By Alan Sculley
It’s no secret that like virtually every other music act, the a cappella group Straight No Chaser was unable to tour because of the pandemic, a situation that wiped out several 2020 tours for the ensemble. What the pandemic also did was to change plans for making the group’s latest holiday album, fittingly titled “Social Christmasing.”
“We were like all right, well we’re supposed to be in the studio in May, maybe first of June ,” said singer Seggie Isho in a recent phone interview. “And as more information came out with Covid, we soon realized it was not going to be possible for us to get in the studio at all.”
But the nine singers and their producer, Kevin Killen, got creative, and thanks to the wonders of file sharing and modern recording technology, they figured out how to record “Social Christmasing” at their homes. This had its advantages and drawbacks.
“The great thing about it is you kind of sing on your own schedule,” Isho said. “For example, when we’re in the studio, we have a set schedule that we usually go by. The basses start in the morning, say around 10 a.m. Then around noon or 1 p.m., the baritones come in, then after us, the tenors come in. The nice thing about recording at home is, I myself am a baritone, and my voice doesn’t really warm up until probably like 4, 5 or 6 o’clock. So I could go in there when my voice was in prime condition to perform and lay down my tracks.
“Then on the flipside, when we’re recording in the studio, we’ve got the arranger sitting there, we’ve got the producer sitting there, giving immediate feedback,” Isho said. “Like ‘That line, you’re singing the right notes, but I’m not really feeling the emotion’ or ‘Try doing it this way.’ So when we’re doing it from home, you record the track, you upload it and you email it to the arranger and the producer. They listen to it and then they send notes. So it’s kind of … a sterilized process a bit. But it was still a great experience. I think we recorded the ‘Open Bar’ EP from home, too, but taking on this whole [“Social Christmasing”] album with all of these new songs and never having sung them together or rehearsed them together was absolutely challenging. But we’re really happy with how it came together.”
In fact, this fall Straight No Chaser will release an expanded deluxe edition of “Social Christmasing,” with a couple of newly recorded tracks, one of which may be an original song, they’ve teased.
Holiday music has been a mainstay for Straight No Chaser throughout the group’s career. In fact, it was a viral video of “The 12 Days of Christmas” that became an unexpected big break for the group. Recorded for a 10th anniversary reunion of the a cappella group, which formed at the University of Indiana, the video went viral in 2007 and prompted Atlantic Records to offer Straight No Chaser a record deal.
Thinking Christmas music was the perfect introduction to the group, Craig Kallman, the chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records, had the group debut with the 2008 Christmas album, “Holiday Spirits.” It was an immediate hit. Since then, the group has released three more holiday albums, four full-length non-holiday albums, as well as one holiday and four non-Christmas EPs.
During the pandemic, Straight No Chaser tried to make up for the lack of in-person concerts by doing some live-streaming performances. But Isho and the other singers — Mike Luginbill, Tyler Trepp, Randy Stine, Steve Morgan, Walter Chase, Jerome Collins, Charlie Mechling and new member Jasper Smith — are more than excited to return to touring.
“We’ve got some new tunes we’re excited to debut,” Isho said, noting the group is working on a new non-holiday album. “When we were thinking about the set list, it was kind of figuring out a balance. Like OK, for us we always want to introduce as much new material as possible…I think not having been out in so long, it’s a good time to get some of those songs that we haven’t done in a few years back in the set … just so everyone’s getting a little bit of something that they want.”