Q&A: Pentatonix On Holiday Music And Who Would Be On Their All-Star ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Cover – Forbes

Pentatonix have a new holiday album and tour
Pentatonix’s superb new Christmas album, Holidays Around The World, find the multi-platinum group mixing familiar holiday tunes such as Wham’s “Last Christmas,” “Silent Night” and “Feliz Navidad” with Pentatonix originals like “Star On Top” and “Kid On Christmas.”
The quintet — Scott Hoying, Matt Sallee, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola and Mitch Grassi — joke about running out of Christmas music eventually. But that won’t happen. In fact, they haven’t even recorded the 1984 Band Aid anthem, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
After this interview though that might be coming. And if it does they’d recruit Adele, Ariana Grande, John Legend, Meghan Trainor, Andrea Bocelli and more for the contemporary version.
That was just one idea to come from my as usual fascinating conversation with the quintet.
Steve Baltin: I love the fact you did “Last Christmas” because I feel like we’ve talked about this song in the past.
Matt Sallee: Oh, that’s a great one.
Scott Hoying: I know, it’s been requested for so long. And we finally did it.
Baltin: So what made you guys decide it was finally right to do it now?
Hoying: We ran out of music [laughter]. Why did we choose to do it? I think it was just time.
Sallee: Something with Japan, I think. That song is, yeah, really popular in Japan. I think.
Baltin: Do you ever really run out of Christmas music?
Hoying: You’d be surprised.
Kirstin Maldonado: We’re starting to dig really deep, but we’re still finding stuff.
Hoying: Like we’ve never done “Silver Bells.” Can you believe that?
Kevin Olusola: Oh wow!
Hoying: And we haven’t done “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” all the hits.
Baltin: What about “I Saw Grandma Kissing Santa Claus?”
Hoying: Too risque [laughter].
Baltin: Everything’s been so nuts in the world. So how much fun is it to have this tradition to be able to share with people? And does it feel like it brings a little bit of normalcy, both to your lives and to the fans’ lives?
Mitch Grassi: That’s a great way of putting it. Tour just brings us a lot of peace and like routine as it is. But we get to be together. We get to celebrate the holidays together and we get to sing and just travel around. It’s so fun.
Hoying: And it is cool that I think lots of families like during these hard times, at least have Christmas to come home and be together. And it’s cool to be able to be the soundtrack or the tradition, like our show, that families have each year.
Baltin: Now that you get to come back out, do you feel like you’re appreciating and enjoying it even more?
Maldonado: Oh yeah, definitely. I think we were always just so nonstop before that there wasn’t time to pause and look at what we were doing, and take the gratitude as easily. And then, yeah, when it was stripped away, like I remember I was like sitting on my couch and like re-watching tour videos [laughter]. I would call everyone and be like, this is so wild, this is so crazy! [laughter] But it does give us a lot of gratitude to be doing what we’re doing, and for so long. So like obviously, we’ve been in a band for 11 years. So we’re just so grateful to continue to do this.
Baltin When you do the Christmas tour, do you bring in other stuff as well?
Maldonado: We used to. But now we have so much Christmas music it’s really hard to create our set list. ‘Cause the set list could go on forever. [chuckle]
Hoying: Yeah, we go to like the fan faves. And we’ve got like 20 songs on there.
Maldonado: Yeah. And then we’re like, we have no more time.
Hoying: But we’ve done like Daft Punk and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and A-ha before, for a Christmas show.
Baltin: If you’re going to do your version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”,” who would you guys bring on for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 2022. And let’s face it, there’s a lot of need for charity right now.
Hoying: We’d bring on Kelly, for sure. Kelly Clarkson.
Olusola: Meghan Trainor. We’d bring Ariana Grande.
Grassi: John Legend.
Olusola” Bruno Mars.
Hoying: Andrea Bocelli. Probably Adele. I could shoot her a text.
Baltin: I actually really love this idea. I was kind of just spit balling there, but why not? We are coming up on the fortieth anniversary in two years.
Hoying: I absolutely love your vision for us…
Maldonado: I know.
Baltin: Do you feel like having the opportunity to do this brings you guys more into the holiday spirit? Because I feel like, again, look, when things get darker, you need that light even more.
Olusola: Yeah, I completely agree. The fun thing about doing this Christmas album was that we actually started it in January of this year. So we got to be in a Christmas spirit throughout the year and to share that Christmas spirit with our collaborators from all over the world. For them to bring their love, to bring their light, to bring what’s special about their culture and who they are to our Christmas album. I think it added a whole another dimension of kind of epic-ness to the time of year that we love and that we once again got to enjoy it throughout the whole year. I think another point of that is that this album to me is like a collective prayer of everybody’s thoughts of wanting to share love, light, and hope and peace throughout all the world. And that’s what’s so special to do with all these artists together.
