Scott Hoying, baritone vocalist in the a cappella group Pentatonix, admits that doing an album of current Top 40 covers, such as the group’s latest album, “Top Pops, Vol. 1,” could be seen as a step back — considering it comes after a self-titled album on which the group upped the creative ante by recording only original songs.
“Yeah, there were a handful of fans that were like, ‘Why would they go back to just Top 40 stuff,’” Hoying said in a recent phone interview.
The group realized that taking hit songs and reinventing them as a cappella performances played into what fans like most about Pentatonix.
“We decided we wanted to go back to our roots for a second,” Hoying said. “What started Pentatonix and what blew us up was doing covers, kind of the charm of what we did. Then we graduated into originals, which was great. But we felt like we, in some ways, had lost that original charm of Pentatonix. So this album was a way to bring that back.”
The Pentatonix story goes back to 2011, when Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado and Mitch Grassi, high school friends from Arlington, Texas, decided to audition for the NBC-TV show “The Sing-Off.” Learning that groups needed at least five members, the trio recruited bass vocalist Avi Kaplan and singer/beat boxer Kevin “K.O.” Olusola to complete the lineup.
Pentatonix won season three of “The Sing-Off” in 2011, claiming the $200,000 top prize and an Epic Records deal. But before Pentatonix could even release an album, Epic dropped the group, feeling Pentatonix didn’t fit the label’s plans.
Undeterred, the group was signed by Madison Gate, a small Sony-owned label that mostly released soundtracks. Madison Gate released a debut EP, “PTX, Volume 1,” in June 2012, followed that November by a Christmas EP, “PTXmas.” Around the same time, the group started a YouTube channel, posting videos of songs — mostly their versions of hit songs like “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye, “Gangnam Style” by PSY and “We Are Young” by Fun — many of which went viral. But the big one was a medley of Daft Punk songs, which got 10 million views in the first week of its release in November 2013 and went on to top 150 million views.
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Pentatonix landed a major label deal with RCA, releasing a steady stream of music: three EPs, two holiday albums and the 2015 self-titled release. But by 2017, the time for a pit stop had arrived. The wear and tear from six years of work prompted Kaplan to leave Pentatonix, and the other musicians were ready to tackle some outside musical ventures.
In the meantime, Matt Sallee emerged from 80 applicants to replace Kaplan.
Not wanting a long gap between Pentatonix releases, an album of recent (or newer) Top 40 covers made sense.
“Doing an original album takes months and months. We can do a cover album in like about a month or less,” Hoying said.
Pentatonix will swing by the Iowa State Fair Grandstand in Des Moines on Saturday night. Hoying promised a longer show, a set list that encompasses “Top Pop, Vol. 1,” the self-titled album and more, plenty of choreography and huge video screens.
“Since these crowds are so massive and these venues are so cool, we wanted our production to really be big and extravagant so everyone all the way in the back can see the screens,” Hoying said. “We wanted it to be an experience.”
WHAT: Pentatonix, with 4th Ave opening
WHERE: Iowa State Fair Grandstand, 3000 Grand Ave., Des Moines WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (8/17)
TICKETS: $35 to $50, plus fair admission, $6 to $12; 1-(800) 514-3849 or Iowastatefair.org/visit/buy-tickets/
BAND’S WEBSITE: Ptxofficial.com