Members of the famed a cappella group discuss late night rehearsals at Indiana University, talk their early albums (Holiday Spirits, Under The Influence), and reminisce about breaking big on a little-known platform at the time called YouTube. This is the story of Straight No Chaser, like you’ve never heard it before.
The group’s new album, “One Shot,” is out now. A deluxe reissue of “Holiday Spirits,” in honor of its 10-year anniversary, is out now.
Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say Presents: Straight No Chaser, “One Shot.” In part two of this four part series, the rest of the guys take us through their history, including their college days. They then talk about how they got discovered by the world through YouTube, as well as discussing the wild ride along the way. We then discuss the 10-year anniversary of their classic album, “Holiday Spirits,” which gets re-issued on Nov. 16, as well as their new album, “One Shot,” which comes out on Nov. 2. I’m gonna let the guys introduce themselves and let them start the fun.
Jerome Collins: Hi. My name is Jerome Collins.
Charlie Mechling: Hi. I’m Charlie Mechling.
Seggie Isho: Hi. I’m Seggie Isho.
Walter Chase: Hi. I’m Walter Chase.
Charlie Mechling: I’ll start out. This is Charlie. Well, we started this at Indiana University. We all knew each other from show choir called, The Singing Hoosiers. That was a lot of, kind of traditional music, and some cheesy choreography, and a lot of fun, but we wanted to sing stuff we heard on the radio, stuff that we thought would be fun. We went around the room, with a few of us, thinking, “Okay. That guy. He’s a pretty good baritone. Oh, he’s great tenor. We’ll take him,” and then we just kind of approached each other. We were like, “Hey. Do you wanna get together and try to sing maybe for some food or girls or whatever? It’s gonna take a ton of extra time.” We all had a lot of fun getting this going. We were rehearsing at midnight in the music building, while we have 8 AM classes and stuff. A lot of work, but a lot of fun. That kind of snowballed through college. One of the culminating performances was, we were able to perform at the musical arts center at IU, which was pretty rare. I don’t think a non-music school group had ever performed there. For that one, we thought that was really special, so let’s hire a film crew. We hired a three or four camera film crew to record that.
As we graduated, we brought in new members, and Seggie was one of those. Mike was one of those. Ryan, you may know, couple of the guys. Us originals eventually graduated and went our own ways. In the meantime, at some point in the early 2000s, the video crew that had recorded the concert, somebody contacted Randy out of the blue and said, “Hey. We got these tapes, that have Straight No Chaser on them. Do you want ’em?” They sent over a few beta max tapes. Randy had to find a way to convert those to digital. When he did that, he wanted to show all of us. He uploaded it to YouTube, which was brand new. None of us had heard of it. Jerome still hasn’t heard of it. He’s not very technologically savvy. He passed it around, emailed it to us. We were like, “Oh my gosh. Look at us, 10 years ago. That’s awesome.” From there, people just started passing it around. That’s the concert that featured the 12 days of Christmas. That went viral in 2007, after being on YouTube for a year. In one month, it just blew up, seven or eight million views. We got a call from Atlantic Records that New Year’s Day.
Jerome Collins: Where do we start? There’s a funny moment which is probably our first concert where we saw a line of people lined up for a concert that we didn’t know they were lining up for us. But I thought it was funny. I was like, “I wonder who’s here tonight. Look at that line.” It was just kind of a funny moment that we didn’t think that what we were gonna do was gonna turn out to be anywhere near what it is today, let alone being something pretty big on campus.
But I think the funny stories are just how we [were] knocking on dorm room doors, girls coming out confused, what’s going on, and hear us singing “One Fine Day” up and down the hallways. It just was kind of comical the way we all got started. We just were literally just trying to get the name and word out there, but we found ourselves doing some things that probably in life we probably would never do again. Hopefully.
Charlie Mechling: Well, I mean, what’s funny about it is we weren’t a group anymore. We’d left the group at IU and we were all doing completely different things. I was living in New York trying to make my way to Broadway. Seggie was in Vegas. I mean, we were all doing all sorts of different things, and we’ve literally had to get back together, rehearse and learn a few songs together again to go into Atlantic Records and audition for that first record contract. I mean we never in a million years thought that this would be a profession for us.
