Imagine this: By day you're a typical businessman, working the 9 to 5. Your nights and weekends, however, are spent sharing a stage with nine other guys just like you — performing a cappella songs in small venues while recording an album under Atlantic Records.
That was the double life for the members of Straight No Chaser, an a cappella choir of 10 men who formed in 1996 during their college years at Indiana University.
They say their pursuit in music was experimental at first. Dan Ponce even jokes that they got together because they "wanted to sing to sorority girls."
"It was an interesting balance for that first year," said Ponce, who formed the group, which performs with eight of its original members.
Charlie Mechling, to laughs from the other group members, recalled how he earned a lot of frequent-flier miles jetting between his job and rehearsals.
"I was leaving Friday night from my life in Vegas, coming to New York, recording, rehearsing and then taking a redeye back," he said. "I felt like a businessman that didn't have any benefits or paycheck."
In college, some of the guys studied music, but not all of them. Others focused on mathematics, journalism or biology, among other subjects.
"We were there connected because we all loved a cappella singing," Ponce said.
The group first caught attention when the CEO of Atlantic Records saw on YouTube its rendition of "12 Days of Christmas," which has been viewed more than 10 million times.
Once signed, the group recorded a Christmas CD, "Holiday Spirits," released in September 2008. It followed that with another holiday album, "Christmas Cheers," which has a studio version of "12 Days" and was released last month.
"Our first album is your more traditional, gather-round-by-the-fire, relaxing, very soothing album," member Seggie Isho said. "'Christmas Cheers' is where you loosen up your tie, and it's the party album."
But more than just creating CDs good for stuffing Christmas stockings, the singers hope to be played on iPods offseason, too.
"Come Jan. 1, I am done with Christmas music," Mechling joked.
While on a North American tour, which wraps up this month, the group is performing holiday tunes as well as hit songs from the Billboard charts. In August it released "Six Pack," a six-song EP with covers from Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" to Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours." The group also says it's working on a pop album to showcase how it can be more than a "Christmas comedy act."
"Some of us have been concerned that people will only think of us as Christmas group, and that's not the case at all," Ponce said.
Crossing over to Top 40 radio with an a cappella sound and style will be challenge — but one the group says it's up for.
"A cappella music still has yet to really cross to the mainstream where we can be on a Top 40 radio station," Ponce said. "That's bold. I think we can do it, but we gotta go with baby steps."
The singers say they don't always agree with one another and a tour bus full of that many guys can be too much.
"A lot of sprays of Febreze (odor remover) going on," Isho said, laughing, while Ponce added: "We're thinking Febreze should be our sponsor for this tour."
But they say they are confident they won't end up disbanded like many musical groups. They say their musical brotherhood is too tight to break.
"We fight like brothers, we make up like brothers, but at the end of the day there really is a strong friendship and camaraderie that you don't see in a lot of modern pop groups," Ponce explained. "We weren't put together by Atlantic Records, we weren't put together by Simon Cowell ... we just did this ourselves."
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