Pentatonix in harmony with the holidays
Somehow, in this age of Auto-Tune, remixes, overdubs, and ever-advancing production technology, an a cappella quintet became the Next Big Thing.
You’ve likely been tagged in Facebook posts or Instagram videos from friends who “neeeeeed you to hear this” version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” or Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
Covering everyone from John Lennon to Macklemore, three-time Grammy winners Pentatonix have, in the five years since they won NBC’s “The Sing Off,” proven they’re bound by no genre. More impressively, they’ve made something spartan and ancient — lone human voices and hand percussion — hip.
But it’s their holiday tunes that have really caught fire: Their 2016 album, “A Pentatonix Christmas,” went multi-platinum, and their music video for “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was edging toward 12 million views. (“Hallelujah,” also on the album, is nearing 227 million views.)
A new deluxe version of that album, featuring Jennifer Hudson, was just released, and they’ll soon star in their own NBC holiday special, “A Very Pentatonix Christmas,” Nov. 27 and Dec. 6 at 10 p.m. And their first-ever Christmas tour brings the quintet of 20somethings — Kevin Olusola, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, and new addition Matt Sallee — to Boston for four shows at Boch Center Wang Theatre from Dec. 12-16.
We recently caught up with Phillips Andover Academy alum Olusola, 29. Turns out he was first a beatboxer in the prep school’s a cappella group, The Yorkies.
Q. How did you all come together?
A. Scott, Mitch, and Kirstie grew up together in Texas and did choir and musical theater in high school. Then Scott went to USC [University of Southern California]. When he found out about “The Sing Off,” he asked his two best friends to try out with him. They found me on the Internet. I was a senior at Yale at the time. I was pre-med, studying East Asian Studies. They saw a clip of me [“celloboxing,” or beatboxing over his cello] and reached out. I said no in the beginning. But [then] I thought, I’ll give it a shot— if anything, I’ll meet new, cool people.
Q. Why did you say no?
A. My original plan was to be a surgeon. I grew up in Kentucky, and went to boarding school outside Boston at Phillips Academy Andover for two years. I went to Yale for undergrad. My dad is from Nigeria, my mom from Grenada, so they wanted me to have the best education possible. They wanted me to go to Andover, and I fell in love with it. Because of it, I’m a Patriots fans.
Q. Did you grow up musical?
A. I’ve been a music person for years. At the same time, my parents wanted me to focus on academics. The typically immigrant story — they came to the US for opportunity, jobs they couldn’t get in their respective countries. Singing wasn’t anything I ever dreamed of. But I was approached to be a part of an a cappella group at Andover. I wasn’t planning on doing it, I was focused on playing cello, but they heard me beatboxing for fun and asked me, so I said sure.
Q. Did you take in any concerts in Boston when you were at Andover?
A. Yeah, I would go to New England Conservatory a lot. My orchestra teacher ran a program for minority students there. That’s why it’s so exciting for me to play Boston now — because it’s a music city. I love Boston.
Q. In terms of genre, you guys are all over the board. How do you select which songs to cover?
A. Typically, we come together, pitch songs. If we’re feeling it, we give it a go. If we like where it’s going, we arrange it. With holiday songs, it’s the same process, we find something we’re all really inspired by, pitch it to the group, try it, see if it works towards our strengths. A lot of songs are great but don’t work for us. Things that are melody-based [generally work]. Hip-hop is good for me, personally. I like recreating those beats.
Q. What are your favorite types of songs to sing?
A. We all have different tastes. I like pop/classical. Kirstie loves singer/songwriters. Mitch loves electronic. But anything with an arc, three-part harmony — those songs stand out to us.
Q. What’s your typical concert audience like?
A. It ranges. We’ll have generations — from grandmother to grandchild — then we’ll have a metal rocker. It’s so varied.
Q. Why do you think you guys are so popular around the holidays?
A. In the beginning, we noticed people love a cappella at Christmas. It’s a time you see traveling choirs. We started with an EP called “PTXmas” in 2012, and it spiraled from there. Each release has gotten bigger. So we’re excited, because this is the first time we’ve ever done a Christmas tour. Hopefully it’s like our normal shows, where it’s one big singalong.
At Boch Center Wang Theatre, Boston, Dec. 12-16 at 7 p.m. Tickets from $39.50, www.bochcenter.org/buy/show-listing