So things are winding down here at Sled Dog Studios as the first day of “Next Level” comes to an end. I arrived late in the day, and missed most of the initial classes, but I make it for dinner and in time to catch some of the recording exercises, along with some of the other evening activities.
Simply Put and I met at LAAF 2011 on a walk across the UCLA campus to the Grand Ballroom where they would be one of the performers between workshops. The performances that day had varied from, “very cool” to, “I’m glad they’re having fun”. I didn’t have to speak with them long to like them. They have an infectious energy and enthusiasm, in addition to being very warm and friendly.
I remember thinking to myself, “I really hope they are good”.
I was not disappointed.
Their performance was the only between workshops that year to receive a standing ovation, and they were the only group from whom the audience demanded an encore.
So they were good, that’s cool. But what is really cool, is how they were good. Often times, that kind of enthusiasm is reserved for a display of lightning fast vocal percussion, gut busting bass, or unbelievable high notes. Not in this case, what Simply Put brought that day was precision and balance. I remember applauding after that performance, and realizing to myself that I had taken very few photos, I had instead been carried along with their beautiful harmonies, and the flawless solo from Drew Tablak. Drew’s runs were as tight as they get, but well placed, and used to compliment the arrangement rather than showboat. The rest of the group was in such sync, that they blended from parts into music, and the whole crowd felt it. Simply Put had made their place on the landscape of the Contemporary A Cappella community.
Headlining the friday night scholastic competition Simply Put looked to be very at ease on stage. They make for an eclectic group, from Loren Smith, whose hang back and relax style of bass can break out into comedy and emotion at any moment, to Andi Gibson’s constant, seemingly effortless scatting and flirtatious energy, there are different flavors wherever your attention wanders.
If I had any criticism, it would be the same that it often the case when I see Jazz A Cappella groups. The song selection feels a little stale, and I would really like to see a little more dynamics from them as a group where visuals are concerned. Individually they are all very strong performers, each very capable of stepping forward and commanding the audience’s attention. But there is very little noticeable choreography in their show.
I dropped an email to Loren when starting this post and asked if he would mind answering a few questions about Simply Put, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. He was gracious enough to agree, so a very sincere thank you to him for taking the time to get back with me on such short notice.
How did Simply Put begin?
We met working on different musical projects and decided we wanted to get serious about becoming a group.
What has been the most persistent issue facing Simply Put?
Still in our infancy, I would say our biggest problem is working out the kinks of who we are, and what we do. As time goes on, we’re able to define what works and what doesn’t, but the journey of discovery has been very challenging, but has proven the most helpful.
What have been the most transformative events for Simply Put?
Without a Doubt, one definite event was our performance at LAAF 2011! We had only been together a couple months, and we were pleasantly surprised at what an amazing community we were a part of, and how lovingly accepted and welcomed we were.
What is your process for song selection with covers?
Most arrangements start off as a conversation between either myself and David, or per the group’s recommendation. We desire to take timeless music t0 showcase the different styles that we bring to the musical table.
What is your process for putting together a set?
That responsibility belongs to David (M.D.) and he makes the list pending client requests, time frame, and venue setting. Thank goodness for him!
How would you describe Simply Put to someone who’d never heard them?
Simply Put is a Soulful A Cappella Sextet with harmonies and soloists that you have to hear to believe.
What is your current focus moving forward?
We are looking to branch out of SoCal, and professionally continue to spread the joy of a cappella wherever there’s good folks, a great sound system, lots of love and snacks.
Here are a handful of my favorites.
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I’ve been a fan of Duwende since I first saw them at SoJam in 2005. Their lineup has changed since that performance, but the electricity they bring to the stage has not.
Traditionally Duwende has been known for their original composition, including a personal favorite, “I Fall” from Radio Screaming. Recently they have had success with their covers of Michael Jackson songs, which has brought a new energy to their performances that compliments their own songs.
By saturday night SoJam 2011 had already been a tremendous weekend. The friday night competition had been the strongest in memory, and the bar had been raised in workshops and masterclasses. But the best was yet to c0me.
The Boxettes are a group I was not familiar with until I heard they were coming to SoJam, which is yet another exciting reminder that there are many amazing groups I have yet to discover!
You can see the Boxettes in “Free” HERE. Check that out, and believe me when I say they sound just as good live!
The night was closed by what is without exception my favorite live group. Naturally 7 was the first professional a cappella group I saw live. They blew my mind then, and have continued to do so with each of their shows I’ve attended since. They’ve been opening for Michael Blublé for some time now, and as much as I love the exposure that’s given them, if that’s all you’ve seen from them, you’ve barely scratched the surface.
I own every album they’ve released, and their Christmas album is a family tradition. I recommend them all the time, and people are always receptive, if only politely so, but I know they aren’t really giving them a chance, because if they were, I’d hear back from them.
So again, let me encourage everyone reading this who doesn’t know Naturally 7, or who may only know little about them, to really explore their work. In addition to their raw talent and musical capacity, their message is always a positive one. They are authentic in their expression, and make interesting and creative musical choices in a variety of directions.
Here, I’ll get you started, go watch THIS and THIS, then download their Christmas Album (I know it’s past Christmas, just do it now before you forget) After that pick up “What is it” or “Wall of Sound”.
When you’re finished there, make sure you write SoJam on your calendar in pen this November. Hard to imagine how the SoJam team is going to follow 2011, but they’ve never disappointed, so get excited!