The Sing Off’s Sonos: “If [music] makes you happy, it’s doing its job”

Last night on NBC’s The Sing-Off, judges Sara Bareilles, Shawn Stockman, and Ben Folds made a tough decision and eliminated Award-winning Sonos from the competition. After making it past Round 1 with their performance of Chris Issac’s “Wicked Game,” Sonos knew they had to work hard to build upon the judge’s critiques and come back a new group in the next round! Unfortunately, in a crop of highly talented groups, Sonos found themselves eliminated. Even with their awards from the A Cappella Recording awards and the A Cappella community awards, Sonos wasn’t able to wow the judges enough to stick around. Earlier today, YakkityYaks had the pleasure to chat with Chris Harrison from Sonos. Read on to find out the story behind the name, plans for the future, just what those effects pedals really are and what’s up next for the latest talented group to be eliminated!


The Yak: Hey Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. We’re happy to talk to you but not happy at the same time. {laughs}

Chris, Sonos: {laughs} Haha, ya. Thanks, and no problem.

The Yak: So, let’s start with the name Sonos. Can you tell us a little bit about where that came from?

Chris, Sonos: Sure. It actually comes from a book I saw one day in the library. Before we even became a group, I had been in the library and this green and orange book popped out at me on the shelf. The name of the book was Sonos. So, being the nerd that I am, I went and opened to book since the title intrigued me. Well, the book was written in French. I don’t speak French, so that just made it more mysterious. When I got home, I googled “sonos” and didn’t find anything about the book I picked up, but I did find a Greek meaning of the word, which related to sound. I thought that was cool and the name can be flipped around without changing it’s spelling. So when it came time to pick a name for our newly formed group, I threw it out there and everyone dug it. We really like the mystery and meaning behind the name.

The Yak: Wow, that’s really cool. What a good message to encourage kids to go the library. Look at where you ended up from picking up a book. {laughs}

Chris, Sonos: {laughs} Ya. Never thought of it that way. Haha

The Yak: So did you know that Sara Bareilles was going to be a judge before you auditioned or was that a total coincidence that you two had worked together in the past?

Chris, Sonos: No, we agreed to do the show and then several weeks later they announced that Sara would be the replacement judge. I kinda laughed about it. It makes sense with her a cappella background and the community loves her music.

The Yak: How did you find being on the other side to where she was judging you instead of working with you on stage?

Chris, Sonos: It was surreal. It was kinda funny and strange because it’s someone I know. But at the same time it’s someone’s opinion I really respect. In college we sang in an a cappella group together at UCLA and she has an ear and a brain for this kinda stuff, so I really enjoyed it.

The Yak: Did you guys get a chance to be mentored by the judges or were the critiques and feedback all that you had to go off of to better yourselves in the competition?

Chris, Sonos: No, there was no mentoring sessions. The only time we ever interacted with the judges at all was when we sang for them and heard their comments. That was all the exposure we got.

The Yak: How does that affect your planning on what you’re singing for the week and how you’ll approach it?

Chris, Sonos: Well, when we performed Wicked Games in our first episode, the feedback was really helpful. It was things we already knew coming on the show, like putting away our effects pedals. We have five voices, three female and one beat boxing leaves out a low end. That was our primary concern in the first place and well, they figured out that was our primary problem. {laughs} So it forced us to be more creative in our process on the show.

The Yak: Now you brought up the effects pedals, but a lot of people are questioning why audition or sign on for a show like this when you can’t use the effects pedals if they’re one of your strengths in making music.

Chris, Sonos: Well initially, we were informed they weren’t going to be a problem and that we could use them. When we first had conversations about auditioning, we were being encouraged to do it exactly as our own live show as we’re used to. They were very supportive about what we were making and the way that we make it. At our actual audition, we used our pedals and they liked it. After discussions the network was having with themselves, they decided it would be a little too unfamiliar for the audience to see 16 groups singing and one of them comes out with these boxes on the floor and the sound is different. It’d be confusing, they thought. It wouldn’t look quite right with no explanation. It was put to us that we think you’re wonderful but if you could put them down when you’re on the show, you’re welcome to be a part of it. You know, when a band or lead singer puts down their guitar and does a stripped version of the song, you don’t get the full effect as they intended it, but you get a piece of it. If that’s something you like, you’ll go look into something they do as a full band and we thought that’s what we’d do. If you decided to search for us on the internet, you’d see what we actually do. From the get go, we didn’t think of the show as a competition. We knew we were fish out of water on the show and we didn’t think we’d win. We thought it’d be a good opportunity to showcase what we do. We were honored to be invited.

The Yak: It was our pleasure to listen to you guys! So is there a song you wanted to do that would help share your story?

Chris, Sonos: I feel like “I Want You Back” did that as much as possible. It’s one of our signature songs. It sounds relatively close to how we sound in our live show. That drastic type of reworking of the songs is what we do to set ourselves apart and gets people thinking “wow that’s weird. I kinda like it.” I’m trying to think … Hmmm … The song we were planning on doing for the guilty pleasure episode was “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and our friends at Pentatonix went ahead and did that one that week and gave us a shout out. It was kinda sweet.

