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Interview With David Thomas, Take 6
Milan, Blue Note September 15th 2005
Eva Simontacchi

Pictures by Alberto Gottardelli

Fai click qui per leggere la versione in italiano

The group was begun by Claude McKnight as the Gentlemen's Estate Quartet (borrowing their name from their college's freshmen housing complex) in 1980 at Oakwood College, a small Christian school in Huntsville, Alabama.

Several months later, Mark Kibble, who had been a childhood friend of Claude's in Buffalo, NY, joined the group when he heard the quartet singing in the bathroom and decided to add a fifth part to what they were doing. He did so and performed with them in a concert that evening.

The group eventually evolved to six members with the addition of Mervyn Warren, and took on the name Sounds of Distinction and later Alliance, changed only when they found out another group was already using the name. A change of members brought Cedric Dent, David Thomas, and Alvin Chea into the group, and in 1987 that lineup of singers arranged a showcase for thirty gospel record company representatives at a Christian bookstore in Nashville. However, only about ten people turned up, including one uninvited guest, Jim Ed Norman of Warner Brothers. He had heard a cassette demo of the group's version of David And Goliath and was curious to meet the group. He signed the group to Warner Brothers that very day, also arranging a separate distribution deal with Reunion Records to get their album into Christian book and record stores.

That lineup of singers remained the same until Mervyn Warren left the group in January 1991, and was replaced by Joey Kibble.

Eva Simontacchi: How do you prepare a new song for your repertoire?
David Thomas: A lot of times when we're singing in the studio, we have to adjust the arrangement a little bit to actually go into the live show repertoire. So we work that out, and then rehearse for maybe about two or three weeks, and that's it! As a matter of fact, we rehearse all of our songs for about two or three weeks.

E.S.: We wanted to touch this subject because many vocal groups are interested to know how you work all this out! What you say is very important to all these groups and singers because you are giving a great example. Now, the next question. To what extent are rehearsals important?
D.T.: Rehearsals are very important. Before our album came out, and we were preparing to do a showcase where we invited record companies to hear it, we rehearsed maybe for a year, about 30 to 40 hours a week. We were all in school, and that happened in the weekends, so from Friday to Sunday we rehearsed about 30 hours. We rehearsed "at nauseam".... it was sickening! We did that so much until our blend and our harmony became second-nature. So now, that's something that we have to kind of brush-up every now and then, but we don't have to work as hard on, because it's important to put the time in advance, up-front.

E.S.: How do you rehearse now, and how many times, say, per month or per week do you meet before singing a new song during a concert?
D.T.: One of the benefits of all the extra-rehearsals that we did at the beginning is that now we've been doing this for so many years we can focus, we needn't go into the studio, we remember how we did it, and that helps us to minimize the time that we need before every show. So we rehearse after doing an album a concentrated period of about three weeks, and then after that we brush-up just a little bit to make sure that we're cutting off at the same time, we're breathing at the same time, the inflections, you know, we make sure we're emotionally on the same page. We do that every now and then. Then if a song starts to fall apart a little bit when we're doing a show, we say "Oh, that didn't sound good", then after that the next day we rehearse a little bit more.

E.S.: A must for a vocal group?
D.T.: I would say two things. It's important to have your voice in good form when you do a show, so one of the things that we've found, especially if you're a touring group, if you're on the road a lot, you have to get your sleep. You cant party all night, because if you do that for a couple of weeks, then you just go hoarse, and that's the end of the tour! So you have to get your sleep, drink a lot of water, and then warm-up for about half an hour to fourty minutes just before the show.

E.S.: And you always do it, all of you, is that right?
D.T.: Yes. We don't necessarily have to do it toghether, even on our own, just as long as we're all warm. Then when we come for the sound check, we kind of get ourselves together.

E.S.: How do you deal with issues in your group when you don't agree with one another? I'm being a little nosy.....
D.T.: No, that's a good question! That's how groups stay together, that's where longevity comes from.

E.S.: I mean, everybody looks up at your group, you're an example, and we all need your suggestions.
D.T.: To be honest, we have problems just like any other group. What we've learned, we've learned it the hard way, is that we're a pure democracy, so it has to be a majority. Sometimes 4 out of 6, sometimes 4 to 2, sometimes it's an absolute unanimous decision where all of us agree, sometimes we don't. And there are some times where, even if you are the minority, and you just say: "I cannot do this", and you appeal to the rest of the guys, then they'll say "Ok, for your sake, we won't do it". So it's a mix of pure democracy, and then if somebody has a very hard time with something, you have to deal with that. We treat it like a family.

E.S.: Being a Christian group, and believing in love, I'm sure this might help, even when you quarrel...... there's something more to that.
D.T.: You see, the thing about it is that if it was a pure democracy and the couple of guys who didn't agree got a "we don't care about you", that's one thing....... But because God's love is part of us, if it's just too much for you to bear, then for your sake, we just won't do it. There were some deals that were worth millions of dollars that we just wouldn't do because one guy said "I just don't feel comfortable"..... That doesn't just come easy, to be honest with you, believe me, I'm telling you. But it's the fact that God has done so much for each one of us, that that's the least we can do for each other.

E.S.: Gospel, jazz, doo-wop, latin, R&B, opera and pop........ Are you planning to include other styles in your vocal a cappella group repertoire?
D.T.: One of the things that we've learned over the years is that when we're listening to any style of music, when you can feel someone's emotion, and they're really into it, then that makes it even more interesting, so when you see that, you say "Hey, that's a nice music! We should do something like that!" That's how it incorporates. We've been blessed enough to travel the World, that we could pick up influences from everywhere.

E.S.: I'm sure you're going to pick up something else soon.....
D.T.: I'm pretty sure. We have to do it sometimes just to keep it interesting for us. It has to be fun.

E.S.: Is there a project that you have not yet undertaken and that you would wish to realize as a group?
D.T.: Oh yes! And one that we've been slowly working on. From time to time we do dates with Symphony Orchestras and we've been working on charts, and so we're very much looking forward to doing a whole project with a symphony orchestra........

E.S.: You surely deserve it! Hope you can bless us with such a recording soon!

The Concert
Alvin Chea, Cedric Dent, Joel Kibble, Mark Kibble, Claude McKnight and David Thomas start off their a cappella concert at Blue Note with "Come On", and their warm voices fill the hall with awsome harmonies. During the evening we have a chance to listen to "Wade In The Water", "All Blues", "Just In Time", "
Lamb Of God", "My Friend", "Smile" (by Charlie Chaplin, with arrangements by Take 6), "Over The Hill Is Home", "We Don't Have To Cry", "Grandma's Hands" (Bill Withers – Marcus Miller), "I've Got Life", and "Spread Love", where Take 6 involve all the audience to sing with them. The concert was extremely involving, at times very touching, at times full of energy, and all they did, they did uniquely with their voices: rhythm, accompanyment, bass lines, and melodies. Outstanding concert, we are hoping to have them all back soon with their inspiring music!

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Publishing Date: 20/11/2005

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