Straight No Chaser has one of music’s more unusual back stories, so it was logical for the group to mark its 10th anniversary with an album with has a strong autobiographical bent — and a tour that’s coming to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Sunday night (11/3).
That album is the recently released “One Shot,” and Steve Morgan, one of the nine vocalists in the a cappella group, remembers precisely when the concept came into focus.
“We can all point to the exact day,” Morgan said in a recent phone interview. “We were having a meeting. Our manager was in. We were in Fort Wayne, Ind., in the basement of the Embassy Theatre (during a tour). And we got a white board out and we really started hashing it out.”
At one point, vocalist Walt Chase said, “What if we do ‘Straight No Chaser: The Musical?”
Thus began what turned into a fairly involved process of turning Chase’s idea into a workable concept for the “One Shot” album.
“We almost immediately started doing internet searches and saying how do we musicalize these certain moments, going back and forth about which moments we felt were the most prescient, most poignant of our history,” Morgan said.
“From there, it was spreadsheets and debates and debates and debates, of course. Then we settled on two or three songs for each moment, and started arranging those. And then had more debates on which of those songs we liked best, which arrangements we liked best, and we’d go from there. So it was really a labor of love, and it took all of seven or eight months.”
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The album that emerged features 16 tracks, plus a dozen brief interludes that in lighthearted fashion, touch on aspects of the group and its history, interspersed to set up the subjects covered in song.
“One Shot” traces the ensemble’s saga from its beginning as a college a cappella group formed in 1996 at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, to its current place as a popular group that has sold more than 1.6 million albums and fills theaters with its tours.
Not bad for a group that started as a way to have fun during college, with no idea it could ever have a future as a professional act. Then came the unexpected.
In 2006, a 10-year reunion of the original group was planned. To generate enthusiasm for the occasion, member Randy Stine made DVDs of a 1998 Straight No Chaser concert and posted on YouTube a performance of the group’s wacky rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The clip went viral, becoming 2007’s most viewed video and caught the attention of Craig Kallman, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records. He tracked down Stine and eventually signed the group.
Eight of the original members signed on to be part of the reformed Straight No Chaser, and two singers who were part of later group editions at Indiana University filled out the lineup. A few singers have left over the years, each replaced by singers from later lineups at Indiana. Today’s lineup has nine members: Stine, Morgan, Chase, Urbandale native Tyler Trepp, Dave Roberts, Jerome Collins, Michael Luginbill, Charlie Mechling and Seggie Isho.
Thinking Christmas music was the perfect introduction to Straight No Chaser, Kallman and Atlantic had the group debut with the 2008 Christmas album, “Holiday Spirits.” It was an immediate hit. Since then, the group has released two more holiday albums, four full-length albums (including “One Shot”) and three EPs in what the group calls its “Six Pack” series. The ensemble is now getting set to release a five-song EP, “Open Bar,” and has released its own version of the Lewis Capaldi hit, “Someone You Loved.”
But “One Shot” still is being promoted, and the album also deals with various aspects of Straight No Chaser’s experience and history as a professional group — from the excitement of touring the United States and internationally, to the difficulties of being away from family and friends when touring, and the pure fun of doing a Straight No Chaser show.
The album-ending version of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” speaks to the camaraderie and friendships that have developed within the group.
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“We’ve been there with each other for many years, so that (“Lean On Me”) felt like a really cool and different way to end up the album. It’s actually how we’re closing our show right now, just to kind of put a bow on things,” he said.
The fall live shows mix selections from across the catalog of holiday and regular studio albums.
“We like to think we’re doing some of our favorites, some of the crowd favorites,” Morgan said, “and hopefully some new favorites.”
• What: Straight No Chaser: Open Bar Tour
• Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 7 p.m. Sunday (11/3)
• Tickets: $39.50 to $59.50, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or paramounttheatrecr.com
• Group’s website: sncmusic.com