March 18, 2010

Harmonic convergence for men of Overboard

DEIRDRE FLEMING

— By

Staff Writer

Berwick native Nick Girard sang a cappella for three years in college without any plans to continue. But after graduating from the University of Vermont, he couldn't stop.

Now a carpenter in Boston, Girard recruited three other male singers from Burlington, Vt., found another three on the Internet and formed Overboard two years ago.

As the group's musical director, Girard chose a nautical theme for the group to capture the New England spirit. Overboard has produced two CDs, ''Shipwrecked'' and ''Stranded.''

''To me, being on the coast, that is where you find most people walking around in the outdoors. I just wanted to embrace that charming New England coastal feeling,'' Girard said.

In December, the group's performance was shown on the ''CBS Early Show's'' '' a cappella Quest'' and praised by Motown greats Boyz II Men.

Still, Overboard primarily performs in New England's busy streets and historic courtyards -- Girard said he never wants to lose the shock value and delight that street performing brings to pedestrians.

Q: Why a cappella?

A: There is an enormous presence today in colleges. It is very common to find musical people who are not necessarily musicians by trade in a cappella. A lot of people have this experience, which is really great. We like this form of music because it is so natural and so portable. We don't need instruments or gear to move around. The whole idea to street performing is you can walk into a store and sing a song with six of us. That is certainly the thing that is exciting to us as singers.

Q: Do you need all seven of you?

A: We don't need all seven. Seven is the ideal number for what we're trying to do. It's difficult to get everyone together at the same time, which is why you don't see more of this stuff. There is a ton of this stuff in college, but you don't see a lot of it after. We plan for fewer people than we need.

Q: And if you have more, it's a bonus?

A: In general, it's a bonus if we have more. Especially for us, with our experience, we know how to fit in other people. We can sort of jump in and be a part of it, even if we haven't practice (with all seven).

Q: You talked about singing in the street. Where are some of the places in New England you've done that?

A: Primarily, we seem to land in Newburyport, Mass. It's a really great little town. It has a really nice boardwalk down by the water. A lot of people are milling around.

We've done a bunch of stuff in Freeport working with merchants. We've gone up to Burlington, Vt., to Church Street. We've done a lot of stuff up there. We try to find these areas where people are out and about, walking around.

We do try to contact those areas. It's kind of difficult. A lot of people don't know what we're talking about. They direct us to the chamber of commerce to get a permit.

Q: Is it mostly done free, as a way to educate others on a cappella?

A: Yes. We pretty much want to show people what we're doing.

Q: Do you put your performance schedule on your Web site (www.overboard

vocals.com)?

A: The big stuff we put on ahead of time. Occasionally, it does happen that we get a call asking, ''Can you come up?'' We make it work if we can. During the summer, for the local streets on the North Shore of Boston, it can be very last minute.

Q: But would you still put that on your Web site?

A: Yes.

Q: Talk about being a finalist on the ''CBS Early Show'' in December. What did you have to do to get chosen?

A: We had to record a three-minute-long video and submit that to them. That was it. To be honest, I don't know how many people sent in submissions... We were waiting around two to three weeks and we got a call that we're a top-five finalist. They told us to make sure we could fly to New York if we won. It was extremely exciting and nerve-wracking.

We were definitely shocked we made it into the top five. It was very exciting to be on the air, in our video, to have them play it and have Boyz II Men critique it...

We were pleased with their reaction. Ultimately, we didn't end up winning. The group that won was fantastic. We didn't feel badly not having won. It is a great experience and cool to have us affirmed by Boyz II Men as a solid ensemble.

Q: You have their review on your Web site, and they said your lead singer was not as strong as he could be, but that as a group, they praised you for singing live, and not recording voice-overs. What did you think of that?

A: We just went into a house and emptied out the living room and recorded. We didn't do anything with audio. We went with whatever we sang in the room.

We expected a number of the groups would have the budgets and the willingness to put into an admission video, especially the way the contest unfolded: They were going to pick the winner from one video. If you put in the time to create a fantastic submission-quality video, it will help you.

Q: Do you think a cappella music is misunderstood?

A: A little bit. I have definitely told people about it, and they don't know what it is. There is still a misconception that a cappella is barbershop music. It is definitely straying from that drastically. What we do is contemporary a cappella, or pop a cappella, where we take songs off the radio and arrange them to sing the way we do. The style is different from barbershop music. That's the major misconception.

Q: What are some of the titles you take off the radio?

A: We've done all kinds of stuff, from country songs by Rascal Flatts to the kind of heavy pop songs. We really try to mix it up and pick all sorts of artists, like Justin Timberlake. We try to make it as interesting to the audience as possible, so we can reach a really varied audience.

Q: Where do you hope Overboard goes?

A: Definitely, we never want to abandon the street performance nature of what we do. Probably, it is the most fun way for us to interact with the audience. It's very rewarding to walk down a road and see a group of people and sing them a song, and just walk up and sing and watch them be so shocked by what we're doing. It's the coolest feeling, doing it for the shock value. I never want to abandon that aspect of it. We are toying with the idea of getting a sound system and being able to go into a performance venue and doing gigs like that... really, the idea is to reach as many people as possible.

Q: What is that experience like... how you actually approach pedestrians while you're singing?

A: There is a cool restaurant in the middle of Newburyport and a lot of times, it happens both ways. For sure, this really cool thing happens. We were singing once and this man came out and said, ''Hey, it's my wife's birthday. Will you guys come over and sing 'Happy Birthday'?'' The woman would have no idea this group of seven random guys are coming to sing ''Happy Birthday,'' and then we'd sing another song. It's a really neat experience. Some people get really embarrassed and some get really into it and dance along with the group. It's definitely neat to see how surprised they are.

Q: That must be very gratifying, to have someone dance in front of you while you're singing to them?

A: There is nothing cooler than having someone start dancing along with the soloist.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

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