LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Naturally 7 already has quite a viral buzz going. The a cappella septet’s self-branded “vocal play” technique — their voices also double as would-be band instruments — has garnered more than 3.9 million YouTube views for the “Live in Paris Subway” clip.
Currently opening for Michael Buble on his Crazy Love world tour (and making a separate stop June 12 at the 32nd annual Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles), the Bronx outfit will release its first U.S. album in July, “Vocal Play: A Work of Mouth” (Hidden Beach Recordings).
Every sound heard on the album is made by a human voice. Incorporating R&B/hip-hop, gospel and rock, the set features originals written by the group plus a revamped cover of the Dinah Washington song “Relax Max” with Buble.
“Everybody has a unique sound; that’s the beautiful thing with the human voice,” group musical director/baritone/rapper Roger Thomas says. He and brother Warren — a tenor whose voice also “plays” percussion, guitar and clarinet — began singing a cappella in church. The pair teamed with five other a cappella-loving singers in 1999: Rod Eldridge (tenor, DJ scratching, trumpet), Jamal Reed (tenor, electric guitar), “Hops” Hutton (bass), Garfield Buckley (tenor, harmonica) and Dwight Stewart (baritone).
Inspired by Take 6, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau and Doug E. Fresh, Naturally 7 won several local and national a cappella competitions before hiring an agent. Booked on a series of college tours averaging 230-240 shows per year, the group came to the attention of a Swiss label.
Recalling the reaction to the group on its first overseas tour with Buble, in 2008, Thomas says, “Seeing seven black guys walk onstage — considering what Michael’s audiences look like — they had no clue what we were going to do. Then they’re hearing instruments but only seeing us with seven mics to our mouths. And you see they’re wondering, ‘OK, where are the instruments?’ But by the third song, you see the transformation; that they understood we were singing as instruments.”
Initially signed to recording deals overseas, Naturally 7 has released several albums there, including 2009’s “Wall of Sound” and “Ready II Fly.” The latter album features the song the group performs in its YouTube subway video, “Feel It (In the Air Tonight).” On tour with Buble through March 2011, Naturally 7 took time out to produce and perform with Ludacris on the title track of Quincy Jones’ upcoming album, “Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.”
“People are already imitating us on YouTube,” Thomas says as the act prepares for its U.S. debut. “Just like with rap in the early ‘80s, I think the climate is right for what we’re doing.”