Neither straight-laced nor straight-faced, a capella favorites Straight No Chaser has forged a captivating sound featuring ten unadulterated human voices coming together to make extraordinary music that moves people in a fundamental sense..and with a sense of humor.
When it came time to come up with a concept for their fourth full-length album, the members of Straight No Chaser decided to think big. And why not? The 10-member a cappella group had already achieved things they’d never anticipated since forming as students at Indiana University in 1996, including signing a major-label deal with Atlantic Records, embarking on nationwide multi-city tours, having their story optioned by DreamWorks for an upcoming feature film, and becoming a global sensation that has helped usher the instrument-free musical style into mainstream consciousness and reinvented the idea of a cappella on the modern pop landscape.
With that in mind, Straight No Chaser reached out to some of their favorite recording artists to be featured soloists on Under The Influence. The result is an inspired and unprecedented a cappella reimagining of classic songs by SNC and the icons who made them famous, including Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up,” Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds,” Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas’ “This Is How A Heart Breaks,” and Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose.” In addition, Sara Bareilles delivers a soulful solo on the album’s first single, a cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
“We wanted to take things up a notch from our previous album With A Twist,” says one of the group’s members, Charlie Mechling. “We tossed around some ideas, including putting feelers out to our favorite artists, not thinking it would actually happen. We thought if we got two or three guest artists, it’d make the album really special. Then every couple weeks we’d get an email saying, ‘Jason Mraz is in. Seal is in. Phil Collins is in. Sara Bareilles is in.’ It blew our minds. I think this is our most unique album to date without losing the traditional a cappella feel.”
“It’s been really great because these legendary artists seemed drawn to the project as another way to have their music heard,” says Randy Stine, one of SNC’s co-founders. “We found out that Seal, for example, had originally wanted to record 'Kiss From A Rose' as an a cappella song when it was originally recorded, but it was ultimately released it with full orchestration. When he heard our arrangement, he commented that this was his way of finally having an a cappella version, which is beyond flattering to us.”
Recording “I Want You Back” in the studio with Sara Bareilles was a particularly memorable part of the album-making process. “When we talked about recording with other artists, she was one of the first names that came up,” Stine says. “We are huge fans.” Adds Mechling: "Sara rolled into the studio on her own, no entourage, got right in the booth and knocked the lead vocal out of the park." The group was equally amazed when the Queen of Country Dolly Parton agreed to lend new vocals to her 1973 hit “Jolene.” “She did it in three takes and she sounds incredible,” marvels Mechling. “It’s hard to believe she first recorded that song 40 years ago.”
In addition to songs featuring special guests, Straight No Chaser put their full-bodied, original spin on such contemporary pop fare as Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep,” Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” Gavin DeGraw’s “Soldier,” Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House,” and a medley of fun.’s “Some Nights” and “We Are Young.” They also offer up medleys of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” and “Hit The Road Jack” (backed by Brazilian standard “Mas Que Nada”), and deliver a moving version of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah,” which Mechling cites as one of his favorite tracks SNC has ever recorded. “I think the recording sends it home to people that it’s just 10 voices,” he says. “It has that soulful and powerful feel, similar to how we end our live show, by singing off-mic. I would bet that’s why people feel the song sounds like signature Straight No Chaser.”
“That song is a perfect illustration of the album’s title — Straight No Chaser under the influence of our inspirations. In the case of ‘Hallelujah,’ it was Take 6,” says Stine about the legendary a cappella group founded by Mark Kibble, who arranged the song and serves as one of the album’s producers. "I really feel Mark's arrangement of 'Hallelujah' allows us to sound like ourselves but also shows the deep admiration we have for Take 6 and just how much they have influenced our sound."
Straight No Chaser’s attention to detail and strict quality control has led to an enviable career as the group sets itself apart from other a cappella acts with its contemporary repertoire and dynamic approach. “We just wanted to do music that we liked,” Mechling says. “We didn’t want to do the standards that eight other groups were doing with the same arrangement that was being passed around. We wanted to do stuff that we heard on the radio, our own way, and then throw in choreography to make it a really good show. We wanted to have broader appeal.”
Their broad appeal was apparent to Atlantic Records Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, who emailed Stine after checking out a video he had posted of the group’s humorous version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” on YouTube. Uploaded in celebration of SNC’s 10th anniversary reunion show at IU, the clip has been viewed more than 16 million times, while SNC’s cumulative YouTube views clock in at nearly 50 million. The group, which currently includes Walter Chase, Jerome Collins, Seggie Isho, Michael Luginbill, Steve Morgan, Don Nottingham, David Roberts, and Tyler Trepp, in addition to Mechling and Stine, signed to Atlantic Records in 2008 and have released two Top 10 holiday albums (2008’s Holiday Spirits and 2009’s Christmas Cheers), two EP’s (2009’s Six Pack and 2011’s Six Pack Volume 2), and 2010’s full-length With A Twist. They have built a reputation as an unforgettable live act, earning the support of die-hard fans, who call themselves “Chasers” and turn up at every SNC show. From their successful residencies at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, to traveling non-stop around the globe, to sold-out shows as one of Pollstar’s Top 50 touring acts, to television specials and performances, Straight No Chaser truly shines on stage.
“I think we give people something they aren’t expecting,” Stine says. “Perhaps they had a preconceived notion, like, ‘I don’t want to see a glee club or a barbershop quartet.’ But the guys who come up to us after the shows and admit that their girlfriend dragged them there are the same guys who have a stack of CDs in their hands and are asking what city we’re going to be in next. That’s what’s most fulfilling — changing people’s minds. We really want people to see a cappella in a different way than what they might have had preprogrammed in their head.” Adds Mechling: “It’s 10 guys, 10 voices up on stage. Part of the show is the singing and the music, and part of the show is us getting to share an evening and make people laugh, too. So it’s the whole package. I think once people see us live, they truly get it.”
Stine and Mechling say the best thing about hitting the road this year will be having new music from Under The Influence to share with audiences. “I’m just excited for everyone to hear these songs,” Mechling says. “It’s going to a little nerve-wracking. I imagine it’s like sending your child off to its first day of preschool. You let it go out there and hope everyone is nice to it!”