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 that’s what we meant, and that’s 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 didn’t 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 it’d come to blows – I could count it on three fingers. You’re getting four passionate dudes in a room [talking] about where we’re going, especially when it’s on a downward spiral, and everybody feels like they have a solution – it can get kinda sticky.
AHHA: Speaking of four, now you’re down to three. How does that feel for you guys?
Shawn: It’s excellent. It’s actually less weight. It’s hard to have four guys that are bosses and there’s a decision that needs to be made, and you contact two, but one is in the Bahamas and one just ain’t answering his phone. There’s a lot of things that could have been a lot different if that kind of democracy wasn’t set up. Right now, we’re at a point where the three of us know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
AHHA: How old are you guys now?
Shawn: I’m 31, Nathan is 33, and Wanya is 30.
AHHA: You’re still young.
Shawn: Yeah, a lot of people don’t 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 you’ve taken musically? You’ve done everything from sensual, sexy type approach, you’ve had the club hits, and you’ve 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, it’s 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 we’re giving it to them. We feel the same way. We’re still young, but we’re 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 didn’t matter that he was 20 years older than me. I liked it, and it wasn’t about age. One of the things that changed in the industry is this segregation. It’s like if you’re 16 or younger you can’t listen Marvin Gaye or Carl Thomas, and if you’re 35 and up you can’t listen to B2K or Kanye West. Think about the Jacksons – Michael was 9 and grown ups loved him. It’s so wack right now. I don’t 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: Let’s 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. It’s 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.
That’s 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. We’re 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. That’s 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 we’ve 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. There’s 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 that’s one of the things that the last two labels we dealt with had really done – picking the wrong singles. Once the single didn’t jump off, they blamed it on the artist and didn’t really want to financially support the rest of the album. They pretty much let us rot and fend for ourselves.
We’re 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 you’ve really got to put your money where your mouth is. It’s 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, they’re gonna say, ‘Where’s your part of the deal?’ You can’t just go pointing a finger, and if you really believe in something you’ve got to put some money behind it and make it happen.
AHHA: We’ve touched on the lack of control that you guys had early in your career. Do you think it’s been difficult for you guys as you’ve gotten older [to take control]? How does it feel for you mentally and spiritually now that you don’t have all those people in your face?
Wanya: I think it’s a sense of freedom in all actuality. It does have it’s downfalls, because we don’t have anybody to turn to – we’re our own cheerleaders. We have to have the right type of work ethic to manifest this whole situation. But like I said, it’s a certain type of freedom that you get – it’s sort of like a setting a butterfly free from out of a jar, because that’s 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 we’re better without them. It’s not a stress, there’s definitely some apprehension, but we’ll fight through it because we’ve gotten this far.
AHHA: After all these years and all the things you’ve been through, how do you feel about the New Edition ‘comeback’? Do you feel like you’re in competition at all? Are you still cool with Michael Bivins?
Wanya: There’s 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 we’d look at like it was wack. They’ve always seemed to do the damn thing. We respect that and it’s very influential. We feel like if guys that we looked up to can still do it and maintain their integrity, so can we. That’s the main thing with that. We’re cordial with Michael Bivins. We’d like to regenerate our camaraderie and friendship from before, but it takes time. We’re trying to do that right now.
Nathan: I think that we’re 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 don’t do all the bouncing around like we used to. As far as putting a show together [with them] it’d be kind of fly. You have the best of both worlds.