by Morten Kier
There is nothing like vocal music that – when everyone and everything magically aligns – can send shivers down your spine and make you forget about everything else but the present moment. It is that almost otherworldly experience, where the music hits some kind of string inside – and outside and everywhere -, and you just want to float away on that holy, warm wave of sound. Right?
I’ve been so fortunate as to have had quite a few of those moments over the years, starting out as a soprano in the local children’s choir, surviving my weird teenage band adventures and eventually singing with, arranging for and occasionally conducting great vocal ensembles such as Vocal Line (founded and lead by Jens Johansen). And some of my most recent goose bumps have occured while performing with the legendary six-guys a cappella group M-Pact.
Don’t get me wrong; M-Pact can sound BAD; not least when sound checking early in the morning on Day 20 of some tour through the American Midwest or when we are dusting off some old, obscure jazz chart here in Los Angeles, where we all live and work in the music industry. Ew! But then; when that final chord of”What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life” locks so beautifully, or when we really nail that high ”ya dab” in our blood-out-of-the-nose 5/4 version of ”My Favorite Things”, or simply just get the party going with ”Boogie Oogie” … then everything falls into place again.
In December of 2010, I became the new baritone of M-Pact, and I feel so priveleged to be working with these bad-ass a cappella guys who have been recording and touring with their jazz/funk/soul repertoire for more than 16 years now.
Back to Basix
My career as a professional a cappella singer started in the late 90’s in my home country, Denmark. At the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, where I studied, we were a group of guys who started bugging our fellow students in the school cantina with a cappella songs that we had stolen from other groups. We called ourselves Basix, and we were eager to share our music with as big of a crowd as possible, moving slowly but steadily from street performances to shows in small venues and clubs. In 2001, we had a big break as we entered the national pre-competition of The Eurovision Song Contest with our own composition ”Australian Spring”, and, coming in second, we were all of a sudden popular on the Danish music scene. We got ourselves a record label, a manager, a booker, and dozens of performances on TV, radio, a cappella festivals and large venues in Denmark, Germany, and Holland, and we even won a platinum award for our debut album ”The Grass”. Good times! The follow-up release ”Embodiment” obviously had to be good, so we sought help from overseas. We had long been fans of this innovative American vocal group called M-Pact, so we decided to ask the former soprano and primary arranger and producer, Britt Quentin, if he would produce some of our songs. He even did a brand-new arrangement for us of the Beatles classic ”Come Together”, and our recording rotated on Danish national radio in 2003. The collaboration turned into a friendship between our groups, and when, 7 years later, I decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams of being an international singer/songwriter, I knew where to go …
It’s a G sharp!
I joined the group in November of 2010 and had just a few weeks to prepare for the Christmas shows in Maryland and Los Angeles. Boy, was I put to a test? Although M-Pact does have a number of simple and pretty arrangements on the repertoire, the Christmas tunes (some arranged my Michele Weir, Mervyn Warren, Roger Treece, and other high-end vocal people) are NOT for beginners. I ploughed my way through stacks of sheet-music, sweating and coughing, only to realize that I was supposed to sing the #11 of the chord and not the slightly friendlier 11. And then there was the whole baritone thing. For years and years, I had been floating on high falsetto notes or crooned my way through the mid-range of my voice. All of a sudden, I had to ”man up”, take a deep breath and sing low, ”healthy” fifths with M-Pacts warm-hearted bass, Trist Curless. Christmas came and went, and I received a fresh stack of paper and a ”Here is our regular repertoire!”. Whew!
Hitting the highway
Touring with M-Pact is fun! Since our immediate playground involves all of the United States and Canada, there is a lot of driving involved. In February and March of 2011, we sang our way through the American Midwest, Northeast, Southern Canada, Florida, and California, giving shows at universities, fine arts venues, resorts, jazz festivals, and clubs. With winter blizzards threatening to blow our tour van off the parking lot, we stayed warm in McDonald’s restaurants, our suburban hotel rooms – or at the legendary Moose Lodge (a cozy, brown time warp of a venue in Kansas with a giant moose head on the wall) where we had the pleasure of performing disco songs with the local amateur theatre group. Good times that also included bizarre, home-made drinks with dirty names in the Moose Lodge Bar! Who says that a cappella can’t be rock’n’roll?
Currently, our group is not just ”California dreaming”, but also fantasizing about returning to Europe in 2012. We are planning performces at festivals and/or venues alone or in collaboration with local groups. Over the years, M-Pact has visited Italy, Holland, Sweden, and Germany several times, but we agree that it is high time for a revisit. And I have a personal goal to set up shows in my home country Denmark as well as collaborating with some of the great groups I have come to know in Germany and Holland. Therefore, it thrills us to now be working with Florian Städtler and the other good folks at SpielPlanVier.
We hope to see you all out there …
I met Morten at the premiere of Montezuma’s Revenge in Leiden, The Netherlands – and it reminded me of this post he wrote a few weeks ago. From Denmark to California and hopefully back with m-pact soon – good luck to Morten and the group. Check out www.m-pact.com for the latest news and if you are a promoter, let Morten know via M-Pact’s website or his facebook profile.