2014- The Year in A Cappella

**Yes, this is going up way later than I typically do the annual review. You have my heartfelt apologies and a sincere promise to get the 2015 review up in January, 2016. If you want to help out with these types of posts (or any other types of posts), I could always use some help. Just email me at dave@acatribe.com.

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While it seemed like nothing could top 2013 in terms of the expanding global reach of a cappella music, 2014 found ways to do precisely that. Pentatonix once again led the way with some remarkable achievements in their quest for mainstream pop relevance, Peter Hollens was signed to a Sony record label, and The Sing Off continued to create a variety of new and amazing offshoots.

We begin, of course, with Pentatonix.  A comprehensive list of the performances, appearances, and other relevance would be impossible (for me), but let’s review a few of the most noteworthy items. We begin, of course, with record releases and sales. In May, the group was signed to RCA Records.  As with 2013, they released a new pop music EP (PTX Vol. III) and a Christmas album (That’s Christmas to Me). The first reached number 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart and with 46,000 sales in the first week, but it was the latter that truly exploded. That’s Christmas to Me hit number 2 on the Billboard 200, was one of only 4 albums to go PLATINUM all year (the other 3? Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, and the Frozen soundtrack).  It was the highest-charting Christmas album by a group since 1962.  The global superstars of a cappella have nearly 8 million followers on YouTube and close to 900 million views.

Ok, welcome back. So, PTX sold a lot of records. What kind of opportunities does that bring with it? Just a few things like…

 

They were interviewed on CBS, featured in articles on Huffington Post, called social media superstars by Parade magazine, and so much more.

Their 2015 is off to an amazing start with sold out shows around the country and announcements that they will appear in this year’s Pitch Perfect 2, be opening on tour for Kelly Clarkson, and are rumored to be working on an album of all originals. Their meteoric ascent continues to astound.

Nothing else in 2014 a cappella news compares to the Pentatonix story, but here’s what else was noteworthy.

Noteworthy Recordings and Releases

The House Jacks released an album, “Pollen,” in which each track features a collaboration with a different international a cappella group.

The Swingle Singers released the first of two new albums on the way, “Weather to Fly.”
Continue reading…

SoJam 2013- Rockin’ in Raleigh

On Nov. 8-10, Raleigh, North Carolina was pulsing with a cappella for the eleventh annual SoJam festival. This was my first year attending, and aside from some personal issues which forced me to miss the after party Saturday night and catch a super-early flight home on Sunday (more on that below), it was a tremendous experience.

I have been to BOSS twice and VoCALnation once, but neither quite matches up in size or scope to SoJam. The sheer number of people walking around and attending workshops on Saturday, as well as attending the Friday night concert, was impressive.

First, let me just note- I had intended for this weekend to be a series of announcements from Acatribe, with the revealing of a new logo (see above, and special thanks to Andrew Kirschner for his tireless work on the designs), a new visual approach to the blog, and most importantly, the brand new vocal editing service Acatribe Productions!

However, I faced obstacles with each of these rollouts, and the weeks leading up to SoJam were a constant series of headaches from technical problems to logistical/business problems, to personal issues. I printed business cards (how quaint!), some swag with the new logo, and then never got a chance to really promote. As you can see, the logo is now official, and the overhaul of the blog design is nearly complete. The Production company is very close to opening for business, and I’ll certainly do more promotion of that when the time is ready. My point in sharing all of this is that I had very high expectations and hopes for SoJam in a professional context, and many of them were dashed before I even arrived.

So, what about as a fan and festival attendee? A whole other story.