Seggie Isho: People knew about Straight No Chaser on other college campuses for specific reasons. We were more suited to be a fraternity than an a capella group in every sense of the word. We would go to different invitationals at different schools. We would just roll in and just take over. We have this song that we used to do in college called “Dry Campus.” We went to University of Michigan one year, and we had totally rewritten the lyrics to be totally about U of M, knocking on Michigan State, knocking on Ohio State, talking on things that were going on campus, and we just completely stole their crowd. I don’t think the local group was very happy about that.
Then afterwards, we show up at the after party, and we just do what we do best. We take over the party. We’re having them get extra kegs because more partiers than singers at this point. But that was just kind of how we rolled. We didn’t take ourselves seriously like a lot of these groups did. Our vibe was more about having a good time while being an a capella group rather than being an a capella group and trying to be so technically sound and everything. It was really more about the camaraderie of the guys in the group, and the brotherhood we had and living up that college lifestyle. So I mean there’s so many stories, I just don’t remember most of them because of that fact.
Walter Chase: So, we have all graduated from college. We’ve all been living our separate lives, some of us married, some of us not married, some of us with kids, most of us without kids and working an either nine to five jobs or working somewhere in entertainment. We get this video, it starts to pick up steam, and now we’re given the opportunity to fly to New York City and meet with not just Atlantic Records, but the CEO of Atlantic Records, Craig Kallman.
We had not sung together, the 10 of us, in years. I mean, every time we’d come together for someone else’s wedding or a special event, if we’d gone to Mardi Gras together, we did that one year. Anytime we would get together we would be in a situation where we would end up singing for somebody, or just singing for ourselves, really. That’s the only rehearsal that we had since most had graduated from college seven, eight years prior.
The day before the meeting at Atlantic, we flew in and started rehearsing in someone’s hotel room. The morning of, we all got together hours before we were going over there and we were downstairs in some lobby of a hotel, singing the same two or three songs that we had sung a hundred times back in college, but just wanted to make sure we were on our game as much as possible, double checking harmonies, making sure that everybody was locked into what we were gonna do, and nervous, right? Because this was our shot. This was our chance to do it.
We get over to Atlantic, and we go up however many floors, and we meet with not only Craig Kallman, but there’s other people who are A&R and different departments in Atlantic. I remember us going into a larger conference room and we were just sitting around talking, and then they just asked us to start singing. We sang the couple of songs that we had done back in college and we were quite comfortable with, and showed off some soloists, and showed off our different dynamics that we can do as a group. I remember us just talking with them casually, and basically on the spot them offering us a chance to sign with Atlantic Records.
Jerome Collins: I was actually over in Hong Kong putting on a production of The Lion King. I was enjoying life over in Hong Kong. It was cool, but I’ve always had a desire in my own heart to always wanted to just get on the road and just tour different cities. So what better chance when I got the call?
I literally remember it was 4:00 in the morning, Hong Kong time, when a couple of the guys had called me. I kind of thought they were joking at first. I was like, “This is a hell of a way to call a person at 4:00 in the morning to prank them with.” Then they called back because I hung up at first. Then they called back and said, “This is really happening. We have been offered a record deal at Atlantic Records, so are you in or are you out?” I walked in the next morning and said, “You’ve got two more weeks.” I did my two weeks and bounced. Obviously at first, I wasn’t really sure. I’m like, “What am I doing?”
Like you said, losing your status, I wanted to make sure I was equity, and on the path, and staying fresh in these Broadway producers minds. I was like, well, doing this could really hurt. I always believe that the greatest risk is not taking one, so I just took the risk and we all did. To see the other guys were doing it to, it just made it that much easier for me to say, “Hey, are you doing this?” “Yeah, I’m doing this.” “Then, let’s do it!” So we did it, and obviously it was one of the best decisions I ever made in life. My wife’s looking at me. Besides marriage and my children, this was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Seggie Isho: Hey, just tell her if not for Straight No Chaser, you never would have met her. There you go.
Jerome Collins: There you go.
Walter Chase: Some of the diciest times weren’t necessarily should we get together and do this audition and see what happens. Because you know, with personal time or how much disclosure you were able to give, I mean, Jerome had to fly back from Hong Kong in order to do this audition, but a lot of us were still holding onto our day jobs as long as we possibly could.
