Lompoc Concert Association welcomes New York-based a cappella ensemble Backtrack Vocals

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VOCAL TEAM: The Lompoc Concert Association hosts New York City-based a cappella group Backtrack Vocals on Jan. 12 for a performance of oldies prepared by the ensemble of young vocalists.

Ludwig van Beethoven might have had an inkling that his “Symphony No. 5 in C minor” would go down in history, but he probably didn’t foresee the piece realized by an a cappella choir complete with techno beatboxing.
That’s exactly the kind of approach to a classic that helped skyrocket the New York City-based a cappella group Backtrack Vocals to prominence across the internet on platforms like YouTube after the band formed in 2012. Members have come and gone since, but the current lineup has been touring nationally since 2015, including an upcoming show for the Lompoc Concert Association on Jan. 12.
Before then, the idea that a five-piece a cappella group could make a living touring the U.S. was a nonstarter, explained Backtrack soprano Mallory Moser.
“We hit the YouTube scene right when it was getting really big, so I think that springboarded us to be able to perform live because we got a lot of inquiries from our YouTube channel,” Moser said. “People were like, ‘Oh, you’re so great, where do you guys perform?’ And we thought, ‘We don’t really perform, but maybe we should give it a shot.’”
Backtrack’s rise was part of a larger movement of a cappella show choirs rising out of the obscurity of high school and collegiate competition and into the mainstream.
In 2012, the year the group formed, the film Pitch Perfect came out, hilariously lampooning the college-kid obsession with a cappella show choirs that aim to emulate pop music with only vocals. The year before, the group Pentatonix won third place in NBC’s The Sing-Off, popularizing the style that includes tight harmonies, baselines, and beatboxing.
“It was honestly just kind of the right place at the right time because it wasn’t meant to be what it became,” said Johnny Buffalo, Backtrack’s beatboxer. “I think that it was really the popularity of these shows and movies that really made a market for it.”
The Backtrack Vocals YouTube channel has more than 111,000 followers currently, a healthy enough subscriber base to allow the group access to a space in New York City that provides equipment and crew for video productions.
The editing of the videos, however, is done entirely by members of the group. A cappella YouTube videos have become a genre in and of themselves, with single members inhabiting boxes on the screen (think The Brady Bunch opening, but with singing). But video editing, beatboxing, and hitting perfect harmonies aren’t the only skills that Backtrack members have, explained the group’s alto, Melissa Jordano, who has a background in acting and theater.

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ONLINE FOLLOWING: Backtrack Vocals rose to popularity on YouTube as media like the film Pitch Perfect and the television series Glee! brought a cappella performance to higher prominence in the public eye.

“One of my favorite things with the music videos is playing around with acting,” Jordano said. “A few of us have backgrounds in acting, so it’s just a fun way to explore that other side of our creative brains.”
The group’s members have strived to bring the level of quality in their video productions to their live performances as well. Anything they post online the group should be ready to reproduce live, soprano Moser explained, and they always work to engage audiences.
“Our shows are constantly changing and alive and moving, and we’re always adding new material,” Moser said. “And we’ve found that audiences really like when you don’t sing straight for an hour and an hour and a half. We make sure we talk between each song and have some sort of bit or lead-in to the next song.”
To stay at the top of their game, Backtrack’s members rehearse all the time, they said. They’ve come a long way from busking in New York’s subway stations to touring the U.S., but the work ethic has always been there as members have come and gone.
Anyone who follows the group on Instagram can see for themselves. They’ve posted videos of the group driving to gigs in rented vans, rehearsing as they cruise down highways.
“Yeah, sometimes we feel like the Patridge Family,” said Mike Hinkle, Backtrack’s tenor. “We do rehearse everywhere: We rehearse in hotels, in the car … we take our business entirely mobile, on the road.”
For members like Buffalo, who studied classical guitar before getting interested in beatboxing, the mobility of the band is a big plus.
“As an instrumentalist turned beatboxer, it’s the best,” he said. “Setup and teardown, it’s just nonexistent.”

Backtrack has a number of different programs prepared for differing audiences. For the Lompoc show, the group was asked to perform their oldies program.
That includes classics from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, explained alto Jordano, but they also call further back. Their performance of Beethoven’s iconic symphony will make the show, she said, but the piece is also a medley of some of the composer’s best known works.
“I think our Beethoven medley is very special since it is taking something that’s instrumental, transforming it into voices, and we kind of take some creative liberties with the arrangement,” Jordano said. “So yeah, we like to switch it up during a performance. … It’s going to be a really fun mix of songs that people hopefully know and love, and it’s a great show for all ages.”

Managing Editor Joe Payne is a-ca-stounded at a vocal-only performance of Beethoven. Contact him at [email protected].

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