Janet Turner and Jo3 Oliva co-founded Eh440 in 2012. Both are coincidentally from the same hometown of London, Canada, but met in Toronto while pursuing their musical careers, where they both now live. Janet shares Eh440’s leads and background parts while Jo3 exclusively sings bass.
So, how did you guys find out about SoJam?
Jo3: We’ve known about the legendary SoJam for years but thought it was a myth, like Bigfoot. Then, it was Amanda Cornaglia who convinced us SoJam was real and kinda steered our path down to North Carolina. All hail Amanda!
Canada is a considerably far distance from North Carolina. Did you have any prior knowledge about CASA before you got involved with SoJam, or is it a whole new world?
Janet: We were both in another a cappella group that disbanded in 2011. I wrote a song called Reality that was CASA’s Sing 7 Lucky compilation. Jo3 started that group years before I joined. He’s played the East Coast A cappella Summit in New Jersey and was a RARB reviewer years before I met him. So, even though Eh440 is only a year old, we know CASA well! And our new bandmates are amazed at how well CASA represents and promotes all aspects of a cappella globally.
You were on a TV show together, CBS’s Dragons’ Den. This show, which does not air in the United States, seems to involve you pitching a product or service for the “dragons” to back. How exactly did you market yourselves for that? How did it go?
Jo3: Dragons’ Den is a Canadian show similar to the U.S. show Shark Tank, featuring Mark Cuban. People go on and pitch their product or service and look for some dough from wealthy investors. We initially were looking for an investor to fund production of our debut CD but between the time we auditioned for the show and actually got on it, we were able to build up enough funds for production. But we still went on anyway looking for marketing & tour support. It went better than expected!
Janet: We thought that an indie a cappella group might get laughed out of the television studio by these serious business “suits.” Who jumps to invest in the music biz these days anyway?! But, we were pleasantly surprised that they were fighting to hand over their dollars to us!
Okay, who came up with the band’s name?
Jo3: The name was pretty much Janet’s doing. For those who don’t know what A440 means, it’s the frequency (440 hertz) that the note “A” is usually tuned to, and tuning is an important thing in our space, right? But we felt we needed to give it a little Canadian flare. Although we sometimes deny it, we Canadians are always caught by our American friends saying “eh?” in conversation. So we decided to embrace our home country roots and call our band Eh440, still pronounced “A-four-forty.”
Do you all still gig outside of Eh440, or is this your main group?
Janet: Eh440 is a huge focus for us, but we all have other things that we do musically outside of the group. Mike Celia has a folk-centric solo career and is about to release his second CD. Stacey Kay just released her first EP. Luke Stapleton is a pretty in-demand beatboxer in Canada and always seems to have side projects on the go. And Jo3 and I also keep busy in the studio. One of our projects is singing character voices in a cartoon called “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” which airs on PBS in the U.S..
Who are your inspirations musically?
Janet: Everyone in Eh440 would answer this question differently as our inspirations are pretty eclectic and spread across many genres. We were actually formed on the theory that as long as people are musical, having different influences & inspirations is a good thing. So, if we were to narrow the focus to vocal groups that we are vaguely similar to, our current inspirations would include SONOS/ARORA, Pentatonix, & The Bobby McFerrin Trio (this doesn’t exist yet, it’s just in our fantasy world…it’s a group with just Bobby and the two of us). 😉
Jo3: There are some other groups that we love to listen to but are nothing like stylistically. We think that the Swingle Singers are so incredible and we are happy to be able to hear them again at SoJam. It will be our third Swingle Singers concert this year and we’re not even from the same continent as them. Does that make us Swingle Groupies? Is there a word for that? Swoupies, maybe?
When it comes to arranging, do you look at any other a cappella groups, or do you look to non-a cappella performers?
Janet: We just enjoy other a cappella groups like everyone does but we don’t look to anyone else for anything musical. We create Eh440’s sound from within the 5 of us.
Jo3: We have been asked before if Pentatonix inspired us to start our group, but we actually started forming Eh440 before Pentatonix won The Sing Off. We do love them as fans, and were all present and cheering loudly when they performed in Toronto, but that’s it. As a side note, and this statement may create an uproar with Pentatonix fans, but we’re quite certain that Mike Celia has a better beard than Avi Kaplan. Mike’s beard is smoother than silk, softer than butter, and water beads off it like it does from a duck’s back. This is why Mike’s nickname is “The Bearded Wonder.”
None of you really started in a cappella music, so what brought you into the fold? What made you guys decide, “Hey, let’s get rid of our instruments and sing everything?”
Janet: Jo3 actually did start in a cappella. He sucked me into the world about 4 years ago and we both sucked Luke into the world 3 years ago. Maybe the a cappella world is like the mafia, once you’re in, you’re in for life? 😉
Jo3: Mike and Stacey were the more “mainstream music” types prior to joining but they are both very open-minded musically. When we approached them about banding together to form Eh440 and they both heard how far the style had progressed both musically and technologically, I think they both saw it as a unique way of sharing their songwriting and voices with the world.
Right now you’re doing a lot of covers of popular songs. Is that just to gain traction? I read on your website that you guys really want to focus on original music, which is awesome. Do you think that you’re at a point where you could perform some original pieces in the mix of your repertoire, or do you think you need more exposure first? Is there an album in your future?
Janet: Gaining traction by performing covers is one reason for sure. The other main reason is because singing covers is a great way for a new act to focus their sound and style both live and in the studio. So, we’ve performed a ton of live shows and recorded some unreleased tracks, 4 covers and 2 originals, just to figure out what Eh440’s recorded sound will be. We have performed our originals at live shows already but won’t at SoJam so they’ll have a reason to bring us back. 😉
Jo3: Our debut album will be released in April 2014. It might have 1 or 2 covers at most, so the focus will be on original music. We have written most of the songs already and like what’s happening in the writing room. We hope everyone else likes them too.
I grew up in Buffalo, New York, so we’re basically neighbors. However, I’m curious: what is the weirdest American custom/food that you’ve encountered so far?
Jo3: It’s not really a custom or food, but I love the variety of cool American accents. We just did a show in Kentucky and I was chatting with the custodian sweeping up after the show. I think he was a little weirded out because I was following him around the stage as he swept, asking him questions. I just wanted him to keep talking while I absorbed every nuance of his accent.
Janet: Well, I’m a big fan of buffalo wings, so I thank your city for that! And before this ends, thanks for interviewing us Heather!
Jo3: Yes, thank you and we’ll see you at SoJam!
Janet and Jo3, thank you guys for taking the time and sharing a little about yourselves and the group. We’re looking forward to meeting you and seeing you perform at SoJam, less than a week from now!