I was working for a financial advisory company, and I continued working there for another eight months after the Atlantic audition. At one point, when we were getting together for three weeks to record, I went to my boss and explained to him what was going on, and he was incredibly supportive, just basically told me to keep him informed of what was going on, and just said that as long as I’m using my personal time, that we were in good shape. Then it came to the point later in the year, around December, we were now going on tour for three weeks, and I had basically run out of personal time and had to have another conversation about, “Hey, listen. At this point I think I need to step away,” and this is just for three weeks of touring that we were not going to be making any money. On the back end of this was going to be a January where we were just, there was nothing on the horizon, but I had to at that point give my months’ notice and just hope that something was gonna happen.
I remember that first half a year, there was six months before we had really anything else going on. We had met our manager at that point, David Britz, asking what are we gonna do for money, what kind of gigs we’re gonna do. I remember our manager joked to me at this point, still, I mentioned to him, why don’t we just perform at local high schools? There’s other a capella groups that I’ve seen perform at my high school and other high schools. And he said, “We’ve gotta do this right. We’ve just gotta be patient. Hopefully we can just all hang on.”
We had a couple group members that decided they couldn’t do it anymore, and we replaced them with other guys who had gone through Straight No Chaser. But for me, I had held onto my job as long as possible, and then had to walk away when that first December tour came.
Jerome Collins: For us it was just a shot in the dark. I mean, let’s go out here and see if we can put our best foot, guys came up with some great arrangements, and we didn’t really know what we were doing. We just went in there and were sort of up against the wall. Lo and behold, that album has gone gold. A couple of guys that didn’t know what they were doing just went in there and created one of our top selling, if not the top selling album we’ve ever recorded, were just trying something and seeing where it went. It’s not a lot of things I remember because it was so long ago, but I just remember that it was by a stress free album. We didn’t know what the standard was for recording a capella albums. This was something that was pretty easy to us. We went in there and we did a show on stage, and they’re a studio. The rest is obviously history. It turned out to be a pretty-
Charlie Mechling: What’s crazy about that first album, was that was while we were all still trying to hold down day jobs. I mean, we were literally going to our day jobs throughout the week, getting on a plane Friday night, flying in to rehearse, and do whatever we could, back to the grind on Monday. It was a long year with a lot of work without knowing where this was gonna go. There was no guarantee at that point.
Walter Chase: For Atlantic, working with an a capella group, this was also a learning experience for them. I mean, they came to us and said, “How have you recorded your albums in the past,” and we said, “Well, we would record it in Bloomington, Indiana, at a studio that was about 10 miles north in the middle of literally nowhere.” When our A&R representative from Atlantic, Steve Lunt, who still works with us to this day. He’s been working with us for 10 years now, first made the trip out there, he was singing the Deliverance theme song as he was going up through the hills of Bloomington. I believe Craig Kallman came out to that studio as well. It might have been a different studio in New York.
It was a learning curve for us to figure out. The best thing that Atlantic did, in retrospect, was they said, “Just do what’s comfortable for you guys.” They came in and helped coach us as arrangers, and coach us in a producing sense, and work with our engineers to just say, “Let’s get the vibe to be a certain way, but let’s not get in the way and try and reinvent how you guys recorded your albums.” I think it was great. Over the years, we have tightened it up, and learned how to do things better. But that first album was a big learning curve, not only for the group, but I think for Atlantic working with an a capella group.
Charlie Mechling: Yeah, once that happened, and we the first tour for that CD, it was like 12 shows or something like that. It was a brutal tour. We were driving around. Our tour manager at the time was driving us in a van from show to show across the country. It was so much more driving than performing or being in any city. But it was insane and crazy. Steve was still in grad school, so there was a gig that we did where he had to go and take a final that December, and then fly back to meet us. He was delayed and what not. So we started the show, and he’s literally in a cab, from the airport, changing into his suit, and he shows up on stage, like six songs in. We hadn’t been able to do any of his solos until then. So we went back to back to back on Steve’s solos right off the bat. That was a rough one there.
