The House Jacks: Pollinating the Aca-universe

Last night, The House Jacks announced that founding member Deke Sharon is leaving the group, as is bass Elliott Robinson. Deke formed the group in 1991 and has shepherded it through many iterations while consistently pushingdeke the boundaries of recorded and live a cappella music.

The House Jacks are an iconic group, but not the kind that rests on its laurels and cruises along playing the greatest hits. The band has many exciting plans in store for the future, which will include two “new” yet-to-be announced members. This is why we have decided to go all in on a series of features and interviews, our very own “House Jacks” week here at Acatribe and in conjunction with Acafanbase.

This first piece has been in the works for many months.  When The House Jacks released their album Pollen last fall, I was blown away. A compilation album with some of the best groups from across the globe is exciting, but one where a pillar of the community like The House Jacks collaborates with those groups to write new songs is even better. I sat down with John Pointer in December to discuss the creation of the album, and then decided to go one step further. I reached out to members of all 10 collaborating groups featured on the album. The reason this piece has not gone up sooner is simple: it’s difficult to get in touch with people scattered across five continents. If not for the band’s announcement last night, I might have waited longer to hear back from the four remaining groups.  Instead, I am pushing on to offer you a look inside the making of the first international collaborative album of original a cappella music.

 

pollen.jpg.500

For more than twenty years, The House Jacks have been ahead of the curve. If you listen to their recording of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir today, it sounds pretty cool. If you listened to it in 1997, when it was released on their second album Funkwich, it was mind-blowing.  Layered textures, big booming Bonham-esque drums, and fuzzy distortion are commonplace in recorded a cappella now. In 1997 they were from another galaxy.  

“Studio tricks,” you might say, “big deal- they’ve worked with a brilliant engineer (Bill Hare) for most of their albums.” My response would be this, this, this, and this.  See you in about 30 minutes, or far longer if you search “House Jacks requests” in YouTube.  The group has been performing its patented request improvisation medley for years, and it is fun (though far from perfect) every single time. It’s a bold move from a group of musicians confident enough in their skill and showmanship to allow themselves to be vulnerable onstage.  I have never seen another group even try it.

There’s your proof that the House Jacks have been innovating for quite a while. Last fall, they released Pollen, an album which features 10 songs performed, recorded, and essentially co-written with 10 groups from 5 different continents. This struck me as a brilliant extension of the group’s quest to not only push the boundaries of recorded a cappella music, but also to take a cappella into the future. Online collaborations are not brand-new (Peter Hollens, for example, has been putting out collaborative videos for years) but the idea of a premier band creating music with some of the best international groups is truly revolutionary.

I reached out to John Pointer, baritone/tenor/beatboxer extraordinaire, and he agreed to sit down and discuss the process. What followed was a 2.5-hour discussion about the group’s history, the process of recording Pollen, and some possibilities for the future.

 

I then followed up by emailing each of the collaborating groups, eventually hearing back from members of Cadence, The Idea of North, BR6, Postyr, Maybebop, and MICappella with their thoughts on the process and the album. Continue reading…

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.

—-

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…

AcaVids- MOVE with Ball In The House

As crazy as it may sound, this Jersey girl has driven up to Boston (just for the night!) to see Ball In The House, so when I found out that they were performing less than 40 minutes away, there was no way I would miss it!

After a long day at school, I was energized by the prospect of seeing the new line up perform. Good friend Montario ‘Monty’ Hill, from DC, recently joined their ranks, adding his soulful baritone to the group. I had the pleasure of watching him perform with DC-based group, The Lobby, at SingStrongDC earlier in the year and he blew the audience away, helping to clinch the win of the Aca Idol competition. Cole Sherratt, their newest tenor joining from Houston, started singing and writing songs at the age of 13. Lastly, I couldn’t wait to hear James C. Jones, their new bass and former member of a group called The Fix. Little known fact, he may or may not semi know how to use nunchucks. Perhaps this skill will make it to the stage one day! 😉

They opened with an energetic 90s throwback, ‘This Is How We Do It’.

After a few songs, an original ‘Set The Mood’ was included.

One of my favorite songs that Ball In The House covers (and better yet off-mic!) is ‘Falling Slowly’.

