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October 24, 2007

An interview with Jeff Thatcher

Daily Cardinal (WI):

After their 1990s fame from singing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” as well as commercials for Folgers coffee, Rockapella is singing their way to the Memorial Union Theater with UW- Madison’s men’s a cappella group, the MadHatters, as the opener.

Rockapella, a professional men’s a cappella group with only five members, are nationally famous and has been touring the country almost since they were discovered in 1990.

“To survive this long you really have to diversify as a working musical act,” said Jeff Thacher, Rockapella’s vocal percussionist. “Most bands out there usually survive two to six years, and then they’re gone. So to be around this long as a business, let alone as a creative act, is unusual, to say the least, considering we’re not on a major record label.”

Thacher said the group has been successful over the years, but many people, particularly college students, are not familiar with their music as a result of online downloading.

“There are a lot of tracks on the file sharing service right now that say ‘Rockapella’ but are not us,” Thacher said. “You hear 15 guys singing instead of five. I recommend people stop by the website and get a taste of who we really are.”

Although Rockapella have different members now from when they started, Thacher said the long-term commitment of members keeps some continuity in the dynamic of the group.

“We don’t often have to replace new members, but when it happens the right one often just falls into our lap, and we essentially become something new, yet familiar,” Thacher said. “I don’t think the group has ever been tighter musically. It’s just a pleasure to go onstage, and everybody is at the top of their game from what I can tell.”

Another little known aspect of the group is the difficulty of a cappella singing.

“For anybody doing it [the hardest part] is the art of listening and responding to each other because there’s nothing to back you up,” Thacher said. “You have to listen to each other, constantly adjust your blend and be the whole show, the entire energy of every sound. Sometimes I’m amazed that it happens, but we seem to be able to do that pretty well. And I’m proud to be a part of that.”

According to Thacher, while the group loves performing, what makes it so enjoyable is the city they’re in.

“We’ve been here a total of maybe three times,” Thacher said. “I think it’s just a combination of that it’s a northern town, [there are] lots of students, a great vibe and a great energy. And Rockapella seems to be welcomed into that.”

Thacher said although the group will sing “Carmen Sandiego,” the show will be a new experience for those who have seen it before.

“We do about half covers and half originals,” Thacher said. “I think for any group to stick around you need to get some originals out there. [If someone] wants to write one we run it up the flagpole and see if it waves. As far as the covers go, we tend to do things prior to 1980s. We try to bring it into the contemporary style and don’t do it old fashioned but sort of re-energize it.”

Besides re-energizing the songs, Thacher said he believes Rockapella has been successful by energizing their performances as well.

“I think that the secret of being successful performers is enjoying what you’re doing on stage,” Thacher said. “The audience can see that you’re having a good time, and they have a good time along with you. Rockapella is definitely comfortable in its own skin.”

Posted by acapnews at October 24, 2007 9:54 PM

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