Straight No Chaser

Straight No Chaser have one noble goal in mind: Eschew the hackneyed, and convert even the most stubborn of unbelievers. This 10-man a cappella group is eager to redefine a genre they consider traditionally misunderstood and may do so with their Christmas album "Holiday Spirits," which recently landed at No. 11 on Top Internet Albums and No. 76 on The Billboard 200.

The group had a strange and unlikely rise to such sales stardom. Initially formed by Dan Ponce in 1996 as Indiana University's first a cappella group, Straight No Chaser quickly grew more popular and became a sensation around campus and the country, even competing against other groups at Carnegie Hall. Following the group's graduation in 1999, the ten members went their separate ways and quietly led their lives for more than seven years. The past, however, caught up with them.

In 2006, the group reformed for a 10-year reunion concert at IU. Founding member Randy Stine uploaded the footage of their comedic rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to YouTube later in the year, a defining moment in the group's history. The video received an overwhelmingly positive response, ultimately garnering more than nine million views -- as well as another unexpected surprise.

"Initially what happened was that he emailed me on YouTube, with some kind of vague username on YouTube," says Stine. "And I kind of thought, 'Who's this guy, Craig from Atlantic?' When he called me on New Year's Day this year, I'm sitting and Googling his name, trying to figure who I'm talking to, exactly. I'm thinking, 'Am I being punked? Is this a fake call?'"

"Craig from Atlantic" turned out to be Craig Kallman, CEO of Atlantic Record, who discovered the video. Within a short amount of time, a deal was made: "It's a five-album deal, and it's a 360 deal. Atlantic's basically working with us on every possible road we could take," adds Stine.

It's easy to see why "Holiday Spirits" is such a hit: the troupe's covers of most-revered Christmas songs like "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Silent Night" are well-polished and highly entertaining, while their original material like "Indiana Christmas" and "Christmas Wish" are doubly so, demonstrating Ponce's writing ability. It is a rousing, fascinating and wholly solid Christmas set, but also much rooted in an exciting a cappella tradition.

"Essentially, this is one big college reunion," explains an exhilarated Ponce. "Randy put our videos on YouTube -- just for fun, just so we could all relive the glory days. We did not expect it to lead to a record deal."

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