Mar 5, 2013

Setting the Trinity Tone

“We can’t afford to take on one more member – otherwise we risk becoming a choir”. Photo: Shauna Cleary

Hannah Ryan & Shauna Cleary | Staff writers

Walking into the ground floor apartment of the Rubrics, we are greeted by Patrick Barrett, Ben Jacob, Gabriel Corcoran, Yewhoan Hong, Rob Boos and Michael Broderick, comprising one-third of Trinity’s very own all-male a cappella group and YouTube sensation, Trinitones.

As we sit down to talk, surrounded by framed French artwork and numerous cups of tea, a text comes through to Gabriel’s phone requesting a Happy Birthday message for his nine- year old cousin Keela, and all six jump to comply. We listen in impressed silence as they launch into a [seemingly?] impromptu rendition, recorded on Gabriel’s mobile phone (“You two take the bass, Ben give us the intro and I’ll harmonise,” Patrick directs), and then we begin.

Our conversation naturally opens with the video that has now garnered almost 70,000 views on YouTube, the group’s famous performance of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag”. “The song has never been done like that before. Dan Cummins arranged it,” Rob says. “We’d seen other a cappella groups doing videos before and it looked like great fun, just ripping the piss.”

Quick to dismiss emerging claims that the group is channelling the TV show that propelled its genre into popular culture, namely Fox Television’s Glee, the boys instead drew their inspiration for the video from groups such as Scottish school St Andrews’ The Other Guys, whose video “Royal Romance” has nearly 900,000 YouTube views.

Trinitones are unique in Trinity as the only a cappella group to perform pop music rather than the more conventional gospel or choral songs, and the only all-male a cappella group in the college. Despite the considerable national attention that they have received in the past few weeks, the genre remains somewhat of a niche in Ireland, allowing them to become pioneers and secure interviews with popular radio stations such as Spin 103.8 and 98fm, as well as an appearance on TV3’s The Morning Show and an upcoming slot on RTÉ Radio 1’s The Mooney Show.

The group’s popularity has expanded immensely since it started up thirteen months ago, taking on four new members last September. “We want to be really inclusive, but we will only pick the very best,” Patrick explains. “The limit is what we currently have; we need more basses, but we can’t afford to take on one more member – otherwise we risk becoming a choir and losing what makes us an a cappella group.”

However, Rob adds that “We will be looking for first and second years to join in September as the four soloists in Teenage Dirtbag are leaving college.” Ideally this will come to include five students from each year. “We’d like anyone who’s interested to give it a go, as long as they can sing.”

“Unfortunately the majority of people who come do have a musical background,” Patrick states, but Gabriel is quick to add that at his audition he had not sung in three or four years, was extremely hungover and forgot the lyrics. “We come from a mix of backgrounds,” he says. Yewhoan supports this statement, announcing that while he does beatbox for the group, he cannot sing; thus he is an unusual addition.

All members stress the necessity of being committed to Trinitones, with two hours of practice per week and full attendance required to perform at any gig. Previous performances have included the Law Ball, Trinity Come Dancing, the Founders’ gig and the BESS Ball – indeed all of the biggest events of the college year, the most prestigious of which will undoubtedly be the group’s recently-announced appearance at the Trinity Ball on April 5th.

“David [Whelan, Ents officer] heard us practicing in the changing rooms at Trinity Come Dancing,” Patrick recalls. “Luckily it was probably the best we’ve ever sung and he showed a keen interest. He’s been very encouraging and supportive all along.”

Asked about the group’s plans for the Ball, Patrick is reluctant to divulge too much information, but does say that while details are still under negotiation, the set will be about thirty minutes long and will include tracks such as “Skinny Love” and R Kelly’s “Ignition”. He also says that Trinity Orchestra will be performing Michael Jackson songs, and “We might have a little to add to that.”

The free tickets come as a welcome bonus for the singers, especially Ben who fondly recalls last year’s escapades: failing in his plan to procure a ticket from one of the many intoxicated students refused entry to the Ball, climbing an outer wall and being promptly “escorted” from the grounds by security guards.

So what has been their favourite experiences with Trinitones so far? Michael talks of the free bar after the Founders Ball, while Rob remembers their performance at the Mansion House for Law Ball: while there were no microphones and the sound quality was poor, “the audience was seated in a semi-circle with a balcony overhead”, which was an optimal arrangement for the group. Yewhoan cites his best experience as the continuing success of the video and the responses to it, especially to his beatboxing, one radio presenter referring to him as “the nts, nts guy”. For fear of vilifying the group’s growing reputation, Ben quickly changes his response from “getting kicked out of BESS ball for breaking a table” to singing with the King’s Singers in a pub on Leeson Street. Gabriel says that for him, having loved Wheatus as a child, the “pinnacle” was being re-tweeted by the band, after they had watched the “Teenage Dirtbag” video, as well as crowding around an over-zealous couple on the rugby pitch after their first gig and performing the song as the two quickly dismounted and exited the scene. Finally, Patrick remembers the group’s weekend trip to Kilkenny during which they endured gruelling ten-hour practices every day, but also gained valuable bonding time.

With the impending departure of Patrick and his co-founder Lynsey Callaghan, as well as two other members this coming September, Ben and Michael have been discussing the possibility of a new leadership in the form of a Trinitones Committee. They encourage all with an interest and a genuine intention to commit, to audition for the group next year. Asked about a potential future collaboration with an all-female a cappella group they say that while no ensemble with a similar-style repertoire to theirs currently exists, they encourage anyone with interests of establishing such a group to do so. They also welcome the competition presented by anyone wishing to set up a rival male a cappella group, as Trinitones’ current potential for expansion is narrow.

It is easy to see how such a friendly, down-to-earth and exceptionally talented group of guys have become such a success, both within the college and without, and the future that awaits them, though necessarily uncertain, is suffused with excitement. You get the sense that they are happy simply to see where their talent takes them, and enjoy the journey along the way.

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