Straight No Chaser's Charlie Mechling talks with Louisville.com [Music]

Print
Straight No Chaser, the a cappella group that began at Indiana University, will be performing in The Showroom at Horseshoe Casino this Friday October 1 at 7:30. On a 75-city fall tour in support of their new Top 30 album With A Twist, their first non-Christmas release, the band is breaking in a new member, adding a lights guy, and shaking things up a little. Original member Charlie Mechling took a break from the rigors of the road and spoke with Louisville.com last week.

Louisville.com: Let's start out with the new record you guys are promoting - With a Twist - the song selection is interesting : Tainted Love, The Living Years, Don't Dream It's Over, You're My Best Friend. How did you guys pick these songs? Was there a certain criteria? Was it a familiarity? Did friends suggest songs?

Charlie: Well, it just really came down to what songs do we like, what songs do we want to sing, what songs do we think we can add an interesting twist on. And that's the name of the album and that's really how we looked into what songs we want to do and how we put a twist on it. How can we make it our own and have a reason for doing a song? Instead of just copying something, we want to make it different or add to it in some ways. We just kind of went through songs that we liked and songs we thought would work, and sometimes when you mention one song somebody else goes wait, wait what about this one? And it kind of starts to click and starts to put itself together in a way.

Louisville.com: Were there any songs that some of you liked but others said no, and these could be used on a later album, or do you think you would start fresh at that point?

Charlie: No, we put everything that we wanted to pretty much on this album, and now that we're out touring, there are already songs that we've added to our new tour that we know we'll going to want to be recording for the next album. It's kind of always - well, we're really happy with that album and everything that was suppose to make it on there made it on there, and the next one will be its own entity.

Louisville.com: And include the sit-com medley perhaps?

Charlie: Perhaps (Laughs) because we get a lot of requests for it. And we now have a new cartoon medley that we just debuted actually last night (September 22 in Nashville).

Louisville.com: Hopefully you'll be bringing that one to Horseshoe.

Charlie: I think we probably will.

Louisville.com: Very good. Go back four years ago or so. I'm not sure if it was Randy (Stine) or Dan (Pance) who initially contacted you with Atlantic's interest, but did you think it was a joke at all? That had to be quite a shock.

Charlie: It was both Randy and Dan; they were both on the phone, which was already a little weird that they were both calling me like that, but Dan said, "Are you sitting down?" And I sat down, and they let me know, and it was just - my initial reaction was, "Well, let's see if they (Atlantic) are serious" because they said there‘s interest and all this, and I said, "Well, let's see if they're serious, and I won't get my hopes up." And he was like, "Well that's the thing. They called us two weeks ago; we flew out and met with them to make sure that they are serious before we even got any of you guys involved and got anybody's hopes up." So, at that point, any skepticism had to kind of go out the window pretty much.

Louisville.com: It's one of those great music stories and a story that couldn't have evolved that way pre-Internet. Speaking of the internet, I checked your site, and I found your influences pretty diverse: Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Alison Kraus, and you like John Legend, The Killers, and George Strait. That's pretty eclectic. What was your background? Was your house musical? Did your folks listen to music a lot? Or did you just listen to the music that was around when you were a kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s?

Charlie: A part of it was - my dad has always, wherever he's out and about at a garage sale or an auction or something like that, he'll stop in, and if there are any records there, he'll just buy them. They're usually like 50¢ for the records or $10 for the box, so he'll just buy the box. We had this little record collection of this eclectic mix of things, and I would just wear those records out just because that's what was there. You know I loved them. Ray Charles - that was one of those that I couldn't stop listening to. Smothers Brothers was in there. I was at an age where anything I could get my hands on was what I wanted to hear. And then growing up like that, all of my radio station presets in my car are everything from NPR to county to rock to whatever because that influence from my childhood has carried on. Each type of music goes with a different mood and a different day.

Louisville.com: One of the names on your influences list I find interesting is Andy Williams. When I was a kid, my folks had Christmas albums you'd get from Goodyear Tires; they were compilations and Andy Williams was always on there. To me he does the quintessential version of Do You Hear What I Hear. I know you guys are known to a degree for your Christmas music, but did you know of Andy Williams outside of Christmas music? That's impressive.

Charlie: Again, it was just one of those records. I listened to a record of his that has the song My Coloring Book on it, and I listened to it since, and I went to school for music and theater, and I didn't realize growing up that that song is a Kander and Ebb song. So it's from a musical revue, and the way he did it - he did what we're trying to do with our songs. He did a completely different twist on it; he did it in his way. That's exactly what we want to be doing.

Louisville.com: Well, Andy Williams always had a relaxed vocal style. Do you remember fondly any shows you saw at the Bloomington's Bluebird. And also, I've read that the band performed for John Mellencamp at his home.

Charlie: I think the group after us - it was probably with Mike (Luginbill) or Ryan (Ahlwardt).

Louisville.com: So, the IU Straight No Chaser.

Charlie: Well, yeah. That still goes on. And about five of us in this group are original members and the other five were in Straight No Chaser after us at some point.

Louisville.com: So Straight No Chaser at IU has sort of become like the a cappella Menudo.

Charlie: (laughs) We call it our farm team.

Louisville.com: Bloomington, being a college town, seems like it would be a good music scene. Or were you all not really looking into that and instead focused on your own stuff?

Charlie: Well, when I was growing up, I wasn't old enough to get into Bluebird and Jake's was also there for a long time, and I wasn't old enough to go to any shows there until half way through college, and we started this our sophomore year in college. So, by the time I was old enough to get into bars, we were getting too busy for me to do anything but Straight No Chaser and homework, which is a good problem.

