Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ben Folds Info Revealed!

Ben Folds—indie rock dude—is producing an album featuring collegiate a cappella covers of his music. It's out in April, and Folds is contributing two tracks himself. He revealed more about the project on his MySpace last night, and his note is a moving tribute to the work of these students. Seriously!

An excerpt: "All the groups were a total joy to work with. They were total pros. Through the repetition that is often necessary when recording old school, the lead singers stayed completely on top of things, pitch and performance while the harmonies got tighter and more energetic. Some got it on the first take. Some gave us a ride back to the airport. Some had beers after the recording with Joe Costa. Some groups were girls and some groups were boys and some were mixtures of all three. I'm starting to feel like Dr Suess. One group is from a university who's lawyers called us up and told us we weren't allowed to mention any association with their university. Funny, because I attended that school and was proud to work with these guys and try and pass on a little of my post college professional experience. Ironically I felt like I learned more from watching these kids work than I ever did during my stint there as a student."

The full post is here.

More Pitch Perfect coverage of Ben Folds here.

Where Did I Hear That Before...

I promise this will not turn into the Anoop Desai blog. But I had to laugh when Anoop sang Monica's "Angel of Mine" on American Idol last night. Why? Because he sang that song with the UNC Clef Hangers!

Here's Anoop singing "Angel of Mine" at UNC...

...and then on American Idol.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More 'Idol' Alums with A Cappella Pasts.

The a cappella community is rallying around American Idol finalist Anoop Desai, who just happens to be an alum of the UNC Clef Hangers. But they're missing out on another one-time a cappella singer, AI finalist Alex Wagner-Trugman. Alex sang with an a cappella group, The Monotones, at the Buckley School, a tony private school in Los Angeles. (That story here.)

Here's Alex on Idol. Good luck to both gentlemen this evening.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Anoop Desai, formerly of the UNC Clef Hangers (he graduated in 2008), made it to the top 36 on American Idol this week. But he's not the only Clefs alum looking for major label music success. Last year, we wrote about one-time Clef Brendan James (UNC '02), who is now signed to Decca Records. Read that post here.

Any other Clef Hangers still singing?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Cappella Dancing.

From the folks at Funny or Die.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chester French's Crimson Tide.

You folks know the band Chester French? It's two young Harvard grads, D.A. Wallach and Max Drummey. And it turns out that before Kanye West, Jermaine Durpi and Pharrell Williams were offering these dudes record deals, D.A. and Max were recording a cappella groups at Harvard for cash.

In this interview from, Wallach recalls: "The studio we had at school wasn’t actually affiliated with the music program there. That’s sort of an independent student group that Max and I were actually kind running, too. We were actually engineering there as commercial engineers so even when we were getting the record deal, we were still recording weird a cappella groups and viola players to pick up some cash on the side. It was good too because we were able to learn how to record all kinds of different music and instruments and all that knowledge ends up being a resource when you’re working out your own project."

Any of the Crimson a cappella groups out there remember recording with Chester French? I'd love to hear more.

Monday, February 9, 2009

M.I.A. Was Robbed.

A very pregnant M.I.A., nominated for two Grammys last night, went home empty handed. Robbed, we say! In protest, we bring you American University's all-female Treble in Paradise, performing M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." Small consolation!

Friday, February 6, 2009

HellaCappella Indeed.

The Sacramento Bee has an interesting article today about the rise of female a cappella on our nation's campuses. The piece is largely a profile of The Spokes, a UC Davis group founded in 2004.

"This year we had 50 girls try out for three spots" sophomore Greer Shively says in the piece. "We know that this music is gaining in popularity and we want to start something that has not been done in Davis, certainly not something this big and mainstream."

If you're in the Davis area, check out The Spokes tonight in an annual concert they've dubbed HellaCappella.

The full Bee story is here.

Also, a clip of the Spokes holding out for a hero.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

“We’re Much Better Looking.”

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.

Why not?
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.

Happy Birthday, Joey C.

Yes, today is Joey C's birthday. Joey (real name: Joseph Campagna) is the host of A Cappella U, an excellent podcast covering collegiate a cappella. Check out the podcast here.

Joey is perhaps the biggest a cappella superfan. But how did he get his start in a cappella? Where did the obsession begin? Check out this previous blog entry here.

Last thing: Here's one of Joey's video podcasts, recorded live outside the 2008 ICCAs.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Overheard on 'Scrubs.'

On last night's episode of Scrubs, a cappella music was described as "ear rape."

Ear rape!

We can laugh at this, because it's funny. And because Scrubs has been good to a cappella music in the past. For one thing, their theme song "Superman" is sung by the a cappella group The Blanks. Also, there's this scene of "ear rape" from a past episode. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Anoop Desai: The Early 'Idol' Favorite?

Last week we wrote about Anoop Desai, late of the UNC Clef Hangers. His American Idol audition was good enough to snag him a trip to Hollywood. But now he's an early favorite?

That's what Newsday's blog says. Read it here.

Also, check out Anoop on Fox...

...and at UNC, covering (yup) Chris Brown.

The Whiffs Turn 100!

And so does a cappella!

Check out the story from the Connecticut NBC affiliate by clicking here. (No embed code, I'm afraid.)

Here's a sweet clip from the centennial concert, of 100 years of Whiffs singing "The Whiffenpoof Song."

BDs Settle The Civil Case

From the January 30th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"A lawsuit over the nationally publicized Baker's Dozen beating case has been settled for an undisclosed sum and an apology on behalf of four San Francisco men involved in the New Year's 2007 clash with members of the Yale University singing troupe."

Read more from the Chronicle here. The interesting thing to me is that this story drew 140 comments on the Chronicle website. I guess it, uh, struck a chord.

In happier news, Bakers Dozen alum Bruce Cohen was nominated for an Oscar for producing Milk. Can the BDs biopic be next?