Straight No Chaser brings a capella music to the mainstream
In case we didn’t already know it, Steve Morgan offers this gentle reminder: “The human voice is capable of amazing things.”
Make it nine voices and the results can be particularly special.
Which brings us to Straight No Chaser, and the incredible success story of the nine-member group that has been taking a cappella music to mainstream audiences for the past 10 years.
Next stop: two headlining performances at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, Dec. 5-6.
“Seldom is the ear left wanting more textures than we nine guys can produce,” says Morgan, who is one of those voices.
“Add in movement and some good, or at least passable, jokes between songs, and you’ve got yourself a good evening of entertainment,” he says.
Sit back, relax, get a drink and know that Straight No Chaser wants to give you the best time that they can, he says.
“Everything about our show has been crafted so that you know you are free to laugh, you’re free to get up and dance, you’re welcome to help us make this the most fun it can possibly be.
“And, yes, we are aware that we are too old to be dancing like we do,” Morgan says.
One of the questions the group is often asked is, “Are you guys really having as much fun as it looks?”
The answer is a decided “Yes,” Morgan says, “because if we as the performers aren’t having fun, the audience won’t either.”
Providing ‘escapist joy’
“We are blessed to be escapist joy for two hours a day for people, and that starts with creating and performing a show that we ourselves love to do,” he says.
It might be cliché, he adds, but simply the love of performing is what continues to motivate the group every day.
“Being able to find the energy and passion to bring your best work every day is a skill unto itself,” Morgan says, “and I think that our respect for the audience and their enjoyment drives us to be our best every time.”
People are fascinated with a cappella, he believes, because of its purity. There are no tracks playing, no hidden voices or instruments, he explains.
“Everything is being created right there on stage in front of your eyes,” he says. “And yet many people forget that by the third or fourth song. We have people insist that there was a drum playing during the show.”
Laughter and tears
Straight No Chaser’s goal is to entertain, certainly, but more than that, to get people to feel, Morgan says.
“We have people after the show tell us they laughed, they cried and they had a great time. While our main goal is to entertain, we have the opportunity at different points of the show to take people through a range of emotions,” he says.
Morgan says there is nothing like performing live.
“The chance to be in sync with hundreds or thousands of people, leading them through a show and an experience the way we want, it’s an amazing feeling when it all goes right,” he explains.
“At the heart of it, our job is to try to bring people joy. If we can do that, making people forget about their worries and their strife, what a blessing and a gift it is that we have achieved.”
The group is bringing new material to their job via their latest and seventh album, “One Shot,” which took a year to make.
“Our goals were definitely ambitious and not something that has been attempted in the a cappella world before,” Morgan explains.
Group members set out to tell the story of Straight No Chaser through music, from the group’s beginning at Indiana University in Bloomington, up through the careers they enjoy today.
As with their previous records, they wanted to have “something for everyone,” including new songs, classics and everything in between.
“One Shot” features 16 genre-spanning songs, including a new interpretation of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound,” and 10 conversational interludes, as the members trace their unlikely rise from an undergraduate singing group to a beloved Atlantic Records act with a devoted international fan base.
In the past decade they have collaborated with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Dolly Parton, among others.
“I doubt any of us would have dreamed that we would have two gold records, produced seven full-length albums, four EPs (extended- play records) and two PBS specials, or traveled the world and back singing our songs,” Morgan says.
“At the same time, I feel like we are still getting better each year, always trying to outperform our last tour and album. And at the heart of it is that we don’t take any of these incredible opportunities for granted.”
Ultimately, he sees Straight No Chaser as the “Little Engine That Could.”
“I have always believed in our sound, and we have been happy to see that once an audience gives us a chance, they are only too happy to go for the ride right alongside us.”
For Morgan, music is a way to connect.
“Music can make total strangers laugh together, cry together, feel together,” he says. “Music is good for the mind, soul and body. Music can improve the lives of those dealing with autism or Alzheimer’s. It’s an incredibly powerful art form that is beloved for good reason, and I have been addicted to it since before I can remember.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.