Huffpost Black Voices

SWV Talks Motherhood, Music And The Advice They'd Give Their Younger Selves

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It was April 1992. Euro Disneyland would open its doors in Paris, France; a jury would acquit four police officers in the beating of Rodney King, setting off six days of massive rioting in Los Angeles; and producer Teddy Riley would put the finishing touches on the debut album of a brand new girl group called SWV.

The music scene was a mash up of Grunge, characterized by bands like Nirvana; pop, brought to the masses by boy groups like New Kids on the Block; and New Jack Swing, the sweet spot for dancing, crooning heartthrobs like Guy.

Twenty years later, music is "busy and lyrically it seems young," says Tamara "Taj" Johnson-George, one of the three Sisters With Voices (SWV) whose new album, "I Missed Us," hopes to bring back the love-inspired sounds that catapulted them to the top of the 90s music charts and into an indelible spot in R&B history.

From their respective homes in Virgina Beach, Atlanta and Nashville, Coko, Lelee and Taj caught up with the Huffington Post to talk candidly about their new work, juggling music careers with motherhood and the advice they'd each give to the person they were 20 years ago.

HP: You guys have been back together/touring since 2005, what has your relationship been like? How is it coming together for this album (especially being that you all live in different cities)?

Taj: Our relationship has improved a lot since our first go around. It's understood that we're all adults with emotions and needs. We try not to overlook that anymore.

Lelee: The different locations is somewhat of a nightmare because we can't really get much rehearsal time in. So because of that we always depend on conference calls and a good prayer! [Laughs]

HP: Tell us about life then and now.

Taj: In the beginning Lelee had two kids, her son and daughter. Four years later Coko had a son. During our hiatus, Coko and I both got married. She had another child. I had a son and welcomed my stepson.

HP: What do your kids think about your musical legacy?

Lelee: My children are in their early 20s and don't really think of me that much and what I do because they grew up with it. I'm just MOM. I have the same damn headaches as a mother from the projects, so it doesn't matter that you're a celebrity.

Taj: My sons could care less as long as I'm happy. They enjoy the music but they think we're just parents trying to be young. [Laughs]

Coko: My youngest one is more into it than my oldest. A young girl wanted me to come to her party, she's about 16 years old, and he was like 'Why does she want you to come?!' I was like well, dag, okay! He doesn't get it yet. [Laughs]

PHOTOS: SWV Then and Now

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HP: Has the group dynamic changed at all? As far as who's in the lead, etc.?

Lelee: Well we have a lead singer, and that's Coko. But we all will surprise a lot of people because we share the lead now on this record.

Coko: With this new SWV, where everybody is just used to hearing me sing lead on everything, everybody is singing lead. You get to hear everybody's vocals. Lelee didn't sing as much, but she's come out a lot and she's singing on this record -- she's doing a great job. [Also] we just respect each other ... and think before we speak.

HP: We don't see that many girl groups (or groups on general) these days, Now it's all about the solo artist. Do you think they're making a comeback? Do you think this project will drive that?

Taj: Groups, along with New Jack Swing, faded with the 90s. It wasn't something that was planned, it evolved. There are plenty of groups waiting in the wings -- they just need a shot. SWV will start the group trend again.

Coko: It would be nice to see some more girl groups doing their thing. It's been a long time since you've seen groups in general. They're missed! I'm working on putting a girl group together myself, so I'm excited about that.

Lelee: I believe that some of the older girl groups will be inspired to make a comeback after seeing us. That's a good thing though because we're always on the road with the guys.

HP: We saw a little of your family life on your reality show, Taj, can you each tell us what your day to day life looks like and what the biggest challenges are to maintaining your family and your career?

Coko: I have two boys. Jazz is 16 and Jalen is 9. I'm married to Mike Clemons, he's a musician, a drummer, so we both travel a lot. We're in and out a lot so I try to spend as much time with the kids as possible and he does the same. When he's home, it's all about family. We have to make sure that we put that time in with the kids. Don't want to miss out on that.

