HomeThe Unlikely Marriage of House Jacks and Monday Night Football

Contemporary a cappella just keeps getting bigger and bigger. If you need proof, all you have to do is talk to Deke Sharon, who is often referred to as the “Father of contemporary a cappella” and one of the most influential people in the world of contemporary a cappella today. Deke Sharon is also a member of The House Jacks, a San Francisco-based group known as the original “rock band without instruments.”

Austin Willacy, Roopak Ahuja, Troy Horne, and Jake Moulton are the other four members of the group, which has performed over 1000 shows and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in music. Deke Sharon is also the music director for the hit NBC show “The Sing-Off” and The House Jacks recorded many of the background vocals for the show.

So what’s next for Deke and The House Jacks? Deke says, “After 20 years we aren’t slowing down.” That’s an understatement! They quite possibly just landed their biggest and most surprising gig yet. What’s this you might ask? In the words of Barney from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother “It’s going to be...Le...gen...wait for it...dary.” Their vocals will be featured this upcoming season on the Monday Night Football Theme. You heard me right, they will be featured on...I don’t think I need to say it again. This is one of America’s biggest stages. Football and a cappella? I’m not sure Deke or Chad Ochocinco combined could have concocted something like this. Although, maybe I should say Deke and Terrell Owens since Owens did play for Deke’s favorite team the San Francisco 49ers. Whom I might add ruined my only good season ever as an NFL fan. Yep, I’m a Bengals fan...or is it Bungles...I guess it doesn’t matter, this is an a cappella article right?

What does matter is that contemporary a cappella is hitting the big time and I don’t know of a greater honor for me than to be able to interview the biggest name in contemporary a cappella, Deke Sharon. Sit back, get some popcorn, and start thinking of football and a cappella! Sounds like a strange combination I know...but it’s an awesome one. 

Q: Is it true that the House Jacks landed a role with the Monday Night Football Theme?

A: Indeed. Each year Monday Night Football has a theme, and this year it appears to be a "Battle of the Bands" except that one band doesn't have any instruments.

Upon landing the gig, I searched online to see what last year's theme was, and it appears it was... paint. Giant ducts filled with colored paint. Maybe it sounded good at the pitch meeting.

Whatever the reason, it definitely takes some of the pressure off, as it's not like we'll be compared to an Aerosmith cameo. We simply have to exceed whatever expectations have been laid by... paint.

Q: Will this air as a part of every single Monday Night Football Game? 

A: Yes.  It will be a part of every Monday Night Football Game this season, before the game.  16 versions, each customized to that week’s matchup.

Q: What can viewers expect to see during the Monday Night Football Theme this year?

A: Most of the visual experience will be all about Hank Williams Jr. and clips of players crashing into each other as giant metal graphics whirl about. However, there is a section between the verse and the bridge where the battle happens in the recording: Jimmy, an amazing electric guitarist plays for 8 beats, and then Roo answers with a vocal electric guitar. Then a horn section (trumpet, trombone and bari sax) play a riff, and Austin, Troy and I answer, and then a drummer plays a fill, followed by Jake beatboxing.

We did several takes of these back and forth sections, which is necessary because as we found, not a single person we spoke with on-set could tell that it wasn't all instruments. Flattering, and yet in a way too close for our own good. The video will tell the tale.

Q: What are your thoughts on being paired with instruments?

A: It is perhaps better that we are paired with instruments as opposed to 100% House Jacks (which was also discussed, and looked likely for a while). Some jerks might complain ("what's the deal with those stupid singers? Where's the band?!?") but this way we get to go head to head with the instruments and stand our own. No need to win, because if we tie, we've proven ourselves.

But in the end, who cares. It was fun, we rocked. If you'd asked me at the start of the year if we, or any a cappella group would ever perform the Monday Night Football theme, I'd have laughed in your face. Football is perhaps the single most macho American sport, while at the same time being the most watched, which put together make it near inconceivable that anyone would roll the dice and include a more or less unheard of (from the perspective of the average American) a cappella group in the opening theme for the definitive night of America's #1 sport.

I sure wish I were a fly on the wall during that pitch meeting.

Q: Did your job as music director with “The Sing-Off” help you land this gig?  

