Naturally 7, the masters of “Vocal Play” are currently on an eleven-city tour across America as a follow-up to their crowd-pleasing appearance on The World’s Best earlier this year. Naturally 7’s smooth style of imitating every instrument with just their voices has been captivating audiences around the world for 20 years.
Previously, the group has gone on four world tours with superstar Michael Bublé and appeared as special guests for Coldplay and Diana Ross. CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke with Naturally 7’s Roger Thomas to discuss the groups ongoing tour, working with musical legends and how the phrase “Vocal Play” came about. Remaining tour dates can be found at the bottom of the interview and be sure to go back and check out their incredible performances on The World’s Best on demand through CBS All Access.
MW: Hi Roger, pleasure to talk to you about Naturally 7 today and before jump into what you all have going on now can you tell me the story about how you seven all came together in the first place?
RT: Sure, sure, sure, sure, we started in New York City, 1999, most of us started singing in church and put a group together to harmonize. We won an A capella competition called the Harmony Sweepstakes in 1999 and once we won that, we felt like, ‘oh well maybe we’re actually good at this thing.’
In about 2001, we went full time. We started at colleges and universities and during that process is where we said how can we be different from every other band out there that we know in the A capella field and that’s when we started mimicking instruments. We decided to give it a name because most times when people would see what we were doing they were like, ‘what, what, what, what is this?’ So we coined the phrase “Vocal Play,” so that’s the beginning. We started traveling overseas in 2002-2003. and went on tour with Michael Bublé, three world tours. It’s very unusual for artists as big as him to have the same act he’s touring with on three world tours, but the marriage just worked really well and that started in 2007 and ended in 2014. 400 shows.
MW: Wow, that’s incredible.
RT: Four hundred shows, 400 arenas and stadiums.
MW: So what was it like being on tour with him, how would you describe that whole process?
RT: It was an absolute pleasure, an absolute pleasure. Every night we were in front of an audience that really didn’t know who Naturally 7 was. We found out that in an arena it would take them about two to three songs before they really understood what was going on. We decided to try and make it easier for them to know that this is all voice, all vocal, it’s all coming from our mouths. Little by little they worked lighting tricks and put us on the screens and made it easier for the audience to be able to tell immediately what we were doing and we created songs that worked with that too.
Me and Michael Bublé personally became really good friends and started playing ping pong every day, it was like a passion of ours. Naturally 7 did so well in the early times we thought we were going to get kicked off the tour because we were getting standing ovations every night and we didn’t think that was actually what his management would’ve wanted. At some point, I remember him coming to our dressing room telling us, “Don’t worry about that, I want people who buy my ticket and people who come to my show to get the best possible show and as long as I’m Michael Bublé, I’m not going to worry about that.” We got a chance to relax and the rest is history.
MW: So you’ve worked with Michael Bublé and you were also featured on a track with Quincy Jones and Ludicrous, what was it like working with those two?
RT: Awesome, awesome, we started out doing Quincy’s 75th birthday. Quincy’s like 85-86 now, so that was about 10 years ago, we did a 75th birthday party of his and there was nothing but legends there. Harvey Hancock and just all his peers were there and we were the only ones he didn’t know. We came on, he was like, ‘who the heck are these dudes?’ Next thing he invited us to his home and told us that he was making another album, another project, and we ended up having the title track. Then Ludicrous came and rapped on it after the fact. Yeah that was just a crazy, crazy time, it was really, really, cool.
MW: Earlier this year, you were all on The World’s Best. What was it like being on that stage and how did that whole experience come about?
RT: Well they contacted us. Our manager wanted us to do the show. At first we didn’t want to do any shows. We had at looked into some shows and we were like nah, we said no to all of them. In the case of The World’s Best, when we did the very first Skype interview, what was very different was they wanted to position us as who we were, ‘You are the world’s best A capella group; we want to position you as that and we’re not interested in trying to take your management or your music or anything like that.’
So we said OK and they showed us how the categories are going to work and at the time we didn’t know who the judges were going to be, but they broke it down. There was going to be 15 world judges and all this type of stuff. We all thought, ‘woo, this sounds kinda interesting, this might be something we want to do!’ We had been traveling overseas so much that often times at home in the U.S., people just didn’t know who we were. We thought this would be a great opportunity for us to get a little more eyes on us. The process actually was very interesting and we enjoyed it. Then of course we got up to the point of winning our category and the only disappointment was not winning the million dollars at the end. [laughs]
MW: That would’ve been a nice little cherry on top, right. But you would’ve had to divide it 7 ways at that point it’s like is it even worth it? [laughs]
RT: [laughs] Sure, sure, but not even just for the money but just the title of winning the whole show.
MW: And now you guys are on your own tour. What are you looking forward to most as you continue down the road?
RT: Well it’s interesting, we used to ask who had seen us before to the crowd. For some of the folks that seen us for the first time, we wanted to know how they heard about us. Would it be Michael Bublé? Would be Cheerios commercials? Would it be getting discovered on Youtube? But now added to that list is, “I saw you on The World’s Best!” That’s interesting and like I said, we do so much touring overseas, it’s sometimes great to be in front of an American audience. The American audience will catch all the nuances of everything we’re talking about, and everything that we’re saying. So it was a great show yesterday and so much appreciation, we appreciate it.
MW: That’s awesome, so nice to hear your story and I’m really happy for all the success you guys are seeing. I really appreciate it the time to speak with you today Roger and all the best for the rest of the your and beyond!
RT: Thanks Matt, really appreciate it. Same to you!
Check out the schedule below to see when Naturally 7 is coming to a city near you on their ongoing tour!
o September 26 – Edmonds Center for the Arts – Edmonds, WA
o September 27 – The Old Church – Portland, OR
o September 28 – Rialto Theatre – Tacoma, WA
o November 16 – M Resort – Henderson, NV
o November 17 – Beckman Auditorium – Pasadena, CA
o December 21- Great Lakes Center For The Arts – Petroskey, MI