Interview :: Pentatonix

With their new record (PTX Vol. 2) now available, Mitch Grassi (seated with silver tie) of Pentatonix was kind enough to take a few minutes to let me know what’s been going on with the group since their rise to fame on NBC’s The Sing Off.


Ryan: It’s been a while since you won Season Three of The Sing Off. I’m sure that life has changed a little bit since then. What are some of the biggest changes and most exciting moments between then and now?

Mitch: I think the most exciting part is just seeing so much of the world. I’ve always wanted to travel, I love that part of my job is traveling around the country and sometimes performing internationally! We’ve also met some pretty amazing people along the way, including our wonderful & supportive fans.

Ryan: Your group is very diverse. How does that diversity influence the music that you make and the fans that you are able to reach?

Mitch: Well first and most obvious, we are very ethnically different. We come from a slew of different backgrounds, and I think that’s one reason why we appeal to so many different types of people. We also have wildly different music tastes, which has helped shape our sound, and has allowed us to experiment with a number of different genres.

Ryan: PTX Vol. 2 is out now and it seems like you’ve brought more originals than ever before. How does it feel to be able to introduce the world to your own music?

Mitch: It’s an amazing feeling, really. But it’s also incredibly vulnerable! I would say we are all pretty new to writing original music, so it’s definitely been pretty scary. However, we’ve grown so much as musicians and writers, so I think our music has progressed on its own. We truly hope our audience enjoys the original material, because they’ve been so fun to work on!

Ryan: When it comes to creating such intricate arrangements, what does that process look like? Do you chart everything out? Do you just work through it vocally until it feels right? Does one person take the lead in arranging?

Mitch: We typically arrange in a sort of “jam session” fashion. Avi will start with the chord progression for the musical foundation of the song, and whoever sings the solo will sing the melody over that. Then we just experiment with background parts to complement the soloist. Kevin usually comes up with his insane beats on his own; he’s very musically intuitive.

Ryan: Obviously your appearances on national television have garnered you a lot of fans, but you’ve been able to build on that and keep those fans close using technology, specifically YouTube. What can you say about the intentionality of using that medium to keep new content coming and staying connected to your fans?

Mitch: The social media aspect of our career has been essential to our success. Our fans truly feel like they can connect with us musically and personally. We really think it’s important that our fan base stays current with us; we love having them on this journey with us.

Pentatonix: PTX Vol. 2

Release Date: November 5, 2013

Like many of their fans, I fell in love with Pentatonix from the first time I saw them on season 3 of NBC’s The Sing Off (which they won). I’ve always been a fan of great vocal groups and had really had my ears opened to the possibilities of a capella music from the previous season of the show. From the outset, though, Pentatonix stood apart from the rest. Other groups were typically made up of as few as 7 or as many as 20+ singers – Pentatonix 5 members suggested a far more “minimalist” approach. The sound that they created, however, was bigger than most of their peers. Their arrangements were innovative, complicated, and unexpected. Simply put, they blew me away.

It’s been a couple of years since the show and in that time they’ve released an EP (PTX vol. 1) and a Christmas EP (PTXmas) and have toured extensively. While they may not be in rotation on the radio, they’ve garnered a strong following online with their videos regularly receiving multi-million views on YouTube. In fact, this past weekend their collaboration with another YouTube sensation, Mindy Stirling earned the “Response of the Year” award at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards. Their cover of “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons has received more than 41 million views.

PTX vol. 2 starts out – in my opinion – on a bad foot with its weakest track, a cover of Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.” While the group has a phenomenal sound, they feel a little too sugary sweet to deliver with the same heart of the original. While I’m not the biggest fan of Mac’s delivery, his white-boy-from-Seattle style carries on a little bit better than the white kids from Texas rapping. But good news: that’s the only bad track on the record.

When a group is predominantly known for cover songs, their originals can seem a bit inferior – not the case, here. Starting with track 2, “Natural Disaster”, the band shows that they can stand on their own two feet. Lead vocalist Scott Hoying punches through with the fervor lacked on the first track. Backing vocals taking on a gospel choir-like tone. The breakdown highlights the amazing bass of Avi Kaplan and makes you wish you had a massive subwoofer on your stereo.

Far and away the best track on the record is another original, “Run to You”. Perhaps because it’s a palette cleanser, perhaps because it is so completely different than anything I’ve ever heard from them, I absolutely love this track. No beats, no atmospherics, just singing voices from all five members. I’ve never had any doubt about any of these performers, but for anyone who might think that it’s just a lot of noises and a schtick, this track should wipe away all questions.

They follow up “Run to You” with its polar opposite, a medley of Daft Punk. I’ve never been a fan of Daft Punk, but enough of it is familiar to me that I can enjoy it. The performance itself is incredible. Each member has an opportunity to shine without feeling as though they are pulled away from the rest of the group. It is quintessential PTX.

On the whole, this is a fantastic record – even if it is a little short (3 tracks are 3:01 or less). I would have loved to hear “Royals” on here, which they released to iTunes as a single. In my opinion, that would have been a perfect pre-order bonus track or something. Mitch Grassi kills it on that track. I posted the video a few days ago, check it out below. Also, come back tomorrow for a brief Q&A that I got to do with Mitch.