5 members, 1 hour, 37 questions
By Marc Snetiker on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:01AM
You know Pentatonix. The
music industry’s vanguard a cappella group, the YouTube-conquering
heroes of the Glee and Pitch Perfect generation, the bleeding-cool clique
of musical manipulators who ooze as much talent as they do panache.
The five-person group—who make music only with their mouths (what
a time to be alive!)—have kept their pulsating momentum going
since entering a whirlwind of fandom following their 2011 victory on
NBC’s The Sing-Off, an accolade which even today seems like a
distant, negligible memory considering the remarkable path the band
has taken since. On the heels of their third album—PTX, Vol. III,
which dropped on Sept. 23—the a cappella quintet is also plotting
a second holiday album (That’s Christmas to Me, due October 21),
a buzzy appearance in next year’s Pitch Perfect 2, and other as-yet-undisclosed
plans for a packed 2015.
Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Avi Kaplan, Kirstie Maldonado, and Kevin
Olusola stopped by EW’s New York office and sat down for a roundtable
interview wherein we got down to the details of the group’s exceptional
year. The gang is fast, funny, and ferociously honest—which is
exactly what you’d think.
EW: Before we start, I want to make sure I know what not to ask. What’s
the question you guys are asked the most?
SCOTT HOYING: How we came together.
KIRSTIE MALDONADO: What does it feel like being the only girl?
MITCH GRASSI: Pitch Perfect 2. And how are you so good looking?
KEVIN OLUSOLA: That’s mainly for me.
HOYING: But yeah, those first three.
My second preliminary question:
Is there any incorrect trivia about you online that you want to take
this opportunity to fact-check?
GRASSI: People think Scott and I are married.
HOYING: They do. It’s half-true. There’s all sorts of weird
things that start online.
MALDONADO: There are times when you read stuff and you’re truly
like, what!? Where did they get that?
Real question time. How is 2014 Pentatonix different from 2011 Pentatonix?
HOYING: Where do we begin?
GRASSI: We’re thinner.
HOYING: I think we’ve all grown up a lot. We’re a lot more
mature, and that goes for our sound as well. Our sound has matured,
and I feel like we’ve honed in on what the Pentatonix sound is,
and that was the best self-discovery.
Is that just due to the nature of time?
HOYING: We’ve arranged so much stuff, we’ve seen what we
like, we’ve seen what our fans like, we’ve seen what works
for us, what we can do live, what we can do better, what comes across
better on videos. So many little details we’ve learned, and now
we know how to craft a song better. That’s been a great thing.
OLUSOLA: I think the cohesiveness of our team has grown so much. We’ve
become a lot more tenacious. We understand that what we do is very different…
we’re always going to be the underdogs in this industry, but that’s
what gives us the drive and the will to do our thing and try our best
Has your chemistry changed a lot in the last few years? Going on this
adventure together, you’re bound to become very close.
HOYING: We’re like a family, to the point where we spend all our
time together and sometimes we don’t get along.
GRASSI: We get snappy.
HOYING: Because we spend so much time together. But actually, everyone
always says this and it’s very true, out of most bands, I would
say we get along the best. We get along really well. And we’re
able to work together really well.
Can you pinpoint the moment in your career when you became best friends
and not just bandmates?
OLUSOLA: That’s just grown over time. I feel like I’ve learned
throughout this whole process that you have to really understand and
learn about people. Coming into this, we didn’t know each other
very well, so whenever we would talk to each other about certain things,
I think sometimes it wouldn’t make sense to us because we didn’t
understand where that person was coming from. Now that we understand
each other so well, we understand how to make things work because we
know each person’s dynamic and character.
GRASSI: Something else I noticed, or it was sort of a revelation I had
about being in such close quarters with people, is that everyone is
a little bit crazy.
HOYING: I thought that my whole life.
GRASSI: We all have our things, and you just have to be accepting of
HOYING: Everyone has their quirks.
