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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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Country a cappella group Home Free won the fourth season of "The Sing Off" in December.
Country a cappella group Home Free won the fourth season of "The Sing Off" in December.

"The Sing Off" champs Home Free bring a cappella to country

Thanks to the combined musical efforts of Straight No Chaser, "Glee" and "Pitch Perfect" (not to mention maybe a bit of nostalgia for the old "Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?" theme song), a cappella music has become a legitimate pop cultural phenomenon.

Oddly enough, however, while pop and a cappella are pretty much intertwined, the Venn diagram of country music and instrument-free crooning has so far included two very separate, non-overlapping circles. That is until the last season of NBC’s "The Sing Off," which saw the Minnesota-based country a cappella quintet Home Free take the stage, and the title, back in December.

Now, just over a month after releasing their first album "Crazy Life," they’re on "The Sing Off" tour with fellow season four competitors VoicePlay and The Filharmonic, as well as season three singers – and Wisconsin natives – The Fannin Family. Before they take The Pabst Theater stage for two shows Thursday night, I talked to Home Free tenor Rob Lundquist about the group’s origins, its time on "The Sing Off," and why country music and a cappella just haven’t gotten along. 

OnMilwaukee.com: How did you guys come together?

Rob Lundquist: The group started back in 2000. Chris and Adam (both Rupp) formed the group just out of high school. They were in college at the time. They started off with a few guys, and it just kind of snowballed into a career. They met me about six years ago after I was done with a group called Four Shadow out of Minneapolis that had just broken up. They needed a tenor, so I joined the group.

We met Tim (Foust) about five years ago. We had known about him for a long time. He had been in a bunch of different a cappella groups, so his reputation made it so that we gave him a call to see if he knew of any basses that would be interested. And he said, "Well, I’m not really doing anything right now if you want me?" And we were like, "Yes please."

And then we met Austin (Brown) on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship about two years ago. He was one of the production singers, and he blew us away. We had gotten pretty close with the cast, and he filled us in that he was a big a cappella fan and wanted to do that at some point. At the time, one member – Matt Atwood – was planning on leaving so we asked if he wanted to fill in, and he said yes. And we then auditioned for the show, like, right after that.

OMC: When did you audition for the show?

RL: It would’ve been like May.

OMC: It sounds like you guys were kind of still assembling together at that time. What gave you the confidence to try out and think you could do well on the show?

RL: Well, the four of us, besides Austin, had been singing together for four years, and Austin is such a professional, we really had no doubt in our minds that we could make the show. Our goal going into it was, "Let’s just make it past the first round." We definitely did that, which was cool. But yeah, we knew we had something special with Austin.

OMC: What was it like being on the show?

RL: It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it. A regular day could run anywhere from 10 to 14 hours, and it was all learning music and learning choreography. Each group had to learn three songs every week: the opener, the song that our group was going to do and then we all had to learn the Ultimate Sing Off. So that was a lot of material to do in a week.

We were working non-stop, but man, it was so worth it the day of the taping. It was just amazing, performing in front of three of our idols. I grew up listening to Shawn Stockman. Boyz II Men was everything to me, so being able to be in front of those guys was very surreal.

OMC: Was it intimidating at all facing the judges, knowing the judges that year were deciding the winner?

RL: It really was. Like I said, I’m a huge fan of Shawn Stockman. Our first show, we did "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line, and at one point, I made eye contact with Shawn Stockman. He was nodding and going, "yeah," and we made eye contact. I was just, like, "this is my life right now."

OMC: How do you guys put together your arrangements?

RL: I got to give a lot of the credit to Chris and Tim for that. Both of those guys do the bulk of the arranging. So they’ll sit down, figure it out and put it on paper – or Finale for that matter. Then they’ll send it to all of us, and we’ll learn our parts. Then we’ll come together and rehearse. Each one of us will say the parts that we like and which parts we kind of want to change a little bit. It’s proved to work out pretty well.

OMC: It’s interesting because country music isn’t a huge genre in a lot of a cappella music. I mean, just looking at the lineup from your season on "The Sing Off," it was all pretty much pop music across the board. Why do you think country music hasn’t hooked on as much in a cappella?

RL: It hasn’t. We’re kind of one of the first groups to really focus on it. It’s surprising because country music is all about harmony, going way back to The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers and things like that. They were just doing it with instruments. So I’m not sure why it hasn’t. I think it’s going to now, and I’m glad that we’re the ones who could kind of be the pioneers of it, I guess. It’s a cool place to be.

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