They may be called “Simply Put,” but don’t let the name fool you - there is nothing simple about this group. I had the opportunity to sit down with the California-based sextet during intermission at the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival in January, where they were the hosts for the Friday evening Scholastic Competition. All six members - Andi Gibson, Marisa Esposito, Melissa Stewart, Drew Tablak, David Stal and Loren Smith - shared with me their unique perspective on life, love and a cappella.
How does it feel to be hosts at LA-AF and open up the festival?
Loren: It was great! We were here last year and this crowd has always and been very welcoming and very sweet. It’s great to be hosts and to not only hear new groups and new talent, but to be inspired and be with a bunch of people that love to sing this type of art form.
How did you prepare for LA-AF? Did you do anything out-of-the-ordinary?
Drew: Nothing. [Group laughs] Nothing outside of our normal rehearsal process. We have a music rehearsal and then we often rent some studio space to go over our choreography, but nothing out-of-the-ordinary from other gigs that we do.
David: We drank heavily. [More laughter]
Melissa: But that’s not out-of-the-norm!
Drew: I told you - we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
What does a typical rehearsal look like for this group?
Melissa: Total nonsense. Until “Papa Dave” says, “Okay guys, we need to be serious.”
What do you do to warm up? How do you get your creative juices flowing?
David: We don’t really warm up. We just start singing and then craziness ensues and then we calm down. And then we sing some more and then laughter gets a hold of us for about twenty minutes, and then we sing some more.
So would you say that you have a lot of fun at rehearsals?
David: [Deadpan] Not at all. [Group clutches stomachs from laughing so hard.]
How long has this group, in this manifestation, been together for?
Marisa: Just a little over a year now. We passed our one year anniversary just a few months ago on November 2nd.
Andi: We’re still a baby group.
How do you go about choosing repertoire?
Drew: It’s kind of up to whatever happens to be in the arranger’s head. David and Loren are our two arrangers - they do all our material.
Marisa: They kind of listen to songs that call to them, that they are passionate about, and then they think about the person in the group that would sound the best for the song and arrange it for that person.
Is that how you choose your soloists as well?
Andi: They’ve been talking to us since the beginning, telling us to make a list of songs that we really want to sing and then we’ve also had some songs for group ideas as well. We give them copies of those lists and they see what speaks to them off the lists.
Loren: Choosing songs...I like deciding not just what is a great song and what speaks to us as vocalists and to the audience as something that they want to hear, but I like to think outside of the box. What’s really fun for me is that I know I can put anything in front of any one of these singers and they can knock it out of the park. And so it makes everything crazy easy and crazy difficult at the same time.
What advice do you have for other CAL groups about getting a group together and keeping it together?
Loren: Seatbelts and condoms. ALWAYS.
Melissa: Flexibility. Jobs are going to play a part. Real life happens. This group definitely realizes that. In one year, I think we have been through more than most groups probably go through in ten years.
Marisa: I also think open communication is huge. You just have to be able to put everything out on the table, good and bad, and just keep that communication flowing. Making sure you’re all on the same page at any given time is really the most important thing to staying together.
Andi: We’ve always said, right from the beginning, that we feel like we’re a family. We get along and we have a lot of fun together as well as love to perform together. That’s one of the things that, even when times get tough, families still have to talk to each other and communicate and say, “how are we going to get through this?” Obviously we’re dedicated to the group and no one is leaving. We need to figure out how to make it most comfortable for everyone, no matter what comes across the table.
Drew: The two things that I would say - and neither of them are musical - one, it’s much harder than you would ever think. Two, you have to love people where they are at. And that is so difficult to do sometimes. You say, “You should be doing this,” and, “you shouldn’t be doing that,” but the should’s and should’nt’s get in the way. You have to say, “You know what, I disagree with that decision, but I have to love you for who you are and where you are at anyway.”
Andi: Drew is also a life coach...(giggles) And to not let that get in the way. “Okay, well this is where you are. How do we move forward?”
Drew: Loren has a saying: “The only thing that can stop Simply Put is Simply Put.” I think that that has to be true for other groups as well.
Melissa: You are your best friend and your own worst enemy.
What has been the best moment for you as a group thus far?
Melissa: It was here at LA-AF last year. Because no one knew who we were. We decided to do the 10-minute performance during lunch time. We sang and people were applauding and we left the stage. I was getting my purse and one of the Bruin Harmony guys said, “They want you back onstage.” We’re all professional singers in our own right, so to walk back onstage so awkwardly and to hold a microphone like we’d never held it before...it was such a humbling experience. That was the moment where it clicked for us. That was when we thought that maybe it was worth continuing this down the road. It was hilarious and amazing and humbling and spectacular all at once.
Drew: That’s why being back this year as hosts is wonderful. It’s like we’ve come full circle. Nobody knew who we were last year and on a whim we decided to do one of the lunchtime performances and all of sudden we’re on podcasts, we have fans, we gave out hundreds of business cards. In the year since then, we’ve released our album, which, by the way, was my proudest moment for the group.
Is there a second album in the works?
Drew: There are some ideas for a second CD that we’re working on.
What should the world know about Simply Put?
Melissa: Loren is crazy. [Group laughs]
Loren: What I like about this group and what I want people to remember about this group is that it’s six musicians that can sing their faces off, but the way that we emote a song - hopefully we pull your heart strings a little bit so that not only can you hear music and see people you can connect with, but that you walk away thinking, “These are people that really love what they do.” The same way we are inspired by watching all these other groups, we hope we inspire people in that way in whatever we are doing onstage.
For more information about Simply Put, visit www.simplyputacappella.com
About the author:
Jenn Fiduccia, North Carolina’s CASA Ambassador, swears that a cappella music saved her life. Trapped as a political science/pre-law, yuppie-in-the-making at Boston College, she auditioned (on a dare) for the newly-founded BC Dynamics and quickly realized that if she did not pursue a career in music, she would most surely die of heartbreak (Fiduccia also claims a slight flare for the dramatic.) After two colleges and three different majors, Jennifer graduated from New York University as a vocal performance major with a concentration in music business. After college, Ms. Fiduccia spent her time as a professional soloist in the New York metro area singing with a number of vocal and instrumental ensembles, performing in various theatrical productions and appearing on several different recording projects. In addition, she worked for ten years as a Music Minister and Youth Minister in the Catholic Church, where she created and directed two different worship music ensembles. In 2009, Jenn left the great state of New Jersey (*fistpump*) for North Carolina (although she vehemently denies that the move was orchestrated to be closer to the SoJam a cappella festival.) She set up house in Wake Forest with her husband and four children and has since had a hand in founding and directing two different CAL groups in the Raleigh area. When she is not playing referee or chauffer, she takes pleasure in sipping wine on her front porch, going to Zumba class at the gym, and arranging nursery rhyme remixes for the kids.