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A Cappella Cool

Houston’s Charlie Mechling is an, ahem, instrumental player in the national-phenom guy group, Straight No Chaser.

Charlie Mechling

Charlie Mechling, a tall and handsome bass vocalist for the nationally acclaimed a cappella group Straight No Chaser, is talking about authors and songwriters that inspire him, rattling off not unexpected names like Nick Hornby, David Sedaris, Harry Connick Jr. and Chet Baker. Then he gets crazy—Childish Gambino. That’s the rap alter ego of Community actor Donald Glover, an artist quite distinct from Mechling’s pop and soul sounds and Mad Men aesthetic. “Many of my fans might not like him,” the Houston-based Mechling says, “but lyrically, he’s hilarious, and his music is so well-written.”

Mechling says his diverse tastes are indicative of the changing nature of the music biz. He also credits Straight No Chaser’s fame to the sea change. The 10-piece vocal group just finished stints in Atlantic City and Vegas and have begun a tour supporting their new album, Under the Influence, which features covers of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” and collaborations with Elton John and Dolly Parton. They’ll perform in Houston Nov. 1 at Bayou Music Center. “It’s a testament to people wanting good music absent any genre,” he says. “People all of a sudden wanted to hear real voices, without auto-tune and overproduction. If it’s a good song, people will listen to it, because people don’t have to depend on the radio anymore.

“Childish Gambino... just something that popped up on my Pandora,” he adds. “You just have to be open.” Mechling knows about being open to unanticipated opportunities. Consider the Straight No Chaser story. The original members, including Mechling, an Indiana native, founded the group in 1996 at Indiana University with the intention of making it a legacy group, meaning that new students were to be chosen to replace the founding members after they graduated.

But a video of the original singers performing a silly version of The 12 Days of Christmas in 1998 went viral in 2006. The CEO of Atlantic Records saw it on New Year’s Day, Mechling says, and that eventually led to a deal, a decade after the group was formed.

Before that, Mechling was based in New York—starring in a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers tour, among others—where he met actress wife, Houston-reared Julia Krohn. The couple now lives in the Heights with a 2-year-old son. “It’s a surprising city,” Mechling says of H-Town. “It’s a great big city that doesn’t feel like a big city. You have these great restaurants and theaters Downtown, and yet you can still have a house with a lawn.

“Our show in Houston is already half soldout,” he adds excitedly. “It’s always a point of personal pride to sell out the town you live in.”