The Sing-Off to the Paradise City: An interview with Kevin Olusola and
Kirstie Maldonado of Pentatonix
posted by Michael Cimaomo
In recent years, a capella singing has seen a significant rise in
popularity. Thanks to television shows like FOX's Glee and NBC’s
The Sing-Off, numerous singers are discovering the possibilities presented
by combining their voices with others to create impressive walls of
sound. And perhaps the biggest a capella group of the moment is Pentatonix.
As the season three winners of NBC’s a capella group singing
competition The Sing-Off, the five-piece band – featuring members
Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Avi Kaplan and Kevin
Olusola – came to fame by utilizing diverse musical genres like
hip-hop, dubstep, and electro to create re-imagined covers of popular
songs. Now, after recording and releasing two successful EP’s,
Pentatonix is hitting the road for its second headlining tour. And
on February 23rd, the group is rolling into the Calvin Theatre in
During a recent phone interview, the Northeast Underground had the
chance to chat with Pentatonix members Olusola and Maldonado (pictured
above, second and third from right), who were checking in from Los
Angeles, and asked them their thoughts on performing a capella music
live, how they protect their voices on tour, and what fans can expect
during Pentatonix’s stop in Western Massachusetts.
Underground: Obviously your group is most well known for its appearance
on NBC’s The Sing-Off. What was your first impression upon learning
you had won the competition, and how has the show shaped the course
of your career since that moment?
Maldonado: I think we were all really excited initially. Going into
the show, we just thought, “Why not? Let’s do this for
fun. We love what we’re doing.” [And] I think steadily
along in the competition, we formulated our own sound and gained a
confidence in ourselves, where we [thought,] “Oh man, we really
want to take this, we really want to win. It would be amazing. This
would be a dream come true.” And fortunately it happened.
Now we’re just doing what we love. [Winning the show] definitely
shaped all of our careers for the better. We all wanted to do something
in music, or in the business. I think it’s been amazing for
all of us. And I think it’s gone, not better than we expected,
but the feedback we’ve received from all our fans, who are amazing,
has been incredible. We definitely wouldn’t be where we are
without them today. It’s been awesome.
How would characterize the experience of going from performing on
television to touring the country and playing live 90-minute concerts?
Olusola: It’s been absolutely incredible. This entire experience,
from winning The Sing-Off to where we are now, has been a dream come
true. After we won The Sing-Off, we went straight into recording a
record, which did extremely well. It was PTX Volume One, and we got
to number 14 on the Billboard charts. And after that we started our
first tour, which wasn’t really what it is today.
Our first tour was very minimal. We kind of just got on stage and
sang, but it was still a sold-out tour and it was great to connect
with our fans and figure out what our performance style was like.
I think we take a very Mumford & Sons approach. It’s very
chill. We kind of want everyone to feel like family, and have a good
time getting to know us on stage. We get to feel the audience’s
On this tour, we still maintain that. But it’s definitely a
bigger show. We have lights. We have staging. We have choreography.
We have an amazing sound guy. I think the show has just been an upward
trajectory of learning who we are as artists. I think our first album
shows that. I think the second EP will show that. Eventually we’re
going to put out an original record, hopefully in 2014. It’s
going to be fun. It’s been a great trajectory. It’s been
a lot of fun.
Watch Pentatonix perform a cover of Gotye’s “Somebody
That I Used To Know” available on PTX Volume One here:
What is the hardest part
of performing vocal music for such an extended period of time on stage?
Do either of you follow a special regimen to keep your voice in shape?
Maldonado: I think in general
the best thing you can do for your body is go to bed early, drink
a lot of water. You don’t stay up late, you eat right. All those
things really help out. And now we have a tour bus. Before when we
moved to different cities we had to get up in the morning and drive
there, but now [our drivers] drive there in the nighttime. We can
just sleep as long as we want, and I think that’s really helped.
We all just take care of each other, and remind each other to eat
better or not stay out too late or anything. It’s been a learning
process, but now we’re all a lot better at it. It’s not
as stressful as it was before.
So we’re not going to be hearing about Pentatonix as one of
those hard-partying bands that is always in the headlines for the
Maldonado: [laughs] No, never.
Olusola: Never. Not once in our entire careers [laughs].
Kevin, you mentioned earlier that the environment at your concerts
is very “chill.” What has the reaction from crowds been
like during this tour? Have you noticed anything specifically?
Olusola: When I say chill, I don’t mean the performance is chill.
Our interaction with the fans is what’s chill. We really try
to be very calm and conversational on stage. And I think the audience
really likes that. They really get to know us. They get to see that
we have personalities, we’re not just some sort of pop machine
that comes out and performs and is very robotic. The sounds we might
make might be like very electronic, robotic sounds, but we have personalities
behind all the music that we make.
