University of Richmond a cappella group The Octaves’ recently released 11th album, “Ricochet,” is a collaborative divergence of genres, voice and high-grade studio production, group members said.
“Ricochet represents a bounce back into the mainstream of a cappella for us,” sophomore member Chase Brightwell said. “It’s a transition into a more successful and vigor influence on the a cappella community.”
Around six years ago, the Octaves were in the college a cappella spotlight, receiving high reviews and award nominations for their album, “Shotgun,” Brightwell said. “Ricochet” is an attempt to return to that spotlight, he said.
An important factor in the album’s sought improvement was reaching a wider music network to help produce the album, Octaves president Jackson Taylor said.
Taylor and Octaves music director Jared Feinman made a concerted effort to network further into the a cappella community, starting as far as a couple years ago, Feinman said. The effort began in 2011 when the two attended the SoJam A Cappella Festival, a three-day music festival in North Carolina.
“That’s where we first got involved with a lot of the big wig guys in the a cappella community,” Taylor said.
One person Taylor met, Danny Ozment, would later play a crucial role in the album’s release. Multiple Octaves members would drive every weekend to his Washington, D.C. in-house music studio to record tracks for the album, Taylor said. All 12 tracks on the album were recorded there, he said.
“Sometimes we would be taking cars up there two to three times in one weekend,” Taylor said.
Another connection from SoJam was Dave Sperandio, founder of the festival as well as Alliance for A Cappella Initiatives. The Octaves used him as a consultant to find other music producers, mixers and editors who could provide the album with a different feel than previous ones, Taylor said.
“The last album we did had a very gelatinous feel because it was the same type of production being used for every song,” Taylor said. “With different mixing and editing this time around, it’s much more dynamic from song to song.”
The album comprises 12 songs from a diverse group of original artists, including Kanye West, Billy Joel and the Zac Brown Band. The multi-genre style of the album fits the group well, Feinman said, because of the diversity of voices of the members.
Certain songs and their respective solos just fit certain members of the group perfectly, Taylor and Feinman said, which is exemplified by two favorite songs of Octaves members: “Basket Case” and “No Church in the Wild.”
“‘Basket Case’ is a slow ballad with a really amazing arrangement and one of the best solos on the album,” Brightwell said. “Al Califano is great on it. In some ways, it was a better version [than the original] because he’s really connecting to the lyrics.”
“No Church in the Wild” shows a stark contrast in sound, as the group attempts to take on the hip-hop hit by Jay-Z and Kanye West.
The song features multiple rap verses performed by junior member Bennie DeSalvo. The ability to rap in an a cappella group is rare, Brightwell said, and having Bennie just gives the group one more element to use.
Having a variety of genres was the most important component of “Ricochet,” Brightwell said, because it represented the message of the album: the group’s dedication to music and its fans.
“We’re very appreciative to everyone who was involved in the album but also everyone who is going to listen,” Brightwell said. “That’s the most important thing.”
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