That was really just to get our name out there. Then January hits, and like Walt was saying, we were like, “Okay, now what do we do? How do we make money out of this?” So it was working hard and getting more music, and trying to find gigs, and especially in those early days. Any gig that came to us, we didn’t turn down anything. We did everything, paid or not, just to get our faces out there and our name out there, with no guarantees. That’s the business, really.
Walter Chase: There was a moment in Los Angeles. It was our first tour that we were doing in 2008, where we came off the stage to find out that our holiday album had gone number one on iTunes. I forget if it was for vocal albums, or vocal Christmas albums. It didn’t matter. Just the idea that we were gaining traction on an album, that we were just a group that had a video that went viral on YouTube. That was a point of, is this real? Is this going to happen from this? Any landmark like that was a stepping stone for confidence. Boy did it take a lot of confidence and a lot of faith to walk away from our jobs.
The next tour that we had the next year, still we didn’t make a lot of money. Our bus drivers were making more money than we had made on the tour that we did. It was the first time that we had really stayed away from home that long to tour. It builds every year, but those first couple of years are really the years where we can look back and say that we took a chance, and it paid off. It took a lot of faith those first couple of years.
Splitting between 10 of us, a lot of bands, there’s four guys, there’s five guys. There are groups that make a lot more money off of recordings. We were a group that were making our money off of our touring. That touring, we would come to shows and we say word of mouth, finally when social media picked up, we were huge benefactors of that. Those first couple of tours when people would see us, they would come back and bring somebody, and you would see mothers bringing their kids, and kids bringing their parents. It was always somebody bringing someone else that helped us get off the ground in those early days.
Seggie Isho: In those first couple years, we were almost having to come to terms with the fact that we were gonna be this seasonal thing. Straight No Chaser was really only going to live in the Fourth Quarter. There were no promoters that were gonna put up any money to put on a Straight No Chaser show in April because we’re the Christmas guys. We’re the 12 Days guys. We’re the Can-Can guys. We’re not a thing outside of the holidays. It really was those early promoters that have now become family that were just like, ” You know what? Let’s see what happens. Let’s put up a show. Let’s go out to Portland. Let’s go wherever. Let’s do 800 seats. Let’s see if we can get any kind of traction outside of the holiday season and see what’s going on.”
I think all of our mindset going into that tour was, we were all on the same page. We really have to knock this tour out of the park, because if we can’t make this happen year round, then we’re not sure how long this is gonna live for. PBS was a great catalyst on all of our success in and mostly outside of the holiday timeframe because people were seeing us on PBS all year around, so that helped so much. But man, that first spring tour was kind of a make it or break it time for Straight No Chaser, whether it was gonna be a real career, or kind of something we did on the side in November and December.
Charlie Mechling: Speaking of PBS, that was two of the guys’ first show. Seggie and Tyler, we had just lost two of the guys because they were wanting to start families. So we auditioned some of the other guys from the college group, and Seggie and Tyler were standouts, and rehearsed them and rehearsed them, and threw them into the fire with that PBS show. I mean, almost literally the fire. That venue, if you watch that first PBS special, had no air conditioning. It was summer in New York. We were sweating bullets, especially Seggie and Tyler. I mean, I don’t know if Seggie wants to talk about how that show was.
Seggie Isho: Oh, nothing like having your very first performance with a bunch of guys that you’d never performed before with be nationally televised, multiple times.
Jerome Collins: And during his audition, Seggie told us that we should get down to eight, and shouldn’t audition him, so that was even more ironic that he did that show.
Seggie Isho: Now you guys wish you would have listened. Well from there, we kind of realized that, okay. We might have something here. We really started to focus in on streamlining every area of this business. How can we be the most efficient at touring, at recording albums? There’s 10 guys in this group, splitting everything equally. There’s the label, there’s our manager, there’s the agent. There’s a lot of people with their hands in the pot, so we really have to get out there and do pretty much as many shows as possible.
That first fall tour, where Walt was talking about us not making as much as the drivers, that was our longest tour we’ve ever done. It was 72 shows. It was just like three solid months away from home, but really we had to lay the groundwork. We had to get out in front of as many people as we possibly could to let them know who we were, because most people had no idea what they were coming to see. We still get that today. A lot of people will come through the autograph line after the show and say, “Listen, I had no clue who you guys were. I saw there was a show here. I love this theater. I came and checked it out. You got a fan for life.”