Friday night’s concert had just begun when I walked into the large Memorial “Auditorium” that evening, and it was loud inside. Eh440 was opening up with a tune before the competition began, and the energy in the room was high. UCD Mix, who won the 2013 BOSS collegiate competition with these sets, led off the competition. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any video from their set online yet, but I can tell you that they absolutely killed it. They brought the same high level of creativity, musicality, and storytelling (along with some props) which really just made the other groups look primitive by comparison. I could talk about the remaining groups, but frankly, they weren’t all that impressive. In fact, I think the overall caliber of the performances from the remaining 5 groups was lesser than at BOSS 2013 or BOSS 2012. FSU’s Reverb had some nice moments, and the crowd was definitely cheering them on, but I think part of it was the audience wanting to pull for someone else to challenge Mix, when it was so clear from the beginning that this would be a nearly impossible task. That’s just my opinion, and of course others may have felt differently. Also, in fairness to the other competitors, their performances were still at a far higher level than most college groups could achieve even 5 years ago, though some performers did struggle a bit with pitch. Also, it was apparently BELTING NIGHT!! because each group had at least one female lead who practically shrieked out a solo. I was really dying for more nuance and subtlety as the competition went along, but there wasn’t a whole lot to be found.

Mix thus won their second CASA festival competition in the past seven months. Pretty impressive, guys!

In fact, here’s their Sing Off audition video (it’s a shame they didn’t make it, I think they would have been very entertaining and competitive).

Eh440 entertained the crowd while the judges deliberated in between rounds, and they sounded great. It seems like they are still discovering or cementing their identity, something which they alluded to in this interview before SoJam.

I was exhausted and famished that night from 9 hours of travel, as was Pat (who worked his last day at his job before he begins working for Jean Georges at a new restaurant in Westchester, NY), so when the concert let out after 11 pm we went looking for food and ended up at a little bar called Woody’s which had decent burgers and beer. I was disappointed we missed the after party, but I figured (wrongly) that I’d be that much more ready to go Saturday night.

Saturday morning, we headed over to the NCSU campus for a morning of workshops and AcaBombs. When we arrived, I looked around and realized the difference between SoJam and the other festivals I’ve attended. There were not one or two, but four simultaneous AcaBombs during each break, which is CRAZY…and awesome. We saw Jaded perform, and then I had to decide on what workshops to attend: always a challenge. I decided to try something new and attend a workshop on Barbershop music called “What We Can Learn From Barbershop.” Run by Matt Woodward, Bill Adams, and Matt Gorman, this was one of the best workshops I’ve seen at a CASA festival. They talked about why barbershop music is important to contemporary a cappella performers, citing Deke Sharon’s article (here) which called it the “martial art” of a cappella. More specifically, they talked about the importance of tuning, vowels, phrasing, and so on.  Adams talked about the math and physics of tuning and why you should absolutely NOT be rehearsing around a piano. He has a Doctor of Musical Arts and probably knows what he’s talking about.  They talked about practice habits, including practicing unison singing (which I guarantee virtually no contemporary a cappella groups are doing on a regular basis). I thought it was great, and I truly hope they can offer a similar workshop at future festivals. Great workshop guys, you inspired me to check out the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Then, outside, FSU’s All Night Yahtzee did this

After lunch, I sat on the panel celebrating RARB‘s 20th anniversary, where we discussed older albums which have held up over time and some which have not. Mike Marcus (our technical director) revealed the much improved new format (“2.0”) which will be coming soon, and there was even cake! If you have read more than 5 album reviews from RARB over the years, you’ve proven that you value it as a resource (really, THE resource) for reviews on recorded a cappella music. And if this is true, you should really donate to help us make it a better resource. Here’s the link for the donation page- http://rarb.org/2for20.html -every little donation helps.

Ok, moving on, I next attended the workshop on listening and tuning with Avante, a vocal jazz septet from North Carolina. This was a perfect supplement to the barbershop workshop, as they also talked about and demonstrated specific types of problems you may encounter with your group’s blend and tuning, and how to fix them. It was pretty amazing to watch Kevin Badanes take some singers from the audience, have them shuffle around in configurations singing a short passage, and learn who was better off singing where in the group. It was informative and entertaining, with a cameo from Tom Anderson (singing an arrangement he prepared for Avante, with Avante).

The final workshop of the day for me had to be Essential Listening with Ben Stevens, which I have heard much about over the years but never yet attended.

Wow.

I can honestly say I haven’t thought or felt (in a communal sense) that much about music in a long time. The reality is that the things the “Professor” (as he is often called) pointed out are especially true for me, with a day job, a family, and a lot of extra-curricular responsibilities (including this blog, RARB, CASA, and this new editing business). I don’t have a lot of time to really sit and just listen to music, but I am going to make more of an effort after that experience. Bravo to the ladies of Jaded and the FSU Acabelles for their performances there as well.

