Pentatonix's Kevin Olusola Talks Classical "Celloboxing" Covers of Sam Smith, John Legend

Courtesy of RCA
Kevin Olusola

"I don't want people to say it's beautiful; I want them to say, 'Wow, it's artistic, interesting and it doesn't cheapen the instrument,' " he says of his five-song EP, 'The Renegade.'

If Pentatonix is pop culture's answer to a cappella, then the group's beatboxer, Kevin "K.O." Olusola, is the cello's latest savior.

"I don't even want to say I'm trying to necessarily popularize classical music, I just want to take this thing, this cello, this sound, and make it artistic so people can understand it today," Olusola, who beatboxes while playing the cello, tells The Hollywood Reporter of The Renegade EP, which features an intriguing mix of instrumental arrangements. "I don't want people to say it's beautiful; I want them to say, 'Wow, it's artistic, interesting and it doesn't cheapen the instrument.' "

The Yale Symphony Orchestra alum explains that Tuesday's five-song release resulted from spontaneously sending some of his classical yet urban-pop "celloboxing" covers to Pentatonix's label, RCA, especially after receiving proof of concept from ticketholders during a solo moment on the band's last tour. When Olusola brought his cello onstage and performed an original composition entitled "Renegade," he was met with resounding applause.

"That feedback was definitely an initial catalyst — it was a track I began writing in 2011 and finally got to perform," he reflects of the song, which is the EP's most exhausting track to perform. "It took me two years to write only because, I think with classical music, people want to see dexterity and technical prowess. I did that the first time, it was too difficult for me to play and beatbox live. I scaled it back but tried to keep what was artistic, and that people could understand it."

The other tracks are a cover of Demi Lovato's "Heart Attack" plus more recent arrangements of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" and John Legend's "All of Me." Kicking it all off is "Julie-O," the piece originally by Turtle Island Quartet's Mark Summer that went viral and led to his Pentatonix recruitment for NBC's The Sing-Off in 2011.

"It's such a fun piece and I get to be myself, and very free — it's very special to me," he says of "Julie-O," which he performs on Pentatonix's current, "very big and production-heavy" tour. "Now, when that moment comes in [Pentatonix's show], it's just really about the cello and the beatboxing, and the production really highlights that starkness."

"I am a singer, first and foremost, but the medium happens to be the cello," he adds, highlighting the arrangement of "Stay With Me" specifically that includes vocals, but never ceases to spotlight the cello. "I'm really just trying to sing with my instrument."

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