With their staple style of hooded sweatshirts and sneakers, the members of GW’s newest a cappella group, Emocapella, do not take themselves too seriously. But these days, to their surprise, everyone around them seems to.
Emocapella has gained national status for their innovative vocals, becoming the first college a cappella group to sing solely “emo” music. The group was featured in the Dec. 13 issue of Entertainment Weekly and is set to appear in three other national publications in coming months.
“We’re definitely more funny,” said junior member Dave Shapanka. “We go for entertaining people.”
The group is scheduled to appear in Blender magazine in March, Spin magazine in April and Rolling Stone in the next few weeks.
“We’re all very excited. We never expected to get this far,” junior Ted Blumenthal said. “It was amazing – we were just a group of kids having a good time and all of sudden they wanted to advertise our innovative idea.”
Emo music, an off-shoot of punk rock, can be described as a fusion of doo-wop and punk. Mix emo music and style with complex harmonies and vocal percussion, and the result is Emocapella.
“Emo refers to emotional punk rock,” said freshman singer Marc Berenson. “It’s that sort of ‘my girlfriend has broken up with me’ music. We also think of it as guerilla a cappella.”
The group cites musical influences from such bands as Jimmy Eat World, Flogging Molly and Saves the Day, as well hip-hop artists such as Biz Markie and Dr. Dre, Blumenthal said.
“Most of the group didn’t even know about this type of music until they actually joined the group,” Blumenthal said.
The only all-male a cappella group on campus, Emocapella is made up of 13 undergraduates who meet twice a week to practice.
“While the other a cappella groups on campus do more traditional songs, we focus more on punk music,” said sophomore member Brian Becker.
The group chooses songs by emo artists, then develops arrangements to accommodate the members’ vocal abilities.
“In addition (to) other things, we make guitar sounds with our voice,” Blumenthal said.
Juniors Eric Denman and Dan Reisser created Emocapella in fall 2001, when the group was able to perform only two songs.
Now, more than a year and a half later, Emocapella performs 13 songs and continues to add more music to their repertoire.
“We write the vocal arrangements for all of the songs that we do,” Blumenthal said. “We hope to write some original lyrics this semester.”
While both Denman and Reisser are studying abroad this semester, group members said they will be able to stay strong and look forward to adding new members.
Members said although some publicity was used in past semesters to recruit new singers, last year the group consisted mainly of their friends.
During the fall 2002 semester, the group appeared at a variety of GW events and regularly sang outside the Marvin Center.
“When we play in the street, it’s usually somewhere around the Marvin Center,” Shapanka said. “Our crowd consists of random people that pass by. A lot of them stick around and listen to us.”
Members said their most impressive performances have been at a fall show at the 9:30 Club in D.C. and Taking Back Sunday, another punk group.
Group members suspect it might have been a representative from the 9:30 Club who got in touch with Entertainment Weekly.
The group also appeared at the Foggy Bottom Ball last spring.
“It was a really awkward experience,” Shapanka said. “We sang our song ‘Nebubol,’ which deals with drugs, in front of former Mayor Marion Barry. We did, though, get a positive response from (GW President Stephen Joel) Trachtenberg. He even made a sort of ‘do do do’ sound.”
The group’s Web site, www.gwu.edu/~emocap, has grown in popularity dramatically since the December article in Entertainment Weekly, and has received 20,000 more hits since November.
“Our Web site is really helping at the moment, especially because you can listen to our music on it,” Becker said. “Also, people have now taken it from the Web site and put it on Kazaa.”
While the group said they have about a dozen hardcore fans, there are also many people who dislike them.
“A lot of people really hate us and write bad stuff about us on our Web site and all over the Internet,” Blumenthal said. “But we’re happy, because that’s how we’re getting popular.”
The group is considering going on tour this semester, traveling to college campuses across the Northeast. Emocapella is also working on other ways to publicize, including selling T-shirts and recording a CD.
“We have not received any financial help from anyone outside of the University,” Shapanka said. “We are a (Student Association)-sponsored group and receive about $150 from them. We are currently considering charging a small admissions fee to our performances.”
Auditions for the spring semester are set for Wednesday, Jan. 22. Details are available on the Web site.
The group said they are looking to add two or three new members, including a “drummer,” someone who does vocal percussion.
Emocapella will perform this Friday night at 9 p.m. at the Hippodrome as part of GW’s “Welcome Week.”
As far as their newfound fame, Emocapella members said that although they are excited with the way things are going, they do not see themselves as celebrities.
“We hope we can all get girlfriends from this,” Becker said.