Arlington-based group Pentatonix takes over the music scene with their innovative twist on pop and electronic music. Not able to hide by synthesizers (the nature of a capella), this group relied on their raw voices to carry them to the top of the Billboard charts. Creating their own arrangements and covering popular songs, they are truly rare and something to be celebrated in the music world.
Your unique style infusing a capella with popular music blows me away. Why a capella?
It started out as a hobby. We started as an a capella trio when we were young. Then we put our stuff on YouTube. What we have is very special and not many people can do this a capella thing. We’ve figured out something cool and unique and said let’s run with this.
Some pop musicians are criticized for lacking vocal talent and being over-synthesized, but you knock that pop music stereotype on its butt. Would you say that attributes to your success?
What we do is very real. We can’t hide behind anything because we are a capella. All we’ve got is our voices. They see what we do and see that it is not easy. [Our fans] appreciate that. When people see it, they are like ‘that’s really cool.’
You have a big tour kicking off in 2014. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I am looking forward to a million things. I am excited about all the new songs we are going to do. There will be more production with this one — more lights, more choreography. It’s going to be an amazing live show and experience for the fans.
Some of your covers sound so different from the original songs. Does someone help you determine the direction you’re going to take a song, or does the group create the new sound among the five of you?
Ninety-five percent of the time we get together and say, “We are going to make this creative and different, but we do not want to lose the essence of the song.” Most of the time, it’s the most organic way to create an arrangement — we start beat boxing and singing together. It comes pretty easy after we get the first few lines down.
Who picks what you cover?
We always pick them. We ask for requests on our website so fans have actually picked a few.
What do you love and/or miss about your hometown in North Texas?
We all miss Texas so much. L.A. is awesome, but it will never feel like home. I will always feel Texas is home. The hospitality is amazing, [and] I love seeing my old teachers.
Is there a voice coach or teacher back in Arlington that you would like to give a shout out to?
I would love to! Kay Owens. She was our choir director at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. She let [our original trio] sing at a concert. Someone filmed it and put it on YouTube. That’s when we started getting noticed.
You are kind of the ringleader of this group. Did you know you would have this chemistry when you pulled everyone together?
Honestly, we didn’t. I knew the original trio [Kirstin “Kirstie” Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, and Scott Hoying] would work because we sang in high school together…When we were looking for a bass, I knew a guy I had been jamming with in California would fit our group perfectly. We changed beat boxes three or four times. When we found Kevin [Olusola], we knew he was a genius because he could play cello and violin at the same time.
PTX Vol. II
The a capella group’s latest album PTX Vol. II scaled the Billboard Top 200 Album charts to the top, which is a good sign that fans are loving the changes with this album. Pentatonix, known for creative twists on cover music, introduced four original songs on this latest album. Group member Scott Hoying said it was nerve-wracking to make that transition to original music, but he’s thrilled fans are eating it up.
“Our fans love it!” Hoying said.
My favorite song on the album happens to be a Pentatonix original—Run To You, which has a hypnotic, Imogen Heap sound to it. If you’d rather pick up the pace, their Draft Punk single is a lively pastiche of party hits from the 80s, 90s and today. While it is a cover, the group cleverly weaves music together, making it their own.