AHHA: Do you have any regrets about your musical direction during the course of your career?
Shawn: I have more regrets about our mind states during some of those albums than the music. The music was always the easiest thing for us to do we can sing almost anything. If we feel it, we sing it, and thats what we meant, and thats what we felt. I have no apologies about what we created. It had some sort of purpose what we were going through, what we sang about, what we fought about, whatever. I do regret right around the Evolution time that phase was kind of ugly. The whole MTV crowd kind of turned their backs on us. We saw the venues not filling up like they used to, for lack of a better phrase, a mind f*ck. It just got to a point where it made me ugly I didnt understand anything. It might not have looked that way, because we were groomed to not put ourselves out there like that. Whatever we were going through personally, we were going through personally. Whatever you were going through, the fights, the ego trips, all that other crazy sh*t, you kept that on the low.
AHHA: Did you guys fight much in your early years?
Shawn: Oh yeah. [laughs] Yeah, we fought a lot. There was certain times where itd come to blows I could count it on three fingers. Youre getting four passionate dudes in a room [talking] about where were going, especially when its on a downward spiral, and everybody feels like they have a solution it can get kinda sticky.
AHHA: Speaking of four, now youre down to three. How does that feel for you guys?
Shawn: Its excellent. Its actually less weight. Its hard to have four guys that are bosses and theres a decision that needs to be made, and you contact two, but one is in the Bahamas and one just aint answering his phone. Theres a lot of things that could have been a lot different if that kind of democracy wasnt set up. Right now, were at a point where the three of us know each others strengths and weaknesses.
AHHA: How old are you guys now?
Shawn: Im 31, Nathan is 33, and Wanya is 30.
AHHA: Youre still young.
Shawn: Yeah, a lot of people dont understand that our first single, we were 16, 17 and 18. We basically grew up in the game.
AHHA: What are your thoughts on the different directions youve taken musically? Youve done everything from sensual, sexy type approach, youve had the club hits, and youve had the radio hits. What do you feel the direction of the group is now?
Shawn: With this album that we came out with now, its our way of going back to the roots of everything not just Boyz II Men music. We feel people are looking for it, and we have a [name] that people trust to get that, so were giving it to them. We feel the same way. Were still young, but were grown ass men. We do grown things and we live grown people lives, and we know that our fans and supporters do to. I come from a school where I listened to Marvin Gaye, and it didnt matter that he was 20 years older than me. I liked it, and it wasnt about age. One of the things that changed in the industry is this segregation. Its like if youre 16 or younger you cant listen Marvin Gaye or Carl Thomas, and if youre 35 and up you cant listen to B2K or Kanye West. Think about the Jacksons Michael was 9 and grown ups loved him. Its so wack right now. I dont understand why that changed. Everyone in the industry was so much more profitable that way when you separate things, you separate the money too.
AHHA: Lets discuss the process of going from a major to an independent label.
Nathan: The process is really only best fit for artists who have either been in the business for a certain amount of years, or who have a name or following of [their] artistry. Its kind of difficult to be a new artist and go to an independent, because there is only a certain amount of revenue they have to put an artist out when most of the revenue has to come from the artist themselves. We were at Universal, I think we just kind of wore out our welcome. We were a group that was originally signed to Motown, and when they merged with Universal we were just another group on their roster. Obviously they felt like we were a big group on their roster, but everybody felt like they knew the direction that Boyz II Men should go, and no one wanted to ask the group.
Thats where record companies falter, they bring in people and hire them to make certain decisions, but unfortunately the only person that really knows the artist is the artist. The only person that knows the fans is the artist. Were out in the street all day, and our fans say what they want and what they need. We bring that insight back to the record label, because there are certain things fans are going to say to us and not them. But these guys get six figures so they feel like they gotta make all the decisions, and when you sign contracts, to a degree, you put yourself in a position where they get to make all the decisions creatively and financially, so all you do is do what they say. Thats one of the joys of having an independent situation, where you can pretty much do whatever you feel.
With Arista I think got to a situation where they felt that they knew the direction of Boyz II Men. One thing that weve always tried to do over the years is kind of grow creatively and try different things, which we did on those last two [major release] albums. Theres always that one typical Boyz II Men song that labels like to focus on and filter everything through, and picking the wrong single can really set you back, and thats one of the things that the last two labels we dealt with had really done picking the wrong singles. Once the single didnt jump off, they blamed it on the artist and didnt really want to financially support the rest of the album. They pretty much let us rot and fend for ourselves.
Were happy independent you get to control your own destiny. Obviously you have to make a lot more decisions for yourself, and the most important thing is that youve really got to put your money where your mouth is. Its easy to go into a record label and yell at somebody and say we need a video, and we need to make this happen and tell them to put up the money, but when you really need one on an independent thing, theyre gonna say, Wheres your part of the deal? You cant just go pointing a finger, and if you really believe in something youve got to put some money behind it and make it happen.
AHHA: Weve touched on the lack of control that you guys had early in your career. Do you think its been difficult for you guys as youve gotten older [to take control]? How does it feel for you mentally and spiritually now that you dont have all those people in your face?
Wanya: I think its a sense of freedom in all actuality. It does have its downfalls, because we dont have anybody to turn to were our own cheerleaders. We have to have the right type of work ethic to manifest this whole situation. But like I said, its a certain type of freedom that you get its sort of like a setting a butterfly free from out of a jar, because thats what being on a record label is. You get fed every now and then, they give you a couple of plaques, they give you a couple of dollars, they might even renew your contract, but you never reap the true benefits of the fruits of your labor. We work hard, and were better without them. Its not a stress, theres definitely some apprehension, but well fight through it because weve gotten this far.
AHHA: After all these years and all the things youve been through, how do you feel about the New Edition comeback? Do you feel like youre in competition at all? Are you still cool with Michael Bivins?
Wanya: Theres too much history there and too much respect there for competition to even play a part at all. We love New Edition and there is nothing that they can do that wed look at like it was wack. Theyve always seemed to do the damn thing. We respect that and its very influential. We feel like if guys that we looked up to can still do it and maintain their integrity, so can we. Thats the main thing with that. Were cordial with Michael Bivins. Wed like to regenerate our camaraderie and friendship from before, but it takes time. Were trying to do that right now.
Nathan: I think that were two different identities. The music aspect of what we do is night and day. New Edition has been known to give great shows and make great records. Boyz II Men has been known to give great shows and do great songs. We sing, we dont do all the bouncing around like we used to. As far as putting a show together [with them] itd be kind of fly. You have the best of both worlds.