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Q&A with Kevin Olusola of Pentatonix
If there’s such a thing as an “a capella game,” then Pentatonix are the ones killing it. With a series of wildly successful Youtube covers and medleys that regularly get millions upon millions of views, the group has soared into stardom in only a few years. Tough to think of a group more deserving; with incredible talent and a knack for “wow” moments, Pentatonix bring an addictive original spin to a capella–and they’re pretty nice people too! Now set to release their third EP and perform in Pitch Perfect 2, things show no signs of slowing down for the quintet. When we sat down with beat boxer Kevin Olusola, he talked to us about the growth of Pentatonix, his favorite things, and offered some advice to bands who look to go viral!
GGM: Your third EP, PTX, Vol. III is coming out. How would you say your group has grown over the course of three releases?
KO: Oh my goodness… I think we understand what works well for our voices. We better understand how to write original music for this band. I think that’s the main way. We know what works, what we like, and it’s fun to know that we can write music that’s compelling. This Christmas album we’re about to release, That’s Christmas to Me, the title of that album comes from an original song we wrote. It was so cool to hear it and know we’d written a kind of classic-feeling song. It’s awesome to know we’re growing in that way. We want to do a lot more original music in the future.
GGM: One of the most successful things about your medleys, in my opinion, is how smooth you make the transitions between songs. What’s the arranging process like for you guys?
KO: We first decide what the song is gonna be. Someone will come in, inspired, and say “I wanna do this song, or this medley” After we choose the song, we usually lay down an outline, a basic beatbox. Then we figure out who’ll do the melody, and then we try out different harmony parts. That’s pretty easy because we’re limited to different harmony parts and no more. And after we have the outline, we add moments to make sure that we’re keeping it interesting for the listener, moments where people go “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe they did that!”
GGM: Is there a song you’d like to cover or an artist’s catalog you’d like to remix that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
KO: Oh, that’s a good question! Justin Timberlake would be really, really fun. Also Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson would be really fun but also really nerve-wracking, because he’s the most iconic of artists! If we did anything wrong, people would be very angry. That would have to be very delicately done.
GGM: How about a dream collaboration?
KO: I would actually like to collaborate with, like, Bon Iver or Imogen Heap. Or Kendrick Lamar! I would really like to collaborate with him. I think we could do some really cool stuff with rappers, and Kendrick is such a G! I love that man. I think he’s such a good rapper. He’s such an intelligent, artistic person. He’d be a lot of fun to collaborate with.
GGM: I read an interview where one of your band mates, Mitch, said you were influenced by classical and old-school hip-hop. Is that accurate?
KO: Mitch is such a music enthusiast, and he’s gotten me to check out so much music. I was mainly influenced by classical music growing up because my parents wouldn’t let me listen to anything else. I guess they thought (pop) was like, the devil’s music, or whatever. But as I grew up, I started listening to a lot of 90s pop. When I was in high school, I found 90s pop, and was like “oh my goodness, I’ve never heard this before!” Now I listen to a lot of different things. I like alternative music, indie-folk, a lot of R&B. I don’t think I have one style influencing me right now.
GGM: Who are some of your favorite composers?
KO: That’s a hard question! Rachmaninoff, I think, is absolutely brilliant. I listen to a lot of Brahms. His String Quartets are really breathtaking. So many I couldn’t even name.
GGM: You mentioned that you discovered 90s pop and that opened up all this music for you. What was the song that did that?
KO: Oh man, Eiffel 65! That album, (Europop), oh my goodness! It changed my life. “Blue,” “Living in a Bubble.” They also added some orchestral elements into the songs that I really loved. Boy, I was into it.
GGM: You guys are about to appear in Pitch Perfect 2. How did that come about?
KO: That was so cool! They contacted us, and we were so honored. We have a small cameo. We’re a rival group against The Bellas. It’s very cool to see how a major motion picture is created. There’s a lot that goes into it we didn’t realize. It was very awesome to see all the steps and all the necessities that go into making a film.
GGM: What’s your favorite movie?
KO: I just saw Divergent, and oh my goodness, I am obsessed with that movie! I think it’s absolutely incredible. And the soundtrack is wow! I’m really excited for that movie. It’s so cool, and Shailene Woodley is incredible at acting. I would love to meet her one day. Great actress for that movie.
GGM: TV shows?
KO: I would say my favorite show, to be completely honest, is 24. When it came back, I just went insane! I watched every single episode without fail. I may have seen every single season three or four times. But otherwise, I don’t watch a lot of TV because there’s so much music I want to be making and listening to. But I do like to read a lot.
GGM: What are you reading right now?
KO: I am reading a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Those type of books really inspire me. They talk about how to get into the mindset of just being a better person.
GGM: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you guys since blowing up?
KO: One definitely comes to mind. We were just recently in Japan for five days to promote a compilation that just came out of our first two EPs. We did a mall performance, and there was about 4,000 people there. This was the first time we had our “famous” experience, if you will. We were walking through the crowd, and we had a huuuuge crowd come up to try and touch us and stuff, and it was the first time security cards were necessary to pull people back while we walked from our performance space to our dressing room. It was so crazy. It’s only those things you see on TV happening to famous artists, but happening to us! We were all freaking out, like “This is weird!” We’re just kind of normal people who like music!
GGM: Your group’s path to success is extremely 21st century. What is your advice to artists who’d look to break through via the Youtube, “going viral” strategy that has really boosted Pentatonix?
KO: I would say really, think creatively and be unique. Be different from everybody else out there. If you don’t have your own unique voice, you’ll truly be like everybody else out there. The things that do well on the internet are very unique. And don’t settle. Never, ever, ever settle. I think there are a lot of people that are like “Oh, this is okay,” but they don’t put in the extra work to make it that much better. That’s something our band lives by. It’s our mantra. In fact, I think that’s a huge part of our success.