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A cappella singer tells it straight, no chaser

WANT TO GO?

Straight No Chaser

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

TICKETS: $31.50 and $42

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The guys in Straight No Chaser never really imagined their college a cappella group would turn into a professional gig. Twelve years ago, they were just a bunch of college kids at Indiana University who sang together for grades, fun and beer money.

"We sang wherever we could. We'd sing around the dorm to promote shows. We did a number of private gigs that kept us in a little bit of pocket money," said Charlie Mechling, one of the founding members of the ensemble, which performs Tuesday at the Clay Center

They've come quite a long way from those days, though not in a way any of them could have expected.

After college, the members of the original group were replaced by underclassmen, and they went their separate ways until 2006 when a 1998 video of them performing a comic a cappella version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" suddenly lit up YouTube.

"We had seven million hits for the month of December," Mechling said.

One of those hits was Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman, who liked what he saw enough to bring the group to New York to sign a record deal.

"After that, we were left with the task of finding a way to make this work," Mechling said.

So far, they have. It wasn't easy at first. While Straight No Chaser didn't play the same kind of seedy bars that many other young performers cut their teeth on, many of the places the ensemble played those first few months were typically small.

"A lot of small performing arts centers," he said. "But one time we did a show in Pittsburgh at a place that was basically a bar with a stage."

As the group's following grew, the shows got bigger.

Mechling said they're still working on the show and are always looking at new music to add, which they get from everywhere.

"You've got 10 different guys, and that's 10 different iPod libraries," he said. "We each listen to a lot of different stuff, and we all like to listen to each other's musical influences."

According to their website bios, those influences include everyone from classical composer Bela Bartok to The Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder. Mechling said he's a huge Alison Krauss fan.

The act has changed, and so has the roster. Some of the original members have stepped down and been replaced by singers from the collegiate group, which still exists at Indiana University.

Not everyone is suited for the grind of national and international touring. In the years between 1998 and 2006, those original 10 guys began careers, got married and started families. It wasn't easy for some of them to put those things on hold while they climbed onto a bus for a couple of months.

It's still not easy for Mechling. He loves what he does, but he's married and has a son who isn't even a year old yet.

"We did something like 160 shows last year," he said. "It's tough to be away from them, but I do whatever I can to get a little face time and when I'm home, I'm with them 24/7."

The tour goes on and on, but Mechling said eventually Straight No Chaser will come off the road -- at least for a little while.

"We'd like to get back in the studio and record something new," he said. 

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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