A capella pop act Pentatonix is poised to make an impact, and beat
boxer Kevin Olusola has a lot to say about it. The Sing Off winners
have amassed millions of youtube hits and a coveted #1 release on itunes.
We talk to Kevin about their success, his beliefs, and what it is like
to play cello and beat box at the same time.
BY: Stephen Russ
Kevin Olusola is a busy man. An outstanding cello player, a well-known
beat boxer, a member of the Sing-Off winning a capella group Pentatonix,
and a world-traversing performer, you would think that he would be
untouchable, frequently stressed, and arrogant to boot.
Fortunately that isn’t the case.
Kevin is relaxed, humble, and he also loves to, as he says, “chillax.”
I was fortunate to catch him during some of this “chillaxing”
and ask him questions about his experience in the world of a capella
music, his strong belief in Christianity, and of course, playing cello
and beat boxing at the same time. Kevin is the kind of guy you want
to root for – an accomplished Yale graduate with amazing skill
at his craft and a world of opportunity in front of him, but unassuming
as can be and an absolute joy to talk to. He even called me “Mr.
Russ,” which is certainly a first.
On top deck for Kevin right now is his work with Pentatonix, whose
first release, the EP PTX Vol. 1, released to the world on June 26th.
Fans of the group know what to expect – blistering pop covers
that completely reshape the songs, a strong dose of musicality that
is still accessible, and an emphasis on having fun with music. The
EP also contains the groups’ first original songs, and they
are tunes that stand up to the caliber of the performances that the
band put on all last year on NBC. It is one of the more unique releases
delivered by a group this year, and hopefully one that will find the
kind of mainstream success that has alluded a capella groups in the
Check out our interview with Kevin below, and pick up a copy
of their EP here!!
How did you start playing cello and beat boxing at the same time?
I started in Beijing, China. In the summer of 2008 I was studying
Chinese all day and during my rest breaks I would play the cello.
I randomly had the idea and thought “why not?” We actually
had a talent show and I tried it out there just a little bit and all
the Chinese kids were like “WHOA! What are you doing??”
So I kept developing it just for fun, not thinking that anything would
come out of it. The video that you saw, I was actually nominated for
a senior prize at Yale and the board members wanted to see some of
my work. That cello beat boxing piece I had worked on for about a
year so I decided to put it up for the competition. My friend who
filmed it said I should probably put it up on youtube, and I was like
“eh, this is not the kind of thing that gets big on Youtube”
and he said “just try it and see what happens.” All of
a sudden it went viral and praise God, from that the next six months
were set in stone by going out to tour with Gungor on the David Crowder
Band’s last tour, and then Pentatonix.
Does it help you with your art to be performing as a beat boxer and
a cello player at the same time? How does that shape you as a musician?
Absolutely. I think being part of Pentatonix has helped my arrangement
style a lot, and that’s helped me expand myself. Plus, the one
thing I try to do is singing through the way I play the cello. When
I play the cello I’m a singer, and the medium just happens to
be the cello, so I think being part of Pentatonix has really helped
that. I was actually going to go to a conservatory after I graduated
college, now I’m thankful that Pentatonix happened because I’m
working with singers in this realm of mainstream music, and to learn
about how all that comes together has really helped my cello playing.
From the cello side to the beat boxing, that has definitely translated
because I think about my beat boxing in a very musical way rather
than just kind of doing “booms” and “kahs.”
I try to really think about phrasing and dynamics and all the things
that go into making the cello music innovative and interesting. That
all translates into what I do with beat boxing.
When Pentatonix first performed on the Sing-Off it was clear that
this was a very special group. At what point did that really click
with you guys, or was it there from the start?
I think the signs of it definitely were there in the very beginning.
I believe in destiny, I believe in God, and I believe this was a God
given thing that happened, it just clicked so well. Most of us didn’t
have an a capella background and we met the day before the audition.
When we sang together it was definitely a diamond in the rough, but
it was still a diamond. I think it continually grew as we went through
the Sing-Off. I’m so thankful because I really believe it was
the Lord that put together this entity and who we are. I guess the
way that we always think about music, it’s very similar. Although
we have different styles we bring all the sounds together into a modern
context. We’re always thinking about the mainstream context
and how we can break boundaries but maintain being a capella.
Could you tell me a bit about where your strong belief in God comes
I’ve always been technically a Christian, my Dad and my Mom,
they’re both Christians. They raised me in it so I’ve
always known of God but it didn’t become real to me until college
when I really started digging in on my own and realizing that everything
I do, if I’m not focusing on the word of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t
[amount to anything]. Christ, heaven, those are the things that are
everlasting. I’m so thankful because I think being in Pentatonix
is a tool, the influence that we’ve gotten from that is something
I can use in a positive light and I’m so thankful for that.
That’s why when you see my tweets, when you see my Facebook
messages, I always try to tweet things that are uplifting and not
be afraid to show people that we can be Christians in the industry.
There’s a book by a guy named DeVon Franklin, I think he’s
one of the Vice Presidents of Columbia Pictures, he always talks about
how it’s not really that it’s bad to be in this industry,
if you really follow God and His principles and are consistent people
will see your life and your testimony. That’s what I keep hoping
for myself. I’m not perfect, I would never say that, I just
believe that if I try my hardest to be consistent, show what I believe,
and live it, most importantly, then that will hopefully shine through
more. I guess that’s kind of the prayer for what I do.
There was a bit of a controversy during an episode of the Sing Off
where the song chosen for you guys didn’t sit right with your
beliefs. Do things like that occur within the group now, and does
the rest of the group continue to handle it well?
They always ask me “Kevin are you comfortable with the song?
If not we’ll find something else.” There’s a lot
of songs in the mainstream that are actually not bad songs. We just
have to find those that are relevant and popular, and then we can
work on those. So I’m thankful that they understand from that
point that it’s more of what I’m about.
How does your faith affect your approach to playing and performing
The first way is kind of what we’re talking about right now
with lyrics and things like that. I always try to make sure we find
the best lyrics that can represent us very well and have kind of a
universal theme. You can’t exclude anybody, I want people to
hear the music that we’re doing, so that’s why I pray
that we find the things that will really give us a worldwide audience
so that when I talk to people about faith they can take an ear to
it. Approaching music itself, that’s a good question, really
every time I approach the cello or approach anything I always start
with a word of prayer. I ask God to give me the ability to do what
I do, because it’s not really coming from me. I feel like I’m
more of a messenger. What I’m trying to create, it’s not
really mine it’s [God’s]. I make sure in whatever I’m
doing that the message is coming across very well. I think that’s
the main thing for me in terms of how I approach music, it’s
more like “Lord let me be the messenger, you come through me,
because if it’s not from you then it doesn’t really matter.”
What can people expect from this EP and in the future?
We’re going to definitely stick to our original sound that you
heard from the Sing Off. We still think we have a lot of room to grow
within that sound. I think the EP is extremely eclectic,it has something
for absolutely everyone. If you like more esoteric music that’s
kind of out there, “Aha,” a cover of Imogen Heap, is one
that I think will really up your alley. If you really love dance music
that is for fist pumping and jumping up and down I think “Show
You How to Love” that Avi and I wrote is absolutely incredible.
We have a vocal dubstep part in it that I go crazy for every time
that we do it. If you’re somebody who loves amazing lyrics and
really likes to just groove and pay attention to what the words are
saying, Scott’s song that he wrote “The Baddest Girl,”
it just slaps me in the face every single time. I just love it, I
really think it has something for everybody. People will never expect
an a capella group to do this type of EP.