GRASSI: But that’s all part of growing up. Oprah Winfrey tease!
What are your parents’ favorite qualities about the other members
of the group?
GRASSI: My parents think Kevin is really funny.
GRASSI: Yeah, you came over once. I don’t remember when.
HOYING: My dad’s always like, Kevin’s so easy to talk to!
GRASSI: My parents think you’re a really easygoing and funny guy.
OLUSOLA: Oh! Whoa.
GRASSI: And I’m like, no.
MALDONADO: My mom really respects Kevin and thinks he’s so kind
and so hard-working and that he’s just a very good light and example,
and he is.
OLUSOLA: You guys are very nice. I like your compliments a lot.
HOYING: Our parents like you better than we like you. No, I’m
HOYING: I was kidding!
OLUSOLA: There goes that cohesiveness.
Kevin, do you have compliments to give?
OLUSOLA: [points to Mitch] My parents think you’re really sassy.
[points to Scott] My parents think you are just a creative genius.
HOYING: That’s nice.
GRASSI: Do they say that about me?
HOYING: This is so interesting, we’ve never been asked this before.
OLUSOLA: [points to Maldonado] My dad says he likes your smile a lot.
MALDONADO: That’s nice! Aww.
OLUSOLA: [points to Kaplan] And you know why I can’t say what
my parents think of you.
So, you’ve got a new album. What was different this time around
in terms of planning? The song choices seem to be decidedly more indie.
GRASSI: I think so.
HOYING: I think sound-wise, we definitely did a bunch of stuff differently,
and we wanted to pick songs that really inspired us—not necessarily
the most popular stuff out there, but songs that really worked for us
and that we liked musically. And we got a little world-y with this album.
I think it’s because we’ve been traveling a lot and we like
that big epic world sound.
GRASSI: And everybody’s into that world thing. The big tribal
drums and the chanting.
MALDONADO: But I think what’s important is that we don’t
try to cover things that are really popular anymore. We’re very
comfortable in our own sound and what we do and so that’s where
our inspiration is from—just things that we are truly inspired
by or that we think will work well for us, and not just because something
is Top 40.
HOYING: “Problem” was Top 40, but we loved that song.
MALDONADO: Right, and it works well for us.
“Rather Be” is popular but still on the fringe.
HOYING: It was big in the U.K.
GRASSI: It’s very strange.
MALDONADO: It’s doing some [up-down motion] on the charts.
HOYING: We could tell there were going to be great moments for us in
that song. And then “Papaoutai,” the whole thing was in
French so you would never think that we should cover that for our American
GRASSI: But I feel like it’s very accessible.
HOYING: Yeah, it’s catchy. And you can at least sing along with
You guys took a French lesson to prepare. How was that?
[Hoying, Grassi, and Maldonado all gasp.]
MALDONADO: It was so hard.
HOYING: It started off a little rough.
GRASSI: It was tedious.
MALDONADO: I don’t even say that many French words, so I feel
stupid saying that it was hard, but it was still hard. I don’t
know how Mitch and Scott did that.
HOYING: The thing is, with stuff like that, I feel like I would normally
get lazy, but I was so, so excited about the song and so inspired by
it that I was so ready for this lesson.
GRASSI: And we knew that if we didn’t kill it, the fans would
be like, y’all are so bad.
HOYING: And our teacher—his name was Jean-Baptiste—he did
this thing where he said, “Just try it.” And I was like,
I don’t even know where to begin. The way the words are spelled
are very, very not how they sound.
GRASSI: Ninety percent of the letters aren’t even said. So you’re
like, where do I go?
HOYING: I would say something and he’s like, “No, that’s
wrong,” and I’d be like, “Well I don’t know
how to say it, why don’t you tell me?!” and he wouldn’t
HOYING: I’m just kidding, I love you Jean-Baptiste. He was nice.
And when we finished it, I sent the rough mix to all my friends that
speak French and they, like, killed it. They gave back the lyrics with
bolded things that were like, you need to say this better.