Sound effects 

The Back Rows a cappella isnt just beatboxing for white boys

click to enlarge Get your fill of Peaches with The Back Row on Saturday - at CC.
  • Get your fill of Peaches with The Back Row on Saturday at CC.

I'm in my car when I first hear Unleash the Periscope, the album put out by Colorado College's all-male a cappella group, The Back Row. I'm driving along, bopping my head, when I come to a stop light. I look over, and the high school boys in the car beside me are smiling in my direction and bopping their heads, too. Turns out that passengers in surrounding cars could hear the vocal percussions on The Back Row's cover of David Bowie & Queen's "Under Pressure." Who knew?

I'm such a dork, jamming to an a cappella group and possibly being hit on by high school boys. But I'm both swept up by and listening intently to the music, trying to figure out how voices make every sound. The group's incredible mimicry of instruments is at least one reason The Back Row made it onto the album BOCA 2007: Best of College A-Cappella "07.

Every year, Deke Sharon, president of the Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA), listens to more than 2,000 songs for the 19 slots on the BOCA compilation. On his blog at the CASA Web site, Sharon writes, "[Recording quality is] the first thing we notice (usually within the first three seconds), and can immediately disqualify a song, and more often an entire album."

With little more than a room full of used bedding and an Apple computer, The Back Row recorded its effort. The group's founder and co-producer Ian Goldstein collected donations from parents to the tune of $20,000. The boys rented an apartment on the corner of Wahsatch and Yampa streets for nine months and installed Pro Tools professional recording software and makeshift soundproofing. Technologically advanced material was cost-prohibitive.

"We went to The Arc and got a hundred pillows for a dollar each," says Goldstein. "We [also] used mattresses and a bunch of U-Haul [packing] blankets."

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In order to come up with a truly finished album, The Back Row recorded one voice at a time. Goldstein tells me that the group's version of "Peaches" the hit mid-'90s song originally done by the Presidents of the United States of America is comprised of around 40 separate tracks. Other songs on the album are comprised of more than a hundred.

Regardless of how polished the music sounds, it's hard not to giggle a little at myself as a Pearl Jam "Daughter" and "Better Man" medley with wholesome young men harmonizing behind an earnest, faux Eddie Vedder makes me wonder if The Back Row needs a groupie.

About twice a year, the group embarks on small, five-day tours, mostly of high schools and colleges. Instead of making hemp necklaces and peanut butter goo balls like jam band followers, I could make holiday-themed wooden bead necklaces for teachers. I'd make a killing outside the faculty lounge!

The Back Row Winter Concert

CC's Armstrong Theatre, 14 E. Cache la Poudre St.

Friday, Dec. 15, 8 p.m.

Free; call 389-6607 for more information.

Unleash the Periscope available at the Colorado College Bookstore or ccbackrow.com.


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