Straight No Chaser’s Randy Stine is thrilled to reconnect with fans again
Accapella superstars Straight No Chaser began at Indiana University in 1996, but it wasn’t until a video of an anniversary performance of “The 12 Days of Christmas” went viral in 2008 that the group signed to Atlantic Records and began their stratospheric climb. In the years since that YouTube video gained them wide-ranging popular acclaim, Straight No Chaser has released multiple albums, two of which have gone gold, and sold-out shows all over the world.
After a year and a half of live streams, the singers have not only returned to the road as a touring act, but released a book via Red Lightning Books chronicling the history of Straight No Chaser and its members, along with a collection of the group’s favorite recipes, entitled Straight No Chaser Sound Bites: A Cappella, Cocktails, and Cuisine, and have a deluxe edition of their Social Christmasing album out, as well. It’s a bunch of big, big news for the group, so I was excited to hop on phone with founding member Randy Stine to talk about all the big news, ahead of their performance at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Wednesday, November 17.
Randy Stine: That is spot on. It’s about probably a week or two ago–that would have been our first performance ever back at Indiana University.
What’s it like, with all of these very important things happening while you’re also kicking off a tour?
It feels good in the sense that, having had canceled a tour last year–well, several tours last year–for the first time in over a decade was tough for all of us. Like everyone else in the music industry and Broadway and stuff, it was very tough to do and not be on stage, not get to do what we loved. We were all very thankful to have the family time at home but, without a doubt, it was very tough to not be doing what we’re so accustomed to and being out on the road.
It feels like a suddenly busy fall, but that’s a very good thing. I appreciate all of our opportunities all the more so there’s very little or no resentment at being busy. It feels very much like, here we are feeling lucky again to be able to do what we’re doing and to be back out on the road and back in front of audiences and getting the tour of the country and see different states and different places.
It makes us hopeful that the whole country is coming together through this pandemic and getting vaccinated, again wearing masks and doing all the things that make us be able to reopen not just the country, but the world and see everybody back to some normalcy.
That seems to tie in with one of the themes that really runs through Sound Bites, which is this connection all the members of the group have with each other, but also with your fans, the Chasers. That seems to be the biggest part of Straight No Chaser–in addition to missing getting to perform live and hearing that audience feedback, getting to meet and interact with your fans is one of the biggest things you all seem to have missed.
Yeah. It really is. It’s like having extended family across the country that you don’t always get to see, but that one time per year, that there’s that one family event to get to see each other or have a get-together. Some people, we may only see them in the audience and they’ll give us a wave, but we know that we’ve seen them every time we come to that town. They bring their family or they would come through the signing line.
It is kind of like having some cousins in a different state that you don’t always get to see, so it feels weird after seeing some of these people for nearly a decade, every time we pass through that town to not get to see them–to only kind of have updates and stuff through Facebook. Some fans, we’re connected through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, but at the same time that doesn’t give you the same, even if it’s only 30 seconds to a minute-long interaction in a signing line. You still get to hear from someone and say, “I had a really good year. I got a new job” or “I moved again.”
We hear all these little updates about fans that have become friends that we meet along the way and it’s not the same as following on social media. I’m thankful for that connection that social media gives us not just with fans, but I think about my own friends from high school that moved away. It’s still great to have some kind of connection to them.
It’s even more special when we’re touring. I get to see a friend of mine who I sang with in high school, and he now sings at Disney World. If we would come through there, I get to catch up with him. There’s a really big part of what we do that is very fan-centric. We know we wouldn’t get to do this if it wasn’t for the fans coming out to the shows.
We weren’t a band that was out there just trying to make it when we got signed. We were very, very lucky to have that YouTube video go viral. In today’s terms, 7 million hits doesn’t really get anybody to blink an eye, but at the time, YouTube was new and we hit 7 million views in about the period of two or three weeks. It was enough to get the CEO of Atlantic to take notice of us. Now, some people are getting billions of views, so it’s kind of a harder metric to measure what we had at the time.
But we were always thankful for the people who were supporting us from the very beginning and of the fans who came out to the earliest shows and spread the word and recruited family and they’d come back and they’d bring four more people. They bring their kids. Kids would see us on PBS and bring their parents and sometimes the grandparents came along too. I think at one show we had four generations of the family come through. This is really, really special.
