The saying goes that there’s strength in numbers. Scott Hoying would say that idea applies to his group, Pentatonix, but not in a more-the-merrier way.
At the moment, Pentatonix is going where no other a cappella group has gone popularity-wise, having broken into the pop mainstream with a series of successful EPs and albums. The group’s fall tour supporting its recently released self-titled album takes the quintet into arenas – a level of touring a cappella groups have rarely achieved.
Hoying thinks that having only five members (most a cappella ensembles number 10 or more) helps Pentatonix feel more like a pop group.
“It’s easier for fans to latch onto us because they know our personalities,” Hoying said in a recent phone interview.
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In 2011 high school friends from Arlington, Texas, – Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado and Mitch Grassi – decided to audition for the NBC show “The Sing-Off.” Groups needed at least five members, so the trio recruited Avi Kaplan, a bass vocalist well known in a cappella circles, and Kevin “K.O.” Olusola, a singer/beat boxer they’d seen on YouTube.
We have fans for the first time.
With only one day to rehearse, Pentatonix made the show and went on to win Season 3 of “The Sing-Off,” claiming the top prize of $200,000 and a deal with Epic Records. But before Pentatonix could even release an album for the label, Epic dropped the group.
“You would think we would have been really disappointed. But we kind of didn’t totally know what was going on,” Hoying said.
“When we heard we got dropped, I remember our manager was like, ‘But we’re getting you out of the reality show contract, and we’re getting you a new (record) deal. Everything is great.’
“We were all like, ‘Cool, we’re excited. We have fans for the first time, and we have all these ideas.’ … We really didn’t dwell on the fact that we were getting dropped from Epic.”
Signed by Madison Gate, a small label that mostly released soundtracks, the group debuted in 2012 EPs “PTX, Volume 1” and “PTXmas” and started a YouTube channel. A medley of Daft Punk songs released in November 2013 went on to top 150 million views.
Pentatonix next landed a major label deal with RCA (like Epic and Madison Gate, also Sony-owned), which gave the group the promotional resources to achieve even greater popularity.
After releasing the EPs “PTX, Vo. II” in 2013 and “PTX, Vol. III” in 2014, the group returned to holiday fare for a 2014 full-length, “That’s Christmas to Me,” which peaked at No. 2 on the “Billboard” album chart. This set the stage for the self-titled album, which went to No. 1 upon its release a year ago.
That album takes Pentatonix to a new stage creatively with all but one song co-written by group members.
“We just all of a sudden had this overwhelming feeling of wanting to be more of an original artist,” said Hoying.
To that end, songs such as the energetic “Sing,” “Na Na Na” and “Ref” and more relaxed tunes like “Can’t Sleep Love” and “Rose Gold” are filled with big vocal melodies, sing-along vocal accent parts, vocals mimicking what would otherwise be synth or electronic instrumental parts, and even some sonically enhanced vocal beats and choir parts that help fatten up the sound.
As one would expect, a good number of songs from the self-titled album will be featured in the shows Pentatonix performs this fall. The group is also releasing a new holiday album, “A Pentatonix Christmas,” on Oct. 21, so some of those songs should be in the shows at some point this fall. Hoying said the production this time will exceed anything fans have seen from the group in concert.
“It gets bigger and bigger every year, and this year it’s definitely bigger and better than last year,” he said. “The production, the lighting, the video content, it’s all extremely high quality and exciting. It matches up with the music so well. So it’s a visual and aural experience for everyone. And it’s just the five of us. All of the music is completely a cappella still. It’s like a cappella on steroids.”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19
Where: Golden 1 Center 547 L St., Sacramento