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IU a cappella group Gentleman's Rule finds success with YouTube mashup


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Ten male voices chime in to form the first few notes of Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon.”  
Just as the bride and groom are about to say their vows, a silence breaks the flow of violins in one of the most popular wedding songs.

Then, unexpectedly, singer Jesse Townes starts to sing Nelly’s 2001 pop hit “Ride Wit Me” in pitch-perfect a cappella.

What results is “Pachanelly Canon,” a mash-up sung by the 10-man group Gentleman’s Rule uploaded on YouTube at midnight on June 18. The video now has more than 200,000 views and counting.

Although Gentleman’s Rule is “based in Chicago” according to the group’s official website, all members are IU alumni and reside in Bloomington. The members are also former singers of the all-man Indiana University Straight No Chaser.

Dan Ponce, founder of the Straight No Chaser that signed with Atlantic Records in 2008, arranged the music for the mash-up.

“Combining Nelly and Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’ makes no sense whatsoever, and that’s why I did it,” said Ponce, who also works as a reporter for WGN-TV and as radio show host for WLS-AM in Chicago.

It was in summer 2011 when the members of Gentleman’s Rule began to rehearse as a group. The 10 guys crowded inside one member’s small bedroom and practiced to the notes of a piano attached to a computer.

About a month later, Ponce asked if they wanted to be on his indie label, Arena Child Records.

At the beginning of July, the group will start recording its album at Airtime Studios in Bloomington and will embark on a national tour with the quartet Under the Streetlamp, which Ponce will include on his label.

Ponce said he thought it would take a month for “Pachanelly” to receive about half of its current viewership. 

“Nowadays, that’s how it’s done,” he said. “You don’t need a music video to blow up on MTV, you need it to blow up YouTube. That’s where people go to find their music videos.”

The four-minute and nine-second long video, produced by Winky Productions, starts with a bride and groom who are about to say their vows until Townes, who sings tenor one, breaks into a melodious rendition of “Ride Wit Me.”

The rest of the members, including Main Squeeze front man Corey Frye, join in on the song’s most memorable line: “Must be the money.” The video, set in Chicago, finishes with a bridal party dance-off inside a reception hall.

“I think the video incorporates everything that people want in a good music video,” said Ponce, who is Gentleman’s Rule creative director. “There’s humor, it’s a really clever combination of music that have nothing to do with each other, and it’s shot really, really well.”

But before the group found YouTube success, the majority of the members who are now part of Gentleman’s Rule auditioned for “The Sing-Off” last summer. “The Sing-Off” is an NBC show in which several a capella groups compete for a contract with Sony Music Entertainment.

Tenor two Brent Mann said they called themselves “TBA” for “To Be Announced” before Frye, who sings tenor one, thought of the name.

Now, one of the show’s producers, Deke Sharon, will work with the group for its album, said member TJ Breen, who sings tenor two.
 
“It’s kind of weird,” Breen said. “We started just because we thought OK, we should audition for the show. We didn’t make it, we were pretty bummed about it, and then we’re working with (Sharon).”

Other than two original songs, the album will also feature covers of songs by The Script, OneRepublic, B.o.B., The Rolling Stones, Outkast and other well-known artists.

The video’s popularity caused some sites to refer to Gentleman’s Rule as a boy band. However, “boy band” is an image that the group wants to embrace.

“Unfortunately a cappella music itself has such a nerdy-choir-boy type of reputation anyways,” Townes said.

“And so that’s why we’re trying not to necessarily peg ourselves as just an a cappella group. We’re an a cappella band, we’re trying to be pegged as something more than that, so we can kind of mesh mainstream music with what we have been doing, even though it’s a cappella.”

Baritone Will Lockhart said they want to explore different background beats to their music — hip-hop, stomps and claps “to make it more fun, to make the audience go crazy.”

But right now, the group members said they are focused on learning repertoire as best they can.

At one point, the group hopes to release an album with all original music.

“Whether that’s written by Dan or by a lot of the guys in the group is to be said, I think,” Mann said. “But as we’re approaching it right now, that’s a huge concern for the group, and that’s something we really want to explore is for us to write our own music.”

Ponce said he hopes Gentleman’s Rule, whether considered a band or a group, will attract the same variety of audience that Straight No Chaser has since both groups originated at IU.

“You never turn on the radio and hear a cappella music,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen. I want to change that.”

Andrew Morstein, who sings tenor one, is the only member who majored in vocal performance at the IU Jacobs School of Music. The rest of the members — with the exception of Breen, who minored in music — all studied different subjects.

But for most of the members, being a part of Straight No Chaser during their undergraduate education provided a musical outlet.

“The unique thing about what we do is that we’re singing with our 10 best friends,” Breen said. “And that’s what we love to do. And we started singing, and we had no expectations of this being our career.”

Ponce said Gentleman’s Rule will not gain overnight success.

“But they have the talent and the energy to make it happen, and I think with a cappella it’s so much more than having great voices,” he said. “You have to have great writing, great producing and great energy, start to finish. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.”

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