Straight No Chaser’s non-holiday albums have each had a readily apparent theme that not only tied into the alcohol connotation of the a cappella group’s name, but also to something about its choice of music for the recording.
With “The New Old Fashioned,” the studio album to be released Oct. 30, singer Dave Roberts said the title was very much inspired by a couple of songs that are on the album, as well as by the group’s self-identity in a larger sense. The male choral group will perform Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Sacramento Community Center Theater.
“There were a couple of mashups that were the theme of the album,” he said in an early October phone interview. “So that’s where we got kind of the ‘New Old Fashioned’ (title). As we started creating the music in the studio, we found that the new old-fashioned is exactly what a cappella is. It’s the oldest fashion of music that there is, and we are doing the new old-fashioned. So that has kind of become the theme, not just of this album, but kind of our entire career.”
Fitting that description are the Four Seasons’ 1960s hit “Beggin’,” which is interspersed with parts of OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” which is paired with the Zac Brown Band’s “I Play the Road,” not to mention Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.”
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Roberts said choosing the songs that go on a Straight No Chaser album is not an exact science – partly because of the desire to stay in touch with current pop music.
“We like to have something for everybody, and if we didn’t have something current, then we’d have a hard time saying we have something for everybody. So it’s always a process,” he said. “Then there are songs that we absolutely love that sometimes aren’t mainstream, either, because the artist hasn’t gone mainstream yet or for whatever reason. So there’s a little bit of all of those things in this record.”
“The New Old Fashioned” features the group’s first original song to appear on an album, a soulful ballad written by Don Nottingham called “Lost.”
Deciding how much emphasis to put on creating original songs will be a key question for the group going forward, Roberts said.
“Obviously, we got our start in college doing covers, and we built a career on it and our live show is us taking songs and doing our twist on them,” he said. “So we don’t consider ourselves a cover band. We’re out there putting our take on music and doing it in our style. So to some degree, that’s what a lot of people want to see from us. At the same time, we have a very strong creative drive within the group, and we want to be out there creating content and creating music. That’s what a lot of us got into the business to do, to create new music.
“And the challenge that we have is the music we perform mostly are hits,” Roberts said. “So for us to write music to be performed at the same time as some of these other hits or even to go on a record with these other hits is a really, really tall order.”
The beginnings of Straight No Chaser indeed date back to college at Indiana University, where several of the current members founded the original edition of the a cappella group.
After graduation, the original members went their separate ways to start careers while other students filtered in to continue Straight No Chaser at Indiana University.
Then in 2006, the original members of Straight No Chaser got an out-of-left field opportunity to bring back the group. A reunion had been set that year for the former Straight No Chaser members and for the occasion, the group posted a video made in 1998 of their wacky rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
Craig Kallman, CEO of Atlantic Records, saw the video on YouTubeand offered Straight No Chaser a record deal. Eight of the original members signed on with two singers who were part of later editions of Straight No Chaser at IU. A few have left since (also replaced by singers from later lineups at Indiana), and today’s lineup includes Roberts (an original member who left a banking job on Wall Street to return to the group), Nottingham, Walter Chase, Randy Stine, Jerome Collins, Michael Luginbill, Charlie Mechling, Tyler Trepp, Seggie Isho and Steve Morgan.
Roberts said fans can expect the most elaborate visual production Straight No Chaser has taken on the road.
“We try to make the show a little bit bigger and a little bit better every year,” he said. “This year, we’re going to have a semi. In previous years, we’ve just packed very thing into a couple of trailers. So we’re going to have more space, we’re going to have more lights, we’re going to have more staging elements. We’re going to carry our own speakers this time around, so everything will have a more consistent sound as well as sort of the next level of the staging. We’re pretty excited about it.”
Straight No Chaser
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25
Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento