Laura Thorne interviewed Deke Sharon of the House Jacks from San Francisco California, who will perform their first UK show on Thursday the 23rd January as part of the fifth annual London A Cappella Festival.
The House Jacks, self-described as a “rock band without instruments”, emerged in the early 1990’s. The group and its founder, Deke Sharon, shattered previously held definitions of the a cappella sound with muscular, edgy arrangements of original rock songs built upon funky grooves and vocal percussion, or “beatboxing” (the group has included two of the genre’s most respected beatboxers, Wes Carroll and Andrew Chaikin, over its two-decade history).
The House Jacks developed a wide international following, most notably in Germany and Japan. The burgeoning interest in vocal music, helped along by singing competitions including Idol and X Factor (which have featured more than a few moonlighting a cappella singers), reached its apex with the American hit show “The Sing Off” on NBC , and the film “Pitch Perfect”, for which the House Jacks Deke Sharon is vocal producer and music director.
This is the House Jacks’ first UK appearance and in honour of the occasion, their founder chatted with Laura briefly by email to discuss the group’s history & the current resurgence of all things a cappella:
Laura Thorne: First of all Deke, what IS a House Jack?
Deke Sharon: A “house jack” is what you use when you want to move a house. Anyone who’s seen them perform live will tell you that the name is appropriate. “Raise the roof” takes on a whole new meaning with the House Jacks.
LT: Have the House Jacks played in the UK before?
DS: Nope, this is the House Jacks first time in the UK, which is strange considering we’ve toured continental Europe 30 times. We’ve even performed in Sri Lanka before making it to London. Each European country has their own tradition of a cappella and their own unique style, and we’re thrilled to be coming to the land of the King’s Singers and Swingle Singers, both huge influences on us.
LT: Do you think programmes such as ‘The Sing Off’, ‘American Idol’, ‘X Factor’ etc and films such as ‘Pitch Perfect’ have affected how people perceive a cappella music? Has it made it more popular?
DS: There’s no doubt The Sing Off and Pitch Perfect have influenced how people are perceiving a cappella music… but I’m extremely biased, as I produce and music direct both.
LT: Speaking of which, members of the House Jacks were involved with some of the above shows. What’s the story?
DS: I’ve been involved with both from the beginning – started as an arranger on The Sing Off, and was made a producer by the start of season 2, overseeing all of the show’s music and performances. Sony also has me fly to other countries when making the show (like China and Holland). As for Pitch Perfect, I was brought it at the beginning and helped choose songs as well as arrange and teach the music to all of the cast, then record it all for the movie and album (which was the best selling soundtrack album of 2013 in the US). Other House Jacks have helped by recording tracks for The Sing-Off’s background music and House Jack Nick Girard produced the Xmas album last season, and helped coach groups this season.
Laura Thorne: The House Jacks were founded in 1991. How has the scene changed since then, and what’s the secret to your longevity? What does the future hold?
Deke Sharon: The secret to longevity might simply be persistence, and a focus on making our music our way, as opposed to trying to chase fads. Fact is, we were ahead of the curve and too early when signed to a record label in 1994. The world wasn’t ready for our style of contemporary a cappella yet, and our label had no idea how to market us. Fast forward two decades and Pentatonix, Straight No Chaser and now Home Free are all having major success as our style of a cappella is enjoyed across the US and worldwide. Without being too self-aggrandizing, we were the first professional a cappella with a full-time vocal percussionist, and stayed the course. We’re thrilled that the world is now paying attention to and loving the music coming out of our community; and we’re doubly thrilled that we’re still around to share in the moment!