For more vids from this show, please check my playlist here.

A little over a month ago, Ball In The House released a seven track EP, titled MOVE. (Click here or here for full track listing.) I finally picked up my copy at the end of the show in PA. I proceeded to listen to it every single day, multiple times a day, for fifteen days straight. 😎 If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, or if you’re looking for a great holiday gift, you’re in luck! We are GIVING AWAY a SIGNED copy of MOVE to one lucky winner! See this page for entry. GOOD LUCK!

Hope to see you at a show soon,
Tara :-)
@OooImSoExcited

2014- Get Excited!

A few weeks ago, we talked about some of the biggest news stories from the world of a cappella in 2013 (here).  Well, now we’d like to tell you about some things to look forward to in 2014. Sit back, relax, and get excited.

Group Plans

Postyr Project has already gotten off to a busy start in 2014 with more than 20 performances in Denmark and they will be headlining the Berlin A-CA festival with Fork, Rock4, and MuSix. Postyr Project also launched a collaboration this January with the international fashion brand Vero Moda, who selected the band’s song “Run Run Run” for their spring campaign video. Later in the year, the group will be touring Germany, Sweden, the Baltics, and Denmark and they hope to release a new album with original songs for voice and computer and possibly a book about group dynamics and icebreakers. Also, they are planning a Postyr Summer Camp. They are also looking into possible trips back to the U.S. and to Asia for 2015!

The Swingle Singers will continue their Swingle50 project as they work toward a new album. Donors on PledgeMusic have already received early versions of”Piper” and “After the Storm,” which sound terrific. The new album will hopefully be released in late spring early summer.  The group is also working on some exciting collaborations for another album, and they hope to produce some new videos as well. They will also be launching a Summer School in London, with details still to be determined.

The Exchange will be releasing their second album, with all originals and featuring a hybrid vocal/instrumental approach, in early 2014! They will also be headlining the Festival of Voices in Australia.

Honey Whiskey Trio, 2013 Harmony Sweepstakes National Champions will perform at the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival alongside The Sing-Off Season 4 winners, Home Free on Saturday, February 1st. In addition, these fabulous ladies are excited to announce the release of their self-titled EP (available for download via cdbaby.com on 1/25!), featuring ‘Freight Train Blues’.  This track was added to their Harmony Sweeps set just a week before the competition and recorded in just one take! Also included is ‘Nothing But The Water’ by Grace Potter. Their performance of this song at SheSings can be seen here.

The Real Group will be coming to the U.S., with appearances in California in February. Learn more here.

The House Jacks plan to release an album of original music this fall, and get this- each track is/will be recorded alongside a different a cappella group from countries around the world (China, Brazil, etc.).

The King’s Singers will be touring the U.S. and Canada in support of their new album, Great American Songbook, starting in New York this week. Check out the tour schedule here.

Overboard will be returning to the Berklee Vocal Summit, where they work with students to build a small a cappella ensemble that performs on the final day of the festival.

Eh440 is working on an album of mostly originals which they hope to release in May 2014. Rumor has it they’re using some new technology and techniques in the process, so look forward to that!

Fermata Town is working on a new album with Tim Bongiovanni which may include some of their recent singles and are hoping for a late summer album release date. They are aiming to do an east coast CAL tour sometime this year, and also to possibly shoot a video for one of the new songs.

Blue Jupiter has hinted that they may release one or even two albums in 2014. Follow them on Twitter to catch more news.

Arora is working on at least one, and possibly as many as three videos for 2014. They may be appearing at several aca-festivals in 2014 as well.

The Boxettes are in the early stages of exploring sounds for their debut full-length album, which should feature mostly originals and be “a lot more alternative- think James Blake, Little Dragon, Camille…”.  :-)

Ball in the House plan to release a new album sometime in March. Keep an eye out for their Kickstarter campaign set to launch in a week or so to help fund this project.

re:Voiced just announced a list of upcoming February/March tour dates in Arizona and Wisconsin. If you’re in the area, you don’t want to miss them!

Five O’Clock Shadow is writing new music for an all-originals album with a to-be-determined release.

Denver group, Motive (produced by Tony Huerta/Sonic Audio Productions) will be releasing an EP. Members of this group include Zakk Wooten of re:Voiced and Daniel Bailey of UCD Mix.

