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September 13. 2012 11:12AM
Pentatonix, 2011 'Sing-Off champions, bring tour to NH
The intricate layers, tight harmonies and driving beats of the five-member a cappella group Pentatonix have been wowing audiences since the ensemble first auditioned for the third season of the NBC television show 'The Sing-Off' last year.
The vocal group, named for the world's most widely recognized five-note musical scale, ended up winning the 2011 contest, but that was just the beginning of the quintet's dreams.
This past June, Pentatonix released its first EP, 'PTX: Volume 1,' which debuted at No. 14 on Billboard's Top 200 chart, the highest ranking an a cappella group has received on the pop music scale of popularity.
'It was definitely a dream come true,' said vocal bassist Avi Kaplan in a recent telephone interview with NH Weekend. 'It was a surprise for sure. We put out the album, hoped our fans would buy it, and they really, really supported us beyond our wildest dreams. And it is really inspiring, too, just to make us feel like we're really doing the right thing with our lives and (that) we should keep on.' In addition to the Kaplan, the ensemble is comprised of Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi and beat boxer Kevin 'K.0' Olusola.
Their goal, Kaplan said, is to bring 'real and honest' music to the mainstream. And while 'The Sing-Off' was cancelled after its third season in 2011, the television competition served to give exposure to approaches that broadened public perception of a cappella music. Pentatonix garnered a fan base with contemporary arrangements that melded dubstep and electro with pop, reggae and hip-hop elements.
It is clear audiences are ready for it, with many stops on the group's three-month nationwide tour already sold out. Pentatonix will headline the University of New Hampshire's sixth annual a cappella night at the Memorial Union Building on the Durham campus on Saturday, Sept. 15. The free show begins at 8 p.m. and doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Following the UNH performance, Pentatonix will play a sold-out show at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston on Sunday, Sept 16.
While on tour, the ensemble will continue to develop original songs, while also working on a Christmas album.
Every arrangement is a collaborative effort, Kaplan said, with band members sitting in a circle, developing a skeleton song and then adding layers and details using each of their unique voices.
It's an approach the singers adopted right from the start, rehearsing together just 24 hours before their 'Sing-Off' audition.
'On the show it was really awesome because we really got to manufacture our sound, figure out what worked and really who we are,' Kaplan said. 'That prepared us for what came next.
'On the show it was a collaborative effort between the group and producers on the show. Now what we do just really depends (on a number of factors). We pick our own songs, songs we are really See Pentatonix, into at the moment, and ask our YouTube fans to vote and pick the most popular.”
The band picked Gotye's “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which appears on the ensemble's new album, because they thought it was a perfect fit with a low baritone solo and a high tenor part, as well as a female vocal part.
Fan favorites included “We Are Young” by the band FUN, which also appears on the Pentatonix album as an exclusive bonus track from iTunes, as well as “Starships“ by Nicki Minaj.
Along with the popular cover tunes the band has re-arranged, the new album also features two original songs.
Kaplan and Hoying both had written songs before, but Kaplan said writing for an a cappella group is a different sort of challenge, especially when adding in Olusola's impressive beat-boxing skills.
“I would say that these are challenges because we have so few people and we are making it sound believable,” Kaplan said.
“We want it to sound like pop or what you feel from dance music and R&B. We want to sound like a band, but we happen to use our voices” (rather than instruments like guitar, drums and keyboard).
Kaplan said television shows like “The Sing-Off” are a great opportunity for musicians to get started.
“It's a great opportunity for people ... who have the talent, but don't know the right people.
You can go and audition and be noticed without doing something crazy or knowing somebody famous,” Kaplan said.
“A lot of people have come out of that and found their niche through those shows, and I think it's a really great thing,” Kaplan said.
He said Pentatonix hopes to inspire other young people to sing.
“I would say to expect
goofy music-loving people to show them a cappella music like they've
never seen before, and be ready to come and have a great time,”
he said of the UNH show.