What do you get when you bring together nine guys who each have a pitch-perfect voice, an abundance of stage presence, and a knack for entertaining audiences? Answer: The a cappella group Straight No Chaser.
Their rise to fame started at Indiana University, where every member of the all-male group ensemble was in a choir called the Singing Hoosiers.
“About half the group, the original guys, were music majors and the others were either music minors or wanted to continue being involved in music,” founding member David Roberts said. “We were freshmen and sophomores figuring it out, having fun.
“We decided that we were just going to do it as a side project and maybe meet some girls and get some free food out of it,” Roberts said with a laugh as he recalled the early days.
That was in 1996. In the more than two decades since, the group has released a dozen albums and EPs, with a new one that debuted on Nov. 2.
They’ll perform live at the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now and range from $36.50 to $56.50.
The performance will feature fan favorites, including some signature holiday songs as well as songs from their new album titled One Shot.
“It tells a little bit about the journey since college to becoming professional musicians and entertainers,” Roberts explained. “There’s going to be a lot of that in the show, and I know I’m personally really excited to hear the reactions to this record and the story.”
That story is unconventional. After graduating from college, each of the men set out on his own career path. Roberts moved to Chicago and was working for a hotel in the sales department. Shortly after that, he went back to school and got an MBA in finance and accounting.
Then several years later, a recording from 1998 of Straight No Chaser’s comedic take on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was posted to YouTube. The CEO of Atlantic Records saw it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I was working for a Wall Street bank when we got the call from Atlantic in 2008,” Roberts said. “And all of my colleagues at the time thought I was out of my mind for leaving a steady bank job for a music career. But if you recall what was happening in 2008, I thought they were pretty silly for not looking for things to do.”
Over the years, several members left to pursue other careers and interests, and new ones joined. Today, six of the original members, including Roberts, remain. They’re spread out all over the country — Houston, Chicago, Nashville, West Palm Beach, Tulsa, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia — which creates their biggest challenge leading up to a nationwide tour.
“When we get ready for a tour, we typically get together a week before the first show to rehearse new music, new choreography, and staging,” Roberts said.
“We also use technology a lot. We’re in an age where the guys who are creating the arrangements can send us demos and sheet music and we can rehearse and get it to 80 percent there. So when we’re getting together, we’re really just perfecting it.”
On average, they perform about 100 shows a year. When they’re not touring, they’re either in the studio making a record or trying to catch up with their families at home.
“We do everything in house. For example, I’m the business manager for the group, so I handle all the finances and make sure our crew gets paid, make sure we’re compliant with taxes and all that really boring stuff,” Roberts chuckled. “And we have several guys in the group who are our primary music arrangers: Mike Luginbill, Walt Chase, Tyler Trepp, Steve Morgan, Sargon Isho. A lot of guys contribute in a lot of different ways.”
The current tour kicked off October 26 in Wisconsin and will take them from all across the Midwest to both coasts. They’re staying true to what made them a household name, but also introducing new music.
“I know for me personally, growing up, my sisters and I had the same two or three holiday records that we played ad nauseum every season,” Roberts said. “We hear that from our fans, that we’re their go-to holiday music every year. That’s really touching for all of us, so we like to keep that familiar element for people who come back.
“And then we also like to keep it fresh for them and for us. This year that freshness is going to be this new album that’s telling our story.”
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