VoiceMale shares birth of new album, ‘Phoenix’
Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 00:03
It may come as a surprise that VoiceMale Publicity Manager Ben Udo ’14 hadn’t done much singing before coming to Brandeis. Or that the all-male a cappella group’s president, Chase Hiller ’12, starred in his high school’s production of High School Musical. And fans of Jason Sugarman ’13, VoiceMale’s business manager and current Music minor, might find it especially shocking that he only learned how to read music after joining the group.
But the one thing that shouldn’t come as a surprise is the amount of success the group has had since releasing its newest album, Phoenix, for digital download on Dec. 31 and beginning to promote the availability of their CDs with a show last Monday in the Shapiro Campus Center atrium. Already, they are nominated for four Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards and have gotten nothing but positive feedback from fans.
The group, whose current membership also includes Daniel Schreiber ’14, Schuyler Brass ’14, Eli Siegel ’14, Greg Bray ’15 and Adam Jones ’15, has been working on the album for several years. “We spent a lot of time picking songs,” Sugarman told JustArts. “We had like three options for each slot and went through the pros and cons and had lists and crossed out. We had … multiple three- or four-hour Skype sessions. … It took a long time to come up with the 10 tracks, exactly where they were going to be, why they’d be in that slot and what emotion they portrayed.”
“I think maybe what distinguishes [Phoenix as a] concept album … is that it’s really kind of … cohesive,” Hiller said. “It takes you on a journey and each song is linked to the next one and the previous one.”
“Each song has its own special transition,” Udo added.
Sugarman explained that the album’s name comes from the group’s idea that the overarching story would be reminiscent of the life of a phoenix, the great mythological bird that is “beautiful and then crushes into ashes and then is reborn from the ashes.”
Phoenix is VoiceMale’s eighth album since the group was started in 1994. The 10 tracks that made the cut are an assortment of covers and two songs that the singers of VoiceMale wrote themselves: “Phoenix” and “Hold On.” Although both tracks were primarily written by alumni of the group, (“Phoenix” by Adam Levine ’11 and “Hold On” by Eric Freeman ’11), all of the men had input with the final CD versions. Phoenix also includes bonus instrumental versions of these two songs, which Udo said was done “to [show] the evolution.”
As is evidenced by their contributions to Phoenix, VoiceMale, like many clubs at Brandeis, has an extensive alumni network. However, unlike other groups, former VoiceMale members often go to great lengths to support the current lineup of guys. “Whenever we go dorm-storming or if we need help with auditions, our alumni are always awesome,” Hiller said. “I think that’s a testament to the fact that … they still love our group. … Some of them have kids and full time jobs … but they’re always willing to lend a hand to us, which is so powerful.”
This is partially due to the sheer amount of time the members spend together. They rehearse for seven hours a week, not including preparing for performances, and go on tour together once a year. “VoiceMale compared to other groups [at other universities] retains more people for all four years,” Hiller noted from his observations while on tour at other schools. “You can develop musically and interpersonally and contribute a lot to the group across those four years.”
That’s not to say that they get bored or run out of things to improve upon. “It is a constantly shifting dynamic,” Udo said. “People’s personalities, people’s musicality. … Last year was very different from this year. … Two of our most musical people in the group … graduated … [last] year, [and] … all of us have had to step up in terms of taking responsibility to pick the group up. … It’s been a huge growing experience for all of us.”
So what’s next for the group? An appearance on NBC’s The Sing Off, perhaps? “We tried out for The Sing Off [before the show’s first season in 2010, where they made it to the top 30 teams] and I’m sure that in our group’s future … we will audition [again],” Hiller said.
“We’re already thinking about our next album,” Sugarman admitted. “We have an idea of what it’s going to be like, the stylistic, the thematic. We are constantly pushing ahead. … Right now we are going to dwell on this album for a little bit because we are really excited, but we’re also looking to the future in terms of albums and performances.”
“Albums are a great way to share our music,” Hiller added. “That’s what it’s all about: to be able to share our artistic vision with audiences everywhere.”