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October 29, 2009

Toyota Prius a cappella commercials

LA Weekly (CA):

It’s officially cool and okay to hum along to TV commercials, especially if they’re scored — like the Toyota ads currently seen on the tube (and YouTube) — by one Petra Haden. She’s the multitalented, environmentally friendly voice behind those joyfully surreal images in a series of recent Prius ads, doing all that wondrous, melodic tapestry weaving with nothing but her vocal cords and an ear for harmony.

Haden has a deceptively informal air about her when she describes what she does and how she goes about her work. The Prius spots happened when she got a call from a music supervisor who had heard her a cappella version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Haden doesn’t even drive, but she had a vague idea about what might fit the eco-friendly hybrid.

“I wasn’t thinking about Prius, I was thinking about the music,” she says. “‘Let Your Love Flow’ [a cover of the Bellamy Brothers hit], I was thinking, I could re-create this. That song was fun, it was easy, like the Journey song.”

Haden was given free rein in her musical interpretations of oldies standards for the Toyota commercials; the corporate-exec types merely suggested doing the songs slower here or in higher harmony there. For the song beneath the “Solar” ad, which touts the Prius’ use of solar-powered air conditioning, “I was thinking about the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows,’ and I did kind of a variation on that.”

The commercials’ elaborate weaves of vocal harmony are created through a process similar to — though obviously more advanced than — the one she developed for her 1999 a cappella album, Imaginaryland. “When I got my first four-track cassette for my birthday, I just started singing. I don’t play piano, I don’t play drums, I don’t play guitar. I play violin, but I didn’t know at the time how to plug it into the four-track. So what I did was, I had a microphone and I just sang everything that I heard in my head.”

The Bach-worthy flourishes in Haden’s Toyota choral work shouldn’t surprise, considering what she’s accomplished in previous a cappella projects, including Imaginaryland and her spectacular 2005 cover of the entire The Who Sell Out album. (Yes, that’s right, the whole record, the voices, guitars, bass and drums, all performed with her mouth, and so accurate in pinpointing the harmonies and rhythms that it makes your head spin.) Read more.

Posted by acapnews at October 29, 2009 12:00 AM


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