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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

A cappella groups release new albums after a long hiatus

The Jackson Jills (top) and the Tufts Beelzebubs (bottom) are pictured.

Editor’s note: Abigail Sommers is a video journalist at The Tufts Daily. Sommers was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

Calling all a cappella lovers! Get your Spotify and Apple Music out because the Jackson Jills and the Beelzebubs have both recently released excellent new albums! The Beelzebubs’ “Prevaill” (2022) and the Jackson Jills’ “Couches and Crosswalks” (2022) both debuted on Nov. 11 at midnight. 

In addition to practicing and performing gigs, a cappella groups at Tufts have the option to release albums onto streaming services. Aside from the Jills and the Bubs, The Amalgamates, Shir Appeal and sQ! all have albums published online. While the Jills and Bubs both expressed that they usually aim to release albums every two years, their latest releases are unique in that they are the first albums since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the delay in album releases, Tufts a cappella groups have successfully highlighted music recorded over the past several years. 

Kate Nova, a senior majoring in sociology and president of the Jackson Jills, commented on what it means to release an album after so long. 

“I think this album is really, really special, because it has way more voices on it than regular albums do. … There’s a song on the album that I’m not even on because they recorded it [in] the spring of my senior year of high school,” Nova said.

Milo Shields, a senior majoring in computer science and the music director for the Beelzebubs, also expressed that it was difficult to make progress on an album during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“‘Prevaill’ covers … a long amount of time. There are voices on it from my freshman year to my senior year, which was a time in which all a cappella groups, but the Bubs as well, went through a dip when we were literally not allowed to sing on campus,” Shields said.
Off the Record: The Tufts Beelzebubs perform in the Daily's Newsroom Concert Series on Oct. 14.

Both groups carefully choose a selection of songs to sing each semester, and from that, they narrow down songs to record. For the Jills, to be the lead singer on a song, each member must audition for the solo, and then the group chooses two or three songs to record every semester.

“It’s entirely democratic. Everybody has the same chance of getting a solo, and we definitely have really been trying to include solo diversity as a major factor, just making sure that all voices are able to be heard. And then we definitely keep that in mind for when we decide what songs go on the album,” Nova said.

An immense amount of time and effort goes into creating an album. There are many steps and many people the recordings must go through until an album is ready to be released. When it comes to making the album, both the Jills and the Bubs use Plaid Productions, a company run by two Tufts a cappella alumni.

“One of our Bub alums has a company with someone who’s [an Amalgamates] alum, and the two of them do all our recording,” Sid Iyer, a senior studying quantitative economics and the president of the Beelzebubs, said.

Shields further elaborated on the production process.

“We’ll sit down, and we have some sense of what we want the track to sound like and some of the basic parts and the solo and the perc and everything,” Shields said. “And we’ll kind of go up … like one at a time and sing that part and then listen back and kind of build it up voice by voice. And after the original recording is done, the soloists will then go in on later dates and do a million takes if they need to, to do their parts the way they want it.” 

After initial recordings, there is still more work to be done on the tracks, according to Iyer.

“[Plaid Productions will] kind of revamp arrangements to change some stuff around, add some things in, take some stuff out, just [to] make it more suited for recording since the arrangements were primarily made for performance,” Iyer said.

In true Tufts spirit, the music indeed gets sent to another Beelzebub alumnus, Ed Boyer, for further editing. 

“He does mixing for a bunch of different groups including the Pentatonix and stuff. … So it gets sent to him, and he mixes the music, which just makes it that extra level of clean,” Iyer said. “Then it gets sent to someone who masters it, so it’s … the icing on top and then the music is fully done. … What we’re doing in that time period is figuring out album art and releasing logistics.”

Like the Beelzebubs, the Jackson Jills also send their recordings off to Boyer for one more round of editing.

“[Boyer] is a world-renowned a cappella mixing engineer who’s also a Tufts a cappella alum. He [mixed] the Pitch Perfect movies and he mixes for Pentatonix, and he's just very established. It’s so cool that we get to work with him,” Abby Sommers, a sophomore who is majoring in film and media studies and the music director for the Jackson Jills, said. “He’ll mix our tracks. … Making everything sound balanced is the first part of it, but it also includes the creative side of things, like how can we put an effect on this to make it sound like a guitar? And how can we make it sound cool?” 

The cover art for "Couches and Crosswalks" (2022) is pictured. (Courtesy Abby Sommers)

While many generations of Bubs and Jills get to record albums, the title and design is where each current member class gets to express more creativity and truly make the album their own. Both groups also pay homage to older generations of each respective group.

“The Jills have been practicing in Curtis Hall for … a long time, … and we have these couches in the Jills’ room that have simply been there for forever. … I think we wanted to memorialize Curtis Hall in some way and the Jills’ room in some way,” Nova said. “The crosswalk is for the crosswalk right in front of Curtis, and the couches are for the couches in the Jills’ room. I think we definitely wanted to not do something too obscure, but definitely something that means something to any Jill who [sees it].”

Shields explained how “Prevaill” honors the Bubs’ founder and commemorates the challenges endured by Tufts’ a cappella groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We chose the name ‘Prevaill’ partially for the meaning of the word, which is that, we can suffer these two years where we really don’t get to sing much and we don’t get to perform and get through it, come out the other end, [and] still have fun,” Shields said. “And then the other part of the meaning is … the founder of the Bubs, Timothy Vaill, who went to Tufts in the ‘60s. It’s V-a-i-l-l, which is why we incorporated it into the name of the album as kind of a nod to him.”

Iyer also explained that aside from just the name of the album, the existence of a new album in general strengthens the current members’ links to past Beelzebubs. 

“The first album that got put out in the first year that the Bubs were existing … it was 1963, 64, something like that. They put out an album back then, and now it’s cool that we also just released an album. … Most Bubs throughout their time in the group have all done some sort of process like this,” Iyer said.

Nova added that it also means so much to members to have all of their hard work actualized in a permanent album.

“We have rehearsal for seven plus hours a week, and we have gigs on top of that, and just all of the administrative work that the officers do, it’s a really serious time commitment. I’ve dedicated … all of my college years to the Tufts Jackson Jills, and it’s definitely really special to have something that’s, not tangible per se, but something that’s there. … We did this; this is something that we produced,” Nova said.

Ultimately, an album is a lasting memento and a permanent marker of one group’s work at a given time. 

“For a lot of us, it might be the only thing we ever produce that goes on Spotify. And so it’s fun as a group to say ‘that is something tangible,’ because shows come and go, … but albums are crystallized versions of the group,” Shields said. “It’s kind of like a picture of all of us but in music form.”