Straight No Chaser

December 14, 2009 8:04:12 AM PST
In the fall of 2008, ATCO/Atlantic Records unveiled a rather unlikely major label release. It was an album of Christmas music recorded by Straight No Chaser, a ten-member a cappella group that hadn't sung together since their college days a decade earlier. The result was a most improbable success story and a true musical phenomenon.

Fueled by Straight No Chaser's appearances on the Today show, ABC World News Tonight, and CNN Headline News, among others, "HOLIDAY SPIRITS" spent 14 days in the #1 slot on Amazon, and 5 days in the top spot overall on iTunes. The group's now famous version of "The 12 Days Of Christmas" peaked in the top 10 on the Christmas radio chart and reached the top 15 at Hot AC. On their first-ever headline tour in December 2008, Straight No Chaser sold out shows across the country.

"Back in college, we started this group just for fun - no one ever thought of it as a possible career path," says Randy Stine. "It was hard to comprehend that ten years after our last performance, we were back together recording for a major label, with an album that reached number one on iTunes, heading out on an international tour. Along with all the fun is a lot of work, but it's a complete labor of love, and one that we never dreamed possible."

In the year since the release of "HOLIDAY SPIRITS," the lives of Straight No Chaser's members have been transformed. In the wake of the album's success, the members of the group who had been holding down full-time jobs were able to leave their day gigs to pursue SNC full-time. "Whereas before we were essentially juggling two careers, now we get to put all of our heart and energy into Straight No Chaser," says Dan Ponce.

For the 2009 holiday season, Atlantic's original plan had been to re-issue "HOLIDAY SPIRITS" with a couple of new bonus tracks. But when Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman heard the new songs, "he liked the direction we were going with those so much," explains Dan, "that he said, 'Let's go ahead and do a whole new album.'"

The result is "CHRISTMAS CHEERS," a fresh collection starring Straight No Chaser's trademark vocal sound and unique musical approach. Comparing the new album with "HOLIDAY SPIRITS," Dan notes: "The last album was a little more traditional, a little more what you might expect from an a cappella Christmas album. With the new album, we took a few more risks, and there's definitely a comedic element that weaves through the album. We wanted to capture that aspect of our stage performance in our recordings."

Recorded in the group's home base of Bloomington, Indiana, "CHRISTMAS CHEERS" ranges from the hilarious "Christmas Can-Can" (with lyrics by the group's Walter Chase) - a song which Dan says, "makes fun of ourselves and the commercialization of Christmas" - to a beautifully soulful take on "O Holy Night." The 15-track collection also includes such holiday classics as "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Jingle Bells," and many more. The SNC original, "Who Spiked The Egg Nog?," was written by member Ryan Ahlwardt and Straight No Chaser's producer Deke Sharon, whom Dan describes as "a brilliant writer, arranger, and producer."

With the new album in the can, Straight No Chaser is heading out on the road for a full 50-city cross-country tour, by far their biggest trek to date. In addition, the group has already been hard at work on a new pop album for 2010. Their goal remains the same as it was back in their college days. As Randy says, "We want the audience to not miss the instruments, be surprised by what we're doing, and in the end, appreciate the songs in a whole new way."

Here's how "The 12 Days of Christmas," the Internet, and one serendipitous YouTube viewing changed the course of ten unsuspecting lives.

In the fall of 1996, Indiana University student Dan Ponce hand-picked ten friends to create the campus's first a cappella group. Ponce chose the members not only for their outstanding voices, but for their personalities. Purposefully avoiding the stereotype of the traditional college a cappella group, they treated themselves more like a local band that just happened to use their voices as their instruments.

The formula worked: it wasn't long before they were headlining concerts, and within two years, they were touring nationally. In 1999, with college graduation looming, the members of Straight No Chaser chose their replacements - putting a plan in place to ensure that the new tradition they had created would continue on with successive generations of IU undergrads. Then, in April 2006, Indiana University decided to host a reunion concert for the original members. In honor of the event, original group member Randy Stine posted clips from one of their 1998 concerts on YouTube to share with the other founding members. Suddenly, concert footage that was nearly a decade old was available to be seen by millions of people worldwide? and see it they did, in mind-blowing numbers. With no promotion, Straight No Chaser's version of "The 12 Days Of Christmas" (interpolating Toto's "Africa") received more than seven million views in December of 2007 alone, becoming the hottest viral video of the season.

In a turn of events that the spiritually inclined might describe as a "higher power" moment, Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman happened to be among those millions of viewers. "It was completely random and totally unexpected," says Kallman. "I was surfing YouTube to check out what was new, when I saw this brilliant, fresh, and totally compelling performance. And then I saw how many hits they were getting, and I had something of an epiphany. So I emailed Randy right away." Randy, not surprisingly, thought it was some kind of prank. "The head of Atlantic Records emailing me at 8 a.m. New Year's Day and saying he was interested in our group? I thought, 'yeah, right.'" Fortunately, Randy decided to check it out anyway, and he and Dan soon found themselves having dinner with Craig in L.A. Within a few days, the entire group flew to Atlantic's offices in New York, and a deal was in the works.

