Somewhere between the slight goofiness of the barbershop quartet and the life-or-death dramatics of the opera, there lies a cappella, a form of harmonized singing usually reserved for bow-tie-clad lawyers-to-be at Ivy League colleges across the Northeast.
But one group of students at George Washington University is aiming to change all that, by bringing a cappella to the hoodie and studded-belt set.
They're called Emocapella (spelled with one "p," which, in itself, is way emo), a bunch of sensitive lads who harmonize tunes by emo faves like Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday and Saves the Day at nearly sold-out concerts in activity centers and dorm-room socials all across the GW campus. Once or twice a year, they even pack into rented vans — DIY style — and hit up colleges all across the Northeast, hoping to pour out their pain to the masses.
"Actually, part of the reason we started the group was to get girls. Girls like sensitive guys," said Emocapella president (and self-described "sensitive guy") Lee Seligmann. "And it's definitely helped with the girls. We're the only all-guy a-cappella group on campus."
OK, so maybe preaching the emo-gospel isn't the main focus of the group. Seligmann cops to being more of a classic-rock fan himself (Led Zeppelin are his favorite), and is hard-pressed to even define the term "emo." According to him, the whole group is only half serious. But don't tell that to Taking Back Sunday, who invited Emocapella to perform with them back in December 2002.
"They opened for us at one show in Washington, D.C., and it was amazing," Taking Back Sunday guitarist Eddie Reyes said. "We are very flattered that they covered one of our songs."
And don't tell it to the many, many emo fans inhabiting chat rooms and operating blogs all over the Internet. Emocapella, to put it mildly, aren't exactly their favorite group.
"When we first came out, there was a lot of talk on the Internet about us. Lots of 'You guys aren't emo!' and stuff like that," Seligmann laughed. "I kind of think that people in emo and punk bands take themselves very seriously. We mainly do this for fun."
But there are instances in which Emocapella tiptoe the line between fun and dedication. Witness, for example, their rigorous rehearsal schedule ("We practice twice a week for two hours, but usually less," Seligmann said), or the long hours they poured into recording their debut album, the appropriately titled I'm Sorry.
"We recorded the album in two days, in two sessions," Seligmann said. "And the album is selling pretty well. I mean, we have a lot left, but I think it's doing pretty well. But I wouldn't know. I've never really made an album before."
As for the future of Emocapella, Seligmann is brutally honest. The group lost nine members to graduation last semester, and finding new (and sufficiently emo) singers to fill the void is going to be tough. Plus there's the issue of rampant tardiness at Emocapella rehearsals. But the group pledges that it'll still perform the occasional "guerrilla-cappella" concert — basically a spur-of-the-moment show on GW's lawn — because, as Seligmann puts it, "Sometimes people stop and watch. But it usually depends on when we perform and how drunk people are."
But before he calls it a day, Seligmann said he'd probably like to have one more crack at GW's annual "Battle of the A Cappella Groups," which Emocapella has, somewhat improbably, never won.
"Oh, we never win those. The first year, we won 'Most Energetic,' which is kind of like the 'E for Effort' award," Seligmann said. "Last year we didn't win anything. But that's OK. Not winning is way more emo anyway."