Mostly whatever we have to do is on the weekends. We're home during the week, but we don't leave home until we're sure our children and our families are taken care of, everything is straight. Our management and everybody else knows that our family come first.

Taj: My day-to-day life is no different from anyone else. I'm up at 6 every morning. I get my son up and ready for school, I walk and feed my dogs. Once my son is on the bus, my day begins. I have to run errands, take any appointments or meetings, workout and play, all before my son gets off the bus in the afternoon. At that point it's dinner, homework and any after school activities before bedtime. Then it all begins again. Touring is exhausting but that's the only thing I need to worry about when I'm on the road.

Lelee: I'm single and a parent so everything falls on me. I've never experienced a boyfriend or a husband taking care of me in any kind of way -- it's always me doing everything. And when you live a cash-only lifestyle it gets tough. You have your regular bills to live and function -- lights, car note, gas, rent -- then you have your personal bills -- tithes, taxes, doctor, clothing, etc. It can get over your head sometimes. I'm thankful that I'm able to do it, but Lord knows I can't wait 'til the day when my wallet and account can get a rest! [Laughs]

HP: Any advice for other working moms out there?

Coko: There's nothing wrong with pursuing your dreams or careers. You just definitely have to make sure your family is taken care of. You don't want the TV to raise your children. You have to put that time in, that quality time, and make sure that they're doing exactly what it is that they need to do ... Stay in their heads.

Lelee: Instill love in your children and don't always feel bad about leaving them, especially when you are sacrificing to make a better life for them. You could always be like other women, leaving them for days to be with some man, right? You have to make every hug and kiss count. It has to feel good to them because it's that hug and "I love you" that will count. They will remember, believe that.

Taj: The most important piece of advice I can give other working moms would be to pace yourself. We are only human and can't do everything. Prioritize!

HP: What impact did your return to the music scene have on your family and personal lives?

Lelee: Well, to be honest, it always makes more sense to me to date someone who really understands the demands of the music industry. I always end up with regular men with regular jobs, and when it's slow it's fine, but when it picks up and you're gone, it's a mess.

Taj: Our return to the music scene really didn't impact my family. We've been adjusting to hectic schedules for as long as I can remember. My husband supports anything I want to do and I support him as well. I had to literally put my family on my shoulders for two years while my husband attended Kellogg's Executive MBA program, while working for Fox. I was still touring and holding everything else down. I was completely exhausted but ready.

Coko: For me, not much, because I never really stopped [singing]. I did two gospel records, so this isn't new.

HP: What advice would you give to the person you were 20 years ago?

Taj: Everything! I lost my mother at age 14 and had nothing or anyone to step in for her. You need your mom the most at that age. Needless to say, I fell in many traps and have tons of scars. I was emotional, scared of everything, lacked self-esteem and confidence immensely and suffered from anxiety.

I would have told myself that the only person able to deter you is you! Since no one was there to nurture you, you're strong enough to nurture yourself. Everything that you think of yourself was filtered to you through people who feel that same way about themselves. It only matters if you believe it yourself.

Lelee: 20 years ago I was an 18-year-old with two children, so my life was a little different. I would have told myself to finish my education before I went full-time into the music industry. Having something to fall back on is very important. I would have told myself to get to know God and build a personal relationship with him so that he could have prepared me for the life that lay ahead. I would have also told myself to hold on, be strong and believe that there is power in prayer. I'm so happy I know God now, but I totally regret not being a praying mom over my kids. I was just too young.

HP: What would you say is your shining moment on the album?

Taj: [Laughs] Our shining moment on this album was completing it. It was a tough road getting back on that horse, but we did it!

Lelee: Wow, my shining moment, I have to say, is on the ballads "Love Unconditionally" and "If Only You Knew." When I hear [them] I smile because I've grown so much as an artist.

Coko: "If Only You Knew." I think that's my shining moment right there!

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