SoJam Spotlight: Peter Huang from MICappella

#isitnovemberyet is the hashtag being used in association with the lead-in to the upcoming SoJam festival, which most of us at Acatribe will be attending. As we did with the Boston Sings (BOSS) festival earlier this year, we’re interviewing a member from each headlining professional group, starting with MICappella. Enjoy!

 

Peter Huang is the resident vocal percussionist and co-founder of Singapore’s vocal rock band MICappella. He has attended Berklee College of Music, is a producer with The Right Frequency, and has performed with MICappella on The Sing Off China (where the group was runner-up to winners Freeman). He also co-produced and wrote songs for their recent full-length album “Here We Go,” which achieved nearly perfect scores from the Recorded A cappella Review Board (RARB).  MICappella recently won CASA’s A cappella Community Award for Favorite Asian A cappella Group and was also nominated for Favorite World/Folk Group and for some recent Singapore Hit Awards.

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You can learn more about MICappella on their website, and don’t forget to like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter!

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Peter, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. You guys are getting ready to head over to the States for SoJam and a few other gigs. Has the group performed in America before?

First of all, thank you so much for featuring me and my group in this interview! :)

Some of our members have previously lived in and performed in the USA before. Eugene, our baritone, went to college in Michigan and sang with the G-men while he was there. When I was in Berklee, I sang with a local group Integration by Parts for a while. But as MICappella, this is our first ever trip to the USA. For more than half the group, this is their first time stepping foot on the continent! So we are very very excited to visit the USA!

Does the group have any other plans while you’re here?

We’re landing in NYC first, and checking out this awesome city we have heard and seen so much about. Doing all the tourist type stuff; Times Square, Central Park, Yankee Stadium, etc…Hopefully, we’ll get to meet a few New York-based groups while we’re there! If there are groups in NYC out there who would like to hang out a bit, we’d love to know more about the local scene! Apart from this upcoming trip to SoJam, we have a quick stop in DC just before SoJam for a showcase with the Capital Hearings (November 3). After SoJam, we are flying up to Boston for a concert with Ball in the House (November 12) and also for a few events in Berklee College of Music (Nov. 13-14).

You guys have had a lot of success with media exposure like The Sing Off China, various radio stations, and newspapers in Singapore and neighboring nations. What is it about MICappella that has captured the public interest over there?

With Singapore being such a small country (27 miles east to west, less than 18 miles north to south) and less than 6 million people, the fact that we did as well as we did in Sing Off China was a pretty awesome deal, and maybe audiences are intrigued by the storyline of a foreign group competing in China. That plus the fact that Chinese language a cappella is very, very new in the region, and most groups in Singapore have always sung primarily in English. So even within a local context here, being comfortably bilingual is probably helpful in attracting a wider range of audiences.

Although, we would hope that the main reason that folks like us is because our sound, image, and energy level are something that the general music fan would enjoy and relate to. If they don’t realize at first that we’re an a cappella band, that’s totally okay. So long as they enjoy what we do, we hope that their later realization that we do everything with just vocals would keep them attracted even more.

Do you think that the exposure you guys are getting will open doors for other vocal groups in the region?

That’s certainly something we hope will start to happen more. We have a few good vocal bands in the Chinese language scene in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Not all these bands have had the good fortune to have had the support we’ve been given, to be able to train, record, perform as much as we have had. Having a label here (www.s2s.com.sg) that believes in what we do has been a huge blessing, and their network of distribution, marketing, and media reach has been vital in getting the word out there. So we definitely treasure the resources we have, and also want to share our experiences with those with the desire to step beyond their college groups or convert their amateur group to something more serious. That would hopefully create a bigger a cappella movement in Asia, and we want to do our part to help the scene grow.

Hopefully, in time, more groups will emerge to join us in creating more good a cappella music in Chinese and English in Asia.

A few months back, MICappella released an authentic, artistic music video. What was that experience like, and do you have any plans to do that for other songs off “Here We Go”?

