Straight No Chaser (Part 4)

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What'd I Say

Straight No Chaser (Part 4)

S2, Ep. 8

For their new album, “One Shot,” the world-renowned a cappella group wanted tracks relating to their collective journey. First, find out how they put together a Boyz II Men and Montell Jordan medley (“Motownphilly” and “This Is How We Do It”). Then, get the inside scoop on their new original song, along with how it helped complete the vision of the record.

The group’s new album, “One Shot,” is out now. A deluxe reissue of “Holiday Spirits,” in honor of its 10-year anniversary, is out now.

Episode Transcript

Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say Presents: Straight No Chaser, “One Shot.” On the final part of this four part series, we’re going to have the guys discuss some of the songs that make up this amazing record. Up first is their medley of Boyz II Men’s classic, “Motownphilly,” along with Montell Jordan’s, “This Is How We Do It.” I’m going to let the guys introduce themselves first, so you know who is talking, and let them start the fun.

Jerome Collins: Hi, my name is Jerome Collins.

Walter Chase: Hi, I’m Walter Chase.

Steve Morgan: Hey, it’s Steve Morgan.

Walter Chase: So, this is a medley, a medley of two songs from the 90s, when we first started out at Indiana University. The first time I heard “Motownphilly,” I believe I was in eighth grade; it was one of the first CDs that I had bought. I listened to it nonstop. I was hooked on Boyz II Men immediately. I always liked harmonies. My dad played Beach Boys and the Beatles and every type of vocal group from Motown, and that was what we used to listen to in the cars on the way to my grandmothers when we’d go visit.

When I heard Boyz II Men, the boy band, they were not a cheesy boy band. They were cool, and they were from Philly, which was, I grew up about an hour and a half north in Easton, Pennsylvania. So, the idea that all these guys went to a music school, met at a music high school in Philadelphia, it just blew my mind. Young, 13-year-old, white Walt living in Easton, Pennsylvania, wanted to be at this Philly music school, and learn to sing songs that were written by Bel Biv DeVoe. So, that’s where I first heard “Motownphilly.”

“This Is How We Do It,” was ’96, so that was the same year. It was when we were first getting together in college, and we did that song as a standalone back in our college years. Jerome used to do the solo, and we would do it, and we actually did a mix of some Boyz II Men songs along with it. But the first time I heard “This Is How We Do It,” it was just a party starter in college. It was a song that we immediately would blast on the radio. It was just liberating and fun. It spoke to, it’s Friday night, and I feel all right, the party song. That’s my story.

Steve Morgan: Yeah for me, “Motownphilly,” I think I heard it my first time the summer before seventh grade at YMCA camp, and I said, “This is the greatest song I’ve ever heard in my life.” And it was hype. It was just such a great introduction to who Boyz II Men were. As a guy who liked to sing, Boyz II Men, like Walt said, they were the cool new thing. They had a smooth sound. They were writing music that the girls loved, you’re like, “This is it. This is what I want to do. This is what I want to listen to forever.” They ran off a string of incredible hits after that, of course, but it all started with “Motownphilly.”

Jerome Collins: “Motownphilly,” “This Is How We Do It,” those represented our time in school. That was what we were rocking in our iPods, I guess when it first came out back then. I still had a tape deck when I was in school. It just takes us back, like a celebration of where we all started and how we’re still, to this day, we’re still rocking “This Is How We Do It.” It’s still a hit. It’s still banging. Then, Boyz II Men, obviously that was just a group who we looked up to when we were in college, that’s who we wanted to be like. So, this is a great experience to be able to sing and mimic the songs that we grew up listening to and that we also, groups that we idolized. This is like full circle for us. It starts it off, This Is How We Do It.