People have really enjoyed it. We see it on our Facebook a lot. A
lot of people have said, “Wow, that’s one of the best
concerts I’ve ever been to in my entire life.” So that’s
the kind of standard I think we’ve created for ourselves, and
we’re going to continue that standard as we go forward.
Maldonado: I think another thing that’s really cool about our
fan base is that we have a wide variety of everyone because on the
show we did a wide variety of music, and it’s just pulled in
a lot of different crowds. But I think the majority of them are all
music lovers, and [they] are all really talented.
We do this thing in our show, where Kevin and Avi have the audience
sing with them, and it’s always so amazing that the crowd becomes
this amazing big choir and they’re all music nerds. I think
that’s the coolest part because we were all just like them.
So to have everyone sing together, it just feels really awesome. I
think that’s another thing that’s really special about
What can fans expect or not expect at your show in Northampton, Massachusetts
on February 23? Are there certain songs you will sing that will be
familiar to the audience?
Maldonado: They better start warming up [laughs]. We definitely address
some of our old songs that we know people still want to hear, but
we are sprinkling in some new ones. We’ve been writing originals.
I think with all the added stuff we’ve put in, we have choreography
now, we have lights. Before we just kind of stood on stage and just
jammed. It was really casual. Now it’s more of a production.
Visually and audibly people will be wowed hopefully. Kevin anything
Olusola: That’s pretty much it. I think just expect some old
songs, some new songs, the same Pentatonix sound, which I think is
really the most important thing of all. And people will really get
to know who we are on stage.
How familiar are either of you with Western Massachusetts? Have either
of you been through the area before?
Maldonado: No I actually haven’t. I’ve only been to Boston
and that area. I’m excited though.
Olusola: I wish I had been there. I used to live in Andover, Massachusetts.
I went to boarding school at a place called Phillips Academy. I went
there the last few years of high school, so I know Boston kind of
well. I know Andover pretty well and some of the surrounding cities
like Lawrence, but not Northampton. Forgive me [laughs].
What are some future projects/ recordings you have planned? I understand
a second album has been in the works.
Olusola: Sure, I want to say it like this. I think 2012 was us getting
our feet wet in terms of figuring out what our sound was going to
be like on a recording. We really didn’t know. And I think we
started figuring that out with our first album, which did pretty well.
We’ve also continuously tried to build our fan base with YouTube.
I think 2013 is us now trying to figure out what our original sound
We are putting out a new album, a new EP with a lot more originals.
There are some covers, but we’re going to try and hone in on
the originals. We are writing with a lot of different people. The
songs have been great. I think that the first record we did because
it did so well on the Billboard charts, a lot of co-writers have been
interested in working with us. They’ve been like, “Wow,
I’ve never heard an a cappella sound like this, be so edgy.
But it works, and we’re really interested in working with you
There’s also going to be a lot more touring this year. This
tour right now is kind of us upping our game in how we tour. That’s
pretty much it. Those are the two main projects this year working
on a second record, etc. Working on an original album, that’s
what we are going to be mainly doing all fall, a lot of writing. So
yeah, we’re doing an album and touring. I’m pretty proud
of our live show.
Maldonado: He pretty much summed it up [laughs].
Watch Pentatonix perform a cover Ryan Lewis and Macklemore’s
“Thrift Shop” here:
What is your songwriting process like?
Olusola: Kirstie you want to tackle that one?
Maldonado: I think last year we saved writing the songs for the end
of our album. It was more of a stressful procedure because we had
never written together as a group before. We all have our individual
styles of writing, and I don’t think they fit well for the sound
of our group, which just didn’t make sense. But now I think
we’ve just been steadily writing throughout the year even when
we weren’t consciously working on PTX Volume Two. So I think
our writing styles in general have just gotten better. We’ve
already presented a couple originals, and already they’re miles
ahead of where the last ones were when we presented last year.
I don’t know if there is necessarily a certain procedure that
we go to. I feel that as people get inspired they just write, and
in general everyone knows what our sound is now because we’ve
been together longer. I think it just immediately goes better with
what we want. Does that make sense? [laughs]
Is there any question or topic I should have asked about but didn’t?
If so, what would you like to talk about or maybe elaborate on?
Olusola: Gosh, I can’t
really think of anything else. That was a pretty thorough interview.
Maldonado: Come to our show [laughs].
Olusola: Yeah, come to our show everybody please [laughs]. We want
to see your beautiful faces.
Maldonado: I think if people had come to our shows previously, it’ll
still be very new just because of all the elements we’ve added
to it. I really think it’s a show that everyone can enjoy. It’ll
be a good time.
Pentatonix performs Feb. 23, 8 p.m., $25, Calvin Theatre and Performing
Arts Center, 19 King St., Northampton, (413) 584-1444, http://www.iheg.com/calvin_theater_main.asp.
For more information on Pentatonix or to see more tour dates please
visit http://www.ptxofficial.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/Pentatonix.