Arrested Development's groundbreaking sound combines hip hop, funk and soul with socially conscious and positive messages. Their debut album "3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of..." sold 4 million albums, won 2 grammies (best album, best new artist). The band went on hiatus in 1994, and have regrouped and have found renewed success without major label backing. Frontman Speech took some time to answer our questions in between tour dates.
You have a unique perspective, being signed to a major label, then changing gears and having success as an indie. Was it hard to make this transition?
SPEECH: It was hard. Major labels do almost everything for you. That sounds better than it actually feels. Because when they're doing a great job, you have no clue WHY things are doing so well and HOW to repeat that success. AND when they're doing a horrible job, you have a hard time knowing and explaining WHAT they could be doing better. Being indie, I had to start over. From developing contacts, relationships, etc. You really have to believe in what you're doing, to start anything over again! However, there is more direct control, BUT also more work and money necessary. If you don't like the work part and you don't have the money part, you will do better with a major label, regardless of the downsides.
Many musicians have the mindset that getting signed to a major is the ultimate goal. If you were starting over, would you have gone the same route?
SPEECH: It's hard to say, because we were extremely blessed! Our first album did very well (about 5 million copies sold), we had a lot of opportunities (Grammy's (2), MTV awards (2), NAACP award etc.) That gave us a lot of momentum and confidence. I have seen many artists start off with a vision and drive but the strains of this business and the perseverance needed to POSSIBLY succeed in it, ultimately defeated them. And they were really great artists. There are many of those sad tales and MAYBE Arrested development would've fallen prey to that same fate had we started as an indie group. Only God knows for sure.
How was Arrested Development "discovered?"
SPEECH: Headliner's girlfriend Crystal (the original "C" of famous R&B group, TLC) handed our Single to Michael Mauldin (Jermaine Dupri's father), and he saw potential in one of our songs. That was our first discovery.
How does your solo work differ from that of Arrested Development?
SPEECH: My solo work has always been my experimental side. The side of me that I never want to place a genre on. So I can write Folk, Hip-Hop, soul, World music and whatever else I desire in the moment. that freedom is less available with Arrested D. although we go a lot of musical places as well. Honestly, I do have a nice career.
You have had success in Japan, and recently toured there. Is that scene much different than in North America?
SPEECH: Japan is a great place to play music. The people, in general, are very open to good talent. I owe a lot to that country. In 1996, I couldn't GIVE away my solo material in the U.S. I was glancing over a Billboard magazine to see where my first solo single was on the charts. It was at 87 and going down. Just for the heck of it, I glanced down at the bottom of the Japan Top 100 charts and I didn't see my single at all. In total depression, and slight envy I wanted to see who was in the top 10 and there was my song at #1!!!! And for 7 weeks in a row at that! I immediately shook my managers shoulder, telling him we NEED to get over there NOW! :-)
The rest is history, we saw an opportunity and we jumped on it, I have since then released 5 solo albums all of which have spawned Top 5 hits!
Can you give us some insight into your writing process?
SPEECH: If I do, I'll have to kill you. ;-)
It depends on the project. I do a lot of recording, more than people in any territory would know. As a full time musician, with Staff, Office, family and kids you "Get in where you can fit in" so you can pay bills.
I tend to look at the entire world market and determine HOW I can be of service there. I write songs with artist in Japan, Australia, Africa, India, Europe, and of course the U.S.
My writing therefore, changes depending on how elaborate the project is. Many times it's done strictly through emails of acapella's , or tracks in Mp3 form, i usually use Pro-tools, and engineer it myself. And bartering has become my new best friend. If the project is huge, then we may fly here or there and rent a large studio, the top engineers etc. Then I sit on a plush sofa, sip on Lemon water and write casually.
What are your next projects on the horizon?
SPEECH: I just started my record company Vagabond Records & Tapes, we are a boutique label, that specializes in cool music, 45's, and even cassettes. (we do Cd's and digital mp3's as well) We have a release coming this Fall. Speech does Hip-Hop: "The Grown folks Table", we also HAVE the new Arrested Development album, "Since The Last Time" out now, and available at our on line store!
Arrested Development will be playing at Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York on July 16th and at The Highline Ballroom in New York, New York on July 17th. If you are in the neighborhood make sure to check them out and give their new release, Since The Last Time a spin!
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