Straight No Chaser
Image by: Andrew Zaeh
Straight No Chaser
Image by: Andrew Zaeh
In 1996, 10 Indiana University students formed the acapella group Straight No Chaser. Between 1996 and 1999 the group became successful, touring across the US to places including Carnegie Hall. In 1999 new students replaced the graduating members and since then more than 60 students have been members of the IU group.
Fast forward to 2006 and a 1998 video of The 12 Days of Christmas was posted on YouTube, which lead to the original members being asked to reunite and sign with Atlantic Records. According to Charlie Mechling, it has been an amazing ride.
"It has been something we honestly never even thought about or considered. When we left the group back at Indiana University we just wanted to leave a legacy group. We all went our separate ways and were doing our own things. Every bit of it has been a surprise – the initial phone call to reunite was shocking and the fact that 4 years later we are doing this full time and just got back from doing a tour of the UK. I don’t think anybody could have scripted it and if they had I don’t think I would have believed it."
12 Days of Christmas has nearly 15 million views while other covers like Madonna’s Like a Prayer and a mashup of The Lion Sleeps Tonight/I’m Yours continue to climb. Mechling didn’t realize how well seen 12 Days has been, and reflected on the incredible popularity of their online videos.
"Wow...I didn’t know it was that many views. It is funny how it has been viewed, we were just looking to do something fun and new to cap off our Christmas concert. I am still amazed when people say they have seen it thirty or more times. It was just 10 college friends getting up there to have fun, I never thought it would be what it is."
Although acapella groups are not a new idea, they seem to be cyclical. With shows like Glee popularizing the idea, more high school and college singing groups are emerging.
"It is funny, when we were at IU we started the group because there was acapella around the country but not at the University. The last few years kind of mirrors that same situation, it exists especially in the collegiate form but there really aren’t acapella groups being played on the radio. There are professional groups like Rockapella out there. With us and Glee and The Sing off, we have had a lot of people who say they are in an acapella group in school and it isn’t something I thought I could do after school until I saw your show. It is nice to feel like we’re doing something new and for these kids who would love to do this for the rest of their lives."
Inspiring others means a lot to the group, who are probably one of the most fan-friendly groups touring. They often meet with singing groups and contest winners before the show as well as meet fans after. Some cities feature VIP packages with an intimate dinner and private concert. Two lucky "chasers", as their fans are called, will meet the band in Edmonton and Calgary through a contest on the GayCalgary website.
"Part of the reason why after every show we go out to the lobby to meet with anyone who wants something signed or a picture with us is because it means a lot to hear from fans and let them know we value those stories and being inspired as much as the actual show. We have gotten to be a lot closer to a bunch of our fans. It is in conjunction with how active we are, and our fans are online with social media and such. There are times I have met someone at a meet and greet and I know their face but I’ve never met them [before]. They tweet at me or facebook or whatever. It is nice to have those personal face to face moments to put a face to a twitter handle. Those meet and greets, whether before the show or after when it is just anybody who wants to stick around for a few minutes, it means a lot and we get a lot of personal stories from these folks. It is a big part of what Straight No Chaser is."
Travelling to meet and perform is amazing but has its challenges for band members who have families back home. With the internet it makes it much easier to keep in close contact.
"I will say thank goodness for the internet and Facetime and video chat. I have a nine and a half month old son and another guy in the group just had his third son a few weeks ago. I look at it as I go for awhile and it is tough to be away but, when I get home I get to be here 24 hours a day whether it is a weekday or weekend. I cram all the weekends into about 2 months and then I go away and that is cramming in the weekdays I would work if I had a nine to five job. I think it balances out although it is a challenge."
Being a group of 10 handsome talented guys, it isn’t a surprise that many "chasers" are gay. The diversity of the audience shows the universal appeal of the group, Charlie explained.
"It is just indicative of how universal our music is. It is not about age, orientation, race, sex. What is most important is the music. We get a lot of comments from people saying that they felt they got to know us and love our banter. It is a universal draw. It is nice to see three generations of a family coming to the show and all enjoying it, or a couple on their first date or a gay or lesbian couple. It is nice to see that mix. We are blessed to have it."
This fall Chasers will get to spend time on a boat with the guys, who will embark on a cruise from Miami to Mexico. The video commercial on their website is a hilarious indication of what to expect.
"We are constantly trying to think of new things. The last two summers we have done a show at Harrah’s in Atlantic City and that became a home base for us. We met a lot of fans coming in and seeing the show 5 or 10 or 20 times. So we wanted to do something different from our touring show. We tossed around the idea and it sounded like a lot of fun doing shows and going on vacation at the same time. It is a fun idea not just for the fans but for us. It is a lot more than just a couple of shows by us - we are going to have special events and such that we are putting together right now."
First they have to complete their spring tour, which brings them to the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary March 8th and the Myer Horowitz Theatre in Edmonton March 9th.
"It isn’t the first time we are there. We are crossing our fingers and packing our warmest clothes for the first half of the tour. The first part of the Canadian run will be in March and the second half is in May. We will get to some cities we have been to a few times and have some new ones on the horizon. There is something that is fun but daunting about touring Canada in the winter. We know we could hit a bunch of snow and be trudging through snowbanks to get into the theatre but it is part of the experience. We are also really excited to finish off this spring North American tour in Canada at a time when I know it is going to be really beautiful and great weather. It is a great bookend for these three months of touring."
Most of the songs are covers and mashups but they have recorded some original material, and plan to include some in upcoming shows and albums.
"We do have plans to do some originals. We have worked on a few and recorded one or two. It is tough to have originals on an album that has some of the greatest songs ever recorded. They have to be a great song to stand up next to a Madonna or Michael Jackson song. We work hard on the material whether covers or originals, and when it comes down to it we just want to have the best songs in the show and on the album."
Concert attendees can expect classics, new songs, and an amazing evening with Straight No Chaser.
"They can expect to smile a lot. Some of the songs we are just standing side by side singing what is there and letting the music do all the work which causes a different smile than when we are having a conversation with the audience or each other. We are just 10 guys up there having fun and it shows. We work in a bit of what I will loosely call choreography. There will be a lot of songs that have been on albums and a lot of new songs as well, some classics and soon to be classics. Expect to have fun, expect to laugh and hear some great music."
Straight No Chaser
March 8th – Jack Singer Concert Hall – Calgary
March 9th – Myer Horowitz Theatre – Edmonton