JIGSAW MAGAZINE
Back to Pentatonix

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pentatonix

At SLOWFish
5406 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles (Miracle Mile)

Like the musical scale they are named for, Pentatonix (PTX) is made up of five distinct personalities coming together in perfect harmony. After winning the third season of "The Sing-Off" last November, the a cappella group was propelled into the international spotlight. But it was something that Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Avi Kaplan, Kirstie Maldonado and Kevin Olusola were completely prepared for. The quintet took time out from rehearsing for their upcoming national tour for a meal at one of their neighborhood restaurants, SLOWFish.

"This is probably my favorite restaurant," admits Avi. "I like the California Roll with tempura flakes on top and the Pink Albacore Roll. They have black rice here which has the nutritional value of brown rice, and it's really great."

Scott usually orders "the Chicken Teriyaki and black rice. It's so good!"

Another thing the group agrees on besides the deliciousness of black rice is shopping.

"Especially at the Grove," says Scott. "I like Zara. I'm wearing a Zara jacket right now."

"I like the Barnes & Noble there a lot," says Kevin. "I go to the Starbucks and just chill."

"I love Timeless on Melrose, that's my favorite store," shares Kirstie. "I love shopping! When I first got here, my card started declining and they cut me off. Literally the first week I got here, I was really embarrassed."

Kirstie, Scott and Mitch grew up doing community theater together in Arlington, Texas. They formed a vocal trio in high school, garnering attention with their cover of Lady Gaga's "Telephone."

"I always loved singing, and I would listen to all of my mom's music. She doesn't really sing, but she inspired the love of music," shares Kirstie. "I did musical theater all of my life, and it was what I always wanted to do when I grew up. It was all I could see myself doing."

The trio parted ways when Kirstie went to Oklahoma for college and Scott began studying music theory at the University of Southern California, where he became a member of the SoCal VoCals.

"The SoCal VoCals is how I got involved in a cappella in the first place," he says.

His involvement in the university a cappella group inspired his decision to ask Kirstie and Mitch to come out to Los Angeles so they could audition for "The Sing-Off" together. But they needed more members, and as luck would have it, one of the best basses was available.

"I'm originally from Visalia, in between Fresno and Bakersfield," says Avi. "In the Central Valley, it has a lot of agriculture and horses, so I grew up riding horses. I would also go to the park with my friends and play music all night. I started getting serious about music in high school. My voice changed in between eighth grade and freshman year, and I joined my high school choir. I figured out I could sing bass, and the rest is history."

Scott eventually found their beatboxer when he came across a YouTube video of Kevin cello-boxing.

"At 6 I started playing the cello, but being a musician was never my goal because my dad's from Nigeria and my mom's from Grenada and they came to this country to make sure that I was very successful monetarily, and that meant going into medicine. I did music for the fun of it, but then I found out my junior year [at Yale University] that I loved it," says Kevin. "It was only when I started doing music the way I wanted to, playing cello and trying to beatbox at the same time, that I realized maybe I could do something different with it. I did this competition that Yo-Yo Ma had posted online. I got second place, and he called me and said, 'You should think about going into music.' Then a friend and I played for KRS-One. I was cello and beat boxing, and my friend was rapping. KRS-One came up to me and said, 'If you do this in the hip-hop world, I think you could make a living.'"

So PTX was complete. The two new members' chemistry jelled perfectly with the three Texans, and the group dazzled audiences with their creative renditions of songs such as the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" and Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over" on the way to taking first place on "The Sing-Off." PTX continued to thrill fans by posting videos of new covers, like Fun.'s "We Are Young" and Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," on their YouTube channel, which has over 18 million video views.

The group debuted their first EP, PTX, Vol.1, in June, featuring covers and two original songs. PTX, Vol. 1 sold 20,000 copies in its initial week of release and landed at No. 14 on the Billboard 200.

"I woke up to some tweets about it," Scott says about hearing of their debut on the Billboard charts,

"I think I did too!" adds Kirstie.

"I was in Tokyo," admits Kevin. "I was at the Montreaux Jazz Festival performing for Quincy Jones and had just flown down to Tokyo to give a performance. I got the news from our manager and was like, 'what?!'"

Kevin is quite the jet setter, but all in all, the five vocalists have settled into life in Los Angeles quite well.

"It fits me really well," says Mitch. "I just like the style of everything. I'm really into the arts scene. I go to galleries and a lot of concerts. I really like the El Rey. Most of the shows I've seen have been there."

"I like the intimacy of the Mint, the history behind it," says Scott.

"I'm more of a small-town guy, so coming here was a little bit of a change. But of all the big cities I think that this is the best city for me," says Avi. "It's not as crazy and packed as New York. And it has a lot of good food, so I'm OK with that [smiles]."

"I love Los Angeles because it reminds me of Beijing," says Kevin. "I was in Beijing for 18 months during college studying Chinese on fellowship, and L.A. reminds me so much of Beijing. The streets are wide, it's very vast. The only thing I wish L.A. had that Beijing has is a really good public transportation system. Besides that, I love living here."


As one of the sushi chefs brings us a large plate of bacon wrapped asparagus, tuna and the restaurant's Famous Fat Avo (avocado) filled with seared albacore, Kevin says, "The one thing we have to look out for is overeating on this tour because I went on a national tour with the David Crowder Band and every night after we would perform everyone would be eating Sonic or Burger King. It's the one thing I'm nervous about. We're all going to try and work out together."

Working together is something this group does well and with ease, specifically when choosing covers and arranging them.

"We rehearse every day, so one of us will like a song and bring it to the rest of us and say, 'I can see Mitch doing this, and Avi doing this with the bass.' We'll all be inspired and just arrange it," says Scott.

"We all contribute ideas on our arrangements," continues Mitch. "We try everything we can to see what will work. It's a collaborative effort."

As for writing the two original songs on PTX, Vol. 1, it ended up being a slightly different process.

"The four covers, we knocked them out in two weeks. The originals ended up being a little harder than we thought," Scott admits. "We tried some different things. We tried writing as a group, and we came up with some ideas but nothing concrete. We tried writing in duos, which worked well. Then I ended up writing a song by myself ("The Baddest Girl"), because writing a song is so personal for me. It's hard for me to collaborate sometimes. Avi and Kevin co-wrote the other original song ["Show You How to Love"]. As a group we're new artists, we're still trying to find ourselves. But we're getting there."

As for future goals after their first national headlining tour comes to a close, PTX is shooting for the stars.

Kevin: "Playing Nokia Theatre would be dope."
Scott: "The Staples Center!"
Kevin: "The thing I've learned is that you just have to put yourself out there and hopefully things will happen. A family has been created now, and it's been an incredible journey."

PTX, Vol. 1 is currently available. Pentatonix performs Sept. 25 at the Roxy. For more information, visit ptxofficial.com.