The shoot was really fun! We’re not trained actors or anything, but it was a different way of being creative. It was a cool thing to learn about and hopefully we’ll do more of these videos in the future. 

There is a possibility of doing some additional videos for other tracks from the album. It’s still being discussed and planned at the moment, so for now I don’t have anything firm to report…but we’re definitely debating and discussing ideas every day. Fingers crossed that something will happen soon!

You guys met Pentatonix when they appeared on The Sing Off China. Do you guys ever compare yourselves to them in any way?

Pentatonix has been a huge boost to the scene not just in the USA, but all over Asia here too. The random person on the street might not know much about a cappella, but they would have heard of Pentatonix and think they are cool. Such is the level of their fame in Asia.

We definitely look up to them in that respect, in terms of their impact on public perception of a cappella. We’re trying all the time to provide a similar impact here, and the different region and culture means that the methods and approaches will definitely be different, but the similar drive and enthusiasm is definitely there. Obviously, PTX has been extremely successful, and we’re hoping that eventually we can reach similar levels of success within Asia.

I think in terms of musical choice and development there are certain obvious similarities. Like The Sing Off background, the mixed gender group format, certain song choices of similar styles, etc. But a cappella being the way it is, each group has a unique set of voices, and we’re in distinctly different parts of the world. Our hope is to best discover our own vocal instruments and put forth our Singaporean identity out there.

I know that Weijin [bass] just left the group. How long was the group together with the same members prior to this change? How has the transition been with YK?

Weijin was with the group since mid-2010, so a total of almost 3 years. The group in that format was unchanged for about 2.5 years. For me personally, Weijin and I have been in 3 different groups as the same rhythm section, starting from 1999 with Skritch (which once appeared at the 2004 East Coast A Cappella Summit). So personally, losing Jin meant losing a comfort zone and learning to work with a different rhythm section partner from scratch.

YK was a timely find after a rather short and intense hunt within the small but tight-knit Singaporean music scene. He doesn’t have an a cappella or choral background prior to MICappella, however, his rate of learning is very, very high and he is one of the most driven and observant basses I’ve encountered. We’re very glad that YK has adapted to us the way he has in this relatively short time.

You are a producer, which means you’re obviously comfortable in the studio, but does that interest affect your (or the group’s) performance style in any way?

Sometimes I prefer to think of myself as a guy who likes to perform, who also happens to know some stuff about production. So I try to strike a balance between the two…in fact, I was nudged into forming MICappella and getting back into performing after realizing that I missed performing live a bit too much to stay in the studio 100%. I try to use my experience as a producer to the group’s advantage in terms of pushing the group to create more new recordings and also in terms of trying to get them to feel comfortable in the studio as they do onstage by trying to act as their familiar face and also to bridge the live and studio experiences. From time to time, Calin (my co-music director and co-founder of MICappella) would act as my thermostat to yank me back into normal rehearsal or live performance mindset if she notices my brain starting to drift too much towards the studio. If not for her I’d be geeking out way too much about everything.

What other plans does MICappella have in the works for the rest of 2013 and for 2014?

After coming back to Asia, we’re going back to Shenzhen (where The Sing Off China was filmed) in late November for the Shenzhen Fringe Festival.

The big plan for 2014 right now is to release another album at some point, and if it all goes to plan, also participate in a slasher flick! Not really anything to do with music per se, but it’s a fun project that we all wanted to do so we could run around and scream at each other on the film set with weird makeup on. Hmm…sounds like many of our rehearsals…haaaa…

Finally, the hope is that we’ll get to travel to more new cities and festivals over the course of 2014 and beyond. Definitely would love to get to see more of the USA!

The number one thing about MICappella is that we try our best to create good music both live and recorded and share it with as many people in as many places as possible! :-)

It’s an awesome experience thus far, and we thank you guys so much for letting us have this opportunity to share our experiences with you too!

Peter, thank you for offering us a peek inside MICappella’s recent successes and future plans. We wish you a lot of success at SoJam and elsewhere here in the U.S., and with all of the other exciting things coming up for the group!

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