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Interview: Mitch Grassi of Pentatonix Talks ‘The Sing-Off,’
A Cappella, and Christmas Album.
Ever since Pentatonix won NBC’s “The Sing-Off” in 2011, the group has been a vocal sensation. The a cappella group just released the EP “PTX Vol. III,” which features a mix of global pop and indie hits with original songs. The EP shot to #1 on the iTunes Pop Chart upon release and is currently in the Top 5 on iTunes Main. I recently chatted with vocalist Mitch Grassi about the group’s success after “The Sing-Off.”
Thank you, Mitch, for taking the time.
Of course! Thanks for having me.
Pentatonix has exploded onto the music scene. You, Kirstie, and Scott all grew up together. How hard was it to incorporate two unknowns into the group?
I'm not gonna say it was super easy from the beginning! We all five came from different backgrounds, personally, and musically, so starting off was a bit rocky in the way that we all had different ideas of how this group was going to work, but not a clear understanding of how to execute them.
What influenced you to become an a cappella band?
We originally became an a cappella group to try out for NBC's ‘The Sing-Off.’ After winning the show, we decided that we really liked what our group had become, and we continued to do the all-vocal thing. I really think it worked in our favor - nobody else in the music industry was doing what we were doing. The thing is, with a cappella, it's really limitless. You can practically go for whatever sound you want and I think that notion was really exciting to us.
Pentatonix does a lot of cover songs. How do you decide which songs to do?
Whatever inspires us. If a band member likes a particular song, they'll bring it to the group for consideration and see if we can actually make it work. We also like doing Top 40 stuff, too, and completely re-working it so radio lovers can listen to their favorites in a whole new way.
You mentioned NBC's "The Sing-Off." How has winning this competition opened up doors to you both professionally and personally?
I think it was the best platform for us to get recognition. I'm super thankful that we got the opportunity to do that show for exposure's sake, if nothing else. But being on the show wasn't just about exposure. The whole process actually shaped who Pentatonix is today. We created our sound before the eyes of the viewers, which was really exciting for both parties. And it was also a great way to create our stage presence. For me, being a part of ‘The Sing-Off’ was sort of a wake-up call because I never really understood how much work it actually took to create your own music. It was tedious, frustrating, and exhausting, but always worth it.
Do you think that if Pentatonix didn't do so well on "The Sing-Off" that the band would be this successful?
It's hard to say. I think our victory on the show fueled us to actually pursue this thing as an actual career. That may not have been the case had we lost. But I don't wanna think about that!
(Photo by Esther Kaplan)
Were there any songs that the band tried covering that just didn't come out right? If so, which ones were more difficult to cover?
Totally. For some reason, we really struggled with Taylor Swift's songs. We were a fan of ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ but they just wouldn't work in our style no matter how hard we pushed. Maybe one day we can cover a Taylor song successfully!
The band has just released "PTX, Vol. III," which contains four covers as well as three original tracks ("On My Way Home", "See Through" and "Standing By"). Describe your writing process in regard to writing original material.
Actually, this particular album is different from the others because we received mostly-finished songs from other artists via our label. I think, in a way, it was almost easier. It was sort of like arranging another cover song because we didn't have to start from scratch. Usually, when we're writing original songs, we'll do it alone or in pairs, and write the outline of the song with half-baked lyrics, then bring the concept song to the group and see if they approve it or want to work on it. We've tried writing a song altogether, but it wasn't effective. I think we all have different methods of writing and they just didn't mesh.
How does the creative process come into play in regard to what each person contributes to the band?
We all have different roles. I would say I'm more of the ‘nuance’ guy. In other words, I like to find little musical moments to throw into the arrangements to make them pop. Scott is good at that, too. He's also very conceptual and a ‘big-picture’ thinker. Kevin is the same way. Avi focuses on the arc and emotion of the song. Kirstie is usually the logical one, pointing out fallacies and inconsistencies.
Pentatonix has a Christmas album coming out. This is the band's second holiday album. What made you decide to put out another holiday album?
A cappella and Christmas music just go hand-in-hand! We wanted to make a heartwarming holiday record, but we wanted it to be different than our last one. This one is less ‘a cappella Christmas record’ and more of a fleshed out pop record, in my opinion. It's definitely full of surprises, too.
Who were your main influences growing up?
Imogen Heap was and still continues to be my main influence, in terms of vocal AND writing style. I've always admired her self-sufficient creative process - she writes and produces her own music. I love that. I love the way she thinks about certain subjects, too. It's very poetic.
Thank you again for taking time out. Is there anything you wanted to add?
Thank you! Shout out to our fans and the people who continue to buy our music and support us. We love you!
Pentatonix consists of lead vocalists Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, and Mitch Grassi, vocal bass Avi Kaplan and beat boxer Kevin “K.O.” Olusola.
Jason Tanamor is the Editor