Founded by Sam Rader and led by choral director Mikey Wells, the group has found a de facto leader in Australian singer/songwriter and longstanding music industry figure Ben Lee, who has become a sort of spiritual shephard for the choir as the executive producer of their debut album and soon to be self-released EP Wreckage, out September 18.
What's more, the Chorus is currently recording material written especially for them by a host of artists you know including Bon Iver, Beck, Sia, Of Montreal, Tegan and Sara, The Bird and the Bee, Aimee Mann, and Lee himself. Clearly this isn't your typical group of hipsters getting together to record Bon Jovi covers in jenky harmony before hitting the bar on a Friday night.
The big names tracks came via Lee, who got involved with the group after sitting in on a rehearsal session during which the choir formed a circle around him, launched into song and sent him to a place of sonic ecstacy. "The sound was just amazing," Lee says, "and they obviously had great taste in music with the covers they were picking, interesting songs off of Sea Change and things like that. It wasn't Glee."
Propelled by his desire to collaborate with the group, Lee jumped on board as mentor and number one fan. He had a hunch that performing fresh material from popular artists would distinguish The Silver Lake Chorus from other choral acts. "It's one thing for a choir to sing a song you know," Lee says, "but when you go home, you're not going to put on an album by that choir because you've already got the song. The idea I had was to reach out to songwriters and ask them for a track no one had heard before."Although the band wasn't convinced they could get songs from established artists, Lee understood the allure of such an offer. "Most people would think they can't approach Beck or Tegan and Sara, but as a songwriter, it's such an honor to have your song sung by someone else, especially 25 people with great voices. So I just started putting it out there. It was very much a leap of faith."
Lee asked the choir to make a dream list of the top artists they'd want to collaborate with. Bon Iver was number one, so Lee reached out; frontman Justin Vernon sent over a song the next day, and momentum grew from there. Soon the choir had enough material to fill an album.
The next task was figuring out how to actually perform the songs. This proved daunting, considering the technical challenges inherent in creating instrumental and vocal arrangements for 25 people based off of songs not necessarily written for a chorus. "There are endless possibilities in terms of what we can do in terms of singing and instruments," says Wells. "Those possibilities are exciting but can also be really intimidating."