A cappella group Pentatonix tours U.S.

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Photo: Tim Cruz

Mitch Grassi is one of two openly gay members of Pentatonix, an a cappella group that came to fame on the NBC series “The Sing Off.” Pentatonix has just released “Volume 1,” a six-song EP that includes the group’s cover of Australian singer Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Pentatonix is on a multi-city U.S. tour.

Grassi talked with WiG about Pentatonix in late summer.

Gregg Shapiro: How did Pentatonix begin.

Mitch Grassi: Pentatonix started out as a trio with Kirstie (Maldonado), Scott (Hoying) and me, because we had been in choir for most of our high school careers. I guess that was a big influence. We all have different musical influences. I would say that mine is a little bit more electronic. Scott’s is a little more R&B. It’s kind of a melting pot of different genres. 

A pentatone is defined as “a gapped scale with five notes; usually the fourth and seventh notes of the diatonic scale are omitted.” Why did you chose that word as the group’s name?

The pentatonic scale is a scale that’s very popular in R&B, soul and pop music. We use a lot of it in general and when we are writing music. It’s a five-note scale and we have five members, so we thought it was pretty appropriate.

Do members of the group have assigned singing roles?

I would say that Kevin (Olusola) and Avi (Kaplan) are the rhythm section and the rest of us are the vocalists. Sometimes we’ll switch positions. I actually really do like doing rhythms, but it rarely happens, because I
can’t get those low ends that Avi can usually get.

Four of the six songs on the “Volume 1” EP are covers. What was involved in the group’s song selection process?

We’ll discuss our favorite songs or songs that we always really wanted to do as a group. It was a bit difficult at first, because we had so many possibilities and options. In the end, I think we chose the right ones. It was just a matter of, “Can we arrange these songs for the group, will it sound good, are we going to have a good lead vocalist?” 

What was involved in the songwriting process of the two originals, “Show You How to Love” and “The Baddest Girl”?

That was quite a process, because we had never done that before. (When it came to writing the songs) I think it was melody first. We had a friend named Ben Bram help us out with the arranging process. It was difficult. It was trial and error. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being one of two gay members of Pentatonix?

There are actually more advantages than disadvantages. I think it’s a great thing. I love that our fans are so accepting. It’s amazing. It makes me feel so close to them. Some people might say that being openly gay in the music business might deter you from having a career, but I don’t think that’s true. My career, as a queer person, has been pretty successful. I’m proud.

The group just returned from China. How was that experience?

It was amazing. The country itself was so beautiful. We actually got to perform on “The Sing Off: China” and that was a trip (laughs). We actually sang a Chinese song on the show. They requested that. I messed up a lot, personally (laughs). 

What can people expect from a Pentatonix show?

If they’ve seen any of our earlier shows, they can expect more of a “show.” We’re putting together some different things.