The appeal of a cappella group Straight No Chaser spans generations

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Straight No Chaser. Photo by Jimmy Fontaine

Straight No Chaser, a nine-man a cappella group that formed at Indiana University in 1996, runs into misconceptions all the time. Because the song that first brought them to national attention, and landed them a deal with Atlantic Records, is “12 Days Of Christmas,” many people assume they’re exclusively a holiday music group.

And because they traffic in a style of music that might seem antiquated or out of style, people ask them if they have day jobs in addition to a heavy touring schedule and a 10-release catalog.

Even after a two-decade-long career of building songs on a remarkably flexible set of voices, from the percussion to the bass to the harmonies and lead vocals, those misconceptions, along with some backhanded compliments, still come at them.

“We encounter all of those things on an almost daily basis,” says tenor vocalist Steve Morgan. “After every show we go out and do a meet-and-greet with the audience, and you’d be amazed how many husbands tell us they were dragged to the show by their wives, and then they say, ‘I tell you what, I didn’t want to be here, but that was a lot of fun.’ So many people think we’re just a Christmas group until they see our summer show where we don’t do any holiday material.

Morgan adds, “Another question we still get is, ‘So what do you guys do for work?’ We’re out on the road half the year, and I don’t think any of us could have other jobs that would let us take six months off.”

So for the record, yes, Straight No Chaser has recorded a lot of holiday music. But they also do dazzling takes on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like,” and any number of classic ’50s and ’60s hits like “Get a Job” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

As far as popularity, they’ve become well known enough that their 2013 album “Under the Influence” hit the Top 30 on the Billboard charts and featured guest appearances from Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Elton John, and Phil Collins, among others.

So, after all that, don’t those incessant questions and misconceptions bother the group? Not really, as it turns out.

“Ultimately, the fact that we’re having the conversation means they came out to see us,” Morgan says. “And hopefully they’ll go back and tell their friends that they had a good time and it will keep building.”

The group, which will perform at the Peace Center next Tuesday, has started working a little bit of Christmas material into their set, along with a mishmash of standards and modern-day hits, all arranged into dazzlingly precise harmony arrangements.

“We want to be able to do a show that multiple generations of a family can come and see,” Morgan says. “At some shows, we’ve had three or four generations who come and then they tell us how special that experience is because there are so few shows that will appeal to all of them. We want to have something old and something new, so we have songs that go from the ’50s to today. And we try to make sure the show has an arc; even if we’re performing other people’s material, we want to have a flow that works for us and the audience.”

A question that comes to mind while one listens to these singers is simply, how do these nine men avoid stepping on one another’s toes as they weave their voices around one another?

“We’ve been doing this half our lives now,” Morgan says. “Everyone’s going to have their moment, but you just have to know when it is. You know when to belt it out and when to pull out. You have to understand where you fit in the general picture of the song. It’s vital to what we do.”

Straight No Chaser
When: Tuesday, Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Peace Center, 300 S. Main St.
Tickets: $35–$55
Info: 864-467-3000, peacecenter.org

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