A: Not at all. The executive producer from ESPN on set was surprised to learn that I'm a producer on a show that is in direct competition (as “The Sing-Off”will air this fall at the exact same time slot as Monday Night Football).

I took the high road and didn't point out that we have beaten them in the ratings for the past two years (!)

Wait... think about that. A cappella has been beating football in the television ratings. Unbelievable.

Q: What was it like on set during the taping?

A: Everyone was very polite to us, but since I'm usually on the other side of the cameras, I was acutely aware that I was "the talent" and as such was both treated very politely and carefully corralled from place to place, checked in on, etc.

Q: How did you like being on the other side of the camera?

Well, when there was a big change at midnight between the two days of our shoot and it took them 6 hours to rebuild the set on a different sound stage, I must say that I was absolutely thrilled to be a singer instead of a producer, worried about logistics and budget!

Q: Did you get to meet anyone exciting on set?  Any NFL players? 

A: Nope - it was all about the opening song shoot, and there were no football players around.

Q: Is there anything else you want to mention about the experience? 

A: I would like to note that we brought Ed Boyer into the process early on, to mix our vocals and generally kick ass. Once again, he proved invaluable.

Q: What do you think this gig means for the a cappella world?

A: I'm not sure. Frankly, I don't know how many people will even connect this to a cappella, as we're not featured alone for any significant length of time. The overall sound is a blend of House Jacks and instrumentalists, and seeing as how there's no big sign saying "Hey! These singers are an a cappella group" some people might just think we're Michael Winslow's kids (albeit with a few different wives).

I think it does speak volumes that the top sports network has woven a cappella into one of their biggest "properties." We've come a long way in the past 20 years, from the early stages where people assumed we were classical, barbershop, or doo wop; through the awkward phase where every mention was the punchline in a sit-com; to now being at the core of two of the best rated shows on television; and now we are at the point that no network, however removed from music, remains impervious to our reach. Or maybe I'm over-thinking it. Maybe we just got very, very lucky. Well, fact is, we clearly got very, very lucky, no matter the reason.

Q: The world of contemporary a cappella is exploding right now.  Any thoughts on why?

A: These things work in cycles, it seems.

Big swell over 100 years ago = Barbershop.

50 years ago = Doo wop.

20 years ago = a cappella on the radio for the first time, from "Don't Worry Be Happy" to "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday."

Maybe it's just time again, the natural order of things?

One might assume it's a backlash against so much technology in music and use of digital enhancement... but there's is plenty of that in contemporary a cappella now.

Q: Do you think the explosion will continue?

A: I'm not sure we'll ever know. Moreover, there's no telling when it will peak then ebb. The Nylons "Kiss Him Goodbye" hit the airwaves in 1987, and Az Yet's "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" closed the party in 1996 - a full decade. Will this round last that long? Judging by “Glee” and “The Sing-Off”, I'd say we're in our third year now. Maybe fourth, if you start with the Straight No Chaser youtube explosion. And we know we're reaching into 2012, at least with more a cappella on “Glee”, and the movie “Pitch Perfect” (Regardless of past success, NBC won't renew “The Sing-Off” in 2012 until it sees ratings from season 3).

Q: What direction do you see contemporary a cappella going in the future? 

A: Seeing as how I would never, ever have imagined Monday Night Football, anything is possible.

Q: What is your favorite NFL team?  I know it’s the 49ers.  I must tell you that the 49ers ruined my favorite team’s only good season ever.  I’m a Bengals fan.....  I did used to love the Montana to Rice combo! 

A: Niners indeed! Yeah, too bad about the Bengals - Ed Boyer is a Bengals fan as well - but knowing the history with Bill Walsh and his former boss definitely makes the win more sweet.

Q: What are the most exciting and most unexpected gigs you've ever had?  I would assume this ranks right up there. 

A: Indeed. Certainly most unexpected.

Exciting for me would be performing for Ray Charles, probably. Carnegie Hall, maybe? First major gigs in Europe or Asia. Hard to rank.

About the author:
Ben Spalding is the head Choral Director at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio. At Centerville, Ben directs all of the choirs and the a cappella group Forte. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Kentucky. Ben’s a cappella roots go back to college, when he was a member of the University of Kentucky AcoUstiKats and a semi-professional group called 5 by Tuesday.  His love for music goes as far back as elementary school and music has and always will be a major driving force in his life.