This starts off, the story. There is no better way to start it off than with this song to represent us, and what it means to our group. Look, Straight No Chaser, we come to be known as, as a group that does a lot of mashups. So, we always look forward to putting songs together that people may not have heard together. When we first came together with this concept for the album, it was, “We’ve already done This Is How We Do It.” And we did the little snippet of “Motownphilly” just to break down, but we never put them together. So ,Walt, I call him DJ Walt, decided to come to, he came to me with this track and he was like, “Hey man, I’m thinking about putting these two together.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s a home run. It’s golden.” So, it was just kinda like, and it worked. And it was just the idea that he came up with, and then to put pen to paper. It’s great. It turned out to be actually, one of my favorite tracks on the album. ‘Cause it just starts it off the right way. Starts it off with up tempo, upbeat, and just like, “Hello. This is, here we are. This is how we do it.”

Walter Chase: I mean, both songs are universal. They’ve lasted the test of time. Not only, in R&B and Hip Hop, but in, just across mainstream. Montell Jordan is now a pastor. He’s actually not performing in the music industry. But, I don’t wanna call him a one hit wonder, but this is his, this is his moment. And again, they’re just, they’re like introductory songs for these two artists. A chance for us to kind of experience when Hip Hop really was crossing over. This was the time of Biggie and Tupac, and the rap of the mid 90s. But, that wasn’t something that I necessarily was able to listen to on the radio with my parents. But, Montell Jordan, Boys II Men, had that universal appeal to everyone. They’re just both catchy, fantastic songs.

Steve Morgan: Yeah. There’s a musicality to both of them that I think appeals both to, the music nerd side of me. Having the little things in “Motownphilly,” where they kinda did their showoff point for Michael Bivens. That was always cool. You’d say, “Oh. Yeah. That’s real artistry right there.” It was something you could hang your hat on when you were looking at that is why you looked up to them so much. And the Montell Jordan song, yeah, it just gets the party going. It’s a big, strong, male sound with everybody just kinda, “This is how we do…” I mean, everybody’s into it. It’s a thumpin’ beat. It’s got everything you want in a party song.

Walter Chase: So, in the process of putting the album together, we were trying to find specific songs to talk to each part of the Straight No Chaser story. The beginning of our story was back in 1996 at NEA University. We were a bunch of college kids. 18, 19 years old. And the type of music that we were listening to was Montell Jordan and Boys II Men. And the types of songs we performed would be songs by those artists, by Usher, by Shy. These bands that were mostly vocals and mostly cool and had a bit of something that you could sing to the ladies. The R&B style. We had done an arrangement of “This is How We Do It,” back on our second release in college. An album called, Last Call. And, it was a song that we performed when we did competitions, but it was mainly the song that we’d perform at concerts that would either open the show or close the show. Open an act or close an act. And it was something that Jerome just, he could sing it as well if not better than Montell Jordan.

We had our own rap, where Jerome talked about us starting the group in Indiana. We changed a little bit for this version. But, when we were trying to find a song, we were like, “Well. Do we go back and do a song that we’ve done already?” And, we had never done “Motownphilly.” We’ve done little quotes from it. We’ve done more from other Boy II Men songs. “Thank You” and songs like that. These two songs, they work together. They go back and forth about talking about, it’s just an opening, an entry song. And since it was chronological on our album to start with this, this was our kicking down the door, and us showing what our vibe was, our style was. And also what our music was that we were listening to when we were back in Indiana.

So, when we’re on the call it was, who’s gonna arrange this song. And, when we were first talking about just doing one of the songs, we had talked about just doing “This is How We Do It.” And when someone mentioned, “Why don’t we mix it up with Motownphilly?” I immediately become very wary about wanting to arrange. One of the biggest challenges we have as an acapella group, as a group that covers other bands songs, and even further, a group that covers other group songs together as a medley is, getting those songs cleared. We’ve come up against publishers or individual artists as we’ve done songs that have told us that, once those songs get put out, that they either don’t want a new version of their song done. They don’t want it combined with another song, or they don’t want lyrics changed on a particular song.

