When news broke that Straight No Chaser—a group of men that began their a cappella career as students at Indiana University a decade ago—sold more than 100,000 albums for Atlantic Records, I started thinking: What has the sudden success of Straight No Chaser (pictured here) meant for the other SNC? You know, the current IU a cappella singers performing under that name?
The group’s business managers, undergraduates Brian Giblin and Brent Mann, were kind enough to get on the phone and sort it all out. Excerpts:
So, in conversation, how do you guys refer to your forefathers, the major label Straight No Chasers? Admit it: You call them the old guys.
BRENT: We refer to them, lovingly, as the original guys.
The original guys? Come on. Did you consider fighting them for the name, at least?
BRENT: The original guys were adamant about us keeping the name, actually. They wanted to make sure that what they started twelve or thirteen years ago would continue. But not everyone at their new management company was on board with that. We had a few conference calls…
BRIAN: The management company wanted us to get rid of our name.
How’d that shake out?
BRIAN: Our group is now officially named Indiana University’s Straight No Chaser. And the Atlantic Records group is just Straight No Chaser. We’ve had to change our e-mail accounts and some stuff on our website.
Have the original guys stolen your thunder, then?
BRIAN: Not on campus. I wouldn't say that. But it can be weird. I’ve gotten calls and texts from friends who say, Hey, we saw Straight No Chaser on the news today! Where were you? I say, I’m in this other group. It’s definitely a unique situation.
How did the undergrads in SNC hear about Atlantic Records deal?
BRIAN: Last March, we heard there was a possibility they’d be signing a major record deal. That’s all we knew. We kind of had it in the back of our minds: This isn’t going to happen.
Funny. A lot of people felt that way.
BRIAN: But it did. They had the number one album on iTunes over Christmas. That's big.
”The 12 Days of Christmas” medley is what started this whole thing. It was seen more than eight million times on YouTube. Does the current undergraduate group still sing that song?
BRIAN: Oh yeah. It’s one of our most requested songs.
You must be sick of it. All together now, On the first day of Christmas…
BRENT: I can speak for most of the guys in the group. We’re sick of it. But everyone wants to hear it. We’re now booking some winter shows years in advance.
Wait: years in advance?
BRIAN: Maybe not years. But we’re already booking shows for December. And then the December after that.
BRENT: Right. Like I said, years.
Has the success of the original guys trickled down further? Can you, say, charge more for shows now?
BRIAN: We’ve been able to book shows for 50% more than we normally would have before…
Sweet. Has there been a spike in album sales?
BRIAN: CD sales have been doing well. But we’ve always done well. We’ve got a new album, Black Label.
Is that a Johnny Walker reference?
BRIAN: The album cover looks like a Johnny Walker Black label. It says: Straight No Chaser. Established 1996. Distilled and blended in Bloomington.
Is that the group’s drink of choice?
BRENT: We definitely had some Johnny Walker last weekend.
OK, focus dudes.
BRIAN: The only change in album sales is this: We used to sell the original group’s CDs, the ones they recorded when they were students. Albums like Live at Alumni Hall, which has “12 Days of Christmas” on it. But we can’t sell those anymore.
BRIAN: The management company stopped that.
Does the success of the Atlantic Records act and their debut album, Holiday Spirits, change your thoughts about a cappella? Does it make you think there’s a future for you in a cappella? Is there room for another pro group from Indiana University?
BRENT: Those guys are actually in New York now recording a follow-up album. They all quit their jobs.
BRIAN: I feel that this second album is going to determine where a cappella music is headed in the next few years. SNC is a pioneering group in this new journey, having a major record deal with Atlantic, and are a huge inspiration to a cappella groups around the nation. I have a tremendous respect for what these guys are doing right now and I really hope it continues to be a successful, popular music genre in the upcoming years. But it hasn't changed how I feel about a cappella. I don't think there's a chance that I could do a cappella professionally, however I would like to do what a lot of past and present SNC members have done (and are doing now) once they graduate, which is singing on a Celebrity Cruise line ship for a few months in the summer, traveling around the world. That sounds like a ton of fun and would definitely quench my thirst to continue performing music after college. Obviously if there was ever a chance to perform professionally on a grander scale, I would take that chance in a heartbeat! But my ambitions are to work as a manager in the music industry or produce in a recording studio.
The original guys did a nice little tour around Christmas. Did they call you with any rock and roll stories from life on the road? Any SNC a cappella groupies?
BRIAN: We get texts from them randomly. Like, Hey, We’re on the news! Check us out! We’ll text back and joke with them. We’ll say things like, Don’t mess up. Or, You’re fat.
BRENT: I’m pretty sure at one point or another everyone has made fun of Ryan Ahlwardt via text.
That’s the extent of the rivalry?
BRIAN: They’re doing their own thing.
BRENT: We have to understand where we fall. We’ve seen them perform. We know what they’re capable of, and what their sound is like. People ask us: What’s the difference between the groups? Who is better? We’ll tell them, straight up, we do a great job. But we definitely give props to the older guys. They do their job well.
BRIAN: The original guys take the cake. But I’d like to point out that we do an excellent job. They were together for three whole years in school, and had three whole years to perfect their sound. Now that they’re together professionally, it’s the same deal. With us, however, people graduate every semester. We have to adjust, we have to worry about the blend changing.
How would the undergraduate group fare in an SNC-on-SNC battle of the bands?
BRENT: We’re younger and much better looking.
BRIAN: Much better looking.
What’s up next for the on-campus group?
BRIAN: Our group will be performing in Fort Myers, Florida, for Spring Break. March 14th through March 21st. If anyone is looking to hire us, give us a call.
Maybe the old guys can be your opening act...
BRIAN: Sure. But just a short set.
BRENT: Yeah. Only one or two songs.
For more coverage of Straight No Chaser, click here and here.