In the ’90s, Boyz II Men enjoyed an incredible ride to the top of the charts—and in the years since, no group has matched Boyz II Men’s combination of style and talent.
The group continues to record and perform around the world as a trio, and has had a residency in Las Vegas at the Mirage Hotel and Casino since 2013.
Boyz II Men will be stopping by The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort and Spa this Friday, March 2.
During a recent phone interview, Boyz II Men member Shawn Stockman discussed Under the Streetlight, the group’s most-recent album, featuring doo-wop covers such as “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
“It was a whole lot of fun to record,” Stockman said enthusiastically. “These were songs (where) we obviously weren’t born during the time they came out, but we did listen to them as kids, because our parents played them. We feel just as connected to them as they do. It helped us as future vocalists to appreciate a certain type of sound. Doo-wop is beautiful, and the songs we picked are the nearest and dearest to our hearts, because we heard them when we were children. It was a fun project. because it brought back a lot of memories.”
They recruited a friend, fellow ’90s R&B vocalist Brian McKnight, for the album; he appears on three of the tracks.
“Brian is a good friend, and we’ve known Brian since the beginning,” Stockman said. “We came out at just about the same time, and we’ve always had this rapport and friendship that’s lasted at least 20 years. Reaching out to him, he almost never says no, unless he has something pressing that he has to do. We never say no to him if there’s something he needs from us. That’s just a friendship thing. It just made sense for him to be a part of this.”
Boyz II Men represents the last of the great artists on Motown Records. The group appears on many Motown Records compilations—along with some of the most recognizable R&B singers in history.
“It was almost like everything was set up for it to just happen, and we were just there,” Stockman said. “There are certain things you cannot plan. I feel blessed every day, and I mean that; I’m not just saying that to sound good during an interview. There could have been so many people; there are so many better singers than myself, and I didn’t have to be part of this group. I’m thankful and grateful to have experienced what I have so far, and I’m taking full advantage of it.”
It seemed as if Boyz II Men was trying to create something new, by combining group harmonies, doo-wop and the new jack swing sound of the ’90s.
“Even though there was a surge of musical groups that came out at the same time we did, I think the thing that separated us from everyone else was we came from the same background, and we sang together in high school,” Stockman said. “We were very familiar with each other’s voices. It was like being on a football team that practiced. When we were presented to the world, we were fairly groomed with a sense of knowing how to perform, vocalize and deliver a song. I think that was our greatest advantage.”
The group’s 1991 debut,Cooleyhighharmony,was a smashing success, a rarity for musical groups. The song “Motownphilly” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 3. Boyz II Men also managed to score a hit with a cover of the G.C. Cameron single “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”
“It says everything it needs to say when you miss someone that you love, or someone that you love is gone forever,” Stockman said about “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” “That’s pretty much it. The greatest songs are the simplest ones and carry the deepest sentiment and translate into the simplest form. That’s what makes songs great. Everyone can relate to it. That’s the beautiful thing about that song: It’s beautiful and it’s simplistic.”
Sophomore album II was an even bigger smash success in 1994, with songs such as “I’ll Make Love to You,” “Thank You” and “On Bended Knee.” The pressure during the recording of II was intense, but the members worked through it, Stockman said.
“It’s funny, because when you first get signed, no one at the label knows you. No one really cares about you, and maybe there are a couple of people who are excited about you. You’re successful all of a sudden, and then you have a whole bunch of chefs in the kitchen. You have all these people up your butt that you didn’t have before, and that causes craziness and pressure. But we weren’t just some contrived group; we were friends. We were able to deflect a lot of that stuff that came with success. The first album did well; the second album did better. There were a lot of people trying to get in on this success. That part sucked. But we managed to keep it cool and keep it about the music.”
I asked Stockman about the 2014 album Collide, which was panned by some critics thanks to an EDM sound and Auto-Tune vocals.
“The irony of the music industry is if you keep it the same, people say, ‘Ugh! They kept it the same!’ If you do something different, ‘Ugh! They did something different! Why didn’t they keep it the same?’” Stockman said. “So, really, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There’s always going to be someone who won’t be happy. Collide was one of those records that didn’t get us a lot of the attention we hoped it would, but I still feel like it was a great effort.”
Stockman recently recorded vocals on the title track of the Foo Fighters’ newest album, Concrete and Gold.
“I ran into Dave Grohl and met him a few years prior at a really hard rock ’n’ roll spot called ‘the flower shop,’” Stockman said with a laugh. “It was actually just a flower shop, and we were buying flowers for our wives, and we just happened to see each other. We started talking about music. When he was recording Concrete and Gold, I saw him sitting outside the studio. … He was out there working on some lyrics, and we started catching up, and he was like, ‘Hey, I’m recording this record. Want to be on it?’ I was like, ‘Yeah! Just give me a little while, and when I’m done doing my thing, I’ll come by your studio.’ That’s how it happened. I’m old-school in the sense that I don’t need a team of lawyers to be beside me to get a song recorded. It’s all about vibe and good energy. I like Dave, and I’m a fan of the Foo Fighters, and that’s how that came about.”
Stockman is the father of an autistic child.
“It’s a daunting condition. No one, including the people who are directly affected by it, want to talk about it,” Stockman said. “It’s rough to look at your child and see something different about him that you have to help regulate. It’s a rough thing, and people don’t like to give to charities in the first place, especially to something they don’t understand, and for autism, a lot of people don’t understand it. It’s not a condition that you can pinpoint to one cause. No one knows why kids develop autism. … With our foundation, Micah’s Voice, which is named after our son, it’s about being proactive with the people who have autism, and leaving the speculations up to the experts. All we know is that there are over 70 million people in the world with autism, and that’s like the population of an entire country. These people will grow up to become adults, and some of them are adults, so you have people you have to protect.”
Boyz II Men will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, March 2, at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $55 to $75. For tickets or more information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.hotwatercasino.com.