Duwende and m-pact have joined forces to present “I Wish-For All Time”, a show dedicated to celebrating the work of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Click the links for locations and ticket information.

Redline is working on the follow-up album to their CARA winning debut, “Inbound.” which they hope to release in 2014, and they will be headlining a winter festival in Cooperstown, New York, and performing at a fundraiser for Symphony NH with the Tufts Beelzebubs.

NYC based group, Blackout will release two songs in the next month or so. We also hear that there may be a VERY exciting announcement coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Funx plan to release a new video sometime in February. They are also one of several groups performing at SingStrong in DC. (See link below in TEN’s update for more info.)

Low Key, a male group in New York City, has developed a niche market, singing for proposals and weddings in the area. with a bunch already planned for 2014. The group also plans to compete once again in the Harmony Sweepstakes competition.

Sunday Afternoon is gearing up for a BIG year! Their recently released EP, ‘Turn Up’, is available for download on Loudr and iTunes. They will be releasing three new videos, one a month for the next three months starting in February, with more information forthcoming. Also, they are excited for their first ever summer tour! They kick things off in Cedar Rapids on May 10th and then hit the road. They hope to join up with other a cappella groups and put on joint concerts in various cities. Be sure to like them on facebook and follow them on twitter for further updates.

MICappella are in the planning stages for their second full-length album which they hope to feature even more originals and to release in late 2014. They also plan to release more videos in 2014, following up their recent video cover of Lorde’s “Royals.”

Traces have a few gigs coming up this spring and are working on a new single.

UPDATE: Street Corner Symphony will be joining The Sing Off Tour from March 11-14 in OH, TN, and IN. Rumor has it they may also be involved with another television reality show later this year.

The Sing Off Contestants

The Sing Off Tour will be hitting cities across the country throughout February and March, featuring Home Free, VoicePlay, and The Filharmonic, as well as occasional local guests. Find out more here.

Home Free,  TSO Season 4 winners, hit #1 on the iTunes country chart and #3 overall with their release of ‘Crazy Life’.  They will be the headlining performers at the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival on 2/1/14 before kicking off The Sing-Off Tour in mid-February. Inside sources also reveal that they *may* be working on developing a southern tour of their own to complement TSO Tour later in the year. Southerners, keep your eyes peeled!

TEN is dropping a new single next month! We hear it promises to provide listeners with TEN in its ‘true form’, a bit different from TSO. Get ready to party and dance with this one! TEN will also perform at SingStrong in DC, the 3 day a cappella festival all for charity February 21-23. Check out the full schedule here!

Element  hit their indiegogo campaign and will be releasing their first album soon. They will be performing with The Sing-Off Tour on February 21st (Red Bank, NJ) and 23rd (Westbury, NY).  They are also working with the folks at Project Philly on March 1st. Stay tuned for more details about this event.

The Princeton Footnotes leave for a week-long tour of Israel on January 25th. They will be singing  at an army base in Tel Aviv, giving a concert in Karmiel, and performing with the Jerusalem Youth Choir at the International YMCA of Jerusalem. In February, they will be releasing “The Orange Album”, featuring their newest songs, hoping to wow fans with new techniques they employed. They, too, will be joining The Sing-Off Tour shows on February 21-23.

VoicePlay has released “Collide,” a collection of the 8 tracks on which the group collaborated with other contestants from The Sing Off Season 4. You can find it on their website here and it is also on Spotify.

General A Cappella News

Pitch Perfect 2 begins filming this spring for a 2015 release.

Camp A Cappella returns, and as I mentioned in the 2013 summary, there is a separate week for non-scholastic singers!

Mouth Off is going to be returning, this time it’s for sure, and it will involve a new(ish) format and rotating hosts.

Voices Only is celebrating its 10th anniversary and recently announced that the scholastic compilation has been expanded to include the best high school submissions. Check out more (including the February 15 submission deadline) here.

2013- The Year in A Cappella

2013. The first full year with a cappella submersed in the mainstream.

There were a lot of terrific stories about a cappella in 2013, but I suspect the two biggest have to be related to Pentatonix and Season 4 of The Sing Off.

