Pentatonix Talk New EP, Sam Smith Mash-Up “La La Latch” & Their Cameo In ‘Pitch Perfect 2’: Idolator Interview

Mike Wass | October 6, 2014 10:10 pm

Since winning The Sing-Off in 2011, Pentatonix has carved out a niche as pop’s most successful and adventurous vocal group. Take their recently-released EP PXT, Vol. III. The infectious collection of offbeat covers and original material debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 ahead of new releases by veterans like Jennifer Hudson and Lenny Kravitz.

I recently caught up with Mitch, Scott, Avi, Kirstie and Kevin to chat about everything from popularizing a cappella music to the way they tackle hits by vocal heavyweights like Sam Smith. Pentatonix also opened up about their cameo in Pitch Perfect 2 and explained their wild and wacky “Papaoutai” video. Find out what they had to say after the jump.

Were you hesitant about covering someone as vocally gifted as Sam Smith? I think we just pick whatever songs inspire us, songs that we think we could totally kill. And Sam Smith’s music is so prevalent right now, we’re big fans. I think we just get nervous that people are gonna be like, “This isn’t what this is supposed to sound like.”

Our own goal when we first started arranging was that we don’t lose the essence of the song and what makes the song so good, but we do want to make it a totally different sound and have people hear it in a new light. So if we capture that and keep the essence of the song, then it’s a success.

Who came up with the idea of mashing “Latch” and “La La La”? We were just going to do “Latch”. The hardest thing about putting the mash-up together was that there’s so many amazing parts of each song, it was a very difficult process. But I think what we came up with was incredible.

Do you follow a formula when arranging songs or is it all organic? Well for this one, there were like eight different outlines. We just try to take our favorite musical moments and arrange it in a way where people can hear what they want to hear. The biggest thing we were struggling with were the “Latch” choruses, we ended up just doing one. There’s just the verse, the pre-chorus, the chorus, the bridge — and both songs are so good. So that gives us eight sections and we only have so long, we can’t do this 10-minute cover.

And it has to be cohesive as well. Honestly, the five of us sit down in a circle and we talk about it, and sing through things to see what feels good. We’ll literally just pretend we know the arrangement and just pump through it, and if it feels good then we’ll lay out the details. You should see Kirstie’s notebook, she has like 50 different outlines in it. We went through 50 drafts.

Are there ever arguments about who sings what? Yes but they always get solved! It’s funny with solos, we all have such different voices that it’s pretty obvious who’s gonna solo each time. What we are argue about is specific moments in the arrangement, but those arguments are key because it always gets to the best level because of that. And we try everything out too, if someone gives an idea we’ll run with it and see if it works.

Tell us about your crazy “Papaoutai” video (above). We’re just toys, so basically this dad is ignoring his kids. He walks in the room and he’s sad, so he plays with the toys — and the toys are us. And then we come alive with Lindsey Stirling. We’re more like dolls, and she is more of a rag doll. And we just dance around the room. It’s really cool, it’s really trippy. I think we were inspired by the original Stromae video, he does it where he’s a mannequin.

The song works with that aesthetic so well, so we wanted to do something similar but not completely the same. Just something eerie and creepy. It’s one of the best videos we’ve done. It allowed us to be way more creative, but I think the whole thing is that we’re still keeping the essence of us — which is performing. We wanted to up the production, but we also wanted to see our faces because seeing what we’re doing is what makes it so special and what makes it all about what we do.

Why are you releasing EPs instead of an album? I think that was something we decided on when we first started. Kind of keep teasing it and show people what we can do so they keeping wanting more, and then it’ll lead up to our eventual full album. We just wanted to keep putting out content. Working on a full-album, we would have to wait so long to release it and we wanted to keep fans engaged.

I think by now, we’ve developed a really great sound too. We’re all very comfortable and very set on what we do, and so I feel like this next album isn’t going to be stressful. It’s going to be really fun. I feel like before, we weren’t ready. But we’re ready now!

Is it hard to find your own niche in pop music as an acapella group? Doing something totally different than what people are used to is a stressful thing, but I think we did it well and did it subtlety enough where it wasn’t cheesy. Vocal music is amazing. I think a lot of people don’t realize it unless they see it done in a certain light. So we’re finding the balance of keeping our integrity and staying vocal, but we’re doing it in a way that appeals to more people.

With Pitch Perfect and The Sing Off, people are seeing that it’s a really cool, organic, fun, humble type of music and I think that’s why we’ve gotten to where we are. We try to keep the arrangements relatively simple so that a lot of people can latch onto it and feel it.

Speaking of Pitch Perfect, I hear you’re going to be in the sequel… It’s gonna be great! We shot for one day, and we’re going to be in one scene. It was the most insane experience — we’ve never been in a movie before. There were parts that were very lax. They were like, “Just go on stage and do whatever you want.” And we were like Ok, and just stood there and sang our songs. They gave us the song to sing, but we happened to love that song.

Would you ever consider releasing music with an instrumental backing? It has to be tactful, and it depends on what it is. We would love to have one of our tracks remixed. If it was a Pentatonix release, it would stay vocal – maybe with some stomps and claps. I think if we collaborated with someone, that would be cool. But it would never be a Pentatonix-only single with just a band behind us. We would never do that by ourselves, it would have to be some reason for it.

What makes Pentatonix special to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo credit: Josh Fogel and Jiro Schneider.

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