Saturday evening was the professional showcase, which kicked off with Mix reprising part of their set from the night before. Despite the repetition, it was impressive and thrilling.

MICappella is a group I have been following for a long time, having featured them in an AcaVids segment before they had even appeared on The Sing Off China. I loved their EP and their album, and was really interested to see how they are in concert. They did not disappoint. From the beginning, they were entertaining, energetic, and they sounded great.

They were also funny, gracious, and versatile, even pulling off this Iron Maiden cover.

It was nice of the SoJam organizers to let MICappella do a long set considering the group flew halfway around the world to be there. In the past, some have suggested MICappella is similar to Pentatonix, what with the comparable Sing Off background and youth. I would suggest that MICappella has earned the right to be recognized for what they have accomplished, and for their own unique style which is not a mere carbon copy of Pentatonix’s sound. I thoroughly enjoyed their set, and I hope they make it back to the States soon with a performing stop in New York City.

If you want to learn more about MICappella, check out my interview with Peter Huang, the group’s excellent vocal percussionist, here.

Finally, it was time for the Swingle Singers. I’ve seen them perform twice before, and I am continually stunned at the level of precision, musicality, and intelligence in their sets. As with the last time I saw them, they began with the title track from their new album, “Weather to Fly,” which is a perfect introduction to what they do so well. Watch this video, note how they exchange parts and weave a colorful and warm tapestry from this Elbow tune.

I was pleased to see them do their unique cover of “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, which is hugely entertaining.

And of course, as always, they bring class and cosmopolitan culture to each set.

I could write about their abundant skills (musicianship, stage presence, creativity, etc.) for several more paragraphs, but this post is getting (!) quite long, so let me just say- The Swingle Singers are one of the handful of groups in the world that can please all types of fans, all ages, in all venues. Simply put, they are the very best our performance style has to offer, and they earned each of the four standing ovations at SoJam. Also, from everything I have heard and seen, they are some of the most genuine, funny, and kind people in the business.

You can learn more about their recent experiences and what lies ahead for the Swingles in this interview I conducted with the lovely and talented Sara Brimer.

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Though I was very much looking forward to the after party Saturday night, I was starting to get concerned about my wife (who texted me that she was quite ill, and that she was not sure if she could care for the children in the morning) and ended up heading back to the hotel and working to book the earliest flight I could get, which took some time. I missed the after party, which is perhaps one of the most exciting parts about these festivals- socializing and celebrating with the other fans and the performers in a casual setting. (see my BOSS post for an example).

I was up at 5 am the next morning, on the road before 6 am, and on a plane before 7 am, so I missed the workshops on Sunday. I am very hopeful that this will be the first of many SoJams to come, and that future experiences will be healthy and untroubled by personal issues.

You can see another write-up of a first-time SoJammer Deborah Rosanwo right here at the Vocal Blog. She was also quite impressed by the whole experience. :-)

For now, I’m already getting excited for BOSS in April, and I hope to get reports from those who make it out to Los Angeles A Cappella Fest and the Texas A Cappella Celebration in March.

What were some of your favorite parts of SoJam 2013?

SoJam Spotlight: Janet Turner and Jo3 Oliva of Eh440

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.

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You can learn more about them and on the group’s website here, and don’t forget to Like them on Facebook and Follow them on Twitter.

 

 

 

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!

 


SoJam Spotlight: Sara Brimer from The Swingle Singers

Sara Brimer is a soprano and the token American with the world-renowned Swingle Singers.  The first and only Tennessean to sing with the long-established group, she studied music education at East Tennessee University, where she performed leading roles in operas such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Pirates of Penzance, and La Divina, and supporting roles in Carmen, Dido, and Aeneas. Sara has also performed leading roles in multiple musical theater productions, and she joined The Swingle Singers in 2009.

