A Cappella Pop Covers
Long Awaited! My EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER DIAZ
Hey Christopher, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!
Let me start by saying I’m a big fan! I saw you perform with Florida State University All-Night Yahtzee back in the day and love your arrangement/solo on Rufus Wainwright’s “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” but enough about that! Let’s get started!
Thanks a lot! Rufus has always been one of my musical idols, so it was a perfect situation for me to interpret his music for my group.
What were your first experiences with a cappella?
I’ve always had an appreciation for the voice- when I was little, dancing around in a diaper singing along with my Sesame Street records, and as I grew up harmonizing to Mariah Carey and Bobby Brown in the backseat of our station wagon. All through school I sang in choir and loved it, but my first interaction with contemporary a cappella music was when I stumbled upon, completely accidentally, this recording of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” by Edward Grieg
. I found out later that it’s by a group called A Cappella Company, but I was just transfixed by the audacity of turning such a compelling classical piece into one just for voice. From then on, I was fascinated and started searching
When did you know it was a world you wanted to be involved with?
I almost didn’t join my college a cappella group, but after I auditioned successfully and got in, we went on a retreat to the beach. Literally three chords in to learning our first song, I knew that this was something special, and something that I wouldn’t be able to escape. The rest, as they say, is history.
A Cappella has broken into the mainstream over the past few years from the Warblers on Glee, to The Sing-Off, to Pitch Perfect. And now there’s a movie being talked about a “Straight No Chaser” biopic. Why do you think there’s such a sudden interest in contemporary a cappella?
I don’t mean to scoot around answering the question head on, so I’ll just say outright: I don’t know why a cappella is catching on now. I will say that it’s success is the culmination of, in my opinion, the perfect storm of media and exposure. With all of those high profile outlets you mentioned featuring the artform, it was bound to pique some interests. That said, I think part of the growth of a cappella might have to do with technology. Social media has facilitated the spread of and consumption of something we’ve been doing for years and years. Another thought is that with pop music becoming so sterile and predictable, perhaps (even subconsciously) people crave something that is more human, more humane. A cappella is ‘by the people for the people’ in a sense, created entirely by the human voice and thus, even in it’s most auto-tuned Glee track form, still *people*. I think maybe audiences want to be impressed by popular music again!
Speaking of The Sing-Off some people might not know that you worked behind the scenes on the show as an arranger, what was that like?
In a word, incredible. It was my dream job. Over the 2 month filming period, I got to arrange for, coach and befriend some of the most talented singers in the country, and I got to absorb working musical knowledge and technique and tips from the likes of Deke Sharon, Ben Bram, Robert Dietz and a host of other brilliantly talented people. Not to mention, my work got to be heard and seen by millions of people- it was an experience that taught me so much, helped me grow as a musician and a critic and person, and really solidified my love for this artform. Now don’t get me wrong- it was hard. Putting together the music for 16 groups from different states, different styles, different backgrounds and psyches was a challenge, and the show was a massive machine, so the hours could be pretty brutal. But none of those things were a surprise- I knew going in that I was going to be a part of a team that would have to put in a lot of work to make the show the best it could possibly be.
You’ve recently started a group of your own (The Exchange) with a few a cappella heavy hitters and been nominated for a few CARA’s what’s that been like?
If you’d asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be doing right now, I don’t think I’d say “touring the world with a vocal band”, but here I am. The Exchange is a labor of love- a group started with the base intention of using music to explore the world and empower people. It might sound a little cheesy at first, but everyone in our group has been moved by music to pursue their passions (musical and otherwise), so it seemed natural to band together and get people all over the world dancing and singing and clapping. It’s been a whirlwind (I’m writing you now from Germany on the last leg of our Get Ready world tour, which has spanned England to Australia to Taiwan to Europe), but I am so honored and humbled to be a part of a group that is able to make good music AND really reach people. Are fans are our friends, and we’re so excited and blessed to be able to share our music with people, and hopefully inspire and excite a few people along the way.
Any up and coming groups you’re excited about, or any current favorites whether it be professional or collegiate?
I’ve been very lucky to perform with some amazing groups on this tour, and I have to say- global a cappella is in REALLY good shape. While the American scene is massive, the global scene tends to be more specific. I’m personally really digging the French group Ommm right now, a tripbox, experimental, original and groovy quintet whose sound engineer is literally the sixth member of their band. Their album “Just Listen” is raw and powerful, a fresh and funky perspective. Just last week, we performed in Austria with a young German quintet called Anders who has been working with Maybebop’s Lukas Teske and Ed Boyer. They just released a great album of original German pop tunes called “Neue Zeiten”. They’re definitely one to watch. And for something more classical and esoteric, you should check out O-Kai Singers from Taiwan. This jazzy quintet just won a bunch of CARAs for their beautiful newest album, and let me tell you, they are as tight in person.
On the college scene, a little birdie told me that Oxford Out Of The Blue has some great new tracks in the works with Ed Boyer, so I’d be on the lookout for those. Got sing with those dudes in Hong Kong, and they are some of the nicest, coolest, and most driven college singers I’ve heard for a while!
You co-host the podcast Mouth Off with Dave Brown, which has been idle for quite some time…I hear you guys are coming back! Any idea when the weekly episodes will resume and what we can be expecting?
Well, I’ll confess that part of our hiatus is our personal lives eating up all of our time. With my rigorous touring schedule and Dave’s new job and marriage (!!!!!), we’ve just needed a break. But we’ve been putting together some plans for more shows, with a less frequent release date so that people can still engage with the show and we can have time to tape them. We’ve missed doing it so much, but just needed some time to take care of our personal lives. There’s TONS of great coverage of a cappella though, in the meantime, that you can check out (like your blog, sir!). So just keep an eye out, we’ll be back before you know it!
Last but not least let everyone know where they can find Mouth Off and The Exchange’s debut album or any other links that would help (Soundcloud, youtube, facebook etc)
Of course! You can find everything The Exchange related on our website, www.exchangeofficial.com
- there you will find links to our YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud. We record new videos all the time, so you should definitely subscribe to our YouTube channel. We may or may not be recording an a cappella video on a roller coaster this afternoon…
Thanks Christopher, hope to chat with you soon :D
My pleasure, Trevor! Keep up the awesome work with Popappella!!
Christopher (Center) Pictured with his world-renowned group The Exchange