When it came time for the vocal quartet the Tenors to head back into the studio to record their fourth album, “Under One Sky,” they knew one thing: The record would feature more songs written or co-written by members of the group.
When the Tenors first burst on the scene – then called the Canadian Tenors – they primarily did operatic and pop interpretations of other people’s songs, from famous opera arias to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong.” Their previous album, “Lead With Your Heart,” featured “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan and Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.” But it also included a couple of songs written by the group. And that was a trend they wanted to continue.
“It was a very natural progression,” said vocalist Clifton Murray by phone from Florida. “We were all songwriters before we started the group.” The response to the original tracks on “Lead With Your Heart” was so strong, he said, that their record label asked for more.
So in the eight months leading up to recording, the four tenors spent time in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and Toronto, in pairs or singly, working with “other world class songwriters in creating a whole library of songs.”
When one of those songs showed promise, the Tenors would put their stamp on – “Tenorize it,” Murray said.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was 14 years old,” said Murray, who was raised on Vancouver Island. “To be able to put that element back into the group is really fulfilling.”
It’s all part of the group’s efforts to connect with its devoted fan base. Some fans will hit 20 shows on a tour, Murray said.
“You think about those moments when you’re writing,” he said. “What’s that message that resonates with yourself but connects strongly with the audience? Because we want to write from our hearts, but we also want to connect with that core audience that has been so loyal to us.”
In addition to the original songs, “Under One Sky” features “Tenorized” takes on classics such as “Bessame Mucho,” Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” and Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever.” The deluxe edition also sports Eric Clapton’s haunting “Tears in Heaven” and Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.”
It’s a mix that has worked. The album, released in June, has been certified gold in Canada and is on its way to platinum, Murray said. Last week, “Under One Sky” earned a Juno Award nomination – Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy – for best adult contemporary album. (They won in that category for “Lead With Your Heart.”)
The group performs a variety of genres because they have four very different voices. Murray comes from a pop/gospel tradition (he also was an actor in his younger days). Fraser Walters, a veteran of the a cappella ensemble Chanticleer, performed professionally in musical theater and opera. Remigio Pereira started off in rock bands before beginning vocal and classical guitar studies at Le Conservatoire du Quebec. Victor Micallef studied opera in Italy before returning to Canada to join the Canadian Opera Company.
Bringing those styles together on stage has been key to the band’s success. Because like most artists these days, the Tenors “live and die” by the live show, as Murray put it. So a typical Tenors performance will include “the greatest arias ever written,” he said, alongside pop songs, original tunes and folk, all in a “big production” show.
“It’s about taking people on a journey, an emotional journey,” he said. “It’s not like any other tenor show you’ve seen. There’s so much variety. It’s very current. … We really are more of a band than a tenor group.”
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