The Yak: You mentioned being happy performing “I Want You Back,” but ironically it may have led to your elimination. {laughs} Was there an internal struggle among the group to perform it as your signature performance vs infusing the familiar tune the judges said they missed?

Chris, Sonos: {laughs} Good one. We personally didn’t struggle at on. We’re grateful the show exists; it’s healthy for the a cappella world. In a round about way, we’re an a cappella group even if we use random pedals on the floor. In the context of the show, we knew either we’d be drowned out by the sheer size or energy level of the other groups. The approach of the show is Top 40 Pop songs that everyone will know, which makes perfect sense because it’s a TV show for everyone, so we’re this group who does quiet, weird, strange reinventions of lesser known songs. We’re kind of like the boutique band of a cappella. The likelihood of us sitting here and thriving isn’t great. but isn’t it nice that they opted to take a shot and hear what we had to say. I think we’re much more satisfied that we said what we had to say the way we had to say it. We just had to leave things behind and appeal to the competition.

The Yak: Can you talk more about the effects pedals actually? A lot of people may not know they play a role in the evolution of a cappella this day in age.

Chris, Sonos: Oh, absolutely. I’d be more than happy to. The philosophy in the beginning in using them was, as you know coming from a nerdy recording mixing engineer, when any group makes a record, in almost every situation, they are inplementing effects like this. They’re implementing an octave pedal for the bass, letting the guy sing bass reaching the depths and hit notes the human voice can’t hit. That gives it the lower end that’s strong and sturdy as rock records. In the chorus, you splash background with a delay, something to add to the texture of the sound. You really flush it out and give recording more highs, lows and extra richness. I was doing that with my livelihood until we put the group together. I knew how to take this level of production to a live show, so I wanted to do just that. There’s no point in not doing that. If you sing badly, its not gonna hide that if it’s affected. For the first year, I think it was very difficult for the group to listen and tune and blend the way a group that’s completely a cappella would. But we pushed through and did it and it’s an essential part of our live show. The things we use in our live show, the things we were naked without, was the octave pedal. It takes the incoming note and lowers it one octave. In our case, it allows the women to sing bass. In our live shows, in “I Want You Back,” Kathy sings bass with an octave pedal. She’s a fantastic alto to begin with. She’s probably our best bass actually. {laughs} Another key pedal we had to leave behind was a loop station. That really helps when you have 5 people. In certain songs, it loops 2 bars per beat. You would do vocal percussion for 5 seconds or something, kick the pedal twice and it’ll play back what was just done in time. You can sing over it, so you can sing a second male part in our case with Ben. You can turn it on and off depending on the section. That really helped us to have more voices handy. Without that, it’s like wow, we’re just 5 people.

The Yak: Thanks for elaborating on that. As a musician, that was really cool to hear. I’m sure others will enjoy that. Are you rooting for anyone in particular?

Chris, Sonos: We feel a kinship with Pentatonix. We gravitated to them early, as they’re in our bracket. Scott, the tall blond guy, went to school and sang in the same a cappella group as Rachel in our group, so there’s a brother/sisterhood there. We’re really impressed with them. They’re not only the sweetest & most fun, wacky kids on the show. They’re a blast. They’re very impressive and they’re all about reworking song too. They do really drastic reworking of songs they cover and they’re really good at it.

The Yak: What’s next for you guys?

Chris, Sonos: When we left, we went right back to work. We’re in Seattle right now for our tour. We were in Alaska just last week. Tomorrow we’ll be in Idaho then moving on to Athens, Georgia, I think. We’re working on a record with all original songs. We’re about half way through that now. It’s really fun writing original songs. It feels a little trailblazery. There are certainly some, but there aren’t a whole bunch of bands making records of just original songs.

The Yak: When can we expect a release?

Chris, Sonos: We’re in the middle now. Should we get to 12 songs and we see its taken a turn to the left and its now of this fiber, we need interstitials. We need to write, it almost feels like a concept album. Let’s take it that much further and fill in the spaces there. Our hope is to finish principle recording later this year. Hopefully very early next year.

The Yak: With The Sing Off bringing a cappella to focus in America, do you have any advice for groups or aspiring singers/songwriters?

Chris, Sonos: Ya, I think if you love it enough and you’re thinking about it all the time, do it and love it and don’t worry about criticism. Take the constructive aspects and interpret that. If it makes you happy, it [music] is doing its job.

The Yak: If The Sing Off did a season of all stars would you guys consider doing it?

Chris, Sonos: If they invited us back. We’d be honored.

The Yak: We can only hope then.

Chris, Sonos: Thanks man. It was nice talking to you.

The Yak:Thanks, Chris. Same to you. Good luck!

If you want to keep up on all things Sonos, you can keep up with them on their website,

The Sing-Off airs Mondays at 8pm EST on NBC. Next week, the brackets merge and the Top 10 take a shot at advancing. Two groups will be eliminated!