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BWW Interviews: Mitch Grassi from PENTATONIX Discusses Upcoming Tour, How the Music Comes Together, and More
by Jennifer Perry
Following Pentatonix's win in Season Three of NBC's popular a cappella singing competition, "The Sing-Off," the group of five stellar musicians in their own right - named after the widely recognizable five-note music scale - has seen a great degree of success. From sold out concerts, multiple television performances, three albums - including one that was just released in late 2013 - as well as a whole host of very popular music videos on YouTube, the innovative group has pretty much been one of the main ambassadors of the a cappella community to mainstream audiences, bringing the immense talents it offers into the limelight. In advance of an upcoming, highly anticipated US and European tour and following the group's latest album release (PTX Volume II - buy it!) featuring original music and popular covers, PTX member Mitch Grassi kindly answered some questions via email from DC BroadwayWorld on behalf of the group. We discussed where PTX has been, how it does what it does, and what comes next.
Look for a review on BroadwayWorld in late March 2014 following Pentatonix's tour stop in Washington, DC. While most of the tour dates across the country are now sold out, consult PTX's official website for tour dates and any remaining tickets.
Jennifer Perry (JP): The group is made up of five musicians with a variety of musical backgrounds - instrumentalists, songwriters, choral singers, and/or musical theatre performers. How has your own background shaped what Pentatonix has become and the kinds of songs you perform now?
Mitch Grassi (MG): I've been a performer most of my life. I started out in musical theatre when I was 9, and went on to do it all through grade school, as well as choir. Being an avid performer, the stage was like a second home to me, so performing in PTX shows is one of my favorite parts of my job. I've always been a big music nerd, too. I study/enjoy many different styles of music, and I think my understanding of a wide variety of genres has helped shape the band's unique style.
JP: How and why did you become involved in a cappella music and what drew you to it?
MG: I've always been fascinated by the idea of creating music using only vocals. I like to believe that the voice is the most powerful, expressive instrument. And you can use it to fit most any style. What I love about our group is that we aren't afraid to experiment with different, out-of-the-ordinary styles.
JP: What can fans expect to experience at your concerts on the upcoming tour?
MG: A full-out production. Lights, amazing set design, and booming sound. We're also very interactive with the crowd, which makes it more of an intimate show, even in bigger venues.
JP: Pentatonix put out two volumes that feature some unique covers of popular music - including one that was just recently released - along with a Christmas album. What inspired you to select the songs on your latest album and how generally do you go about selecting songs to include on your albums, adding your own unique spin?
MG: Usually, one of us will bring a song to the group that they think we could arrange and perform well. If the group agrees, we arrange it. It doesn't always work out though. We've tried to arrange a few songs that just we ended up canning in the end. I think we're past the point of just doing formulaic pop songs. We really like to challenge ourselves.
JP: What is the process that you use to arrange a song? Does it happen organically as you take on each song or is there a fundamental process that, in one way or another, underlies all of the arranging work that you do?
MG: It's a collaborative, organic process. We start with the chord progression and beat as a sort of foundation, and go from there. The soloist sings the melody and we add in complementary background parts. We add embellishments at the very end to really make the arrangement pop.
JP: Tell us about your experience on "The Sing-Off." Arguably, this show (and yourselves in particular) has revitalized a mainstream interest in a cappella music. What other benefits might it have for up-and-coming and already established a cappella groups?
MG: "The Sing-Off" was a grueling but incredibly rewarding process. We developed our arranging and musical style during the filming of the show. If you go back and watch it, it's very evident that we grew more and more cohesive throughout the entire season. We are an incredibly strong group, even through times of struggle. Now that a cappella is sort of coming to the forefront of the music world, I think people are starting to realize that it's a well-crafted art form, and not just a cheeseball novelty. That being the case, my hope is that a cappella groups, new and old, will get the recognition they deserve.