Podcasts

Pentatonix’s Kirstin Maldonado & Kevin Olusola Share Their Quarantined Recording Process — And What’s Next for the Group

Dennis Leupold

Pentatonix

Pentatonix’s Kirstin Maldonado remembers when she called her bandmate Kevin Olusola in a mild panic, as she was setting up her new home studio as the group was settling into quarantine earlier this year.

“I was like, ‘Kevin, I have this, this and this. What cords am I missing? What do I need? What am I doing? Like, what is happening?,’” she now recalls, laughing.

Eventually, Maldonado got her studio together, and her and Olusola — along with the other three members of Pentatonix: Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying and Matt Sallee — dived into recording their new covers EP, appropriately titled At Home.

The six-song project, which was released on June 24, includes the group’s takes on Billie Eilish’s “When the Party’s Over,” The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart,” and came about as a desire for the group to get back to their “roots,” says Olusola.

“We said, ‘you know what, we still want to bring some joy during a tumultuous time like this,’" Olusola tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below).  "So, let's go back to our roots. Let's do some covers that we're excited about, songs that we're interested in.”

The At Home project will tide fans over as Pentatonix finishes plotting the release of their upcoming original songs (“we're really really proud of them,” Maldonado says) as well as a new holiday album.

Christmas albums are nothing new for the vocal group, as the three-time Grammy Award winners have notched five top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 chart with holiday projects, including the 2017 No. 1 A Pentatonix Christmas. The act hit the top 10 in 2019 with The Best of Pentatonix Christmas.

In total, Pentatonix has tallied 10 top 10 albums on the Billboard 200, reaching No. 1 twice – with both A Pentatonix Christmas and the group’s 2015 self-titled release, which was also the act’s first album of nearly all-original material.

Below are some highlights from Maldonado and Olusola’s chat with the Pop Shop Podcast.

On how the At Home EP come together:

Kevin: We did the bulk of the recording at our own homes. And that's kind of what brought up the concept. We said, 'you know what, we still want to bring some joy during a tumultuous time like this.' So, let's go back to our roots. Let's do some covers that we're excited about, songs that we're interested in. … And the cool thing is that the label (RCA Records) gave us a recording budget so each of us could have a recording studio at our house. So (we're) learning how to use Pro Tools and Logic and going on YouTube and stuff. Kirstie, remember you texted me or called me like, 'hey, how does this work? uh...'

Kirstin: Well, 'cause Kevin travels with a little mini studio on tour. So, if he ever has ideas for songs or covers, he works on them on the road. And so, I knew Kevin would have the best mind for helping me in the beginning. I was like, ‘Kevin, I have this, this and this. What cords am I missing? What do I need? What am I doing? Like, what is happening?’ (Laughs.) But, it was really rewarding. I think we had just maybe recorded one song (for At Home) before all the quarantine stuff happened, how we normally (recorded songs). And then the rest of them were done individually at our homes.

But it was really cool because it wasn't like there was a vocal producer in the room to tell you exactly how to do it. You had to listen to yourself and track yourself and make that you were sounding how you wanted to sound. There's a sense of pride that goes with that. More pride into your work, because you are the one that has to make sure that it of the quality you want it to be. So, it's been equally frustrating to just, you know, get it working, but it's also been equally as rewarding.

On hearing from artists they cover:

Kirstin: I feel like in the beginning of our career, when YouTube was first a huge thing, we heard more from the artists, because it was such a new platform to be creating music and covers. But Kevin just heard from Billie Eilish's team, no?

Kevin: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! One of my friends works for (Eilish's brother) Finneas. (He) played for Finneas the music, and he said 'oh my gosh.' And then he showed it to Billie and she loved it, which was super nice…

On having Eilish’s stamp of approval:

Kevin: It's very cool. Very cool.

Kirstin: That's amazing! I know, that's… I'm geekin'. I love her. I mean, I love her and Finneas…

On how the group has new original songs on the way:

Kevin: Before quarantine started, we actually had finished original (non-cover) songs that we're excited about. We're proud about. And we're excited to start thinking about how we start to release those songs into the world…

Kirstin: Obviously we've always been on the road and touring, and so if you come out with an album, and then we have all these tours lined up, you're able to tour that music, to promote that music. And since COVID, we don't have that ability anymore. So, it's about creating a different marketing plan. Because these originals, we're really really proud of them. And we've only had one original album in the past. But even from there, you know, we were like little babies. We were so nervous going into every single writing session. And I really do feel like now, as people, and as what we've come through and been through as a group, and just how we've grown, just in these last nine years -- it's all really coming to life and being shown in this original album. So, we're trying to just package it in the best way it can be for times like this. And we're like ready to release it. We've been wanting it to come out for forever forever forever, but obviously we want it to have a good enough backing, and to have the proper thought and planning behind it. So, that's the delay everyone. (Laughs.) We know we're always teasing it.

On plans for a new holiday album:

Kirstin: … We're talking and finishing up the conversations on original music, which we're hoping to get some of that out before anything Christmas-related. But we definitely will do a Christmas album this year. I feel like, especially this year, that love and that joy, and that sense of bringing everyone together is really needed. And so, I feel like our Christmas album can be really special this year. We've done so many, I think we weren't really expecting to do maybe a giant one (album). But I think I'm looking forward to what we can do to kind of continue to bring people together how we have in the past. 

In addition to the Pentatonix interview, Pop Shop hosts Jason and Keith discuss how Harry Styles logged his first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Watermelon Sugar,” what led the track to its coronation on the tally, and Styles’ watershed year with his Fine Line album and its singles “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar.”

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and senior director, music, Jason Lipshutz every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)