Pentatonix continued their whirlwind rise through pop music with appearances on dozens of mainstream media outlets including The Tonight Show, ABC World News, Sesame Street, Ellen,  Conan O’Brien, and many other networks and programs.  More importantly, the group actually hit number 10 on the prestigious Billboard Top 200 album chart.  At various points, they were also on the top of Billboard’s Independent Artists chart, hit number 2 on Billboard’s Digital Albums chart, and appeared on Billboard’s Holiday 100 songs chart, the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the Billboard Social 50 chart, the Adult Contemporary chart, and the top of the iTunes albums chart (with their deluxe holiday release PTXMAS). Oh, and their YouTube channel has more than 4 million subscribers and has racked up more than 300 million views. Also, they’re still good! PTX Vol 2 is a terrific step forward from their debut EP.

The Sing Off Season 4 debuted strong with 8.4 million viewers before slipping to 5.2 million for the finale. Though the season was strong substantively, with a lot of talented groups and a fun new battle elimination, I do think NBC did the show a disservice by cramming all 7 episodes into 14 days, inconsistently airing at 8, 9, and even 10 pm EST. Home Free were crowned the champions on December 23, and their new album (Crazy Life) was released on iTunes this week and will be in stores February 18.

The A Cappella Education Association was created by J.D. Frizzell, Brody McDonald, and Ben Spalding, who have successfully directed high school groups Briarcrest Christian High School’s OneVoice, Kettering Fairmont’s Eleventh Hour, and Centerville High School’s Forte, respectively.  The organization is devoted to supporting and developing high school a cappella programs, including curricula, resources, and networking opportunities for all members. Membership is free, so check it out!

RARB, the best resource for reviews of a cappella recordings, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a long-overdue (and particularly snazzy) overhaul. The organization also began new segments including DVD reviews, interviews, single reviews, and an ongoing fundraising campaign (please donate here).

Straight No Chaser released an album, Under the Influence, which featured collaborations with Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Jason Mraz, Seal, and more and which hit number 28 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, number 19 on the Digital Albums chart, and appeared on numerous other Billboard album and singles charts. They also appeared on The Today Show and many other national and local television programs.

Pitch Perfect 2 is confirmed for a 2015 release; also, Anna Kendrick’s Cups from the original Pitch Perfect hit 100 million views, blew up on Billboard, and there was talk of a Pitch Perfect holiday album. Also, the soundtrack from the movie won an American Music Award for Best Soundtrack.

Dreamworks has optioned a movie about Straight No Chaser, which you can learn more about here.

In early 2013, Sled Dog Studios joined forces with The Vocal Company, but that’s just the beginning of their prolific 2013. The new combined organization has become a repository for many of the best and brightest in a cappella music today. Better still, they are doing more for a cappella music than anyone since Deke Sharon in the early nineties with new projects such as acappellaEd, the a cappella survey, expansion of Next Level workshops to arranging, songwriting, and high school groups, and much more. Keep watching them- I suspect they’re going to lead us all into a new age for a cappella music.

CASA’s A Cappella Community Awards (ACAs) returned- and we were nominated!

Clear Harmonies Productions started a concert series which included U.S. booking for international acts such as Cluster and MICappella, and their own education program called The A Cappella School.

Pentatonix, Peter Hollens, and Sam Tsui recorded songs for the Disney Channel movie “Teen Beach Movie.”

Acappella Academy was formed by Ben Bram, Avi Kaplan, and Rob Deitz. Learn more here.

Noteworthy

Deke Sharon appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” which you can find here.

Deke was also involved with the formation of Camp A cappella, which premiered for teenagers in 2013 and will return in 2014 with sessions for teenagers and high school directors, and a separate session for pros/adults.

The Women’s A Cappella Association held its first “SheSings” festival in Eugene, Oregon, and accepted submissions for a future Best of Women’s A cappella compilation album.

Voices Only released its second Forte non-scholastic compilation and its ninth collegiate edition.

Caroline Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize for her a cappella composition Partita for 8 Voices, performed by Roomful of Teeth, about which she was interviewed here.

The FSU AcaBelles made a huge splash with their cover of Lorde’s Royals, which passed 7 million views in a few short months and featured on CNN, Huffington Post, Elle, local news affiliates, and many other media outlets. The Vocal Company was involved in the prep and publicity for the video.

