What started out as a ripple of interest in singing a cappella led to a wave of success for The Blanks as they continue their premier tour performing this Saturday at the Overture Center. The Blanks seek to make a splash in Madison with musical content from their 2004 album, Riding the Wave.
Sam Lloyd leads the group singing tenor, while Philip McNiven, George Miserlis and Paul F. Perry sing countertenor, baritone and bass, respectively. Readers may be more familiar with these four renegade performers than they realize as The Blanks have made numerous appearances as “Ted’s Band” on the hit television show “Scrubs.” Sam Lloyd is, in fact, Ted, the loveable but depressed hospital lawyer at Sacred Heart.
Lloyd, Miserlis and Perry have been singing together since their time spent at Syracuse University long before they made their first television debut. The group launched their singing career after an episode of comedic failure at a cruise ship audition proposed by the fourth member of the group, McNiven.
“Unfortunately, at the audition, two of the microphones didn’t work, and we failed horribly. That was the end of our cruise ship dreams, but we kept singing together kind of for the fun of it,” Lloyd said.
The Blanks’ journey to “Scrubs” was a group effort that began when Perry wrote original lyrics to John Williams’ “Superman” theme and arranged it for four voices.
“He did that and a little bit later I got cast on ‘Scrubs,'” Lloyd said. “They were having a cast and crew Christmas party. I said, ‘Hey, you guys want to hear a ridiculous song by my ridiculous group?'”
Producers immediately thought the hilarity of the group would add to the show’s quirky humor thus launching The Blanks’ television career. Performing on “Scrubs” served as a creative stimulus for members of the group.
“When we got onto ‘Scrubs’ it pretty much forced us to improve our number of songs that we sang,” Lloyd said. “It would force us to learn them in a matter of a couple days sometimes. Thanks to ‘Scrubs’ we have a whole repertoire now that we didn’t have before.”
The Blanks self-describe their performance-style as wacky with influences from the kings of comedy.
“We do all the stuff from ‘Scrubs,’ but it’s presented in a different way with a lot of comedy involved,” Lloyd said. “It’s kind of like Marx Brothers meets the Three Stooges meets Monty Python meets the Four Lads or something like that. I think that’s about 15 people in all, probably more than that.”
Lloyd also compares The Blanks’ show to the recent cinema sensation and winner of three Oscars, “Avatar.”
“When you come see our show, we like to think of our show as the Avatar of a cappella shows, because we’re 3-D and you don’t need glasses,” Lloyd laughed. “We speak a different language ‘A Cappellese,’ and while we aren’t blue, we are nine feet tall.”
The Blanks rely on the element of audience incredulity during their shows. The group makes frequent use of action figures like the muscular marine Major Chip Hazard manipulated in unconventional ways to create music. The group sings background for the automated responses of soloists like the Major.
“We play what they say before we sing a song, and people are thinking, ‘Yeah right, how is that thing going to sing a song?'” Lloyd said. “And as it happens, we get into the second verse and you can hear the audience start to say, ‘Oh my God, that’s actually singing a song.'”
Besides the action figure songs, other audience favorites include a TV show theme medley and a whirlwind record commercial.
“We recreate a record commercial from the seventies where we do two seconds of 23 songs in about a minute and a half and that’s entertaining,” Lloyd shared.
It isn’t all sidesplitting laughs for the group. If there’s one thing The Blanks take seriously it’s their dedication to humor.
“Once we’re committed to doing something, we go all out and put a lot of work into it,” Lloyd said.
During their shows, The Blanks create a multi-disciplinary experience for the audience with musical, comedic and dramatic elements.
“We try to think of a way to present the show that would be entertaining and different. While we do all the music, it has a lot of comedy, and it even has a bit of a through line and a bit of a plot,” Lloyd explained.
The Blanks also celebrate the universal appeal of humor.
“The show has something for everybody. We have shows with kids six years old up to people in their 70s plus. There’s stuff in there for the Scrubs fans, and there’s stuff in it for people who’ve never seen Scrubs,” Lloyd said.
Now that the show has ended, The Blanks have begun to refine their musical identity. “We’re dependent on the popularity of ‘Scrubs’ right now. The more we can get people to say, ‘We came as ‘Scrubs’ fans, but left as Blanks fans,’ the more we’ll have a future,” Lloyd said. “But, like our CD title says, we’re ‘Riding the Wave.'”
The Blanks perform at the Overture Center Saturday, April 17, at 8 p.m.