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Music

Pentatonix's road to musical success didn't follow usual drumbeat

| Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Pentatonix
RCA Records
Pentatonix

It all started with three “total choir nerds and music nerds in band” at an Arlington, Texas, high school.

From there, Pentatonix has done its share to bring a cappella into the mainstream.

The group has teamed up with Kelly Clarkson on a tour that will arrive at First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, on July 19.

Pentatonix founding member Kirstin Maldonado reminisces fondly about the band's “nerd” roots. She says the all-vocal, no-instrument sound is quite relatable to fans, with its body, voice and heart “soul singing.”

“What's really neat about a cappella is — you can just grab some of your friends who also like to sing,” she says. “I think it's also really refreshing. ... So much of music today is kind of formulaic, that (a cappella) is a little different and out of this mode.”

Maldonado, Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi, classmates in high school, started as a trio performing locally after entering a radio station's singing competition. Maldonado and Hoying graduated from Arlington's Martin High School in 2010, and each went off to college — Maldonado to the University of Oklahoma to study musical theater, and Hoying to the University of Southern California to pursue music.

While Grassi completed his final year of high school, Hoying tapped two people he met in California — Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola — to join the trio in competing on the third season of NBC's “The Sing-Off” in 2011.

The new quintet named itself Pentatonix and won “The Sing-Off,” which came with a cash prize and a recording contract. All five of them dropped everything to move to Los Angeles and see where the musical adventure would lead.

“It was very strange,” Maldonado says. “It was kind of uncomfortable. We were very naive and young.”

Band members were shocked when, just after moving to L.A., their label, Epic Records, dropped them.

“They didn't know what to do with us, which is understandable because we are a cappella, which is not commonly mainstream,” Maldonado says.

But Pentatonix members had invested too much to give up, so they gathered their motivation, stayed in L.A., and made it without Epic.

“We said, ‘We're out here, so let's ... just see where this goes,'” Maldonado says. “It kind of instilled our own work ethic and motivation.”

They formed a YouTube channel and distributed their music through Madison Gate Records, a small indie label.

In 2012, they released the group's debut EP “PTX Vol. 1,” followed by the Christmas album “PTXmas” the same year. That followed with several more albums and a contract with RCA Records.

Now, Pentatonix — known for its covers of Daft Punk and Gotye songs — is shifting its attention toward original music, says Maldonado. She says they hope to release an original album later this year.

“The last couple of weeks, we've really solidified our sound and where we're going,” she says. “We're all feeling really, really great about it.”

Touring with Clarkson has been fun, Maldonado says.

“We've always thought Clarkson was amazing,” says Maldonado, who describes the singer as cool and down-to-earth. “It's kind of really easy for us. We get the easy end of the stick.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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