The a capella group ‘could do a Metallica song, and your grandma would like it.
Open your eyes, however, and you see five guys seated around a table — not an instrument in sight. Meet FACE.
Since its humble 2001 beginnings in the practice rooms of the College of Music at the University of Colorado Boulder , the all-vocal rock group has been dissecting and re-inventing hits by everyone from Pink Floyd and Garth Brooks to Imagine Dragons and Bruno Mars, giving new meaning to the term “a cappella” as it patiently built a local fan base.
Now, thanks in part to the hit TV show “Glee,” the box-office smash “Pitch Perfect,” and the chart-topping all-vocal band “Pentatonix,” a cappella is enjoying its day in the sun. And FACE is too.
In recent months, FACE has opened for Jon Bon Jovi, Jay Leno, and Culture Club and Boy George, rolled out a live international album, and hired a manager to handle its 120-plus shows a year. Several members have even been able to quit their day jobs.
“This is the best time ever to be in an a cappella group,” says tenor Ryan Driver, former president of CU’s In the Buff a capella group.
FACE was founded by CU alums Ben Lunstad and Joseph DiMasi, who began to recruit fellow singers at CU in the early 2000s. First came Forest Kelly (’02), a biology major and crooner with a gift at hitting bone-rattling bass notes.
There’s just something about human voices that is more permeable and accessible to the masses."
Then came Mark Megibow, a Northwestern University grad who traded real drums for beat-boxing, and Driver ‘(02) who studied anthropology at CU but always had his eye on a career in music. Next came Stephen Ross ‘(03) a music-education major whose piercing countertenor voice resembles the high notes on a synthesizer.
Lyricist Cody Qualls, whoattended CU-Boulder from 1998-2000, was unemployed, was reeling from the break-up of his rock band and singing Christmas Carols on Pearl Street when a band member walked by and coaxed him to join for just one gig. That was 13 years ago.“There’s just something about human voices that is more permeable and accessible to the masses,” says Qualls. “FACE could do a Metallica song, and your grandma would like it.”
Lunstad and DiMasi have moved on. But after more than a decade together, the five remaining members have developed a tangible chemistry. At a recent rehearsal they acted like brothers, finishing each other’s stories, ribbing each other, then launching into a radio-worthy harmony on the spot.
In the early days, they struggled just to get potential audience members to understand what they did, recalls Driver. “You would say ‘a capella,’ and they would envision barbershop.”
But more recent reviewers have described FACE as a “wall of sound” that “defies all preconceived stereotypes about vocal bands.” This summer, when the band started a Kickstarter page to fund an international tour, their fans quickly forked up $40,000. Thirteen shows in 16 days across five European countries later, they’re eager to ride that momentum with more originals and bigger shows in new cities.
They credit CU-Boulder not only for bringing them together, but for helping them navigate where they are.
“I still hear the voices of some of those professors in my head when I’m singing,” says Ross, who after 12 years of teaching choir at Skyline High School in Longmont, quit this year to dedicate himself to FACE.
“They taught us the ability to listen and troubleshoot in real time, whether you were in a choir of 80 or a group of five. I feel like I have the perfect set of tools to do what I am doing right now. Everything led up to this.”
Lisa Marshall (Jour, PolSci’94) is a freelance writer who lives near Estes Park.