And this has happened almost a dozen times to us over the course of recording. And usually, what happens is, we will arrange the song, go into the studio, record it, get it mixed down, get it mastered. And then it gets sent out to the artist, and then, after all of those hours of work, that’s when the artist says, “No. Thank you.” What we decided to do with this was, we put the two songs together, I did the arrangement for it, and I flew down to Florida to get Jerome to sing the lead over top of it. After we had all that done, then, before we went into the studio with the song, we sent it to Boys II Men and Montell Jordan’s camp. Now, that seems like it would be an easy thing, but because of the amount of sample that were on this song, there were over 10 publishing houses that had to clear this particular song.

So, the process took over four months for the song to finally clear from when we first did the demo, until it finally was cleared by the tenth publishing company. And it was a week before we went into the studio, the last week we had a chance to record this song, we go thumbs up from the last publisher, whoever it was, that they were okay with the small lyric changes. Instead of saying Boys II Men, going off, we were saying SNC, Straight No Chaser going off. The challenge of doing a medley was brought to its ultimately height here. Having not only to go through both artists to okay it, but to include all of the publishers of all of the samples that happened in both songs.

Steve Morgan: And I think we ultimately found out it was cleared, right about Walt’s birthday. So I said: “Well. You got the best present you could ask for.”

Walter Chase: It was.

Steve Morgan: Right there Walt.

Walter Chase: The songs are pretty close. We use the baseline of “Motownphilly” through the whole song. Which, in college, we used the baseline of “This is How We Do It,” over the entire song. So, we wanted to do something a little different with this, to update it, and to make it our own. I don’t know Steve, if you wanna talk about the actual, how high the tenor parts are or something like that.

Steve Morgan: It’s gets up there, no doubt, but I think again, having the familiarity with, not just the songs, but one of the arrangements then that we had performed, “This is How We Do It” a number of times, really simplifies the process. Any time you can walk into the studio, having a good idea of what you’re part is, where it’s gonna sit in voice, how you wanna sing it, that always simplifies the process. So, having some familiarity with, not only the song, but the base of half of the arrangement.

Walter Chase: There’s a rap that we wrote for the middle of the song. The original rap that Montell Jordan does in “This is How We Do It,” we altered the lyrics to it to fit Straight No Chaser’s story over the course of, not only our time back in college, but our run here as a professional group. The lines were written by myself and Jerome. I think it gives it that signature, Straight No Chaser, a little bit self-deprecating, but also, just fun. Tried to put a lot of wit, and a lot of thought into how to sum up our story in a rap. Which, Jerome isn’t a rapper, he can do it, he can cover the bases better than I can, I’ll tell ya. But for challenges, me writing a rap, Jerome executing the rap, and trying to give it enough credence, so that when Montell Jordan listened to it, he gave it the thumbs up.

Jerome Collins: We don’t call ourselves Hip Hop artists by any stretch of the imagination. So, I think one of the funniest things was, listening to the white boys coming up with rap. Which is pretty funny to me. So, I just had a bunch of guys that coming with lyrics, they’re really, really good though. It all came together. But, yeah, we say it in the lyrics. We saw Montell do it, so we thought a bunch of nerdy choir boys could do it too. And that’s basically what it ended up being, a bunch of nerdy boys taking their swipe at rap. Hey, it can’t be any worse than what’s out there.

Steve Morgan: There was awhile there, we were actually trying to get Montell Jordan to just join us on the album. I don’t know what ever happened to that. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out this time around. But, Montell, if you’re out there, come join us on stage sometime. It would be fun.

Walter Chase: I think we should put the same invitation out for any of the member of Boy II Men. If they wanna come and do the chorus with us at some point, maybe we’ll even give them one of Jerome’s verses. I’m just kidding, they can sing the entire solo. Wanya, if you’re listening, you can come on tour with us, and you can be at Jerome’s bunk if you want.

Narrator: And now, we’re gonna hear a discussion of the song, “Just Like We Rehearsed.” If it doesn’t sound familiar to you, it’s because it’s an original song by the band. Here they are to discuss how that happened.

