The International A Cappella Festival will see a myriad of voices from all over the world hitting their pitch-perfect notes in Singapore.
Contributed By Jeremy Chua
|PHOTO COURTESY OF SUADE|
Prominent American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “The human voice is the organ of the soul.” If so, then there would be no other festival more soulful than the International A Cappella Festival, which will run from Oct. 9 to 31 at the Arts House Chamber and the Esplanade Recital Studio. With groups from countries such as Australia, Germany, Hungary, Hong Kong, Korea, as well as local a cappella talents taking to the stage, it will be an aural feast for many.
City News catches up with Chris Blain, the tenor of Suade, an Australian a cappella quintet with a penchant for tongue-in-cheek humor and lively performances, for some pre-show banter.
Why a cappella? Why not a regular band with the whole works?
Firstly, we’re lazy. Playing in a “real” band required lugging equipment everywhere you go. To be able to rock up to the venue, warm up for five minutes and get performing is a real blessing. The boring parts of being a musician are greatly reduced and we can get stuck into what we all love doing—entertaining!
Comments like “regular band with the whole works” seem to indicate that a cappella music is limiting. But I guarantee that once you’ve heard a good beat-boxer, you’ll realize that the depth and variety of sounds made by the human body is far greater than any drum kit you can find, plus it’s far more organic and adaptable across genres.
Likewise, with the depth of sounds that the human voice can make, an a cappella concert can span so many genres effortlessly. It’s not uncommon for a Suade gig to feature everything from rock to pop, soul to R&B, jazz, swing, blues and some “screamo” death metal … well ok, not really, but
if we ever found a song from a genre we liked, we’ll fit it into our show.
How long has Suade been around and how has the band grown?
The first rumblings of the band were in about 2001 when I was involved in a production of Les Miserables with some school friends in Melbourne. We decided that we’d start singing some a cappella in our spare time for fun. And from the experience touring in a few of the more classical groups, I learned one international truth—people love vocal harmony. And I’ll be honest: women love men singing in harmony!
Back then there wasn’t a lot of good music out there, so I slowly taught myself how to arrange music, which got us singing the kind of music we wanted to sing. As more challenging work rolled in, we quickly adapted to speed arranging and spontaneous comedy that we’re now well known for.
Our common goal beyond entertaining a crowd is to try and make each other laugh on stage. If we can force someone to stop singing while a few hundred people are watching them, our job is done!
What will it take for Suade to crossover to pop like Boyz II Men?
Well, it’s an interesting market at the moment. The digital age has opened up countless avenues for bands to create, promote and distribute their own music. This isn’t easy work, but it beats being told how to dress and what to sing. So, I’m not sure that Suade will ever be looking to go down the road of a major label for fear that we would lose what makes us truly unique. Of course, we are a business as well as a group of artists, so our main aim is for as many people as possible to hear our music. We will follow whatever channel allows us to do this as long as we can still be true to ourselves and our music.
What makes a great performance?
In my opinion a cappella music often suffers from being a little too fancy-pants: the most skilful things that groups are doing go mostly unnoticed by the common audience member, as they don’t realize what’s going on! Singers often forget the most important thing—connecting with an audience. A good performance brings people in, takes them for a ride, and spits them out the other end feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. In a pub setting, humor is the best way to achieve this. People are going there to escape the mediocrity of their lives—they want to have a good time with their mates. They don’t want to be impressed by your well-tuned E minor 9 chord!
What bonds Suade together besides singing?
Of the original founding members of Suade, I am the only one remaining. Over the years people have left to do things like acting, radio announcing, osteopathy, psychology and economics—you know, real jobs! I’ve been very lucky to come across some wonderful singers who have come onboard and made Suade what it is today. We have activities like Frisbee, Hacky Sack, poker and drinking beer that bond us together.
It’s funny. In Melbourne we see each other a minimum of three times per week for work-related stuff, and pretty much all of that time is rushed with important things to get done. So when we head away on tour, it’s like we meet each other all over again. We get to remember why we all like each other, and spend big chunks of fun times together.
So we take it none of you play musical instruments?
Ah, you guessed wrong! My brother Loz (baritone) used to play drums in several good bands in his day. He’s got an amazing sense of rhythm and is the strongest beat-boxer among us. Ian Nisbet (tenor and countertenor) studied the flute at university and is currently doing his doctorate in musicology. Robby Latham (baritone, tenor, and countertenor) is mainly a singer, but is quite good at piano. Rory Osman (bass) is very handy on the guitar. I personally dabble in lots of things—over the years I have played the guitar, keyboards, piano and bass in a variety of bands.
So, we are all very capable musicians. We choose a cappella because of its wonderful simplicity and ease, though most people probably wouldn’t say it’s particularly easy! We’re just a bunch of blokes who all want to be the lead singer, the centre of attention, the head honcho, the screaming diva! This way we can all pretend that the other boys are as important as I am!
Suade performs on Oct. 9, 8 p.m. at The Arts House Chamber. Tickets for the International A Cappella Festival are available from The A Cappella Society and The Arts House Box Office at S$35. For more information, visit www.a-cappella.org.sg.