Straight No Chaser will be home for the holidays.
On Dec. 14, the group will return to Indiana University Auditorium and the campus where it all began 20 years ago.
“Being from here originally, I love playing at the auditorium,” said Charlie Mechling, one of the founding members. “It’s just such a great venue. It’s always a lot of fun, and it’s always a full house.”
Over the years, seasonal performances by Straight No Chaser have become a tradition in Bloomington, just like the lights around courthouse square and the giant candles that adorn the Indiana Memorial Union.
The latest visit by the a cappella ensemble is part of the “I’ll Have Another…World Tour” in support of the “I’ll Have Another…Christmas Album,” which dropped in October.
The new album is their sixth full-length album for Atlantic Records, and the third one devoted to holiday music. Among its 15 tracks are the hymn “Joy to the World,” familiar carols such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” as well as Mariah Carey’s more recent offering “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
Back to Bloomington
The album’s creation marked another homecoming for Straight No Chaser, with recording sessions taking place in Bloomington over the summer.
At that time, Mechling sat down for a conversation — and a few nostalgic glances back.
With the work on the album spanning nearly a month, he found himself sifting through old photos and articles about Straight No Chaser’s start here at Indiana University. “I haven’t been here for this long since college,” he said.
Mechling grew up in Bloomington. In a sense, Straight No Chaser did, too.
The group’s 10 members are now dispersed across the country, living in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, New York, Miami and Houston.
But back in 1996, they were simply Indiana University students who liked to sing.
Mechling came to IU as a voice major in what is now the Jacobs School of Music. Before IU created its BFA in Musical Theatre program, he earned his degree in music and theater through the Individualized Major Program.
“We were all in Singing Hoosiers at the same time and just wanted to find a way to sing other types of music,” Mechling said. As he recalled: “One of the guys was like, ‘Let’s get an a cappella group together,’ and I was like, ‘All right, that sounds fun. Girls and free food — that sounds great.'”
Straight No Chaser’s first gig was IU Dance Marathon.
In the beginning, they sang in residence halls and sororities or just standing in the middle of campus, trying to encourage people to attend their shows. “It was really a labor of love,” Mechling said.
Straight No Chaser’s mix of harmonies and humor did strike a chord with audiences, though. Over the years, original members graduated and new members joined, but the group remained an IU institution.
Then, one video changed everything.
The original members of Straight No Chaser first performed their adaptation of the “12 Days of Christmas” in 1998 at IU’s Musical Arts Center. Eight years later, a reunion prompted Randy Stine to dust off an old video recording of the song and post it to YouTube.
After the video went viral, Stine received an email from the CEO of Atlantic Records, Craig Kallman.
Atlantic offered a record deal, the group reunited, and the rest is history.
Christmas in the summer
This year, Straight No Chaser celebrated a little bit of Christmas in June by recording their new holiday album at Airtime Studios in Bloomington.
After the group reunited, they had recorded their first three albums there. The last two albums, however, were recorded in different places, often a week at a time.
“When we had this block of time, we were really excited to get back to Airtime,” Mechling said. “It’s been such a fun recording experience. We had a great time.”
Most of the guys split their time in town between the recording studio and downtown apartments sublet from graduate students.
In between late nights recording, they visited familiar places and ate familiar foods. “All of us, I think, went to Zagreb’s at one point, which is funny because we couldn’t afford Zagreb’s when we were going here,” Mechling said.
He found the Bloomington summer relaxing — and a pleasant relief from the heat of Houston.
In between takes at Airtime, the singers spent breaks outdoors, just a few steps from the woods. “It’s way out in the middle of nowhere, which is fantastic,” Mechling said. “We could sit outside in a hammock or play cornhole or whatever.”
Having a block of time in a familiar environment made a difference for the group.
“It does affect the music, and it affects how quickly things can get done, too. It’s not so stressful; it’s relaxed and everyone wants to be there all the time,” Mechling said. “We realized we’ve got to try, we’ve got to make the time each time to just get back here.”
These days, Straight No Chaser has 10 singers singing, six albums playing, many months of touring, three EPs — but it all began in Bloomington with a partridge in a pear tree.
While they are visiting Indiana University, the group will be honored as Jacobs School of Music Entrepreneurs of the Month. A few members will participate in a Project Jumpstart career panel with music students and Arts Management students from IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
In addition to this week’s show at IU Auditorium, their latest tour included dates in Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville and four Indianapolis shows over three days — Dec. 21 to 23 — at the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre.
No matter where they travel, IU is always with them.
“Every single place we go, there are IU alums. It doesn’t matter if we’re in Canada, the U.S. or Europe, you know? We still get IU grads that come to our shows,” Mechling said.
The YouTube video of them performing as IU students is on track to hit 20 million views any day now.
And the male a cappella ensemble that they started at Indiana University 20 years ago continues under another name, Another Round. While the college ensemble operates independently, Mechling said Straight No Chaser tries to help them out as much as possible.
“We still keep in touch. It’s always nice to talk to them and give them advice if they have any questions,” he said. “That was the dream of starting the group in the first place … to have it live on.”
To see the show
WHAT: Straight No Chaser
WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 14; IU Auditorium
TICKETS: Seats are extremely limited. Individual tickets may be purchased online, in person at the IU Auditorium Box Office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and through Ticketmaster. Prices are $48 to $78 for the general public, $23 to $58 for IU Bloomington students with a valid ID.