Straight No Chaser career boom fuels extended ‘family’ reunion
In 1996, members of Indiana University’s Singing Hoosiers collegiate choir decided to form a new group—Straight No Chaser. Starting in 1998, they recorded themselves performing an updated version of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” graduated, moved away, and started careers and families. After the holiday mashup was posted to YouTube a decade later, the video would go viral and the singers would have some decisions to make.
Some members would come and go, but the magic of what the ten-voice a cappella ensemble had in their college years would stay strong. That bond is evident with Straight No Chaser’s I’ll Have Another … Twentieth Anniversary Tour. The Center for the Performing Arts will host the concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 11, in Eisenhower Auditorium.
Some of the singers were music majors, but mostly “We were just college friends forming a group to sing around campus for sororities or to do our own concerts and such,” co-founder and tenor Walter Chase says. “It definitely started off as a family.”
The love of song and the extracurricular experience drew them together and helped them maintain their friendships in spite of major life changes and proximity.
“When we were not together as a professional group, we were still going to each other’s weddings. Guys were having kids, and (we) were there for that,” the Easton, Pa., native says.
After the video went viral in 2006 (with more than 19 million views) and close to a decade of living separate and busy lives, it was time to get the band back together.
“In the first couple of years (after reforming), a lot of us were still working our jobs,” Chase says. “We were all kind of toeing the line until we could become a professional group.”
Straight No Chaser signed to Atlantic Records and released five full-length studio albums as well as a slew of EPs, special-edition releases, and single tracks. I’ll Take Another … Christmas Album, released October 28, is the group’s fifth holiday-themed recording.
The singers have collaborated with varied guest artists, including Dolly Parton, Sarah Bareilles, Paul McCartney, Jason Mraz, Rob Thomas, Barry Manilow, and Elton John. They opened for Lou Rawls, and the singers have performed on live television and at events such as the Indianapolis 500 and casino residencies.
Straight No Chaser’s I’ll Have Another … tour, which started October 14 and runs almost daily through January 3 in the United States, comes hot off the heels of the group’s two-month New Old Fashioned Tour 2016. That’s a lot of collaboration and together time for the singers who were used to nine-to-five jobs.
From the beginning, they considered themselves a family, and they were already accustomed to running the group like a business. They were recording albums, in part, Chase says, to finance their tours and travel.
“Over the past seven years that we’ve been doing this, it’s become a multimillion dollar operation,” Chase says. “We formed our own LLC and have different guys working in different capacities—music production and producing to handling all of our finances, working with our agents, managers, and all of that.”
Since emerging as a bona fide entertainment act, Straight No Chaser has deftly aligned its sense of humor and musical ability for near-capacity crowds. Their skills at melding comedy with the a cappella style attracted the attention of “Weird” Al Yankovic, who had a hand in inviting the group to share a bill for two nights in July at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl. But, as with any close relationships, there were situations that required some finesse.
Straight No Chaser enlisted the services of Deviate, a team consultation organization famous for helping various rock bands, companies, fraternities, and organizations—including Metallica, The Color Run, and discount retail chain Big Lots—work through obstacles to success.
“With a lot of musicians and performers, because of their talents or, you could say, ego … there’s sort of that thought that you can do it on your own,” Chase says in a Deviate promotional video. “There are things that are universal that everyone deals with … life on the road, interaction with the people back home that you love that you’re not being around when you’re on the road, how to eat well when you’re on the road.”
The Deviate team’s outside perspective worked wonders for the group.
“They could not have been a better match just because of how they are, their mentality, and how they help us,” Chase says. “We worked with them as an entire group, but we’ve also shaped our own goals and worked with them on our fitness and food regime.”
Chase chalks up the Straight No Chaser family’s success to being able to translate the singers’ individual senses of humor to the stage, their familiarity with fans, and their ability to add a fresh take to any song. Almost every genre—Motown, rock, pop, and, of course, holiday favorites—gets the group’s trademark mashup style treatment (a medley of two songs that one normally wouldn’t hear, such as “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson and “Play the Road” by Zac Brown Band). Ultimately, though, the members’ close relationships play a huge part in their success.
“It’s grown from a bunch of drunken college frat guys to a multimillion dollar business-slash-ten-family reunion when we get together on a lot of these things,” he says
Heather Longley is a communications specialist at the Center for the Performing Arts.