When the guys of Straight No Chaser, who will perform live at Wolf Trap on Sunday night, were brainstorming the concept for their latest album, “Under the Influence,” they dreamt big.
“The process was kind of ridiculous,” said Seggie Isho, a member of the all-male a cappella group. “We had this concept of doing a duets album with people we’ve idolized.”
Some of these people included music legends Elton John, Phil Collins and Stevie Wonder.
“It sounded great in theory, but in the back of all of our minds, we were thinking, ‘There’s no way we’re going to get this done,’” Isho said. “Why would these artists want to work with us?”
To their credit, there are a few reasons even superstars would want the opportunity to collaborate with Straight No Chaser. The group’s “The 12 Days of Christmas” video, released in 2006, has more than 20 million views on YouTube, their 2010 album “With a Twist” debuted at No. 29 on the Billboard 200 chart and their 2008 holiday debut “Holiday Spirits” hit No. 4 on the Billboard Top Holiday Albums chart.
Despite their accolades, Isho and the other members of Straight No Chaser still were surprised when the phone calls started coming in.
“I can’t explain the feeling when you get a phone call saying Elton John wants to work with you,” Isho said.
Elton John wasn’t the only one. “Under the Influence” includes guest artists such as Jason Mraz, Seal, Dolly Parton and Sara Bareilles. Some of the artists, including Bareilles, came into the studio to record live with the group.
“ ... Personally I was expecting [Bareilles] to roll in with at least her manager, an assistant and maybe some bodyguards,” Isho said. “She rolled up alone. She’s cool, super down-to-earth. You would never know she was this super-famous, incredible artist. That was a lot of fun. She hung out with us a little bit afterward. That’s a moment none of us will ever forget.”
The list of impressive guest artists on “Under the Influence” represents some of the artists the guys from Straight No Chaser consider their musical heroes.
“If you asked the 10 of us who our influences were, you would get these artists, plus tons more,” Isho said.
Straight No Chaser originated in 1996 at Indiana University. Isho, a Michigan native, was a student at the school from 2001 to 2005 and joined the a cappella ensemble in 2002.
“I went to high school in Michigan and had not heard of Straight No Chaser,” Isho said. When a friend suggested he audition, Isho said he was hesitant.
“It sounded like a glee club,” he said. “I’m a bit more social.”
But after giving the audition a chance, Isho said he quickly realized Straight No Chaser was no glee club.
“ ... It was nothing like I thought it would be,” Isho said. “It was like a fraternity.”
In 2008, the original members of Straight No Chaser signed with Atlantic Records. When two of the original members couldn’t commit, Isho, along with Tyler Trepp, was asked to join the group.
“If you had asked us in college if we thought it would go professional, we would have laughed,” Isho said. “It was something that blew all of our minds, and when it all went down, we didn’t know how to react. We were wondering what would happen, how would it go? Who would want to go see [us]? But to our surprise, it seems like people want to see it.”
Lucky for the guys of Straight No Chaser, their debut as a professional ensemble aligned with a resurgence in the popularity of vocal music. Shows like “Glee” had mainstream audiences interested in a cappella music.
“It’s really fun to see how vocal music is coming to the center of music again,” Isho said. “I think people are just ready for a fresh take. Everyone’s ears are used to hearing over-produced music. People are ready to give their ears a break and get back to the tempo and raw sound.”
Sunday’s show is part of the Summer of Influence Tour. While this stint is only two weekends, the tour picks up in the fall with Straight No Chaser performing shows six days a week.
Meanwhile, the original Straight No Chaser at Indiana is still intact, although under a different name.
“[They’re] now called ‘Another Round,’” Isho said. “They’re still there. Still singing to sorority girls.”