Rockapella has left its mark on the music scene

If you go

Who: Rockapella

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Stambaugh

Auditorium, 1000 Fifth Ave., Youngstown

Tickets: $35 and $40; call 330-743-2717

Place:Stambaugh Auditorium

1000 Fifth Ave., Youngstown

Vocal group has left its mark on the music scene

By John Benson

A vocal bang is what the five members of Rockapella are promising Youngstowners who attend the outfit’s Friday show at Stambaugh Auditorium.

“The newest thing with Rockapella is we have a new record called ‘Bang’ that we released at the end of last year,” said group leader Scott Leonard, calling from Tampa, Fla. “We hadn’t had a new record in many years, and it’s all original. It’s kind of cool because it’s mostly been me who writes the songs the past 15 years, but on the new CD, everybody has at least one song they wrote. I think it’s the best record we’ve done. It’s also about the arrangements. Instead of adding layers and layers of different vocals that you can’t really create in concert, it’s very much like we sound live enhanced in a studio setting with our engineers making it funky.

“The crux of the arrangements is simple but powerful and quality. As opposed to quantity of tracks and sounds, you get the five elements that have been honed to the simplicity of it and yet still edgy. It’s one of our records that I can actually listen to.”

Among the songs Leonard points to as defining “Bang” is its James Bond- inspired title track, the R&B-flavored “Babygirl,” the reggae-ish “Shemibos” and the country-rock “Malibu Grand-Prix.” Though the new CD is all original material, aside from a bonus cover of Vampire Weekend’s “A-Punk,” its live show features new tunes and of course a slew of covers that over the years have become Rockapella’s bread and butter. However, Leonard stresses the quintet does more than just phone in other artists’ tunes.

“The thing about Rockapella is, we don’t do them unless we can make them a better version that deserves to exist on its own,” Leonard said. “So when we do, say, The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ or ‘Got to Get You into My Life,’ it’s a very Rockapella version, a very signature sound, and it’s very unique.”

It’s been a long and interesting journey for Rockapella, which got its start exactly two decades ago by melding — as its name suggests — rock and a cappella.

The group is best known for its appearance on PBS game show “Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?” The 10 million kids (and parents) who tuned in weekly during its heyday from 1991 to 1996 have created a powerful family fan base for the outfit. The show’s theme song is still the group’s most downloaded song.

As far as what Rockappella has contributed to the music world, aside from its 20 album releases, Leonard has quite an opinion. In his estimation, his act’s vocal presence in the ’90s influenced today’s popular college trend of a cappella groups reigning cool. And that’s not all. Did you ever hear of a show called “Glee?”

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and we’ve seen what we’ve spawned along the way,” Leonard said. “It’s like the splash Rockappella made in our first couple of years with the TV show and stuff, that came and died down. Then came *NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees. We were doing the Macy’s Day Parade and we were on a float, and they were behind us like, ‘Oh My God, Rockapella is why we started.’ So we spawned the boy bands, and then that kind of went away. And now there’s ‘Glee’ and this kind of choral vibe going on. We’ve gotten more notoriety again.”

And is Leonard bitter that his act is rarely — if ever — attributed as a building block to those trends?

“No, not in the least,” Leonard said. “I enjoy those things.”

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