Remember how popular R&B groups were in the 1990s? Simple drum beats, group harmonies, coordinated outfits -- a time when TLC, Dru Hill, En Vogue, Jodeci and BLACKstreet dominated the Billboard charts, harking back to the earliest days of Motown.
Boyz II Men were the most popular of them all. The Philly natives released "End of the Road" in 1992, and it soon became a monster hit, staying atop the singles charts for months and breaking Elvis Presley's record for the longest number of weeks at number one. Since then, the group has sold a whopping 60 million albums.
But soon the 2000s hit, and those same qualities that made Boyz II Men a sensation began to go out of style, replaced with the autotune and electronic beats that permeate popular hip-hop radio today. In 2003, the group took a hiatus from releasing original music altogether.
Still, the group has maintained a rigorous international touring schedule, steadily putting out compilations and covers albums. "Twenty," their most recent album, celebrates their two decades together (though their sultry bass singer, Michael McCary, left the group in 2003) and features their first new songs in nine years. When it was released on October 25, it debuted fourth on the R&B charts and 20th on the Billboard 200. Babyface loved it, too.
Lead singer Nathan Morris spoke to The Huffington Post about his band's relentless touring schedule, the changes he's seen in the music industry and his newfound hobbies outside of music.
You guys are about to leave on tour.
Yeah, and we just got back from Japan and Korea probably like two three days ago. That's one of our frequent stops outside of America; the shows are always sold out. A lot of people don't know, but we tour seven or eight months out of the year. We may do five days here, then we're home for two days, then we go back out, we're gone for a month. We leave for Europe for the whole month of January, then we're looking to go Australia, South Africa.
How have people been responding to the new songs?
It's been wonderful, actually. Unbelievable. People are definitely responding.
Do you think the Internet has affected groups like yours? Has it helped or hurt Boyz II Men?
I think it's definitely been more detrimental to artists who weren't brought up in the Internet age. It's a better and quicker way for people to get your music, but because of the illegal downloads ... that's what hurts us. The funnel of the way people get their music now. It's great if it can be policed, but it really can't.
How do you feel about R&B in general right now? Has the genre drastically changed?
Honestly, there are no singing groups. I can't name you one right now, literally not one. And I think that's the product of an Internet age. I think we're in a selfish age, and what I mean by that is YouTube, all these things are about the individual, show themselves, see what they can do. Nobody really wants to come together and try things.
You're saying people are more selfish now about their music.
I think people are into themselves more today than they used to be. There's no humility in artists anymore. People believe in themselves so much, and it's not confidence so much, it's arrogance. Everything's "all about me," you know?
But you guys have always been about the group mentality?
Yeah, that's why we're still doing it today. That's the reason we've been together for 20 years. I'm 40 years old -- I look at my life, and 20 years of my life has been spent with maternal family and 20 years have been spent on the road with the group.
Did you reach out to Michael McCary [the member who left] before recording "Twenty?"
Yeah, we just thought it made sense. Whatever we went through or had gone through, after 20 years it made sense to bring him back for the camaraderie. [But] he didn't do it, he didn't show up. All of the bass stuff on the album, that was me.
Why didn't he show up?
It's a little bit of a lot of things. Michael's a different kind of guy, he always has been ... I guess Mike is a little selfish in some aspects. We had really wanted to bring him back, make this thing work with him.
What do you like listening to these days?
We enjoy a lot of artists: Beyonce, Ne-yo, Usher, Drake, things like that. We listen to a lot of different things and enjoy them.
Did you guys ever consider adapting your music at all? Trying to sound like what's on the radio now?
This is just what we like to do. Those other things are great, but that's not the core of who we are. You know, we didn't sell 60 million records to people who listen to that, we sold them to people who listen to what we do. Nowadays the industry -- it's not a music industry, its more a sound industry. What sounds you can put on your voice, how you can affect it, how weird you can make a record sound. No one really goes onstage live and sings the way they're supposed to sing.
I read somewhere you dabble in photography?
I own a photography studio in Philly. I started shooting about five years ago. It's kind of my other creative outlet.
What kind of stuff do you shoot?
I started just doing landscape stuff. We did a lot of traveling, and I realized after 20 years, I'd never really captured anything we'd seen. Everything from the Eiffel tower, Stonehenge, some glamour and model shots.
How did it feel to be back in the studio, recording new material for the first time?
It was great. You know, we really wanted to make this 20th thing special. We're all about [recording] original music, it's just a matter of whether people want to hear it. We're in an industry where it's here today, gone today. You still got to reintroduce yourself to an audience.