Arlis Albritton: Hey, this is Arlis Albritton, one of the co-writers on “Just Like We Rehearsed.”

M. Luginbill: Hey, this is Mike Luginbill.

Arlis Albritton: Yeah, me and Mike have been threatening to write together forever. One day, I gave him a buzz, and he was available, and we met at my other buddy’s studio, Eric Torres. And we wrote the snot outta this thing. I love it.

M. Luginbill: Right as we got in there, we weren’t sure exactly what it was that we were gonna right, but then Arlis, he was the one actually who had the idea already, or if it was just, something that was on his mind. But, he was like, “I wanna write a song, Just Like We Rehearsed.” And I was like, “Oh man. We’re actually looking for songs that are sort of like that.” At this point, this was back in April when there weren’t a ton of songs ready yet. So I was like, “Well hey.” I was like, “We could write something about our group.” And then, he was like, “Okay, well, I have this title.” And blah, blah, blah. And then it just kinda went from there.

Arlis Albritton: It was pretty awesome. It was pretty epic. I like it. I keep a record of ideas that I’m like interested in writing. And so, I was wanting and dying to write a Broadway, or some kind of musical type song. And so, I always had that song in my back pocket, just in case I ran into somebody that was looking for the next, maybe they were gonna do New Edition show, or something. I don’t know, and then, “This is gonna be one they can all sing.” And, sure enough, when Mike was telling me that they were needing almost autobiographical content on a particular song, I was like, “Oh my gosh!” So, I mentioned this title, and so, Mike just told us this entire story of his band, and it was just perfect. Because he had the story, and he came up with all the arrangements of the harmony. I probably was stronger on the lyric side. And then, we had our three-way guy, Eric Torres there, and he was super melodic. And he had this beat. It was [a] really awesome experience to write it.

M. Luginbill: The whole idea of our new album is, it’s like sort of a whole kind of rise. It’s everything from when we started in 1996 up until now. And, I feel like the lyrics kind of, sort of goes along with how we began. ‘Cause in the pre-chorus, it’s like, “Didn’t have a thing.”

Arlis Albritton: Singing for free.

M. Luginbill: Exactly. And that’s what we did. I would say for a year or so, we had to knock on doors and we had to sing for free. And, blah, blah, blah. All this stuff. So, it just kinda follows that whole thing.

Arlis Albritton: Yeah. Like most bands, you live on a dream and you do whatever you can to grow an audience. And when Mike was explaining all that to me, I was like, “Oh my gosh!” That’s, he actually explained that to me, and then, I dug out the title. That’s kinda how that went. Hold the presses, I got a title for this. It was awesome.

M. Luginbill: I think it’s the verse two, where it’s like, kinda begins the whole, “Okay, so we were doing this, and now it’s like, we’re on the way.” It sort of moves along, just kinda with the whole thing. This was like a doo whop thing almost. Kinda wanted it to have that sort of doo whop element, and I think you can hear that pretty much throughout the song except for maybe the chorus, where it kinda begins to go a little bit. It was one of the easiest arrangements I think, because it was a song that I guess is kind of original. And it’s not ever been done before. It’s a little bit kinda easier though to do that, just because it’s like, you can do whatever you want. But, the way that it was written, it just came out. It was an easy process actually.

Arlis Albritton: I think when we were having so much fun doing it, it made it really easy to write. Especially the lyrics hit home every time we would drop some lines. It was actually, we were totally trying to think of how his band originated. How they came to practice. How they stood in the kitchen all night, and all that stuff. And we just kind of applied it like it was a movie. So, we painted this picture, the band loved it enough and they cut it, and luckily, blessingly, it’s on the album.

M. Luginbill: Within the last, I don’t know, probably three weeks that we were all like, “Hey. Why don’t we put this on?” It’s the only original that’s on the album. It’s the only song that we wrote. It just kinda seemed wrong that we were gonna do this whole thing about our whole story, and we don’t have something that’s original. Kinda one of the reasons why it’s on, I think. It’s just because, it’s like, here’s a song that just is really good, and it needs to be one here. I’m happy that the group liked it, and that it’s on the record.

