Interview: Straight No Chaser
Mon, 26 Aug 2013 12:14:48
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Straight No Chaser come full circle on Under the Influence. The acapella phenomenon team up with a myriad of legends including Elton John and Stevie Wonder to provide their take on various classic songs. They not only do those tracks justice, but they add their own undeniable kick. It's their best work thus far, and it'll undoubtedly become an influence in its own right.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Randy Stine of Straight No Chaser talks Under the Influence, upping the ante each tour, and so much more.
With Under the Influence, was it important to preserve the original song's integrity while adding your own stamp?
We definitely wanted to work with these artists. As they were saying "yes" to working with us one by one, which we were completely flattered by, we definitely wanted their input on song choices too as well as how they wanted to do it and if the songs should have a different feel from the originals. The process of having them work with us was much more fun. For example with Sara Bareilles, she picked "I Want You Back" as a fun song to do. We thought that was a great choice, and it worked well with her. It was a lot more interactive with us doing it that way, rather than trying to dictate and say, "This is the song we're going to do. Do you want to be a part of it because it's your song?" It's much more of a back-and-forth conversation with each of the artists.
Under the Influence also allows the respective artists a chance to re-approach their songs.
Yeah! If you're an artist and you re-release a classic song, you'll have some fans asking, "Well, why did you redo this?" Getting to work with a project like this with us, it gives them an excuse to redo it. No one's going to really question it. It allows them a chance to revisit a song from their own catalog they may want to have a different experience with.
What was the curation process like for what artists you chose to work with? Did you vote on it?
We sat down and talked about who some of our biggest influences were. That's really how the album title came about. We talked about artists we listened to while we were growing up or artists we listened to now and we thought had a neat thing going. Artists like Stevie Wonder and Phil Collins were favorites of all of ours. I was a huge Phil Collins fan growing up. I remember having No Jacket Required and Face Value on cassette tape. I was excited we could possibly work with him. I threw his name into the hat with a few other guys. It was an absolute thrill to hear back from them saying, "I'm interested. This will be fun!" It was amazing. Initially, we were naming artists who we didn't think we had any possible chance of getting involved. Soon, we heard Elton John said, "Yes", and these other guys were into it. You're so staggered by the fact that these huge names said, "Yes" that you go back to the drawing board and think, "If we got them, do you think Stevie Wonder might be a part of it?" It was a fun process, and it was flattering to find out that some of these artists even know who we are.
Which guest surprised you the most?
I think the craziest one, because it had happened so late in the game, was Stevie Wonder because we weren't expecting it. All of a sudden, it popped up. We were literally about to go on stage at Pantages in Los Angeles. We circled up, and our manager said, "Hey guys, I've got some good news". He told us backstage moments before we went on. Of course, the first couple songs of the show everyone was grinning so much. We had a great show. It was hard to keep it in. We wanted to tell everyone we knew but we couldn't. That was the other part of it. We had to keep it secret from family and friends. Everyone knew we were working on this album, but they had no clue of who we were working with. We had to tell fans, "Just wait. You'll understand when it comes out and you see the tracklisting why it took a little longer."
How do you make each tour a different experience for yourselves and the fans?
We get to play in a wider variety of markets every year. I want to say we're close to having been to 45 U.S. states. We've been to Mexico for a private thing. We've done Canada and the UK. Hopefully, we'll do all of Europe, Australia, and Japan. It's fun to find all of the places we get to go as well as the favorite places we have shows in every year. Each show changes because of the music. It's fun for us to come up with new arrangements and medleys on current and popular music. On the last fall tour, PSY had just come out with "Gangnam Style" so, off-the-cuff, we incorporated that into something we were already doing because we knew it would have that immediate gut reaction with the audience. Each year, we build on having all of the classics people want to see at the show, but we also threw in new surprises. That's our way of making people come back. They don't know what they're going to get, but they know they're not going to see the exact same show. That's why we have some fans who have been to forty shows in a single year since every show is different. We aren't scripted in between songs. We like to banter with each other, and all of that changes based on where we are, what might've happened in the news that day whether it's news or sports, and we also love to give each other a hard time. That changes every single show. That's what we look forward to and have fun with every night.
Have you heard Under the Influence yet?