and discuss the possibility of getting back together as a part-time band. We all missed it and decided that if the gigs were there, we’d keep going. We never announced anything to either our fans or the a cappella community and to some extent, were forgotten.

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We all see BOSS as an opportunity to re-introduce Five O’Clock Shadow to the a cappella community. Some of our own fans will be there, but for the most part, much of the younger crowd has no idea who we are. I’m not sure about “reclaiming our reputation,” but with two new members and a brand new EP, we’re excited to get the group’s name out there once again.

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Speaking of Boston, there are obviously quite a few a cappella groups out there, a few of which include some guy named Caleb Whelden. Do all of these groups (your various groups, Ball in the House, Redline, etc.) support each other or is it very competitive (or both)?

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There was a time when there was competition among the local a cappella groups. That was well before I joined the band, and I’ve only heard stories about it. To be honest, there seems to be nothing but respect for other groups these days. Contemporary a cappella music has grown so much over the years. Back when the group first started, it was very difficult to catch people’s interest in what we do. At this point, with shows such as “The Sing Off” and movies like “Pitch Perfect,” it’s obvious that a cappella is making a giant splash. No one appreciates that more than groups such as ours, or Ball in the House, who have been struggling for years to make a living doing this. It’s still not easy to make this kind of a living, but with a larger audience base, there is much less competition.

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Let’s follow up with some smack talk: what do you think Five O’Clock Shadow does that no (or few) other groups out there can do?

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Five O’Clock Shadow has always been able to rock, and have a lot of fun doing it. I don’t know a log of groups out there (except of course, Fork) who can sell rock tunes convincingly. We use guitar effects pedals to bolster our sound and we bring a ton of energy and experience to the stage. More importantly, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which helps the audience relax and really enjoy the show.

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Five O’Clock Shadow has a history of performing clinics or workshops, other various types of educational outreach. You were a music education major in college. What do you think a cappella music, or Five O’Clock Shadow, can do for young musicians?

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What I like about our art form is that it is extremely accessible to everyone. For years, we’ve been touring the country, teaching about what we do to all ages (elementary-college). We teach the same techniques any choir teacher teaches, and do it in a way that is a ton of fun. We help reinforce what teachers are already saying, and at the same time, we are proof that music can continue after school is finished. Inspiring young artists is truly one of the most rewarding things we do.

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You guys have performed on television, at sporting events, at corporate events, etc. What’s next for Five O’Clock Shadow after BOSS?

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We are finally getting settled into this new membership and we haven’t had a ton of time in the past few months to develop repertoire that is “ours.” I think we’re going to continue developing our set with both new originals and covers and perhaps start talking about recording a full length album. We are also talking about putting together a fall tour for this new EP.

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Caleb, thank you for taking the time to provide a little more insight into the history of the group and the changes taking place in recent months. We’re all looking forward to getting our hands on the new EP (streaming now at focs.com) and seeing you guys on Saturday night. Best of luck at the festival and in all of the new exciting things to come for Five O’Clock Shadow!

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2 Comments

  1. Chad Bergeron   •  

    I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Slapdash Graduate way back in January ’07, and was super impressed with them then, and my brother, an IC alumnus, gifted me an album back in the day called ‘…the band never showed’. It seems with every passing year that Caleb is on a meteoric rise in a cappella. Caleb, where do you find the time to be in all these groups?!

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