Arlis Albritton: We wrote the first draft, I should say, ’cause a song, it’s more rewritten than it is written. So, I would say, a week goes by and Mike texted me. “Hey. I’m not feeling comfortable with some of these lyrics.” And so, we dove in, and we fixed ’em. And then, as we fixed one lyric, it kinda changed another lyric because of the present tense, past tense and all that stuff. So, we just had to kind of keep molding it out of the clay, and eventually it shined. But, yeah, it was basically, we ended up finishing writing the lyric wise, via text messaging over a course of two weeks maybe. Something like that?

M. Luginbill: It was towards the end of our sessions. It was one of the last songs that we recorded, but, I would say, it probably wasn’t all the way done until it was done. If that makes any sense. It’s like a living thing. I kinda feel like, once we got it right, it was like, “Okay. Boom. That’s it.”

Arlis Albritton: Yeah for sure. And I think some of the words that we had originally, when you put ’em in the larger group, and the harmonies, and all that, it didn’t pronounciate very well, some of ’em, and so we kind of adjusted that too and changed some of the wording so it was a better timing, better pronunciations and stuff like that. In know that sounds weird, but sometimes, you have to jump into that stuff.

M. Luginbill: That’s right. Absolutely. I think one of the things about the song that isn’t like anything else that we’ve done is, I think everybody in the group has a line. Everyone sings a solo. And that was a kind of a point. If it’s a song about us, then we need to have, I think everybody except for one guy. But, it’s not something that we usually do. That was a cool aspect about the song too, is that everybody gets a touch.

Arlis Albritton: Oh, that’s cool.

Narrator: And finally, we’re gonna hear the members have a discussion over the Percy Sledge classic, “When a Man Loves A Woman.”

Jerome Collins: Hi. My name is Jerome Collins.

Tyler Trepp: I’m Tyler Trepp.

Seggie Isho: Hi. I’m Seggie Isho.

Tyler Trepp: Well, I think we were looking for, as you know, this album we were trying to look for specific songs to fill different slots. When we first got out on the road, first kinda started this 10 years ago, a lot of us weren’t married, so that was kind of a big moment that we wanted to highlight on the album and pick a song that shows that when a man loves a woman. And now that we’re all married, and we wanted to find the best song that we though kind of embraced that moment and that the title of the song kind of is a home run right there. So, that what’s kind of drew it to us initially and it’s also a really good song. And I think we had Jerome in mind for this solo from the get-go. And we knew that he could do a really good job. So, it was kind of a win-win there.

Jerome Collins: Look. That’s been one of my all-time favorite love songs. It’s one of those one’s that are up there. There are songs that are on my top five list, and when they came to us with that song as being a song, I was instantly like, “Aw man, I need, I can’t wait to get a hold of this.” It’s one of the most challenging songs any singer has ever tried to do. You know, Percy did it, and then of course, Michael Bolton made it what it was. But, I’ve always thought this was a song I used parts of this song in my wedding song. So, it was just kind of like, and it was the first time in my musical career that I ever closed my eyes and put myself in a different place. I literally opened up and then was like, “All right. We’ve got it.” They like, “What you mean you got it?” ‘Cause we usually as artists, we’re nit-picky, wanna go back and try to redo things, but sometimes, you just can recapture that magic.

I’ll never forget it, it was just a moment of tranquility, just a moment of out of body experience. And people say that, “When you get on stage, when you’re nervous about something, you gotta take yourself to a happier place, or a place that was tranquil.” And that was it for me. That song right there was something that I’ve always enjoyed growing up. And to be able to sing it professionally, on Atlantic Records, on our seventh album. It’s a pinch yourself type of moment still. I’m excited for that one. I’d say, that one to me, was my favorite song on the album. I just hope that people will enjoy it just as much as I did recording it.

