The members of The Beelzebubs, Tufts University’s oldest all-male a cappella group, have their hands full this semester. Along with recording a new album and performing on campus in Medford, Mass., the group landed the high-profile gig of providing the arrangements and background vocals for Glee‘s newest music group, the Dalton Academy Warblers. After the success of “Teenage Dream” (with Darren Criss on lead vocals) earlier this month, the musical stylings of The Beelzebubs return tonight as Blaine and the Warblers perform Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” in New Directions’ Sectionals showdown. Beelzebubs President Eli Seidman, Business Manager Evan Powell, Music Director Penn Rosen, and Historian Kent McCann spoke with EW about lending their voices to a hit television show, their admiration for Criss, and why they won’t be pursuing careers in music.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you guys end up on Glee?
EVAN POWELL: They basically approached us. I was in class and got a bunch of phone calls from numbers I didn’t recognize. Once I got out of class, I discovered they were all voicemails from producers on Glee. We called them back pretty quickly, they asked us if we were interested in doing a track on the show, and we said yes, and here we are.
Did producers know about you because of your appearance on The Sing-Off last year? Or was it more from the college a cappella circuit?
EP: Originally they had thought about doing [Glee] as more of a cappella focused show, so they had already done a lot of research into a cappella and various college groups, and listened to a lot of our albums. Eventually they decided to take the show in the more high school choir direction, but when they had an opportunity to bring an a cappella group onto the show, they revisited all of their research from before and decided that they’d like to try to go with us.
Your version of “Teenage Dream” has been breaking all sorts of sales records. How do you feel about the response?
PENN ROSEN: We’re so thrilled. We’re a college a cappella group that’s been able to look on iTunes and see something we’ve been a part of make it to number one. We’re just so proud and honored to be a part of this and hope that it can continue to be met with success for us, and for Glee.
I think it’s a good move to have you guys, a college a cappella group, and Darren Criss, a recent University of Michigan grad, collaborating on a song for a show that’s all about student music groups. You guys are kind of like the real-life Glee.
EP: It’s great for us, still being college students, that we can record songs for national television in between our classes. It’s a really great balance for us.
ELI SEIDMAN: I would say if we could meet Darren [Criss], that would be cool. We’ve been reading all the stuff he’s been saying — he’s been so nice and he sounds so good on the lead. I’d be really honored to have some sort of contact, but in the meantime we’re having such a good time living vicariously through him, reading all of the interviews and stuff, that we’re just so pleased with how big it’s gotten.
What do you think about the portrayal of high school music groups on the show? A lot of Glee focuses on acceptance and outcasts. Can you relate to their experiences at all?
ES: I think the show is so entertaining to watch and it has such a big fan base that it’s just encouraging more people to be musical, which is great. To have more awareness of music and to push for more of it in high school is [key]. My high school had its music program so early on that I personally feel that it’s very, very important. The more awareness there is, and the more excitement there is, the better.
Were you guys fans of Glee beforehand?
PR: It depends, because there are 11 people in the group. Some people watch it religiously, but for me, [“Never Been Kissed”] was the second episode I had ever watched. In general, we were all super excited about the episode and we thought it was great. We were really honored to be on an episode that portrayed all of those awesome messages of compassion and anti-bullying. It was an all-around feel-good episode and great for us to hear our voices on that show.
KENT MCCANN: It’s definitely gotten some of us who may not have watched the show before to start watching even episodes that we are not in.
PR: Confession… [Laughs]
You don’t have to worry, we’re big fans of Glee over here, so don’t be embarrassed. Are there any songs or musical styles you’d like to see on the show? What kind of music do you usually perform?
PR: When we’re doing these things for TV, we obviously don’t have the final say in what we’re singing, but that’s one of the best parts about doing our college gigs; we really have [a] full range to do whatever we want and we like to branch out into different genres, different styles. For instance, this year we’re doing a rap song, we’re doing a pop song, and we’re doing a Hall & Oates cover. We do everything and we try to do everything well. That’s pretty much our modus operandi.
EP: [Laughs] The cool thing is now we’ve been able to perform “Teenage Dream” live. We’re having a show on campus on Dec. 3, and that’s when we’re going to debut it at Tufts, which is always a huge deal for us. As much as we love choosing our songs, as much as we love operating ourselves, to be able to sing something that’s a part of a national phenomenon, a movement in Glee, has been really cool. Audiences have just been so nice — it’s kind of crazy — when we start singing it, but it’s really flattering as a student and musician to have people appreciate your music so much, and it’s a lot of fun.
What was The Sing-Off experience like?
PR: The Sing-Off was an amazing opportunity for us. We kind of went into the show being like, “This is awesome, this is super cool, and we’ve already won by getting on the show.” We just decided to have the most fun possible and I guess it showed in our performance as we ended up going a lot further than we anticipated, which was awesome.
It’s coming back next week — will you be involved at all this time around, or will you be purely fans?
EP: No, we’re not involved. We’re just going to be watching avidly.
Do you have any advice for this season’s contenders? Particularly if there are any college groups?
KM: Have as much fun as possible. It was a very intense process, but if you make the most of it, I have to say it was one of the most fun three weeks I’ve had since getting to school and getting into this group.
What else is on the horizon for The Bubs? You have a gig on Glee, you have a concert at Tufts this Friday…
KM: We’re shooting to release our next album next fall, so a lot of the recording is going on this year. We’re really excited about the single [featuring “Sweet Caroline” and “Right Round”]. Basically all of the proceeds will be going to the Bubs Foundation, the non-profit arm of our alumni organization that focuses on supporting music programs in public schools. Through our success on The Sing-Off, we’re in a place where we can release this single and donate all the proceeds to that effort and it’s something we’re really proud of.
For those of you who are seniors, are you thinking about pursuing a career in music or in the arts?
ES: Absolutely not. [Laughs] If I could I would, but part of the beauty of the group is that you take a bunch of guys who have limited musical experience — and even more limited musical expertise — and commit to making a really great final product, and forming this great group dynamic. While I’ve loved my time in the Bubs — I’ve had such a great time, I thought I was going to go to college but I didn’t think I would get to be on TV — it’s been so, so cool, I don’t think I could do it within anyone but the Bubs. I’ve got to graduate, so the beauty of it is the finality. You realize you only have four years to have fun and make a difference, so you try to squeeze as much into it as possible. And After that it’s onto the real world and I’ll just be watching them on TV, hopefully.
What’s your favorite song or artist of the moment?
ES: I’ll do favorite artist, just because I’ve been thinking about her a lot: Janelle Monáe… or maybe Kanye [West]. No, Janelle. Although Kanye’s album is really good. [Laughs]
KM: I’ve been listening to a lot of Alicia Keys recently. She’s talented and gorgeous.
ES: And I think taken, unfortunately.
KM: Taken, I know. Swizz Beatz.
She recently had a baby, too.
ES: But when she reads this maybe she’ll…