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Pentatonix Have Made Harmony A Hot Commodity
A cappella groups, and singing contest winners, are two types of artists that don’t usually see mainstream success in today’s pop music scene. Vocal quintet Pentatonix have bucked that trend, winning 'The Sing Off' in 2011 and a plethora of fans since.
The fivesome of Kevin Olusola, Avi Kaplan, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, and Scott Hoying (pictured L to R) recently returned from an overseas tour, and will be releasing two new albums in the coming weeks, PTX Volume III, which is due out September 23rd, and their second Christmas album, That’s Christmas To Me, which will hit stores on October 21st.
In addition to their musical output, Pentatonix have also filmed scenes for Pitch Perfect 2, although fans will have to wait until May of 2015 for the movie to hit theaters.
Arena caught up with Pentatonix’s Olusola, who is the group’s beatboxer, to find out more about all of the projects they’ve been working on, as well as their incredible social media presence. Olusola also discussed the most inopportune time he’s come up with an idea for a song, and a recent Justin Bieber-like moment the group experienced while on tour.
Arena: You recently returned from an overseas tour, and I know it wasn’t your first. Tell me about the most mind blowing thing you’ve seen, or experienced, while in a foreign country.
Kevin Olusola: You know what, it was actually in Japan. This was our first kind of like “oh my goodness” fame moment. We were performing at the Kawasaki Mall in Tokyo to promote the Japanese edition of our PTX, Volume I and II albums. When we got off stage to get back to our dressing room they actually had to have security come because people were rushing over to see us. It was 4,000 people rushing to try to see us, and it was crazy. It was one of those things where you’re like I only see this happen to other people on TMZ, and it’s happening to us.
Arena: Was this from your most recent tour?
Kevin Olusola: Yeah, this was last month.
Arena: Were there any ripped clothing incidents?
Kevin Olusola: No, thankfully the security was really really good. It was just crazy that happened at all.
Arena: When you formed as a group right before The Sing Off could you have ever imagined having that sort of Justin Bieber, Debbie Gibson, all the fans running at you, and grabbing at you, moment?
Kevin Olusola: Absolutely not. People usually don’t associate a cappella with pop/rock stardom, so it’s really weird to see all that happen with us. We’re just five kids who just love to sing. It was a really cool moment in our career where we were just like, “Whoa, that’s crazy.”
Arena: Back home in the 'States you just filmed some scenes for Pitch Perfect 2, which is due out in May of next year. From what I’ve read you’re not playing yourselves. Are you like the evil versions of the real you, like a bizarro Pentatonix?
Kevin Olusola: No, we’re a rival group against the Bellas, and it was cool to be a part of it, and cool to see what it’s like to be on a major motion picture set. It was a really fun thing, and the Bellas are all so fun and down to earth. It was cool.
Arena: I know you can’t reveal too much about your parts in the movie, but I assume the Bellas win, because that’s how the movies work, so was it weird going in knowing you’re you, you’re the group, and you can’t win this because it’s a movie?
Kevin Olusola: You know, I actually don’t know the ending at all. Maybe that’s an ending. I have absolutely no idea. They haven’t shared any information like that with us. It was just cool to be alongside the Bellas, and performing. That was the most fun thing, to perform, and do what we do best.
Arena: Since you’re the only one on the phone for this interview you can out another member of your group. Who, if anyone, hit on Anna Kendrick?
Kevin Olusola: You know what, I don’t think anybody hit on her, but she actually came up to Scott and said, “I know you because I watch a lot of your Vines. Your Vines are really really funny and creative.” That was really cool.
Arena: He should followed that with, “Let’s go out to dinner!”?
Kevin Olusola: I know, he should have put in a good word. I would have been like, “Yo, girl, I’ll go out to dinner with you.” Her, or Brittany Snow. I am in love with [Snow]. She’s so fine.
Arena: As an a cappella group, being in Pitch Perfect 2 is a match made in Heaven. That said, if you could be a part of any other movie franchise, which one would it be, and what role would you want?
Kevin Olusola: Oh man, I feel like it would be really cool to be superheroes, like an Avengers type [of thing], because we’re five different people with five different abilities, so I think it would be really cool to be in a superhero movie doing some sort of thing where Avi does his bass cannon, and he blows up a lot of things, and me, I do all these beatbox things, and can do laser sounds. I just think that would be really cool.
Arena: That sounds like a comic book waiting to happen.
Kevin Olusola: It would be fun. Oh my gosh, that would be so so cool.
Arena: Moving to your music, you do a lot of really creative covers of popular songs. What’s the selection, and arrangement process like for you guys? Does one member bring something to the table, or does it come from all of you feeling a particular song?
Kevin Olusola: Usually we come together [on a song]. If somebody is very inspired by a song they’ll bring it to the group, and they know our group so well that they know what vocals could be good for us. After that we start arranging it. Avi and I will start off with groove changes, and once we have that, and once we know who’s going to do the melody, we add harmonies, which is really really simple.