SingStrong introduced a new, second annual festival in Chicago. This edition featured performances from Swingle Singers, Nota, Traces, Blue Jupiter, Ball in the House, and others.

Bobby McFerrin participated in a “Talks at Google” session in which he performed music from his new “SpiritYouAll” album and answered questions, made sounds, and generally entertained.  He also invited SLIXS, formerly known as the Stouxingers, to perform with him on tour.

CASA offered its first southwest festival with the Texas A Cappella Celebration, which will return in March, 2014.

The Festival of Voices in Australia received a lot of local press and included Americans Deke Sharon (workshops) and Take 6 (performing), among many other talented folks (like beatboxer Tom Thum).

Competitions

Here’s a quick list of competition winners from 2013-

LAAF– OSA Vocal Rush

BOSS– UCD Mix

Harmony Sweepstakes– Honey Whiskey Trio

Barbershop Harmony Society– Masterpiece Quartet

ICCAs– NU Nor’easters

ICHSA– OSA’s Vocal Rush

SoJam– UCD Mix

Groups

The Exchange spent a significant amount of time in Australia, Asia, and Europe.

Blue Jupiter showed up in Oreo’s Wonderfilled campaign and on College Humor.

Postyr toured Europe and Asia, including a performance in front of 20,000 at the Taichung Jazz Festival in Taiwan.

Australian group The Idea of North won an ARIA (the Australian Grammy) for Best Jazz Album.

MICappella won the Best Local Artist at the Singapore Hit Awards.

Northeastern’s Nor’easters got a chance to perform at the White House for the President and Mrs. Obama, and even got to pet Bo the First Dog!

Take 6 celebrated its 25 anniversary with appearances on Good Day NY and numerous other local shows, as well as a weeklong stint at the famous Blue Note in New York City and a recording session with Stevie Wonder, and later livestreamed a concert from Japan.

The Tufts Beelzebubs and The Swingle Singers each celebrated their silver (50th!) anniversary.

MO5AIC began a 12-month residency at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) which involves a 70-minute show in the 350-seat Shimmer Auditorium.

Duwende appeared on NBC’s “The Winner Is…”, hosted by a cappella familiar face Nick Lachey.

Video

This year brought us the Inside A cappella weekly news(ish) program, produced by Deke Sharon and Dave Longo, and hosted by Rachel Chaloub. You can watch them all on the YouTube channel here.

Jimmy Fallon and the Roots got into the a cappella game right here.

Face made some national news when they decided to serenade their fellow stranded travelers at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport: http://youtu.be/7Nq-zoOIyfg

New to the Web

Acaville radio

The A Cappella Sound Tech Facebook page

The Acalist

Album Releases

This is a partial list, in no particular order, of noteworthy non-scholastic album releases in 2013- it’s the best I could pull together and I’m sure I left more than a few out- if you want to add a non-scholastic release, leave it in the comments or email me at dave@acatribe.com.

Pentatonix– PTX Vol. II

Arora– Bioluminescence

MICappella– Here We Go

Street Corner Symphony– Southern Autumn Nostalgia

Breath of Soul– 4 The Record

Boxettes (who also appeared on District MTV)- No Strings

Swingle Singers– Weather to Fly

Duwende– Versus

The Magnets– All This Time

Six Appeal– Plan A

The Ex-Boyfriends– Happy Ending

Maybebop– Winger sind Mehr

The Exchange– Get Ready

Sweet Honey in the Rock– Live! Jazz at Lincoln Center

Five O’Clock Shadow– Six

MO5AIC– RE5ET

Rockapella– Motown & More

GQ– GQ

The Bobs– Biographies

Groove for Thought– Songs of Good Cheer

Vox Pop– Mandate

Fork– ElectroVocal Circus

Idea of North– Smile

Postyr Project– My Future Self

Hyannis Sound– Over the Bridge

The Capital Hearings– Opening Statement

Vocal Line– Precious Things

Misc

Not sure exactly what to do with this, but…enjoy-http://www.collegehumor.com/post/6822314/college-a-capella-beating-the-system

So, what did I miss? Lots, I’m sure. Feel free to add other notable a cappella moments from 2013 in the comments below!