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You can learn more about her and The Swingle Singers on their website, and don’t forget to Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Sara, I know you guys are busy right now and we really appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions. Now, you guys made the ambitious decision to release two full-length albums in the span of a year as part of the celebration for the group’s 50th anniversary. What different things were you looking to achieve with each album?

The first album, “Weather to Fly,” started off as a collection of recent music we’ve been doing that people kept asking for. It’s turned into something of a stepping stone for the album coming up in 2014. We are so proud of “Weather to Fly” and Bill [Hare] and Erik [Bosio] did such a phenomenal job, we really view it as a perfect set up for the next album.

For “Weather to Fly,” the group worked with well-known a cappella producers like Bill and Erik, but for the upcoming anniversary album you’re working with someone more experienced in pop music and less so in a cappella music. How different is the process, and how do you think it is affecting the group’s decisions for the album and perhaps even in concert (if at all)?

A cappella music is so brilliantly niche and focused yet for those exact reasons it does present some drawbacks sometimes. The process has been really enlightening for us, just working with someone new is eye-opening but when their expertise is not in your genre it’s even more so. We’ve had to decide what works best for us as a team of people trying to produce something groundbreaking. Groundbreaking not just in the a cappella world and that is a daunting task some days. It’s made us consider as a real possibility what we as creative people want to hear, not just what is expected of us.

In the past few months, you guys have been in Sweden, the United States, the Philippines, Poland, Belgium, Italy, and of course the UK. Where have you not been yet that you’d like to perform?

I personally would really like to perform in Australia. I’d also like to do more in South America, places like Argentina and Mexico.

You guys have performed at a number of a cappella festivals around the world. How do you find the audiences at these festivals to be different from your typical audiences?

They get it. You walk on that stage and you are so nervous because everything you do is under Super-scrutiny but at the same time you feel that this audience is holding you up, supporting you no matter what. It’s a fantastic feeling of family and community. A typical audience can be wonderful and so attentive but there will still be some people who walk away not understanding what happened.

With such a long and storied history, does the current group have any relationship with some of the earliest members?

We are still in regular contact with our founder, Ward Swingle. We are great friends with many of the past members, we find ourselves surrounded quite often in the session singing world. You are almost guaranteed to have an ex-Swingle or two or 15 doing music for films and advertisements. It’s pretty cool to be pals with people who have done your job in the past. 

As part of this 50th anniversary, have you guys gone back to look at some of the old performances, albums, photos, etc.? If so, did anything surprise or impress you?

Yes, we’ve actually been pretty nostalgic during this whole process, while still looking forward and moving on. Because it is the 50th, people seem to be coming out of the woodwork with old albums and records to show us old photos of the group. It’s really incredible to linked to this kind of magnitude of a history.

You are a classically trained vocalist. What was it like for you being on the stage performing at La Scala?

I will say that I bragged quite heavily to my sister who is actually becoming a successful opera singer. I made it to La Scala first!! I know she will be there one day and in quite a more appropriate role for La Scala. It was a chance of a lifetime and I was totally dumbstruck to be honest. You can sense the people who have sung there previously and the weight of their professional careers. I felt really out of place but also right where I belonged in a funny way.

With such a broad range of styles, the Swingle Singers are probably the most versatile group performing a cappella music today. How do you as a group (or you individually) choose new songs?

We try it out. If something has potential, if the majority of the group like an idea or a song, then we’ll give it a go. There have been songs we’ve arranged or written that filled a purpose for that time and place and then directly afterwards we chucked it in the bin! Sometimes it only takes on person to dislike performing a song and that is enough for us to get rid of it. The important thing I think is that we tried it. How do you know you like a certain type of food or not unless you try it? Music can surprise you, if you don’t try new stuff you don’t allow yourself much room for surprises. If someone has an idea or a song they’d like to try we listen to it and the ideas behind it, decide if it might have a place alongside our other songs and if it might then we try it. What is it about a piece that draws you to it, that makes you listen to it over and over again, can you create that too? What’s keeping you from trying?

This is just a small fraction of the questions I’d love to ask you, but we have to leave something for the workshops at SoJam. :-) Thank you for taking the time, and we look forward to seeing you guys in North Carolina next week!

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!