Hoosier crooners grateful to be back on the road
It has been well over a decade since Straight No Chaser’s breakthrough rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas” was rediscovered. The group has maintained its positioning in the spotlight ever since then with a number of new releases, two RIAA-certified Gold records with more than 1 billion streams, and more than 1.5 million concert tickets sold worldwide.
Jasper Smith, who is the most recent member of Straight No Chaser, says that audiences can expect a little bit of everything when they perform later this month.
“I mean, obviously we’re an a cappella group — no instruments, it’s just voices,” Smith told Whatzup. “But the good thing that’s unique about our group is that we appeal to the entire spectrum of audiences. We have something for people from eight to 80. You know, songs from the ’40s and ’50s all the way up to Dua Lipa today. So it’s very much a family show with something for everybody.”
The Indiana University-born a cappella group will bring their Back in the High Life Tour to the Embassy Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m.
Making Lemonade out of COVID
The group released their latest album, Social Christmasing, in November 2020. Smith says that fans can definitely expect to hear songs from that album at the upcoming concert.
“We couldn’t record it together, so we were all recording it remotely from our houses, each individual part, and it came out last year,” Smith said. “And we dropped a deluxe version this year with two more songs, one original song co-written by one of the guys in the group, Mike Luginbill, and the other song we recorded with Kenny Loggins, his version of ‘Celebrate Me Home,’ and we got Kenny to sing on that with us. It’s very, very cool. Yes, expect to hear a lot of those songs from that album at the show in Fort Wayne.”
Social Christmasing also featured a reworked version of the Counting Crows’ 1996 single “A Long December.”
“It was brought to the group as an idea, you know, not traditionally a Christmas song,” Smith said. “I think the messaging last year, you know how tough it was, being stuck at home and not being able to tour. I think the messaging just really resonated initially with the guys in the group, and then the response that we got to it was just fantastic.
“Whenever we released it on Social Christmasing,” Smith continued, “it’s just the message, ‘You know, maybe this year will be better than the last.’ It’s just a really good kind of message acknowledging the hardship of last year, but then also giving some good messaging of hope for what’s to come.”
The effects of COVID-19 impacted the way that Straight No Chaser produced their 2020 album, as well as how they practiced their craft.
“That was the big thing,” Smith said. “We normally do about 100 shows a year, and you know, we went from being on the road a ton to just being at home. So yeah, recording was an issue, all of us live from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Chicago, to West Palm Beach, to Nashville, to Houston, to Texas. You know, we’re all over the place.”
Smith added that rehearsing during the pandemic was “almost impossible,” and that the “biggest hurdle was just proximity, not being close to each other.”
“We tried it on Zoom and it just did not work. So we were staying in close contact, recording almost weekly videos where we would record some new songs, some classic songs, and release videos every week — we call them our ‘Quarantine Sessions’ — just to kind of stay sharp and on our craft.”
Humble Hoosier Beginnings
Straight No Chaser began as an a cappella group at Indiana University in the 1990s. As students graduated, they were replaced. However, by the time the group’s prominence snowballed, the original members had been long gone.
The popularity of Straight No Chaser exploded in 2006 after original member Randy Stine uploaded a video of the group’s 1998 performance of “The 12 Days of Christmas” to YouTube, according to SNCmusic.com.
After seeing the video, Atlantic Records Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman was so “blown away by the talent and chemistry of this a cappella anomaly, he sought out the guys and signed them.”
In 2015, the group succeeded the retired Jim Nabors in the annual performance of “(Back Home Again) in Indiana” before the Indianapolis 500 race. This was not any small honor — Nabors had been a fixture of the race since 1972.
It’s not every day that people will hear a cappella on the radio, but it may seem that Straight No Chaser dominates holiday playlists and broadcasts throughout the Christmas season.
Smith said that the genre’s “organic” sound and versatility of vocals lead to a unique performance for each stop on the tour.
“I think the thing about a cappella that’s so cool and unique is just the organic nature of it,” he said. “It changes and molds every night. With instruments you have to keep them in tune and make sure the sound is dialed in right, but really all we have is our voices running through the sound system. So we’re going to bring you the same kind of show every night, but the cool thing about a cappella is it’s just voices.”