Avi Kaplan, Kirstie Maldonado, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi and Kevin Olusola of Pentatonix (Jiro Schneider)
Pentatonix unexpectedly came together to audition for a reality television show. Little did they know, that would become the beginning of their journey to superstardom.
The instrument-free quintet covers contemporary hits only using vocals, as seen in the film Pitch Perfect. The group is comprised of lead vocalists Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi – three childhood friends from Arlington, Texas – along with vocal bass Avi Kaplan and beatboxer Kevin Olusola.
Living Out Loud caught up with Olusola upon his return home to Los Angeles in between tour dates, and he revealed details about their upcoming releases, PTX Volume 3 and a super special Christmas album. He also took us through the unexpected whirlwind that turned them into YouTube superstars.
The a cappella singers, who originally came together as Pentatonix to compete and eventually win Season 3 of NBC’s “The Sing-Off” in 2011, are far more than reality stars, they are internet savvy musicians who have mastered YouTube.
“One thing we decided as a unit was that this is our career, and we have to control our career. So we started putting up a lot of stuff on YouTube because we know it is a great platform for us to get our music across,” says Olusola, who is also known for playing the cello and beatboxing simultaneously. “Especially in the light of all these TV shows. Once you’re on a reality show and you’re done, you can easily fall off the face of the planet. We knew YouTube was a way for us to keep relevant. Three EPs later and over 6 million hits later, we’re about to finish a world tour.”
Not to mention their YouTube channel (PTXofficial) has more subscribers than Beyoncé’s!
Tokyo Mob Scene
The band has garnered so much notoriety that their appearances across the globe cause total frenzies among their fans. Their recent tour of Asia and Australia was an eye-opener for the quintet.
“We didn’t even realize we had fans out there. In Tokyo we were giving a performance for about 4,000 people in a mall, and as the performance ended we had a moment where everyone began rushing to come see us. They had to get security guards to push people back. It felt like one of those TMZ moments,” recalls the beatboxer. “You never expect it’s going to happen to you – TMZ and paparazzi! It happened to us, and we were just so overwhelmed. It was one of those cool things you never expect.”
Pentatonix’s voyage to stardom is unique in that it has been a very grassroots effort. By utilizing social media, the quintet has penetrated the ears and ears of people across the world and created a loyal global fanbase.
“It’s been cool because people have been finding out about us organically. So when people find our band I think they feel like it is truly ‘their’ band. It’s not something that somebody was trying to push on them or telling them to listen to because we’re on the radio all the time.”
Now that they have the world’s attention, the group is ready to take their music to the next level.
“We’re trying to take the next step in our evolution, and we’re really excited. I think we’re very very good at doing covers now, and we understand our sound better. So now it is easier to write our songs because we know who we are and what we want sonically,” says the former medical student.
Collectively the group is a delicious cocktail of pop harmonies that cross the musical gamut. Their covers range from alternative jams by Imagine Dragons to pop sweets like Ariana Grande’s “Problem.”
As an individual, Olusola explains that his strength in the group – apart from being the human beatbox and playing the cello – is his ability to run a tight ship, so to speak.
“As a person what I try to bring is, I won’t say order, but maybe it’s because of my background from school. I feel like I’m very good at time management, and that’s important because right now we’re in a place where there are literally too many things to do and truly not enough time to do them. I really try to schedule things in advance, so we can get things done in a very effective way that is also done with quality.”
“What we want to be is a band like everybody else, like a One Direction or a Maroon 5. We just want to be one of those type of bands, it just happens to be that we don’t use any instruments. Our voices are our instruments. So we’re always looking to the future and trying to figure out what we have to do next because we always want to keep progressing in our music. I mean we’d love to win a Grammy, we’d love to win a little Moonman – that would be great,” says the former Yale student with a chuckle. “We are always going to be the underdogs because we use no instruments. That’s been one of the main driving forces for us: proving that we can create an infectious sound with just our voices. Keeping that mentality helps us keep pushing and never settling.”
The band is running full speed ahead juggling multiple projects and preparing for major launches – among them a Christmas album, an album with original songs and a movie.
What movie? Pentatonix has joined the cast of the upcoming Pitch Perfect 2. The group recently revealed that they’ll play a rival group to the Barden Bellas, the collegiate a cappella singers at the center of the sequel to the 2012 blockbuster, due to release in theaters everywhere in May of 2015.
Their upcoming Christmas album, That’s Christmas to Me, includes original music by the YouTube sensations.
“It’s a modern song with a classic feel to it. It has the five-part vocal harmony, which may be considered classic, but the melody is very today. It’s a very interesting juxtaposition of classic and modern,” explains Olusola of their original track.
Pentatonix just released their third EP, PTX Vol. 3, on Sept. 23 via RCA Records. This third installment of the group’s wildly successful EP series continues to mix global pop and indie hits with original tracks, showcasing the quintet’s eclectic taste and otherworldly talent. The album also includes a surprise featured guest, as well as a song performed entirely in French.
PTX Vol. 3 is currently available, and That’s Christmas to Me will be available Oct. 21. For more information, visit ptxofficial.com.