HomeCASA Welcomes Rockapella As Its Newest Professional Member

jessica.chen's picture

Rockapella: we all know them. Rockapella has been around since 1986, well-known for their involvement with the show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? and in particular for singing the show’s theme song. They have an extensive discography under their belts and have achieved international fame and success. Currently comprised of Scott Leonard, Jeff Thacher, George Baldi III, Steven Dorian, and Calvin Jones, Rockapella is most recently fresh off their performance at the Boston Sings 2014 festival and just received CASA's very first Lifetime Achievement Award. This year, Rockapella is also one of the newest professional members of CASA, so I spoke with vocal percussionist Jeff about this recent step and what else they’ve been up to!

Rockapella has been around for almost 30 years. What made you decide to recently become a new member of CASA?

Jeff Thacher:
Any group that's been active for over 20 years (it's been 23 since the group first started to become a national act via television), has seen many things come and go. Membership changes, the huge rise in collegiate a cappella, pro groups old and new, etc., and most importantly the rise of internet-oriented promotion and CASA's impressive maturation as a global organization.

Every pro and semi-pro group knows now that to reach as much of your audience as possible - even those people who already love you and follow you - you need to have a presence in as many ways as possible. We've never had a shortage of media outlets for exposure, but CASA's offerings for pro groups make sense for us.  It's always been great to be a part of the community, and this is a natural evolution.  Pro groups - whether they ever intend it or not - are in a leadership position because they're making money at a cappella and promoting themselves to as wide an audience as possible.  That's not an easy feat.  And being more deeply connected to CASA in 2014 just makes sense to any of us.

What are some upcoming projects or performances we should be looking forward to?

JT: We're working on new material, following last year's Motown & More album & current touring, plus we'll be showcasing current material on video in the meantime. Putting yourself out there is a continuously creative process, and that's the fun part.

Although you’ve achieved so much as a group, is there anything you haven’t done that you would like to? For example, any groups that you have not had a chance to perform with yet that you have wanted to, or places that you have not yet been to?

JT: We'd love to expand our global touring to new places, and are always working to reach America as much as ever.  I think Rockapella has been able to keep things fresh all along, and that means you're not always being predictable. I've been surprised repeatedly over the years at how things take shape, and that's a good thing.  As for collaborations, we actually haven't performed with many other groups, but when we have, it's been a pleasure.  I think we're open to any mutually beneficial collaboration...any group would be.

Bottom line is that as a group, you need to know where your strengths lie and shoot for quality at all times.  Everyone in the community may be here ultimately because we enjoy singing & performing, but if you're going to go and put yourself out there to the world, you're there to entertain.  We're always thinking along these lines and it's served us well.

You’ve been involved in the a cappella scene for many years now. What are some current groups you’ve been listening to or paying attention to?

JT: I think when you sit down to listen to seasoned veteran groups like Take6, MPact, or the Swingle Singers in-concert, part of you relaxes immediately after they open their mouths...you know that you're going to be taken on a musical trip that requires no work on your part - no "forgiveness" that they're a cappella...they're just so so good and polished, and I can't wait to see what happens while I'm listening.  That's a reaction I truly long for every time I sit for an a cappella show.  Every pro group has their moments, but I cheer when those moments happen consistently.

Home Free and Voiceplay gave me some of those moments lately, and I think there's a mutual admiration thing going on between us. The pressure cooker of frequent television exposure and national touring - which they got largely through The Sing-Off  - and with which Rockapella is very familiar - really pushes your game onstage. I look forward to seeing what happens next with them.  I think I'm more of a sports fan when it comes to a cappella - I want Home Free, for example, to conquer the country music world...they're knocking on that door and what happens next will determine whether they and other groups gain acceptance. All the currently active pro groups are competing, from a sports perspective, at all times...but not necessarily with each other.  It's like they're actually competing with themselves to figure things out, and the prize is access to the pop culture mind of America...which is a very fickle and distractible thing.  So when I sit for a show, I want a group to come out swinging, and never stop - I don't want to have to forgive them their a cappella-ness. Their recordings are a whole other story. Things are getting a bit bland out there in a cappella-land, in my opinion. Please dare to be different more often!

What kind of advice would you give to current up-and-coming professional groups?

JT: Well, if you'll forgive the metaphor, the fish tank we're all working in is getting smaller, and the fish keep growing.  Something's gotta change, break through, expand the tank, or the fish are going to start dying off.  I'm hoping - sometime after the sequel to the Pitch Perfect film comes out - that there isn't a public backlash to a cappella.  That's the worst-case scenario.  We all know the opposite is everyone's best-case wish, of course.

There's a lot of competition for the dollars of the concert-going public...at the same time that most of those people have fewer dollars to spend.  It's rough out there.  I think my best advice would be to aim for quality and originality; with an emphasis on the latter.  And take every opportunity that passes your way, with no shame whatsoever.  Treat each other, your fans, your clients, and anyone you admire or with whom you network with great respect.  Try your hand at original material.  It's been tough to get originals heard, but we must fight the good fight...it's the only way to "own" your success.  Rockapella's never stopped doing originals.  Dozens of them.  If you're new to writing, you'll learn by doing, but be your own harshest critic and put them out there.  As a group, get harsh feedback as well as positive feedback.  Keep your standards high on everything.  Under no circumstances stop the show for 15-20 seconds or more just to blow the pitch between songs.  It kills a show's energy every time.  And, again, seek originality on all sides.  Phew...that's a lot.  May the Force with with you.

Anything else that you would like to share?

http://www.rockapella.com, www.facebook.com/rockapella, Twitter: rockapellamusic, YouTube: rockapelladotcom

More information about all of CASA's membership levels: https://www.casa.org/membership

About the writer:
As a musician Jessica started at an early age, playing piano and flute throughout her childhood, but she discovered singing and a cappella during high school and was immediately hooked. In college she sang with and directed the Boston University Allegrettos, doing most of the arranging as well as producing an album, and sang with friends in her hometown during the summers in Henry Fonda & the Falsettos. As a post-grad she has continued to arrange for various collegiate and high school groups. Some of her other interests include Boston sports and all dogs, ever.