Seggie Isho: Yeah. I think the story, the song is, a guy, meeting a girl, falling in love with the girl. And, as a guy, growing up, especially early in college and high school, when you’re dating someone, it’s tough to separate that bond you have with your group of friends. And then, the bond you have with your girlfriend or whatever at the time, but when you fall in love and you want to make this person your wife, then that person is held in such, a much higher esteem than any group of guys are going to be. So, like he says in the song, if someone puts down the girl, then he writes those guys off kinda thing. So it’s that step you take from having a girlfriend to falling in love and finding that person that you’re going to be with forever.

With this song specifically, we had a very unique opportunity to work with an outside arranger, which, we don’t do a whole lot. But Ben Bram has made a name for himself as being one of the best, if not the best acapella arranger out there right now. He’s done work for everybody. You know, we really wanted to work with him. So, we came to him, kind of gave him the concept of the album. Told him what we were looking for, and he said, “Hey. What about, “When A Man Loves A Woman”? I could put this in a place for you, where I just set it up, and you guys just come in and knock it down.” It was very cool for us to see how he works in the studio, and it was a lotta fun for us. It was change of pace and it was nice.

Tyler Trepp: I’ll just add that, so you said that he works a little bit differently than we were used to. We’re used to recording all the parts of a song and kind of hearing it play back maybe with a little bit of a final, listen to it before it goes to mixing so you can hear how the song’s shaping up. In this case, we all recorded our parts individually, just with him. We didn’t really hear anything. So, he just took all the track and just left town. So we were like, “Okay. I hope it’s gonna sound good.” So, it was kind of something that was really different for us. But then, of course, once we go the mix back, it sounded amazing. And it was cool to hear it all together.

I think the approach was trying to keep it pretty true to the original. Because it’s such a good song, and it’s such a well-known song. Try to keep it true to the original and have Jerome just crush the lead. And that’s exactly what happened. We wanted to keep it true to its original and its meaning, because of where it was going on the album and what it meant to us in that time of our lives.

Jerome Collins: Yeah. This was the first time in our professional career, we worked with other producers and other artists, but this was the first time that literally worked with someone that didn’t let us have any control over it. Ben did a good job of just letting us record, letting everybody do their parts, and he took it and said, “I’ll see you guys later.” It was the shortest time any of us have ever been in the studio. And for the song to turn out the way that it did, I guess that’s what it is, sometimes you just don’t need to go through there and try to make the magic, to force the magic. It just has to be there. So, that was for me, literally like I said, usually when I record something it’s like, “All right. I warmed up. Let me go ahead and do it again. Let me do it again.” We didn’t get a chance to do it on this song. This song has grass roots as it comes. Guys just went in there, laid their parts, and that’s what the magic turned out to be. We didn’t have to work too hard to create it.

Seggie Isho: So, the approach that Ben had for the song was pretty great and unique. In the original song, it’s kinda just the soloist out there crushing it alone. The approach that Ben had was, let’s have this soloist out there, but let’s have accompanied by three other guys. A trio that’s kind of reiterating different points that he’s making throughout the song. It gives it more of that doo whoppy feel, where it’s kind of a group telling this story, rather than just one guy out there alone. It’s very cool to put that little doo whoppy build to it in the arrangement itself. I think just getting comfortable with the way that Ben works. You know, he works very fast. He’s super efficient in how he gets what he wants as he’s producing the track and tracking it himself. He acts as the engineer for the song and the producer, so, he’s doing a million things at once while still able to get these performances out of each of us while we’re in the booth. It’s really impressive, and it was very cool to watch and be a part of.

Outro: Thanks for listening to What’d I Say Presents: Straight No Chaser, “One Shot.” To hear the rest of the episodes, subscribe on your favorite podcast player, or head to atlanticpodcasts.com for more info on our shows. “One Shot” is out on Nov. 2 and the reissue of “Holiday Spirits” is out Nov. 16.