Hoying: I think something that also helps me feel okay and I think helps a lot of people feel okay is having something to look forward to and something to work on. We always look forward to Christmas, look forward to putting these albums and tours together and hope to provide something that people can look forward to enjoying with their families and like just putting any light we can into the world because we definitely need that.
Baltin: Take me through some of the collaborators. Anytime you get to work with different people, they bring in new fresh energy.
Olusola: Yeah. One of our favorites, we did this song called “Love Came On Christmas” that we wrote. It’s “Joy to the World” mixed with a song called “Kumama Papa.” And there was a group called the Grace Lokwa Singers, they’re from the Congo and they just had this iconic spirited way of singing that brought so much to the record that we were trying to write, in a way that I don’t think we could have done it by ourselves and given it justice.
Sallee: Yeah. And what’s special about that one too is that I think for the first time, we used their vocals as kind of like a sample throughout the song that something that we’ve never done before and is a cool idea that maybe we could do use in the future. And I think it just came together really nicely.
Hoying: It was also an amazing learning experience, all these artists from other countries the ad lib choices, the scale choices, the way they sing is so unique and it’s something you don’t hear in Western music. It’s just like really inspiring and beautiful to work with artists like that.
Baltin: Did it inspire you guys to want to be able to do different things vocally? Because when you hear someone who has a totally different range or comes from a totally different style it’s a natural thing to want to be able to learn it.
Maldonado: Yeah. I feel like we got to play across the genres. It’s like they opened up different doors where we could all just try different things within the styles of their singing, and it was just really, really cool… They are so talented.
Hoying: It also reminded me how limitless music is. I was like, “Whoa!” There’s so much you can do with just 12 notes. It’s really wild.
Baltin: And by the way, if you’re running out of Christmas music, one way to do it is to just keep writing your own songs.
Olusola: There are five originals on this record. We’re trying.
Baltin: Obviously, you guys probably know Christmas music as well as anyone in the world. When it came time to start writing these songs were there elements you tapped into you love in Christmas music?
Hoying: I feel like there’s three categories that we really like landed on. We have our nostalgic happy Christmas, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” And then we have like our spooky Christmas that we like to do, “Carol of the Bells,” “Making Christmas.” And then we have like our epic emotional singing on the top of a mountain at the top of our lungs losing our voice songs,” Hallelujah,” “Mary, Did You Know?”
Maldonado: Yeah. And I feel like in terms of like writing new ones, it’s easy and hard because we know so much about Christmas music that it’s familiar, but it’s always trying to think of a new way to say it because so much of it has been said before. But I feel like we did a really great job with the originals that we have.
Baltin: You say that it’s all been said before, but Christmas in 2022 is a lot different than Christmas in 1922 because it’s a very different world. And also it’s a fascinating thing as you talk about the collaborators, Christmas in the world is so much more multicultural now and there’s so much growth in it. Do you feel like there were things that really surprised you when it came time to make this record or when you went back and listened to the originals?
Olusola: One of the things that surprised me was that I don’t think we had tapped into our original songwriting as much as we had this time. We went to Nashville and there’s something different in the water when it comes to Nashville songwriting. The stories that they tell, the choices that they make are things that we wouldn’t necessarily choose ourselves. But to have that collaboration and to learn about the scope and the breadth and the depth of lyricism, even, I think that “Star On Top” and “Kid On Christmas” are two amazing examples of that. There’s so much that we actually did want to say utilizing the Christmas schema. So it was so fun to be able to expand our own lyricism with amazing writing collaborators. I just go back to the lyricism because. I don’t know about you all when we went, but for myself, I had an expectation of great writing which sometimes I don’t necessarily get in other aspects of my career. When I went to Nashville, I said, I’m expecting great, amazing songs that will challenge me as a songwriter, as a lyricist, as somebody who loves melody. It was amazing. And like you said, that environment, everybody, they say it’s a 10-year town because these people have worked for 10 plus years to write songs that finally reach culture. So I know that these are people that are really studied and are masters of their craft.
Maldonado: Yeah, the storytelling just felt more effortless there. And I think because it was so genuine, it brought out like a really organic honesty in all of us. And so it was just a really enjoyable time. And I feel like, especially for Christmas and telling those stories, we really connected with the writers and then created a great song.


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