by Patrick Michalishyn
Those Guys are an a cappella group that have been together since 2009. Eight guys, eight voices, that’s it. Their live show always turns into a party where people dance and sing along, each show eclipsing the last in terms of quality and spectacle. And they’re only getting better! Recently, Those Guys celebrated the release of their debut, That Album, over the course of two nights at the Park Theatre. Stylus sat down with Bernie “Ring Leader” Pastorin, Mike “The Heartthrob” Engstrom, and James “The Human Bassline” Campbell during a rare instance of downtime.
Stylus: You just released That Album a couple of months back. It’s ten songs long, yet your repertoire is five times that. What are some songs that you wanted to record, but couldn’t for whatever reason?
Bernie Pastorin: I think, the biggest one for me was “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. It was the first song that Those Guys learned and put together themselves, and when we couldn’t get the mechanical license for it… it’s kind of heartbreaking… It sucked because that was my pick for the lead-in track for That Album.
James Campbell: There were a few others we couldn’t get. We couldn’t get “Brown Eyed Girl”…
BP: Well, we could’ve got “Brown Eyed Girl,” but we decided against it because that arrangement had already been recorded. So, you’re wrong on that one! [laughs] But I’ll let you go on.
JC: So I’m wrong on that one. Another one we couldn’t get was “With Or Without You” because Bono’s… Bono.
Stylus: For the album you picked ten great cover songs, but at the show you unveiled an original composition, “Mr. Goodbar.” Are any of you writing originals to bring to the group?
Mike Engstrom: I’m only speaking for myself here. I hum and haw and I’ll write a few lines that could go into a song, but I’m not really an expert at putting a song together. I’ve got ideas for themes and arrangements… We definitely have strong writers in the group and it’s something we’re definitely going to pursue. Singing something that came from within the group felt amazing. On the other hand, we love picking out covers we love, songs that people recognize and really get into.
BP: We can’t argue that[‘s not] some of the biggest appeal for an a cappella group. People love hearing a different take on a song they know well.
ME: It’s all in the arrangement. Take the group Pentatonix; you hear a song, you know it’s a cover, but it makes you hyper and excited because it sounds so fresh. It sounds like a new song.
BP: And I don’t know who said this, but it’s taking a song down a different path. A new journey. I have a book of songs at home. Just lyrics and ideas… but no melodies! [laughs] But we’ve been talking about it, about bringing our ideas forward to the group, seeing what works and seeing what doesn’t. “Mr. Goodbar” was a huge success…
ME: It was a hit!
BP: I guess you could say it was a #1. It was received very well by our audience, and I’d like to eventually work out a balance of covers to originals.
Stylus: Have all the best songs already been written?
JC: [laughs] I don’t think so; I think there’s some room to hack something together. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming out lately and it’s just a matter of finding that cool stuff and trying to… “a cappella-ize” that cool stuff and even throw out some cool stuff of our own.
Stylus: I’m sure you just love being asked the question of “Why a cappella?” Lately, the genre seems to be getting more exposure.
BP: The a cappella community, not just in Winnipeg but in Canada, is so small. I think there’s a ton of potential, and people need to just call up their friends and just start a group. I’d like to encourage this. I mean, we’re not alone; there are groups like Interchord and Tiffany… all doing great things, but I wish that there was more of a community out there that supported a cappella. Some friendly competition would be nice. We’re getting a lot of support from our friends and family and they’re bringing new people into the fold. My goal right now is to push this local scene. We have Flo play with us, we’ve rolled with M-Caps, the Xanadudes have played a show with us… the Melissa Pletts out there… We’re putting out a call to all the artists out there that we need to help each other out. I’m calling you out, J.P. Hoe! Put us on your show, let us open for your crowd, let’s help each other out.
ME: That’s the point I was going to make! There’s nothing wrong with being small and not exploding “Hollywood-style.” Having a strong local community of musician friends helping each other out to reach new people and having a strong local following is great. It would be such an accomplishment to just be played on the CBC!
Stylus: I have to talk about the live show. You guys are a party band. You play with the crowd, you’re out in the audience… Mike, you are a ladies’ man! [laughter] At the CD release show there was that lady who almost stuck her tongue down your throat!
ME: [laughs] Oh, I knew her…
Stylus: There’s theatricality, the energy is palpable, but I don’t think that many people would associate that with a cappella.
BP: Well the studio and the stage are two completely different beasts. We have a lighting guy, stage director, everything. When you’ve got people in front of you, you feed off of it. It is a spectacle, that’s what we want. People left happy. We achieved our goal. And that’s something that we’re going to keep doing.
You can find out when the next party is at thoseguysacappella.com.