360°Sound spoke with singer/songwriter/producer Shawn Stockman, best known as one third of the massively successful R&B vocal group Boyz II Men. BIIM topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart five times in the ‘90s with classic slow jams like “End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You.” The group’s second album, II, released 26 years ago this month, sold over 12 million copies. In 1996, “One Sweet Day,” their hit with Mariah Carey, spent 16 weeks at No. 1, a record held for 23 years.
Since 2013, BIIM has had a Las Vegas residency at The Mirage. While that’s on hold due to the pandemic, Stockman said he has enjoyed spending time with his family at home and has been writing songs. The 47-year-old Philadelphia native released his debut solo album, Foreword, in April.
This is Part 1 of our two-part interview with Stockman. In this part, he talks about his solo record, the new cover of Quincy Jones’s sensual 1990 hit “Secret Garden,” and his love of ‘80s music. At one point during the phone interview, Stockman belted out the chorus to REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You.” “It still gives you chills!” he said.
360°: You, Omar Wilson, Raheem DeVaughn and Sisqo recently collaborated on a cover of Quincy Jones’s “Secret Garden.” How’d the idea for that come about?
Stockman: It was just sent to me by my PR guy through my label, telling me that a gentleman by the name of Lou, who owns the record company and came up with the concept of doing the record, wanted me to be a part of it. Coincidentally, I just bought a bunch of gear for my house. I’ve never had a studio in my house. I built the studio, recorded my part of the original El Debarge part, and sent it off. It was just a pleasure to do it with those guys and be a part of something real cool. Hopefully, it will get played and people will utilize it for what it was made for [laughs].
My whole idea was that, because it’s such a classic, you can’t oversing it, or else it’s not the same song. I’ve always wanted to do it with [Boyz II Men] but we didn’t get a chance. So, when I did it, I did the part that I always wanted to do, which was El [Debarge]. I tried to add a little bit of my flavor but still keep and preserve the energy of the original song because there’s nothing wrong with the song as is. Just kind of ride the car for a little bit, but be precious with it [laughs]. I don’t need to do much upgrading or anything because it doesn’t need it, it’s a classic.
Your debut solo album, Foreword, dropped in April. Had you been wanting to do a solo record for a while?
Yeah, this is something that I’ve always had in the back of my head. I just wanted to express myself in that way, mainly for my own self-gratification. It had to be done at the right time. People can misinterpret why someone in a successful singing group would want to go off and do something on their own. Normally, it points to something negative. I wanted to make sure that people understood that I’m not leaving the group. There’s nothing wrong with my guys, we love each other, we’re still performing, we’re still recording.
This is just something that was for me, something personal that I wanted to try and do. And come out of my comfort zone. I could just be in Boyz II Men for the rest of my life and be totally fine. I wanted to challenge myself. As an artist, you want to do things that are hard or uncomfortable because that’s what keeps you sharp and that’s what keeps the music exciting.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of doing a solo album outside of your group?
One of the disadvantages is the fact that I don’t have the pleasure of having these guys in the studio with me. That’s a luxury. To have two other guys that you know can pick up your slack, you know you don’t have to worry about anything, you can leave a little room and know that you’re gonna come back with something that’s inspiring to some degree. That whole thing was on me. To carry that burden was a little stressful, but not so much because I knew what this whole thing was about going into it. I welcomed the challenge. I wanted to do something on my own and see how it felt actually being responsible for everything [laughs]. I wanted that.
Do you feel like musically and lyrically you were able to do some things with Foreword that you couldn’t have with a BIIM record?
Yep, to say a couple of words that I probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with, and to express myself in a way where I didn’t have to rely on the luxury of having Wanya [Morris] take it home or having Nate [Morris] do his harmony parts and his composing to a record. This is all on me. This was the beauty of it. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about what I could do that’s good and the things that I could work on, and, most importantly, what I plan on doing for the next solo record.
You dedicated the single “All I Do” to your wife. Tell us a little about that song.
I went into this album not really having any idea what I was gonna do. All I knew is that I had to be involved in everything. This wasn’t a ‘make money record,’ no one can tell my story better than me. Whether it was working with a producer, I had to be involved in the co-creation, and that’s how it will be with every solo record. I don’t want anybody writing anything for me. This isn’t that type of project. This is school for me, as is with every project. I want to be able to incorporate my style, my vocal blueprint or signature into everything. I don’t want anybody to create what it is I sound like.
With “All I Do,” I walked in not really knowing I was going to write a song for my wife. I’m in the studio, strumming the guitar a little bit and hear some chords that I like, and then I start making the beat. I start playing the keys. As that process is being created, I just start to come up with words.
This is a dedication record and something I have to place myself in personally so the lyrics are sincere. But as the song was created I was like, ‘Man, this is something that people can hopefully apply to their own relationship.’ I sing about mistakes, ups and downs, highs and lows, and still being able to look at one another with a like and a respect. That’s a real relationship. It’s not always flowers and candy and horse and carriage and sunlight all the time. There’s a lot of shit you have to deal with in a relationship. You know a person better when you’ve seen them fight for something. In a relationship, you’re always fighting for the preservation of what it represents for you. That’s what “All I Do” is.
You’ve done several covers albums with BIIM. The latest LP, 2017’s Under The Spotlight, is a collection of ‘50s R&B songs. Is there an era, genre, or singer that you’d like to pay tribute to that you haven’t before?
I’ve always said I wanted to do something with Sade. I know I speak for the group when I say that. Honestly, I’ve really been into ‘80s music lately. I’ve been working on a few tracks that are kind of ‘80s-inspired. I’ve been doing my homework and listening to The Cars
and REO Speedwagon, old Madonna records. That era, when I listen to the songs, it hits on a level of nostalgia that is always happy and ethereal – no matter how sad the song is.
The music back then was a lot of synths and reverb and delays and big voices and big guitar solos, toms drenched in reverb [laughs]. There’s a quality there in ‘80s music that just resonates even today. The Weeknd’s new record touches on some ’80s vibes. Some of
these DJs play a lot of these ‘80s records in clubs today. I’m always amazed at how good it sounds. It sounds modern. Like how does Thriller still knock in 2020? That was made in ’83.
I’m always amazed at how ‘80s music still has a thickness to it and a soul to it, that no matter what era you live in, when you hear those drenched drums, the synths and a soaring melody, it still gives you chills. [sings] ‘I’m gonna keep on loving you/Because it’s the only thing I wanna do/I don’t wanna sleep/I just wanna keep on loving you!’ You know what I mean? [laughs] It still sounds so creamy.
I’ve been inspired. I’ve just been on that wave, just listening to a lot of ‘80s shit. And kind of just hearing the genius of the melodies. Although they might have just been playing three chords, it fills up everything, it makes you feel whole. I might even do like three songs ‘80s style and just put it out and give people those vibes.
Click here to read Pt. 2 of our exclusive interview with Shawn Stockman.