That was our goal. We knew once we had people in the seats, we knew we could hook them. We’re very proud of the show we put on. We’re very confident in that we’re gonna give people an experience that they’re not gonna get at most other concerts or shows or whatever. So it was really about us focusing on putting out the best possible product we could, trying to find the right songs to put on albums, trying to find the right songs to put in the show, finding the right choreographer to work with, finding the right lighting director, the right sound engineer. The guy who mixes our shows is just as important as anyone in the group. That is a talent that is exceptional, and it needs to be that good. It took some years to find that guy, and we got that guy now. So it was really us putting our heads down, kind of getting tunnel vision on “Let’s make Straight No Chaser as good as we possibly can, and let’s get it out in front of as many people as possible.
Walter Chase: So when we were in college, we would sing holiday songs around December at our holiday show. We’d do a couple songs. Here we are as a professional group, and our entire fame, well, fame in quotes, is based off of a holiday song. So when Atlantic says, “You guys are doing your first album,” we figured, okay, what are some of the songs that we did back in school that worked out? They’re like, “No, no, no. We’re gonna do a holiday album first up.” We’re like, “That makes a lot of sense.”
So, here we are combing through. There’s so many holiday songs to choose from. There are hymns. There are contemporary songs. There are songs that are hidden gems. For us, I think one of the things that we wanted to balance was not only finding those beautiful “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Carol of the Bells,” the traditional songs that we can put an a capella spin on, but also finding songs that are comedic and fun: “Little Saint Nick,” by the Beach Boys, “Jingle Bell Rock.” Finding songs that are not only fun but show off our personality. Then also, we have a ton of different types of vocalists. We have guys that can sing a “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” like Steve Morgan. We have “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” the Jackson Five version, we can have Jerome just crush a Michael Jackson solo, and show our versatility off not only as an a capella group, but as legit soloists that happen to be able to sing a capella too.
Charlie Mechling: Well something, especially with Holiday Spirits, but all of our Christmas albums, something I don’t think people realize is that we’re singing all these songs about Christmas and Santa Claus, and what not, and we’re doing it in the dead of heat in Indiana summer, out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a weird thing to be looking out the window while singing about Santa Claus, and just seeing the sweltering heat, the lushness of Indiana in the summer, which it does not look like in the winter.
Between Holiday Spirits and Christmas Cheers, I would describe Holiday Spirits as your nostalgic Christmas. It’s fun. It reminds you of your childhood. It reminds you of your family, and then Christmas Cheers is kind of more like the office Christmas party, that sort of thing. So Holiday Spirits, we didn’t plan them that way, it’s just those being the first two albums, they were just a little bit different. But Holiday Spirits really has so much traditional stuff. We had all of the Christmas catalog to choose from, and we chose what we thought were the biggest ones. There’s so many big Christmas songs on there. It’s a classic album, really.
Seggie Isho: I think we were in, gosh, I want to say were in Colorado doing a show either in Fort Collins, or out at the Air Force Academy, and all the dressing rooms and stuff were downstairs in this huge, cement fortress of a building. So no one had cellphone service. The Wi-Fi was pretty spotty. I remember I had left my phone on the bus outside. After the show, I had run out to the bus to grab my phone, and the first thing I saw was an email from our manager, from Britz, saying, “Hey, guys. We got Elton John.” I remember running home, like I have the Golden Ticket and I was in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I go sprinting down the stairs. I get to the green room, and I just start yelling, “We got Elton John!” Most people around are just so confused.
That moment was insane. Never in a million years did we think we would land the artists that we did. When this first came up about getting a collaboration album together, they said, “Alright, make a dream list of some of the artists you want to collaborate with.” All of us were kind of jokingly adding the Elton Johns and the McCartneys, and the Phil Collins of the world, and then they started happening. It was so surreal.
First of all, we didn’t think that our career would have gotten this far anyway, and then on top of that, now we have Elton John’s gonna sing on our album? Phil Co- Wait a second. Is this real or are we being punked? What’s happening? This has gotta be fake. I remember that very first one was the most surreal. Like Walt said, any time we got one of those wins, it helped the confidence. That was definitely one of those wins where it was like, alright. I think some people, at least, are taking us seriously.
