Although a cappella music has risen in popularity in recent years, Straight No Chaser has been singing together off and on since their college days in the late 90s.
The group will bring their uniquely-crafted cover songs to the Knoxville Civic Auditorium tonight at 7:30 p.m along with opener and The Voice season 4 contestant Caroline Glaser.
Don Nottingham, who rejoined in 2010 and was a member of the original group, talked with The Daily Beacon's Arts & Culture Editor Claire Dodson about the intricacies of a cappella and the lifestyle changes that go along with switching from a 9-to-5 job to the life of a professional musician.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Claire Dodson: How did you make the decision to rejoin Straight No Chaser?
Don Nottingham: If you asked me when I was 18, or 15, or 22 or many points in my life, "Hey would you like to be a professional musician and sing with your buddies for a living?" — it's a pretty easy question. It was one of those situations where you couldn't say no to because you know you would always be kicking yourself wondering what would've happened.
CD: What was it like transitioning from the 9-to-5 job into one where you were well known and performing a lot?
DN: It’s pretty nuts. I just remember one of the first shows we did in 2010 in Denver when I still lived in Colorado. One of the other guys and I went out to lunch with my wife, and I remember getting recognized. My wife was like, “Are you serious right now?” That wasn’t a normal thing to be eating lunch and someone ask you for your autograph. It’s a pretty crazy life. It’s so wild to spend as many months as we do out on the road. To be able to do this for a living is just ridiculous. It’s something you’d love to be able to do as a hobby if you could. But to do it for a living is beyond words.
CD: Did it affect your family life or your personal life when you rejoined?
DN: For me, when I rejoined the group I had two kids and a third on the way, and that was a big consideration for me, as it is for all of us. If my wife hadn’t been 100 percent behind me doing this, I don’t think I would’ve done it. If she had said, “Well, if you really want to do this, go ahead,” I don’t know if I’d be where I am. It’s different, not being home. I won’t be home today when my kids get back from school, but last summer my wife was working and I got to be Mr. Mom for the summer. It’s a much different life than what most people experience, but for me the pluses outweigh the minuses.
CD: Have you noticed a progression in how you all worked together in 1999 versus the present?
DN: Definitely. Back then, you had varying levels of musicianship and experience and levels of commitment. Different guys were doing different things and some guys devoted more energy to the group than others. Now it’s really all 10 of us, doing what we love. This is what we spend our time and our energy and our passion working on. We have a good idea of what’s going to work and what our strengths and weaknesses are.
CD: What is most important in performing a cappella music? What things do you have to keep in mind while you’re performing?
DN: There’s always concentration on the music. Making sure we’re singing together and we’re tight as far as pitch. Something that’s easy for us and has led to whatever success we’ve had is that we like to make sure we’re having fun and that the audience is having fun. You can sound great, but if you’re miserable on stage it won’t go well. We like to think that it’s not like going to see a play where you’re watching a performance. It’s almost like you’re in there with us, the jokes we make and the communication with the crowd is an important part of the show, just to understand that they’re with us and having just as good a time as we are.
CD: Do you have a moment that was really big for you?
DN: We love to do things that are special for where we’re singing. We played at the Ryman a couple years ago and we played Rocky Top at the end. To be a singer and get to sing Rocky Top in the Ryman auditorium is kind of mind blowing. It’s beyond explainable to say what it feels like, to get up there and get such a crowd reaction. It’s one of those moments where you’re like, “Hey this isn’t such a bad gig.” I remember why I’m doing this. You may even hear Rocky Top in Knoxville as well.