The roots of the a cappella singing group Straight No Chaser are from Indiana University, but as the group has evolved during the past decade in the national spotlight, the singers have taken great care to not treat the style like old-fashioned kitsch. Not that it’s too cool for school, though.
“We take the music very seriously,” said founding member Randy Stine in the band’s official bio. “We just don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Indeed, Straight No Chaser definitely has a good time putting a spin on classic and modern pop songs from a wide variety of sources. The group will perform on Dec. 29 at Grand Sierra Resort.
The group are also road dogs -- they play hundreds of shows a year around the world. In the group’s official bio, member Charlie Mechling said that even after more than a decade on the road, the group doesn’t take anything for granted.
“To think that the 10 of us could go our separate ways after college, start professional lives, and then commit to putting SNC back together after all these years is nothing short of a minor miracle,” Mechling said. “With each opportunity to perform that comes our way, we are reminded of how fortunate and blessed we are to be able to do what we love to do.”
Friends who like to sing
The group originally came together in 1996 as an a cappella university group, "10 guys who happened to be good friends who also liked to sing,” Mechling said in the band’s official bio.
Besides Stine and Mechling, Jerome Collins, David Roberts and Walter Chase remain from the original lineup. Also in Straight No Chaser are several members who have been with the group within the past 20 years, including Michael Luginbill, Seggie Isho, Don Nottingham and Tyler Trepp.
Using Indiana University as a home base, SNC toured America for most of the rest of the ‘90s. All in total, there have been 50 members of Straight No Chaser as students and others either graduated or moved away from professional music.
As word spread about SNC, eventually they were brought to the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed a version featuring most of the original members in 2007. The attention stemmed from a viral video of the original SNC members from 1998 doing a version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” that incorporated, among other songs, the hook from ‘80s radio classic “Africa” by Toto. The video has about 20 million views.
A year later, the group released its first mainstream record, “Holiday Spirits,” which included their version of “The 12 Days.” That cover became the group’s hit and can still be heard at this time of year on pop stations who switch over to holiday music in December. The album itself sold a half-million copies and made the top 40 of the Billboard album chart.
A sequel album, “Christmas Cheers,” was released in 2009. It also sold 500,000 copies and featured everything from “Jingle Bells” and “We Three Kings” to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Mr. Grinch.” Another radio hit from the album, “The Christmas Can-Can,” made the top 20 of the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Putting in some twists
For its third album, Straight No Chaser didn’t touch a holiday tune. Instead, “With a Twist” featured what the group had specialized in during its school years -- a cappella covers of pop songs. For them, though, it includes everything from ‘70s songs like Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and Queen’s “You’re My Best Friends” to ‘80s tunes like Soft Cell’s hit version of “Tainted Love” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Contemporary hits like Coldplay’s “Fix You” also made the cut. The record became the band’s best chart hit, reaching the top 30 on the Billboard charts.
By this time, SNC became a free-standing group without ties to college life, Indiana University students formed another a cappella group called Another Round while SNC stuck to the road and released a steady stream of albums and launched many concert tours.
“Under the Influence” was released in 2013, after the group had toured more. Intriguingly, it features the group with a lot of famous singers doing some of their best known songs. Elton John joins them for “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down With Me,” Phil Collins sings “Against All Odds” with them, and Dolly Parton is with the group for her song “Jolene,” among others. Again, the album did well on the album charts.
Continuing with the concepts, the group’s next two albums each had their own twist. “The New Old Fashioned” in 2015 mostly features songs from the ‘00s, including The Weeknd hit “Can’t Feel My Face,” and Hozer’s “Take Me to Church.” It was followed the next year by “I’ll Have Another ... Christmas Album,” continuing SNC’s penchant for puns about drinking as well as a love for holiday music.
As the band continues on, founder Stine acknowledges in the band’s official bio that a music career wasn’t on his radar when the group’s fortunes turned.
“Getting the guys back together, not just for someone’s wedding or bachelor party, but to spend the majority of the year together touring and recording, is a dream come true." Stine said in the band’s bio. "I pinch myself all the time and hope it continues and becomes a longstanding career."