In the years since they graduated from college, the original members of Straight No Chaser had embarked on a variety of life paths - some pursuing professional careers in music and theatre, some going into other fields entirely. But suddenly presented with the unforeseen opportunity to come back together, make their major label debut, and take their music to a new level, they all agreed to seize the head-spinning moment.

The birth of Straight No Chaser's second life is a story of talent, drive, and some very good luck indeed. It's cause for celebration? but please don't strike up the band.

BE OF GOOD CHEER - STRAIGHT NO CHASER IS BACK!

ACCLAIMED A CAPPELLA GROUP RETURNS WITH ALL-NEW HOLIDAY-THEMED COLLECTION;

"CHRISTMAS CHEERS," the eagerly anticipated new album from ATCO/Atlantic recording group Straight No Chaser, has arrived at all stores and DSPs today. The collection features a selection of holiday-themed classics, reworked in the acclaimed a cappella group's inventive and original style. The compilation is led by the brand-new single 'The Christmas Can-Can' and also features a studio version of the YouTube hit 'The 12 Days of Christmas.'

Straight No Chaser is currently heralding the album's release with a major U.S. tour (see attached itinerary). The dates - presented by Southwest Airlines - will continue through a December 23rd tour finale at Raleigh, North Carolina's Progress Energy Performing Arts Center. As part of the partnership with Southwest Airlines, Straight No Chaser will treat fellow Southwest customers to surprise performances at airports across the country.

"CHRISTMAS CHEERS" follows Straight No Chaser's smash debut, "HOLIDAY SPIRITS," which reached #1 at both iTunes and Amazon.com upon its release last year. Songs from both collections and more are featured in the 10-member group's upcoming PBS special, Live In New York: Holiday Edition. The concert - filmed this past August at NYC's famed Angel Orensanz Foundation - will air throughout PBS' annual December Pledge Drive (check local listings). A video for 'The Christmas Can-Can' from the PBS special can now be seen on the re-launched www.sncmusic.com . The newly updated site also features exclusive photos, audio, videos, blogs, Twitter, tour dates and much more.

Straight No Chaser - who recently supported Barry Manilow's sold out Hollywood Bowl solo concert - will be appearing on QVC on November 25th, with multiple appearances all through the day. What's more, the group is scheduled to appear on the Christmas Day edition of NBC's The Today Show, performing holiday favorites throughout the broadcast.

"CHRISTMAS CHEERS" highlights Straight No Chaser's trademark vocal sound and unique musical approach, while also incorporating much of the energy and enthusiasm of their celebrated live show. Recorded in SNC's home base of Bloomington, Indiana, the album ranges from the hilarious "Christmas Can-Can" (with lyrics by the group's Walter Chase) to a beautifully soulful take on "O Holy Night." The 15-track collection also includes such holiday classics as "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Jingle Bells," and many more. The SNC original, "Who Spiked The Egg Nog?," was written by member Ryan Ahlwardt and Straight No Chaser's producer, Deke Sharon.

"The last album was a little more traditional," says the group's founder, Dan Ponce, "a little more what you might expect from an a cappella Christmas album. With the new album, we took a few more risks, and there's definitely a comedic element that weaves through the album. We wanted to capture that aspect of our stage performance in our recordings."

Founded at Indiana University in the fall of 1996, Straight No Chaser's goal was to expand the boundaries of the traditional college a cappella group. From the start, they viewed themselves more like a local band that just happened to use their voices as their instruments. As original member Randy Stine comments, "We take the music very seriously; we just don't take ourselves too seriously." In the process, they are reinventing the idea of a cappella on the modern pop landscape.

In 1999, the graduating members of Straight No Chaser chose their replacements, ensuring that the new tradition they had created would continue on with successive generations of IU undergrads. Then, in 2006, the unexpected happened - Indiana University decided to host a reunion concert for the original members. In honor of the event, Randy Stine posted footage from one of their 1998 concerts online.

To the group's surprise, Straight No Chaser's version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" - interpolating Toto's "Africa" - became the hottest viral video of the holiday season, eventually receiving more than 10 million views online. Among those millions of viewers was Atlantic Records Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, who tracked the group down and promptly signed them to the label.

The birth of Straight No Chaser's second life is a story of talent, drive, and some very good luck. But their goal remains the same as it was back in their college days. As Stine says, "We want the audience to not miss the instruments, be surprised by what we're doing, and in the end, appreciate the songs in a whole new way."

Taking off from the runaway success of "The 12 Days Of Christmas," "HOLIDAY SPIRITS" saw Straight No Chaser re-energizing holiday classics such as "The Christmas Song," "Silent Night," and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" with their captivating and powerful vocal arrangements. Fueled by appearances on ABC World News Tonight, CNN Headline News, and NBC's The Today Show, among others, the album spent 14 days in the #1 slot on Amazon, and 5 days at the top spot overall on iTunes. The group's now famous version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" peaked in the top 10 on the Christmas radio chart and reached the top 15 at Hot AC. On their first-ever headline tour in December 2008, Straight No Chaser sold out shows across the country.

For up-to-the-minute news and information, visit www.sncmusic.com, and www.myspace.com/sncmusic.

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