Louisville.com: One thing about being in a ten-member band is that the entity, the band, it has become famous and have travelled all over, but being in such a huge band, and unlike other bands, I'm guessing there's a great degree of anonymity. So you would have the best of both worlds - I'm assuming - you're in a band that delivers a great product, so many people enjoy it, successful, yet on the other hand you can go into a Target and not be bugged. Is that sort of how it's been?

Charlie: It absolutely has. We've discussed it as a whim sort of a thing; if this continues to progress the way it is, it is absolutely perfect. Straight No Chaser is bigger than any one member, and Straight No Chaser is what people know. And when we're as a group, we tend to get noticed - especially when we're coming into town to do a show - people know that we're in town - "Oh I saw your picture" or "I saw you on PBS" whatever. But that's when we're as a group; when we're individual, it's perfect. (Laughs) We can go wherever we want and not be bothered and have our own space, and when we're together, we're Straight No Chaser.

Louisville.com: Is that similar to when you were doing theater in that - we have Actors' Theatre here in town, which is a big deal, but I probably wouldn't recognize many of the actors if I were to see them on the street.

Charlie: Yeah, it's definitely similar.

Louisville.com: OK, I have to ask the obligatory question. Do you plan on doing any more Christmas albums?

Charlie: We haven't planned out - like I said there are songs that are standing out to us that we want to get recorded right now, but we're not pressing the next record right now. We've been around for three years, and we've released three CDs and an EP, which is a lot for an artist nowadays.

Louisville.com: It's like Elvis Costello in the late ‘70s; that's a very big output.

Charlie: Yeah, it's what we wanted to do, but now are in full swing; we're in show six of 75-show tour. We're starting to branch out a little bit next year next year and get overseas. In addition to that, keep ourselves sane and have enough rest, so if we get a time where we've got a month and we say we want to knock out a record, let's do that. If we don't, we're not going to run ourselves ragged trying to get it done. We've got a little time; we're happy with what we've put out. I can say that the next one probably will be non-Christmas music to even out the collection. (Laughs)

Louisville.com: Will some of your own compositions be on it?

Charlie: Yeah, we're always trying to write and get out new stuff. It's a constant struggle because we know that most people don't want to hear - right now while we're still getting established - don't want to hear original a cappella songs, and that's been an issue with a lot of the a cappella groups that have come along and made it big but not mainstream big because there's a fine line between - what people like about a cappella is the recognisability. They say "Oh I know that song; I never thought about it done this way. I forgot that they did this song", that sort of thing. So, we're trying to sneak in some originals in our stage show, and then once people have seen it and recognize it then it's time to throw them on to an album. It's a delicate process, and we're kind of doing something that hasn't really been done before, in terms of an a cappella group and not being a niche crowd, but a mainstream crowd.

Louisville.com: Where are you based now and do you get back to Bloomington much, and have you seen the IU incarnation of SNC?

Charlie: We do get back fairly regularly. I live in Houston now, which is where my wife is from. I got tired of winters. So we let New York and moved down to Houston.

Louisville.com: Well, my brother lives in Houston. I'm familiar with the humidity.

Charlie: If you miss July and August, you're just fine.

Louisville.com: But they did get some snow down there last year I believe.

Charlie: I think they got some around Christmas. We were on tour, so I missed it. But the first year I knew my wife, I went down there to visit her family, and we got snow. That was six years ago and then last year. So, maybe twice every twice every ten years... Nobody wants to drive; nobody knows what to do with it.

Louisville.com: Dan has just left the band to head back to WGN. But that's obviously a huge loss personally and within the band and its direction. Does his departure change the set list? Does that alter who takes what parts. How does that affect the show?

Charlie: Well ,we brought in a new guy; he was actually in the group with Ryan and Walt and Dave. He was in the very next generation of the group; his name is Don (Nottingham). We've worked with Dan, and everything was absolutely amicable with Dan leaving. He's about to get married and wanted to be at home for a while, and had enough of the bus I think. (Laughs) So, we set down with him and went through all the parts that he sings, and sent page after page of music to Don at his home in Colorado, and he was a trooper. He soaked it all up. We've done about four or five days now on this tour of just rehearsing. We've got a lot of new aspects to the show with lights and sounds. We've just kind of snowballed it all together and did it all at once. And it's going great, and this is the benefit of having that group at IU and having these guys that we know can sing and we get along with. We can say Dan doesn't have to feel bad about leaving, and we don't have to worry about something happening to Straight No Chaser as a group.

Louisville.com: Thus the tag the farm system; they're called up from Triple A.

Charlie: Exactly. Not that we anticipate losing any other members, but if heaven forbid whatever happens has to happen, and the band keeps marching on I guess.

Louisville.com: So the fans can pretty much expect what they would have expected before Dan left?

Charlie: Yeah, And we're doing some of the same songs; some new ones that we're really excited about. Like I said we've got a new lighting guy - we've kept it in the family it's a friend of my wife's - he's great. He's making us look good.

Louisville.com: There won't be any lasers and dry ice, though.

Charlie: No lasers and dry ice.

Louisville.com: Charlie, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We're looking forward to the show. It's certainly going to be one of the more unique and enjoyable ones that comes to town this fall. We're glad you're coming.

Charlie: Well, thank you. I appreciate all that.

You can purchase tickets by visiting the Horseshoe website. Despite the fact that this is family-friendly entertainment, you must be at least 21 to attend concerts at Horseshoe.

Charlie Mechling