A cappella sensations Pentatonix have reached superstar status — with three Grammys, 13 million YouTube subscribers, their own Christmas special, and several platinum records to their credit — but at the moment, the group seems to be in flux. Members Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying just released an EP as the duo Superfruit; bass singer Avi Kaplan recently announced in an emotional video message that he is leaving the lineup; and beatboxer Kevin Olusola is working on his own music.
But as Pentatonix’s Kirstin (formerly known to fans as Kirstie Maldonado) visits Yahoo Music to discuss her own new music, she insists with a smile, “No, we’re not breaking up. We’re not breaking up! I keep saying it!”
Instead, with her debut solo EP, LOVE, Kirstin is excitedly exploring artistic aspects of herself that she’s been neglecting since Pentatonix won The Sing-Off in 2011 and their career unexpectedly exploded. “It’s cool right now. We are all kind of having the break of figuring it out, because we’re all doing our individual stuff and getting the opportunity to do stuff that we haven’t been able to do for so long, just because we’ve been touring constantly,” she says. “It’s a nice breather, a nice time to figure out what the plan is.”
Kirstin wrote the majority of LOVE with David Pramik and Charlie Snyder, and she relished learning from new collaborators. “Honestly, it’s been really exciting,” she enthuses. “Obviously, for personal reasons it’s been really amazing to create and figure out who I am as an artist. … It was so interesting writing or working on the production or doing the mixes. Everything was just different. I feel like I’ve tried to be a sponge; with all the new people I’m working with, I’m really trying to ask a bunch of questions and listen to their stories and see their process, just because it is so different. There’s still so much to learn. It’s been really, really exciting. I feel like I have grown to be a better asset — obviously for my own stuff, but for Pentatonix as well.”
The result is a “darker, pop-electronic” EP, not unlike the sumptuous sound of one of Kirstin’s favorite current artists, James Blake. (“The first artist that did it for me with just production was James Blake. … I was just blown away. … I feel like James Blake kind of was the one that introduced me into that world.”) Kirstin realizes that many of her followers probably thought she would release “more of a singer/songwriter-y album,” à la her idol (and onetime Sing-Off judge) Sara Bareilles, and that some Pentatonix diehards would be surprised by the EP’s layered production (“I know it’s 180, because it even has production, so even by that definition it’s definitely 180 from Pentatonix,” she laughs). However, Kirstin says her fanbase has been for the most part enthusiastically supportive of her new direction.
While Kirstin’s fans have always had faith in her abilities, she admits that she lacked self-esteem in the past. “I think beforehand I was too caught up in the role that other people thought I was and other people saying what I should be, or even myself saying what I should be and the level that I could get at,” she muses. “So I think it just took a lot of confidence-building throughout the years and kind of accepting who I was and taking those risks and taking those opportunities — because when I started the solo project last year, I was just so excited and just pleasantly surprised by how creative and fun and how amazing the entire experience was.”
One of LOVE’s tracks, “Bad Weather,” specifically addresses such crises of confidence. “I think people are always going to say things about you or disapprove of your relationships or your ideals or your beliefs or something, but I think you have to stand up and stay strong in who you are and not let it affect you,” Kirstin says of the song’s inspirational message. “Because I think I always just let everything else affect me, and I never quite trusted in myself. I think that’s kind of why I didn’t even step foot with this before, but I’m glad I waited, because I feel like this was the right time.”
As for the future of Pentatonix, Kirstin says they are looking for a replacement for Avi — “The search is on, the search is happening!” – though she laughingly dismisses the idea of holding their own Sing-Off-style talent contest to find a new member. “We definitely want to find someone right,” she stresses. “I know our big worry is we don’t want to capitalize on finding a new bass, because it’s more than that. It needs to be someone that fits and makes the group as special as it was, because it was about all of us as a group together and that story and what we were.
“Obviously, it’s definitely going to be different, but I’m excited to see what it will be. We don’t know yet; it will all depend on the person and what that person will uniquely bring. I feel like we have all grown, even within the past couple of months, and learning about ourselves and learning about our sound. I’m excited.”