Your experiences going on on the road seem like you’re getting to do almost every night what people are getting ready to do, going into the holiday season in that you get to see family that you haven’t seen in a very long time and everybody’s kinda missing it. It’s the holidays every night for you all. Christmas is obviously the holiday that is most associated with Straight No Chaser. What’s it like for you, getting to have an extended Christmas season every year?
It’s nice. I mean, we always joke about that. Every summer, typically we’re recording either some bonus tracks or some new content or a whole new album. When we’re recording the summer, if we’re doing a Christmas album, it’s Christmas in July, so quite often if we’ll be launching into a tour or an album cycle, we’ll be doing a Christmas music from the summer into the fall before we actually are performing it on stage, rehearsing new songs or recording new songs.
Last year was probably the starkest difference for us. We did record an album, but we did not at all get together in person. We recorded remotely from home for our safety and the safety of our families and our engineers and things. We recorded all of our sessions from home and sent them all to New York where a guy named Kevin Killen–who’s a genius, Grammy-winning engineer–put it all together for us. We still were recording the Christmas album, but it didn’t quite have the same feeling of being in the studio and putting up the Christmas lights like we often do to kind of create a mood within the studio itself.
The last year had a noticeable difference of it was nice to be home for Christmas, with our families for an extended period, but it didn’t have the same kind of impact. One of the fun things about being on the road in the weeks leading up to Christmas is seeing how different cities celebrate: different lights, different designs, catching up with people, and hearing about their traditions, especially if the tradition involves coming to see our show when it comes to town. All of that was something we definitely missed.
This year is a little different still because we’re getting to go out there and do the shows, but we’re not doing the normal meet-and-greets and things after the show, just because of COVID precautions. We’re in front of an audience of hundreds of people, but we don’t want to get them all bunched up together in a line and have anybody–whether it’s us or our crew or in the audience–have any kind of added risks for anyone. None of us want to have any kind of risk to ourselves or our entire crew, the band, or any fans. We’re taking all of our profession very, very seriously, this whole tour.
I have to imagine being identified with the holiday has to be a very unique experience for a group?
The whole thing has been unique for us in the sense that, when we were in college, we only did two, maybe three Christmas songs ever. In college, no one thought of us as a holiday group. We just happened to–at one particular concert in 1998–sing three Christmas songs, which were “Carol of the Bells,” “Silent Night,” and “12 Days of Christmas,” and that “12 Days” video from 1998 was the one that went viral. Of all the other repertoire, we probably were doing 80 or 90 songs and three of them were Christmas. It just happened to be that one that went viral and got us a record deal. That was what made sense to start out with, because we were now known for a Christmas song. The first album would be Christmas.
I will say that it’s benefited us in that we really do enjoy Christmas music and we enjoy getting to perform it and knowing that our concert’s not just a summer concert for some people. It’s truly become a holiday tradition for them to take their whole family, to see our show. That’s unique. It’s also unique in that we were handed the Christmas moniker instead of us being an act known for a particular kind of music and then trying to switch over and be like, “Well, we can do Christmas too!” It’s been kind of nice, you know.
I guess you can say it’s a blessing and a curse. Sometimes when we do pop music, people are like, “Where’s the Christmas stuff?” and I’m like, “It’s July. We’re not doing a whole Christmas show in July.” But overall, I think we’re just extremely grateful to have the career that we have and even more grateful to be back out on the road right now. During the downtime, it’s been a very, very tough time for not just musicians, but everyone working. Not just employment situations, but people feeling kind of locked in and alone.
It’s very nice to be part of the joy of seeing people coming back out and feeling safe because they’re been vaccinated and they’re wearing masks and all of those things. That feels nice to be part of that celebration. Sometimes in the show we’ll say, “Hey, isn’t it great to just be out and seeing live music?” and that’s maybe the biggest applause we get all the night–the recognition of the crowd that everyone is so happy to be out here, getting to hear live music, out with friends and family. Feeling that experience of a concert or even going to a movie–something with others.
Even if it’s strangers, there’s a collective experience that has been at a concert or a movie or a gathering like that. There’s that joy and that appreciation of something that so many took for granted is really shown by the audience reaction.
Straight No Chasers performs at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Details on that show here.