Interview: Straight No Chaser — Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis and Jason Mraz "With a Twist"
Wed, 21 Apr 2010 10:21:40
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Straight No Chaser are music's premier mixologists.
On their brand new album, With a Twist (Atlantic Records), they blend a wide array of a capella harmonies for for downright undeniable renditions of cuts from Jason Mraz, Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis and many more. The Twist especially comes through on fantastic mash-ups "I'm Yours/Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "You & Me & The Bottle Makes Three/Single Ladies." With a Twist possesses a classic barbershop quartet elegance with a shot of modern humor and panache, making for the ultimate 21st century a capella album.
Straight No Chaser's Randy Stine sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about putting the Twist in With a Twist, collaborating with Barry Manilow and a certain Braveheart moment in this exclusive interview.
You definitely give these songs new life by imbuing a distinct sense of self into them. Is that essentially what you're going for?
We wanted to make sure each song had our own unique spin on it; we basically aimed to give the audience a reason to listen to With a Twist. There's a lot of a capella out there that's basically a straight-up, direct lift of a song. It's like, "Wow, there's no instruments. This is interesting." To me, that doesn't create enough need to listen to a song, if it's simply the same as the original. We're trying to add something unique to each song—whether it's changing up the genre or mixing in "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Every song has to be a little different.
How did you go about choosing the songs for With a Twist?
I always have a mix of different stuff we've come up with. Sometimes, it's a song that one of the guys likes and chooses to arrange. Jerome was at the barbershop when he heard "Under the Bridge" come on the radio. He couldn't believe everybody there was rocking out to the original Red Hot Chili Peppers song and bopping their heads to it. He thought, "This could be interesting for us to do." That's how we came up with the idea of doing that. It's not too overly pre-conceived. When Dan was working on the arrangement to "I'm Yours," he was trying to find something that would put a twist on things. His girlfriend at the time happened to be in the room and she said, "It sounds like you're arranging 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow!'" He ended up playing with it and found a way to work it into the song.
Do you tend to think of music in visual terms? The songs come across in a cinematic fashion.
Personally, I do. I was originally a voice major, and I switched into TV production, telecom and video. To me, I envision how songs would be performed on stage and the tone of the song if I was going to watch a music video of it. Is it fun and lighthearted or does it have a darker vibe? For instance, "Tainted Love" is one of those songs that everyone sings along to when it comes on the radio in a bar or something. However, the meaning is a little bit darker. When we did our version, we did a big band type thing, but we wanted the solo to still come from a dark place—he's upset and mad essentially. That's how we play out the feel of the songs—whether they're happy and upbeat or they have a little bit more of an edge to them.
What's in store for your Harrah's residency?
We're pretty stoked about that. It's going to be a fun summer for us. We start July 2 and run through August 28. It's five days a week. We're excited to be in Atlantic City for the summer. It's going to be a good time, and fans are already talking about going!
It would be cool if you could get Barry Manilow out there to do "One Voice" with you guys at a show or two!
You never know! We're very happy to have him on the album, and that turned out to be a great little project. We're really happy with that track, and we're happy that he's happy with it. We opened for him at the Hollywood Bowl back in October of last year, and that's how that relationship started. He took a liking to us and he dug the idea of doing a track with us. "One Voice" is his original song, and he always said that he wanted to have a new recording of it. So everything worked out perfectly.
Everything is so digitized and Pro-Tool-ed out these days. With a Twist stands out because it's organic.
That's exactly what we're aiming for. We've all heard all of the stuff on the radio currently that is very processed. Some of it is very processed in a way that it's honest that's what they're going for. However, we definitely strive to make the music sound as natural as possible. We do have snaps and stomps, but there's nothing on the album that's not 100 percent human.
How important is incorporating a sense of humor into the music?
We take the music seriously, but we don't take ourselves too seriously. We have a good time with the material and we have a good time on stage, and I think that translates to the audience. We never get bored on stage. It's key to us that we have a good time. We know if we have a good time, the audience will have a laugh along with us and stick with us throughout the show. For us, this is all one big adventure, so we're having a good time with everything we do. We're just grateful to be in the position that we are.
College bonds tend to last forever!
It's very true. Everyone is growing up and away from home for the first time and setting down roots with friendships that they hadn't had before. People joke about our tour being a big glorified college reunion. It's like having nine other fraternity brothers on the bus [Laughs].
Have you gone back and played Indiana University Bloomington?
We actually did this past week! That was a thrill for us. We sold out the IU auditorium. It was incredible to go back and play a venue we played in college. We always hoped we'd come back and sell out the main floor section. To go back and have it completely sold out and see all the way to the upper balcony full of people was a major thrill. It was exciting to have that kind of a homecoming!
What are some of your favorite movies?
There are a lot of good ones out there! It's hard for me to pick favorites. Certain music from films can bring you right back into the movie. We were talking about the score from Braveheart. When you hear the soundtrack, it brings you right back to the movie. On Coldplay's "Fix You" from the album, when you listen to it on headphones, it's more dramatic and emotionally involving right away.
What should Straight No Chaser sing next?