Back to Pentatonix
Tour has PTX working in perfect harmony

By Angele Maraj

Variety Editor

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 15:11

Four guys, one girl, no instruments — that’s all it took for Pentatonix to garner almost 9.5 million views on its YouTube cover of the radio hit “Somebody That I Used to Know,” originally by Gotye and Kimbra. Well, that and a massive knack for beats, blending and sheer vocal talent.

Pentatonix is a five-person group made up of Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola. The vocal group formed and built a fan base thanks to season three of NBC’s a cappella competition show The Sing Off, where it garnered national attention and eventually won the competition thanks to its innovative use of pop, dubstep, reggae, hip-hop and electronic music influences.

Many a cappella groups have tried to cross over into the mainstream music scene, but few have been as successful or shown quite as much potential for success as Pentatonix, affectionately known by fans as PTX. With a debut EP featuring popular covers as well as original songs that charted No. 14 in the U.S. Billboard 200, a frequently sold-out U.S. tour, a recently released holiday album and a highly-anticipated full-length album on the way, the members of PTX seem poised to make their names in mainstream music.

Pentatonix will be stopping by House of Blues Orlando on Nov. 28 as part of its first U.S. tour. The Central Florida Future talked with PTX beatboxer Kevin “K.O.” Olusola about the tour, the group’s Christmas album and newfound fame.

Central Florida Future: This is your first full national tour — how is life on the road?

Kevin Olusola: It’s just fun! I mean, we’ve been learning a lot about keeping our vocals ready for every single performance. It’s been difficult because we’ve never done shows back-to-back with a full set. Not only that, but we can’t hide behind anything; we don’t have any backing tracks or anything like that — it’s really just our vocals. That’s pretty hard for us to do every single day, so that’s why we’re learning a lot about vocal rest, about trying to keep our vocal cords protected every day. There’s a lot of Throat Coat and Emergen-C to make sure we’re not sick, because if one piece of the puzzle is sick, it really messes up the whole group.

CFF: What’s your favorite part of touring?

Olusola: What we absolutely love is meeting the people that have supported us throughout The Sing Off, the fans that have been with us literally from day one. It’s been incredible to see people’s support and how much they’ve been excited about our music. And the crowd is so diverse. We don’t have just metalheads or pop people — we really have such a diverse fanbase of all ages and backgrounds.

CFF: PTX has been one of the more successful groups to cross over into a mainstream market. How do you feel you’ve managed to achieve that?

Olusola: We’ve had such an amazing team to help us get our music out there, and it’s been really incredible to have a team that really believes in us. I think also that social media is huge for us. We’re always tweeting, we’re always Facebook-ing and we’re always trying to get connected with our fans. That direct artist-to-fan connection is so crucial to how we get our music out there. YouTube is obviously a huge part of that. After The Sing Off, we thought that it would be useful to put up covers so that people would get to know us. I think that’s what led to our album and being able to get up to No. 14 on the Billboard charts, which is crazy because I think we’re the highest charting a cappella group on the Billboard 200 chart in history.

CFF: You also have a Christmas album coming out soon – anything you can tell our readers about that? Is there any original material on that album?

Olusola: We are so excited about it! We recorded that album really quickly, probably in three weeks total. It was really fast because we wanted it to be out, and we already had ideas about the songs and the direction we wanted to take it. Right before we started touring we had to work it out, so we just hashed out the whole thing, arranged everything and put it out. I think people are going to love it. It maintains the Christmas vibe, but it still has a couple of surprises in there. Because we just really wanted to get it out there, there aren’t any originals, but we’re thinking about doing more Christmas stuff once the next year comes around, so probably during that time we’ll think about doing some Christmas originals.

BONUS: The Central Florida Future reached out to a cappella enthusiasts from the UCF student organization Contemporary A Cappella and gave them a chance to contribute questions of their own. Here's what they wanted to know.

Leah Williams, junior: Who are your musical inspirations, and how did you learn to beatbox?

Olusola: I'm a cellist, so I listen to a lot of classical music. But I also actively love pop and R&B and electronic music. Stevie Wonder is someone who I have loved since I was young – I love his style, and that's been huge for me. In terms of beatboxing, I mean – I did a cappella for one year in high school and then I kept beatboxing, but really for myself and really just for fun. I really think I got my style when I was on The Sing-Off. After putting out that video of myself playing cello and beatboxing – which is so much fun to do, to take two different, opposite things and combine them into a single entity – now I had to take my beatboxing and I wanted to elevate it. I especially wanted to do dubstep, electronic music – very pop-oriented stuff for our group. So I just listened to a lot of music and tried to imitate what I would hear.

Brittany O'Neill, junior: Scott, Kirstie, and Mitch seem to play off each other for the most part in their arrangements, while Avi and Kevin do something entirely their own. Does PTX arrange a cohesive piece with everyone's parts, or do Avi and Kevin just come up with a rhythm section that works well with what the trio puts together?

Olusola: It really depends. Usually what we do is we sit around all together, look through the piece, and then we just start throwing out ideas. Everybody throws out ideas, and it's not that it's exclusive – that Avi and I think about the rhythm stuff while they think about the harmony stuff – we really think about everything together. I mean, I will think of ideas for harmonies or different melodies to change it up; Avi will do the same. And sometimes Kirstie, Mitch and Scott will give ideas for beatboxing, like, “It would be cool to have more of a gangster or hip-hop beat right here.” It really is very collaborative. But then for some of our more complex arrangements, like “A-Ha,” for example, we had to sit down and kind of write it out on paper, which we did with our producer Ben Bram.

Lisa-Marie Rieckhoff, sophomore: Has how popular you all are hit you yet? You seem so humble and excited about everything.

Olusola: Oh, well, thank you! We really believe this group came together very, um...it kind of felt like we were supposed to be together. The way we came together the day before the audition [for The Sing-Off] and just created this sound, you know, it was rough at first but it was kind of a diamond in the rough. The Sing-Off gave us the opportunity to create that sound that we really wanted and to refine it. So with the way everything happened, we are just so thankful. I mean, if it wasn't for the people that were watching The Sing-Off, the fans that were looking to see what we'd do post-Sing-Off, the fans that we've gained, then we wouldn't be doing this. We wouldn't be able to serve the world of music. And so we really thank them for giving us this opportunity. We're thankful that we came together, but it's really because of everybody who has supported us, so thank you.

CFF: I have a couple of marriage proposals here...

Olusola: No way, really? Oh my gosh. Well, if they can pay for the ring. If they like it then they should put a ring on it.

CFF: Several students have also asked questions about Avi's onstage dancing. Any remarks about that?

Olusola: [Laughs] Avi's dancing...Avi goes hard on stage and it's really fun. I love watching him dance. He loves to move on stage because he feels the music so much. It's crazy; we'll be in rehearsal, he'll be dancing and we'll be like, “Yo, bro, we're not even performing right now. Calm down!” and he's like, “No, bro, this is how I feel the music.” It's just so good.

John Colon, junior and Dan Kiefer, senior: Batman, Superman or Iron Man?

Olusola: [sings] Iron Man!