By combining elements of beatboxing, mimicry, R&B, and gospel, Naturally 7 take a cappella to a whole new level.
They call it ‘Vocal Play’, an innovative new style of a cappella where, instead of simply singing without instruments, the members of Naturally 7 “become” the instruments. According to the group's 1st baritone Roger Thomas, the intention is to mimic the instruments in such a way that listeners may be fooled into thinking: “That must be the DJ, that must be the violin, guitar, horns, drums”.
“The only rule that we allow outside of that, you can clap your hands,” says Roger, “you can make any sound that can come from the body, which is usually just a finger snap or clapping.” While Thomas admits incorporating mimicry into a cappella isn't entirely new, citing groups like the Golden Gate Quartet as influences, he believes Naturally 7's modern spin on the concept makes them pioneers of the art.
“We bring an urban sensibility to the table, along with our gospel church roots. We're from New York, the original home of hip hop, so we all grew up listening to that. Church taught us how to harmonise, how to sing, that type of thing. We just try to combine everything that we're familiar with.”
The group plans to step up their knack for combining disparate elements and creating something unique in their future releases. “In this next album that we're doing, we found that if we mixed classical singing – operatic, baroque type singing – with a backbeat or an urban beat, it was the coolest sound. It's amazing these types of things you can mix, so we like to break the rules.”
Part of “breaking the rules” involved the group sampling Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in their upcoming album – a very rare opportunity. Thomas sees Queen as kindred spirits, given their shared ground of blending styles and genres. “They were the type of band there were no limits to, and that's kind of the role we take,” he claims. “As long as we're making good music, that's the key.”
The group's gospel church origins have also had an impact on their lyrics; indeed, Thomas has never been shy about his strong religious convictions. However, Naturally 7's music never strays into the realm of “preachy”, with the group opting to take a broader, more general approach to spirituality. “We don't like to beat people over the head,” assures Thomas.
“We just like to say things that people can think on all day long, and think, 'Hey, I heard that in the lyrics and this is going to give me a little bit more hope’. We feel like we have a mission in that way. There's so much negativity in the world, we like to be that place of positivity, just something inspiring and uplifting. Because that's what music really should be used for.”
Of all their successes, arguably their greatest has been supporting Michael Bublé on his 'Crazy Love' and 'To Be Loved' tours, with the latter currently in Sydney for its Australian run. Thomas says the combination of both acts “really works”, due to the tour's emphasis on celebrating the human voice. “People come to see Michael Bublé because of his voice, so suddenly you've got eight people who are all about voice, it's the perfect marriage.”
As for artists the group would like to collaborate with in the future, Thomas' reveals his wishlist includes the likes of Sting and Outkast, once more highlighting his tendency to experiment across a broad range. “We love so many different things, anybody that we look up to or think is a great musician, we'd love to play with them for sure,” he says. “When you mix all the forms that we like, all the genres that we like, you get a special brand that I don't think anybody can hear anywhere else.”
Naturally 7 Tour Dates
Thu May 29 - The Enmore (Sydney) Fri May 30 - QPAC (Brisbane) Sat Jun 1 - Melbourne Recital Centre (1.30pm & 7.30pm shows)