Charlie Mechling: Nobody is more surprised than us when these people who we feel are big names in music, I mean, these are idols of ours. Nobody’s more surprised than us when they actually know who we are. It’s unbelievable. I know it’s a manager calling and what not, but they agree to do this, and they look us up, and they’re like, “Yeah, this seems like something I want to do.” I mean, it is a pinch yourself moment every time you read those album listings. I mean, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins, Sara Bareilles… It’s surreal.
Another one I remember finding out about was Dolly Parton, because we were on the road, and she finally agreed to do that Jolene version with us, so we had to find a studio. We all met at a studio in Chicago. We knocked out that one track for that album at a random studio on the road, because we were so psyched that she wanted to do that song.
Seggie Isho: I think the most surprising thing, at least for me, was when we were in LA recording the album, we had known that Sara Bareilles was coming in that day to record with us. We’re in the studio. We’re all in the studio, and there’s already a ton of us. Our manager’s there. We have a videographer there. We have the engineer. We have the producer. So there’s probably a good 14, 15 people in the studio already in this small room. We’re expecting a manager, maybe a publicist, and assistant, the standard entourage. There’s a knock on the door, and the door opens. Sara Bareilles just walks in, sets down her bag, and she’s like, “Alright, what are we doing? Let’s get going,” and we’re all just like, “Wait, what? You just showed up alone?”
Just the realness of that moment where it was like we didn’t really see ourselves as worthy of that. She just was there, and by herself, and cool, and super down to earth, and normal. I don’t know what we were expecting, or what I was expecting. But that was very surreal, because she looked at us like equals. I know I certainly was not looking at myself as equal to Sara Bareilles. It was one of those moments where you’re just like, “Wait a minute. Don’t you understand the hierarchy here? Like you’re way up here, and we’re this a capella group.” But she didn’t look at it that way. She just came in like another member of the group and was like, “Let’s get to work. Let’s do it.” She was super cool.
Walter Chase: I’ll tell a quick one. We recorded a song called “Text Me Merry Christmas,” with Kristen Bell. I had the opportunity to fly out to LA and be in studio with her. Frozen had just happened, and she’s this amazing talent and huge star. When she came into the studio, I think I knew, but I didn’t know that she was eight months pregnant, and she was in there recording this track, and having to take breaks between each because she just didn’t have the breath support that she wished she could have, because she was carrying a human that was a month away from being born.
She was so delightful and so fun to work with, just showed that under pressure in a situation, working with a group that she probably knew something about, but the fact that she did that and was working with us in that situation, I thought was really special and it was a great life lesson for me as a performer.
Charlie Mechling: Yeah, I mean, the Harrah’s gigs we did, the first summer I think we did 40 shows, and the second summer 45, somewhere around that. In college, when we started out, over the summers, whereas a lot of people just kind of go home, a lot of a capella groups go home and then they get back together in the fall. We decided to find a way to go and do gigs for the summer. So we all moved up to Chicago and were sleeping on people’s couches, sleeping wherever we could afford, just so we could sing as much as we could, and take all the gigs we could, and perform wherever. Out on Navy Pier, a private gig, or whatever. That kind of reminds me of what those Harrah’s gigs were for us, because it was an opportunity for us to all be together, to all focus on the show. I think it really helped us develop a show instead of just a concert with songs. It gave us themes to go with, and lots of stuff to play with. I think it really honed us as performers, and not just singers.
Jerome Collins: Basically out of that first year at Atlantic City, we started to form a fan base, which Kathy Lee Gifford, while we were on the today show coined “The Chasers.” These Chasers started off with just maybe a couple coming to a show, and they told some other friends of theirs. Lo and behold, these people were coming to 15, 20 shows that we were doing in the summer time. Sometimes four or five times a night, in a row. So, it’s just kind of cool that this family that started outside of the group, they’re doing retreats. They’re going to each other’s homes. They’re visiting each other, even when they’re not coming to see a Straight No Chaser show. Cool for us that as we were growing, our family was growing all along with us, and fan base, the Chaser family. It’s growing, and it’s strong by strong. These Chasers, we have a fan that’s hit over 200 shows. It’s just kind of cool and exciting to see something that we started back in Jersey, and wanted to build our fans, wanted to build our show, and along the way we built a family of friends. So it’s just been kind of a cool experience to see people grow along with us.
