The 10-man a cappella group Straight No Chaser will perform at Sun Center Studios, 63 Concord Road, in Aston, Pa. on Wednesday, July 16. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show are $46.95 - $79.20 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.
The word “unique” is overused in descriptions of music artists, but there are cases when it truly applies. Straight No Chaser (aka SNC) is unique in many ways.
It is the most commercially successful strictly a cappella group in the history of popular music. SNC has released four full-length albums and three EPs, and has performed sold-out concerts to audiences around the world. The group’s most recent full-length album, last year’s “Under The Influence,” marked the group’s highest debut on the Billboard 200 to date, at #28.
In a recent telephone interview, Allentown native Jerome Collins, one of the Straight No Chaser’s founding members, admitted that the group itself has been surprised by its sustained success.
“This was something we didn't think was going to last,” he said. “We kept thinking it would last maybe a year or two, but it just grew and grew – another album, another tour. This is a true grassroots all-American group success story that people have clung on to.”
It could be argued that Straight No Chaser’s success has been largely responsible for a renewed interest in a cappella music throughout popular culture. That interest has given rise to the TV show “The Sing Off,” the theater musical “Perfect Harmony,” and the film “Pitch Perfect.”
Not bad for a bunch of guys that originally came together as students in the fall of 1996 at Indiana University. According to SNC’s website, back then they were simply “ten guys who happened to be good friends who also liked to sing.”
The group founders began graduating in 1999 and went on to jobs mostly outside of music, but they chose replacements and established SNC as an ongoing group on campus with other IU undergrads. More than 50 members have passed through the group's ranks to date.
Indiana University hosted a 10th anniversary reunion show for the original lineup in 2006, and when original member Randy Stine posted clips from a 1998 concert on YouTube, Straight No Chaser went viral. In 2007 alone, the group's version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" was viewed more than seven million times. Today that number has surpassed 17 million, and the group’s cumulative YouTube views clock in at nearly 50 million.
The internet buzz led to the group reuniting and signing to ATCO/Atlantic Records. In 2008, SNC made its major label debut with “Holiday Spirits,” an album of Christmas music. The album became an improbable success. “Holiday Spirits” spent 14 days in the No. 1 slot on Amazon, and five days in the top spot overall on iTunes.
Today the group features original members Collins, Stine, Charlie Mechling, David Roberts, Steve Morgan and Walter Chase, along with newer members Michael Luginbill, Seggie Isho, Don Nottingham, and Tyler Trepp.
It’s fitting that most fans first discovered Straight No Chaser via a live performance video. On stage, the group sounds even better than it does on its studio recordings. The ten voices supply not only lead vocals and harmonies, but vocal instrumentation and percussion as well. They do it so convincingly that audience members swear they hear traditional instruments or backing tracks during performances.
“It's great to hear that because it means we're doing our job,” Collins says. “We always get a few people after the shows who say, ‘now seriously, you're going to tell me there was no music playing, no beat?’
“I don't know what else to show them, because it's right there in front of them. That's the beauty of our music. To me, a cappella music is music in its purest form. There's nothing you can hide behind. There's no production. There's no drummer. There's no studio magic going on. We're doing everything live with our instrument – which is the voice.”
The group prides itself on its fun, interactive live shows.
“People can watch us on video, but the live experience is what it's all about,” Collins says. “We try to make the audience feel like they're part of the show. We want you to feel like we are not singing at you, we are singing with you.”
That interaction continues after the show as well. The members of Straight No Chaser take time after every show to meet fans, sign autographs, take pictures and shake hands. They also maintain a very strong presence on social media sites, even encouraging fans to upload their own videos and pictures of SNC live performances.
“We got our start because of a video that went viral on YouTube,” Collins says. “That's how we got discovered. It’s an amazing story for us, so why not embrace it? Besides, there's no way in today's world that you're going to stop everyone from taping something that you're doing.”
While some bands with three or four members have difficulty getting along over the long term, Collins says that the key to SNC’s longevity is that it is founded on friendship.
“At the end of the day we're all friends,” he says. “We're all in this for the same thing. No one is above the other guy. That's what I love about our camaraderie. We are all brothers. We fight like brothers and we get along like brothers. When we get together we figure things out as a team. We've been together for so long, we can pretty much tell you what the other guy is thinking before they even say it.”
Fans who come to the Sun Center show can expect a mix of classic Straight No Chaser as well as some new material.
“Right now we’re on the Happy Hour Tour, which is a mix of throwback songs that we used to do when we first got started, as well is some brand-new material that we’ve been working on,” Collins says. “It’s going to be fun to try out some new songs as well as some new choreography. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the surrounding area is our number one market, so we are excited to be coming back to the area. Plus, I’m always happy to come back to my home state.”
Collins says that SNC plans to head back to the studio in August to begin work on its next album.
“Right now are coming up with the theme that the album is going to be based around, as opposed to just throwing song ideas around,” he says. “We’re excited about the ideas that the guys have been coming up with, as well as the ideas that have come from the label and our management. We're putting all those things together so that we can make it our best album yet.”