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Interview:
The Boyz have turned in II men
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

When Boyz II Men released its "Twenty" album in October, Shawn Stockman and his bandmates were left shaking their heads that it had been that many years since the group's first album -- and the beginning of a career as the top-selling R&B vocal group of all time.

"Y'know, time has blown (by) like crazy," says Stockman, 39. "We look back at some of the things we've done and just think that, 'Wow, that was 20 years ago, but we remember it like it was two days ago' because the memories were that profound.

"Then you look back at the bad moments, and thank God we're not in them anymore. They feel like light years away. But fortunately there's a lot more of the good ones."

That there are. Since signing with Motown and debuting with 1991's "Cooleyhighharmony" and its hit "Motownphilly," Boyz II Men's hip-hop meets doo-wop sound has racked up sales of 60 million albums worldwide and four Grammy Awards. Its nine Top 10 singles hits include 1992's "End of the Road," which broke a record held by Elvis Presley for the longest run at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and which the group then broke with subsequent hits "I'll Make Love to You" and "One Sweet Day," the latter a duet with Mariah Carey.

Billboard magazine named Boyz II Men the top group of the 90s, and Stockman says the reason for that success is no mystery.

"We're genuine," explains Stockman, who co-founded Boyz II Men, originally called Unique Attraction, during 1988 at the Philadelphia High School For Creative and Performing Arts. The troupe -- Stockman, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Michael McCary (who's no longer with the group) -- renamed itself after a New Edition and was discovered for its recording contract by that group's Michael Bivins.

"Our whole thing was never about bells, whistles, explosions, firecrackers and the big lights, things of that nature. We don't come from the school of reality television. We were just four guys who wanted to sing, and we never let anything get in the way of that."

But, Stockman acknowledges, Boyz II Men have "had struggles" over the years -- some internally, many with the music industry. The former, he says, are not really for public consumption. "We're old school people," Stockman says. "We don't air our problems on the Internet. Whatever problems or issues we have, we deal with them internally, like men. You don't want everybody in your business."

As for the business, however, he's a bit more outspoken.

After Boyz II Men's initial blast of success -- three multi-platinum albums, two of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- the group locked horns with Motown and also battled members' health problems; McCary with scoliosis that forced him out of the band by 2003, Wanya Morris with a polyp on his vocal cords. Motown's sale from Polygram to the Universal Music Group in 1999 proved detrimental to the group, and that year's "Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya" album was a sales disappointment that sent the quartet fleeing from the label.

"We went through a period of identity crisis," acknowledges Stockman, who's also a judge on the NBC reality show "The Sing Off." "We didn't know exactly where we fit in, or IF we fit in at all anymore. And the crazy part about all that was there were people we considered friends or allies who were like, 'You're over.'

"We had to deal with that, with the fact that, 'Damn, I thought these people were in our corner. I thought these people were by our side...,' things of that nature. People were just flowing with how the industry was going and was hot and said 'to hell' with us. That was hard."

Boyz II Men never quite caught fire again, but not for lack of trying -- including a covers album "Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA" in 2007 and, in 2011, a Love Cruise of the Caribbean to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The "Twenty" album, meanwhile, is the group's strongest play for commercial success in quite some time, bringing in writer-producers such as Babyface, Teddy Riley, Tim & Bob, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Charlie Wilson, the Gap Band singer who co-wrote, co-produced and guests on the first single, "More Than You'll Ever Know."

The album -- which debuted at No. 20, the group's best showing in nearly a decade -- also includes a second disc of remakes of some of Boyz II Men's biggest hits, which Stockman says was done for a variety of reasons, including "reacquainting everyone with our existence" and also creating versions of the tunes that the group would hold rights to license for other uses.

"It was kind of surreal," Stockman says of recreating the old songs. "It was kind of bugged-out. While I was singing them, I was saying to myself, 'I can't sing it like I did 20 years ago. I'm not even that person anymore. I don't know who that person is anymore.'

"So we basically just sang the melodies, but the inflections were different because we're older and more experienced, and that shows on those re-records. They sound they same, but they're very different."

"Twenty," Stockman says, has breathed some new energy into the group, which continues as a trio even though McCary was expected to rejoin this year. The group has tour dates booked into the summer, and Stockman feels the Men's situation is solid enough that a 30- and even 40-year anniversaries are not out of the question.

"The journey we've been through together has made us strong," he explains. "We've gone through our hell and still managed to be together. We've gone through experiences we haven't gone through with anybody else -- even with our own families.

"That's the tie that binds. It's the growth and experiences we've done together that makes this group what it is. It's more than music."

Boyz II Men perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at SoundBoard in the MotorCity Caino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $45, $42 and $40. Call 1-866-782-9633 or visit www.motorcitycasino.com.

Web Site: www.motorcitycasino.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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