The Palladium Presents: Straight No Chaser
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Courtesy of The Center for the Performing Arts
Straight No Chaser is coming to The Palladium for the first time on Friday, June 1. Founded at Indiana University, Straight No Chaser has become one of the world’s top all-male a cappella groups with a massive fan base, numerous national TV appearances and a series of successful CD releases. When these nine unadulterated human voices come together, they make extraordinary music that moves people in a fundamental sense – and with a sense of humor. On their latest release, “Six Pack: Volume 3,” the group puts its stamp on rock classics as well as contemporary pop hits, including “Sweet Dreams/HandClap” (a mashup of the Eurythmics and Fitz and the Tantrums) and a show-stopping “Beyonce Medley.”
Randy Stine produced Straight No Chaser’s “Live at the Musical Arts Center” on DVD in 2006. Clips from the DVD, posted on YouTube, received over eight million views, sparking the group to reunite and sign a deal with Atlantic Records. Stine graciously accepted our request for an interview while touring and shared some behind-the-scenes stories about the group and the journey that led to their current success.
Don’t miss this opportunity to see Straight No Chaser at The Palladium on June 1 at 8 p.m. Visit thecenterfortheperformingarts.org for more information.
Traveling back to 1996, what were the driving factors that led to the formation of Straight No Chaser?
Originally, all members of the group were part of Singing Hoosiers down at Indiana University in Bloomington. We were enjoying what we were doing with most of us as music majors, but we had an inkling to do some music that wasn’t just a part of the show choir repertoire. We thought if we got together and rehearsed outside of the group and put together a few songs of our own, we could stop in at the sororities and sing for the girls and for some free food.
All kidding aside, you guys began garnering the support of the campus and booked some decent gigs while you were attending IU, such as…?
We were lucky enough to perform on campus anywhere that would have us. Our first performance was at IU’s Dance Marathon in November of 1996. We started performing at IU Mom’s and Parents weekends and events like that. Basically, we’d perform at any philanthropic event that would have us.
Your dad was the one who gave you guys a nudge to expand your performance base. While most parents might be hesitative to support their son or daughter’s potential music career, he encouraged you how?
My dad from the start was kind of like, “Yeah, you’re in a singing group. That’s great, but how’s the GPA?” He came down [to Bloomington] and stood in the back of the room while we did a performance at a sorority house. Afterward, he said we could probably do this as our summer job and should come up to Chicago. So, we moved up to Chicago for the summers of ‘97 and ‘98 and performed. We sent out our demo cassettes – that’s what we had at the time and flyers about our group. We sang the National Anthem for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs and did shows in downtown Chicago, anywhere that would have us. That expanded our performing base expediently. We also performed for private parties and events at country clubs. We also worked a wide range of jobs while we were performing. But that’s how we snowballed – by not breaking up over the summer but by performing together before heading back to campus.
The story goes that Straight No Chaser got its big break, thanks to social media. How did it go down, and how is YouTube partially responsible for making Straight No Chaser a nationally-recognized name?
The original goal was to leave it [Straight No Chaser] at the university as something for future students to join. We all thought that it would be great if we could all come back in 20 years and see a Straight No Chaser concert on the campus of IU. We had all of that in place when we graduated, and in 2006, we were asked to come back to campus and sing for a 10-year university-sponsored event. I had put together a video for us to look back on, and at the time, YouTube was still in its infancy. I didn’t know much about it. A friend of mine said that I should share the video on YouTube, so I uploaded “12 Days of Christmas” and a few other songs, and within a year, it had jumped to over 100,000 views. And in the fall of 2007, it spiked, dramatically, to eight million views. It was the most viewed viral video of 2007. That led to New Year’s Day when the CEO of Atlantic Records called me and asked if I could get the group back together to sing, tour and record. I thought it was a prank until I flew out to L.A. and had dinner with him. From there, the ball started rolling, and we’ve been lucky enough to be calling this a career for the last 10 years.
How many of the group that is currently touring are founding members of Straight No Chaser?
Six out of the nine who are touring are founding members – myself, Steve Morgan, Dave Roberts, Jerome Collins, Walter Chase and Charlie Mechling. The other three guys were also in Straight No Chaser at IU after we left. Mike Luginbill, Tyler Trepp and Seggie Isho, along with the six founding members, make up the current group.
Having been on the road for a decade, I’m sure you guys have experienced some incredible and some challenging moments that make for great stories to be shared. What are some of the most memorable moments that you’ve experienced along this journey?
With being on the road as long as we have, there’s a lot of memorable stories. Whether it’s a storm that trapped our bus someplace and we weren’t allowed to get to our destination to having to move shows around because even if we could get to the destination, it wasn’t safe for people to come out to the show. Early on, we had more aged tour buses that had mechanical failures. We’d be traveling on a mountain road and could only go a mile before the bus would overheat, and we’d have to pull over and let the engine cool down before we could continue another mile.
There have also been many “pinch me” kind of moments. One of our albums, “Under the Influence,” we did duets on. The record label asked if there were any songs that we would want to have as duets, and we gave them a list of names with artists like Elton John. Everyone that we asked actually said yes, and we couldn’t believe it. The fact that these people even knew who we are, let alone agreed to do a song with us, was kind of a dream. We’ve done duets with Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Jason Mraz, Sara Bareilles, Seal, Rob Thomas, Dolly Parton and CeeLo Green, so it’s been incredible to be a part of recording songs with major artists like that.
What does it mean for you guys to come back “home” and perform? And are you looking forward to performing at The Palladium in Carmel?
We enjoy coming back to Indianapolis and Bloomington to perform, and we are looking forward to performing in Carmel for the first time. Anytime we get to play inside the state of Indiana, it’s always special. We are looking forward to experiencing The Palladium for the first time ourselves.