by Joanna Orland
Boyz II Men are one of my favourite bands from my youth. Emerging from the Phillie R&B scene in the early 90’s, this band has had a career run over the past twenty years. God, I’m old. Speaking of… there certainly aren’t any “Boyz” left in Boyz II Men. And only three men at that as Michael “Bass” McCary previously left the band due to health problems.
The current trio known as Boyz II Men features Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman who were all more than happy to chat with me about their career highlights, in spite of the hunger they must’ve felt as I took over their lunch hour with my inquisitive mind and, according to them, thick Canadian drawl.
Did you have any other name ideas before settling on Boyz II Men?
Shawn: No… We’d rather not talk about those names because they were really bad and cheesy!
One? Give me one?
Shawn: Well, the name that we were before Boyz II Men, if they allow me to say, was Unique Attraction.
Yeah, Boyz II Men is better!
Shawn: Yeah, we think so, so we went there. And we kind of ditched the Unique Attraction thing. And I think it has a little bit more staying power, we believe, than Unique Attraction.
Wanya: Yeah, Kinda….
Shawn: We were on the fence, but we took a vote…
How do you go about arranging your harmonies? They are very intricate and wonderful!
Nate: It all depends on the given day to be honest. The good thing is that we all tend to have the same type of ear when it comes to knowing what we like to hear and that’s kind of what we call the “Boyz II Men sound”, and there aren’t many other people that can recreate it. But for the most part, it’s just really a matter of what you feel that day for the song that’s given. Sometimes the harmonies are stacked really really tight, sometimes they’re really spaced apart but they may sound thick. You may hear a 4 part that may sound like a 7 or you may hear a 7 that sounds like a 4. It pretty much all depends on the time of day or the feeling of the song, so there’s really no set agenda of how you would stack the harmonies and where you would put them. But we all know how we like them to go, and usually whenever we do them, we’re all in agreement because we just do the same thing.
You also take turns singing lead vocals as well. Is it the same thing where you just feel the song out?
Nate: Yeah. We hear a song and we know. Take a Babyface song for instance; when we hear him play the track we know right away who’s doing what part, what guy is going where. While one guy is in singing his background part, the other guy’s thinking of what his next part is going to be and it’s kind of like a machine that goes and goes and goes.
You guys started off as a quartet, but now there is three of you. How does the dynamic of the group differ from one version of the band to the other?
Shawn: The dynamic of the group is still pretty much intact. I think that obviously, vocally we’re missing a note, but the good thing about it, if you had to miss a note, the note that we’re missing is the one that you’d want to have missing because it’s the bass. We’re still a complete three-part harmony group, like we still can sing, and when it comes to arranging things Nathan does a lot of the bass parts, which is something that he always did anyway. So it really wasn’t anything that was completely and totally missing, but just the fact that our member who was a friend of ours and a brother is no longer with us. But semantics, we’re still very much a vocal group and we can still construct harmonies and still sing harmonies live and things of that nature. So there’s not too much missing, just a member, but the music is still there.
Can you talk about your big break? Is it true you went backstage at a Bel Biv Devoe concert?
Wanya: Back in school we used to dream about this everyday.
Nate: Could it really happen?
It’s true though? Is it actually how it happened?
Wanya: It wasn’t actually a Bel Biv Devoe concert. They were actually announcing the group, Bel Biv Devoe was getting ready to start. They were breaking off from New Edition and they were starting Bel Biv Devoe, and when he came offstage from announcing it, we were backstage. We had all snuck backstage and we actually asked Michael Bivins could we sing for him, he said, yeah, we sung for him and the rest is history. And then there’s Motownphilly!
End of the Road wasn’t actually on the original release of your album Cooleyhighharmony. How did you guys end up going back and recording that track after the album’s original release?
Nate: It was recorded for a soundtrack, a movie called Boomerang, which starred Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry. What happened was what typically happens in a record company situation where we released a record that was doing pretty well and we released a single afterwards that really took off from the notoriety of the group. So the record label felt that it made sense to put it on that album because it would help album sales, and the album went from probably selling four and a half to five million to double that to about twelve million total.
You guys do a lot of cover songs as well as your own music. How do you go about deciding which cover songs you want to sing?
Shawn: We jot down a list individually of songs that we like and that we enjoy, and we bring them all together and we kinda see what coincides or what we might not have thought’ve on somebody else’s list. Our tastes are pretty similar so we pretty much go in the direction of what can we do to add a Boyz II Men element to the record. Not change it, because when you do covers, we’re very keen on doing covers the right way. In the sense of not going too far, but definitely not doing anything to it. We still try to add our element and our flavour to a cover, but it’s just all a matter of what we like, the type of album we try to create first off, and then the concept and then picking those songs accordingly. Doing what we love and then just adding our little flavours to it. That’s pretty much it. We don’t do too much. We make sure we don’t piss nobody off by changing a classic into a techno record, you know what I’m saying. We keep it cool. So far, so good. I don’t think anybody has been disappointed with our covers, at least not publicly! (laughs)
If there was only one word to summarize “Boyz II Men”, what would that one word be?
Shawn: That’s who we are. We’re music. This is what brought us together, this is what defines us, it’s what defines our legacy, and what will always keep us together.
Wanya: Two words: Music and Love!
Nate: She asked for ONE word.
Shawn: She asked for one of them. You just changed her whole question! You gotta excuse him. He does that sometimes.
These guys are the most successful R&B group of all time, selling more than 60 million albums worldwide! The fact that they were so easygoing and nice made my job easy. The fact that they are clearly still in it for the music and friendship more than anything else is inspiring.
When I first introduced myself to the Boyz/Men, Shawn jumped on the fact that I don’t have an English accent and we are in ENGLAND! Deducing that I was some odd Canadian English hybrid and coming up with fancy words for me including CanEnglish, I was a bit taken aback by Shawn’s imminent cheeky vulgarity. You can listen to the audio clip above to hear what happened. Don’t worry… it won’t ruin your image of Boyz II Men – if anything, it will enhance it!
But the Canuck jokes didn’t stop there…. Read on…
Shawn: I did hear some Canadian stuff when you said aboot!
Shawn: Yes. You said aboot. You said aboot!
No! I don’t want to be a cliché!!!
Wanya & Nate: What did she say?
Shawn: She said Aboot!
Nate: She said Aboot!
Shawn: She said, “Yeah, what Aboot” and I was like “Woaah, hey”!
PR Rep: Just say you’ve been to Scotland recently and that’s why…
Shawn: Is that how they say it in Scotland, is it? Aboot?
Yeah, that’s where it comes from because a lot of them immigrated to Newfoundland and that’s where that thick accent is.
Shawn: Ah HA!!
Now you’ve learned something today.
Wanya: So it’s NOT Canadian!
Shawn: So we learn most of that stuff about Canadians from South Park!
My other interview with Boyz II Men is available on the iPad & iPhone User Magazine web site and print version for your reading pleasure. There you can learn where the name Boyz II Men really comes from, their thoughts on the evolution of the music industry over their 20 year career, and what advice they have to new music groups who are just starting out!