Once we figure that out we go back and try to add moments to really make it something special, things where people say, “Wow, I would have never thought to do this here.” After that, once we’ve arranged it we’ve sung it so many times that it’s usually performance, or recording, ready.
Arena: Have any songs driven you crazy with how difficult they were to create an arrangement for?
Kevin Olusola: Absolutely. “Aha!” “Aha!” was one of those which we were like, “This will never be done for recording, this will never be done live,” and to be honest, it’s one of our favorite songs to sing. Actually, we just arranged a new piece [of the song], and I think the group will tell you this is the hardest arrangement we’ve ever done, so I’m really excited to see how the recording goes. I think people are gonna be like, “Wow, I can’t believe they just did that with all their voices.”
I’m really excited. We’re continuously trying to challenge ourselves and do things that go outside the box.
Arena: You also have a plethora of original work. Let’s talk about PTX Volume III, which comes out later this month. What was going on in your lives that inspired the original content of the album?
Kevin Olusola: I think just being on tour. For me, personally, I write more easily on the road, so we’ll write on the road, and we’ll pitch songs.
“Standing By” was something that was written while we were in Belgium. I had this melody, and I brought it to the group, and Avi and I wrote it together and finished it, then we arranged it all together and tweaked things here and there.
There’s something about being on the road that’s so therapeutic that it just makes it very very simple to write.
On the road, and for some reason on airplanes, are two random places where I get a lot of inspiration for songs, and I have no idea why.
Kevin Olusola: That's how “Natural Disaster” was written. I was on a flight from JFK to LAX, and I just randomly had this idea for “Natural Disaster.” It’s probably the worst place you want to have an idea for a song like “Natural Disaster.”
Arena: Was the person next to you looking over your shoulder, looking at the lyrics like, “Wait a minute here ...”
Kevin Olusola: You know what I actually did, as I was writing that one I was going up and down the aisles asking people about different natural disasters. Some people were like, “Are you serious? We’re on a plane, bro.” I was like. “Well, yeah, I know that, but I’m trying to write something here, so I’d really like your opinion.” That was probably not the right thing to do, but it happened.
Arena: So you’re on a six hour flight, walking up and down the aisle like, “Excuse me miss, tell me about your favorite volcano eruption?”
Kevin Olusola: Literally. I was like, “Just give me ideas for different kinds of natural disasters.” I probably shouldn’t have done that, to be completely honest, I should have kept to myself, but it did help inspire the song.
Arena: No one came by like, “Sir, you have to sit down now?”?
Kevin Olusola: It was during the time where you can walk. I think I was just pretending I was using the bathroom, and I’d just ask and walk away.
Arena: That’s awesome. Going into your history a bit, since winning The Sing Off three years ago you’ve done something most singing competition winners don’t do, which is gain in popularity after the victory. How much credit for that do you give to your use of social media?
Kevin Olusola: It’s been everything for us. The thing about competition shows is that there will always be new people coming out right after your season, and you’re not going to be in the limelight anymore after the season, so you have to figure out a way to continuously grow your brand. I think the thing that we’ve learned, because of the TV show, right afterwards, we learned that we have to take control of our career. This is OUR career, nobody else’s. We knew social media was an amazing way to do that.
We’re so thankful we were able to gain a huge fan base. Six million subscribers, and 500 million YouTube views. That’s insane, and it’s cool because we’re writing a lot more original music, and we have a fan base that can actually listen to that. It’s such a cool feeling, and we’re just so thankful that we feel like we did it the way we wanted to, and it’s been great so far.
Arena: Speaking of your videos, they have evolved over the years. They were originally one take shots of the group singing a song, and now they’re way bigger, with production values going through the roof. When did you see that start to develop? Was there a moment when you were like, “OK, now we can start making these as music videos?”
Kevin Olusola: I think when we started finishing the album, that’s when we realized we have some cool concepts for some of these songs, and we want to have those concepts come to life. I think that’s when we started really thinking more about music videos, and they just evolved.
We still love doing those one shot [videos], because they show we’re not just some group that records a lot. We want to show people that the thing that we love first and foremost is [performing] live, and we want people to hear what we truly do. That’s why we love doing the evolution [videos]. That’s been so much fun, because people get to see, “Wow, they can do all that with their voices, and in one take?”
Those are the things that we’ll always do. We’re continuously doing that. We’re working on some new evolution type stuff now.
Arena: Finally, I know you’re also a solo artist. Do you have anything going on outside of the group that you’d like to talk about?
Kevin Olusola: Yeah, I’m working on some new YouTube videos for the cello. On tour I actually play an original song, which I’m really excited for people to hear. You can definitely check out Vine, and Instagram. I’m putting up a lot of videos very often.