Charlie Mechling: We knew that we were gonna record an album this year, and we were on tour last fall. We were in a dressing room at the Embassy Theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We’re sitting there. We’re trying to think of different ideas and songs that might fit, or concepts. I think it was Walt that said, “Hey, what if we kind of did an album where it told our story. Straight No Chaser, the musical. Something along those lines.” The more we thought about it, the more it made sense. We have all these very specific points in our story that help turn the page with Straight No Chaser, so why not find a song that conveys kind of the message of that story.
First, getting that call from Atlantic. What is the song that will really resonate with that notion? Then we kind of just mapped out what we thought the main storylines were, the main plot lines. We put those down on paper. We said, “Alright, these are the 14 different storyline categories that we have. These are the ones that really push the story along.”
Then it was like: “Okay, now let’s try to assign some songs with these categories. Let’s try to get a few songs for each category, then kind of whittle it down to the ones we’re most excited about.” I think we did a really good job of conveying our story through song. Obviously, it’s not our own lyrics and our own songs, but if you look at the track listing and just read it top to bottom, you’ll kind of see the story arc. You’ll be able to follow along; see where in the Straight No Chaser story you are by looking just even at the track title.
Jerome Collins: I say it’s more of the build on that, like a timeline of our story. Ours doesn’t have an ending. It sort of has a beginning, a middle, and a climb, beginning and end. We don’t really have an end. Our story’s still being written, but I think this gives people a good insight to where we came from, and where our roots are. The songs and the themes that fit the timeframe we were going through lives as starting this group back then.
Walter Chase: We included, the first track on the album is a mash up of a Boys II Men song and a Montel Jordan song: This Is How We Do It/Motownphilly. The reason why this came about, we used to do a version of “This Is How We Do It.” When we were in college, it was sort of our stepping out song. For a bunch of young guys, 19, 20, it was us trying to sing, and it really showed our swagger. I think it was important for us to start the album out doing something that reminded us, took us right back to that feeling of how it was when we were in school. We thought we were so cool. In some ways, we got to live that out a little bit. As big as we could be as a collegiate a capella group on campus, we were well known, and it was fun. It’s fun to have a song that we can put on the album now that most of us are in our late 30s or 40s that can take us right back to how it felt when we were in college.
Seggie Isho: We had the one wheel. The studio engineer and the studio owner, David Weber, is all about wacky gadgets, things that you would never see anywhere else. He has this contraption. It’s kind of like a hover board with one big wheel in the middle. Inside that wheel is the motor, gyroscope, or whatever’s in there. It’s kind of like a skateboard with one big wheel in the middle. A lot of times at the studio, there’s down time. So we would just go outside, play corn hole, do whatever. We discovered this wheel. A few of us attempted to ride it. I think Jerome took a nice spill, has some battle scars. I think Charlie took a spill. I think Mike took a spill. I tried getting off of it once and it chased me and kind of slammed me in the back of my leg, slicing open the back of my ankle. So that was fun. That was fun.
Charlie Mechling: You gotta remember this studio is out in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing else. You can’t get any food delivered there. There’s nothing around. Barely even cell phone reception.
Jerome Collins: I was the only black person up there for years.
Seggie Isho: I think something that’ll resonate with a lot of people and get a lot of sympathy for us is there was one time that I’d unfortunately forgotten I’d put a bottle of rosé in the freezer, and it completely froze over. We had to wait a while before we could actually drink it. So, if we could just have a moment right now where we can just reflect on that.
Charlie Mechling: That might be too tough for people to hear at home.
Jerome Collins: And just know, at the studio, it didn’t matter what time. It was always 5:00 there, so it just didn’t matter when someone would open something. No judgment. That’s what helps you have your focus.
Seggie Isho: I think the rule was if you poured it into a coffee mug, that was okay, if it was before noon.
Outro: Thanks for listening to What’d I Say Presents: Straight No Chaser “One Shot.” To hear the rest of the episodes, subscribe on your favorite podcast player, or head to AtlanticPodcasts.com for more info on our shows. “One Shot” is out on Nov. 2, and the reissue of “Holiday Spirits” is out Nov. 16.