The 1990s was an era of boy bands who delivered timeless hits that can still move a crowd today. It’s no different for the platinum-selling group R&B group Hi-Five. The group had chart-topping hits such as “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)”, “Quality Time”, and “I Can’t Wait Another Minute.” The group disbanded in the mid 90s with talks of reuniting over 10 years later, but then the unthinkable happened: Lead singer Tony Thompson passed away in 2007.
After a hiatus, the group is back in the studio, and one member is stepping out into the spotlight releasing a solo project. Treston Irby, the bass singing crooner from the Bronx, has released his new song “Everything” and has plans to drop his new album in 2012.
Soul Train: Why are you embarking on the solo effort thing now, when Hi-Five is back in the studio working on a new album?
Treston Irby: The thing is that’s the plan–to release a Treston Irby project first and that will give us enough time to finish the Hi-Five album. Also, we feel like we needed to do something new to bring Hi-Five back, you know what I’m saying, to make it current again. The last time people really heard about Hi-Five is around the time Tony Thompson died. So we wanted to change it up a bit and bring it around to more of a positive thing by releasing the Treston project first. I have grown as an artist and as a man. I feel that I have a lot to say. It was never just one person in particular in the group–everybody played their part in the group. So I’m just showing all that I’ve done to help establish Hi-Five, I just wasn’t a face. I have a voice and opinions.
Soul Train: What inspired you to write the song “Everything?”
Treston Irby: I wrote the song pretty much based on what I was going through. You know when you love somebody and they just mean everything to you, and there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for that person, and that person is the wind, the moon, the stars, everything. I really wanted to write a song that people could relate to, both men and women. I mean some men out there have those same feelings, but they struggle to express it, so if they have a problem saying it, they can just put the song on for their woman. Also, there’s a special person in my life. You know I went through this situation and she’s been there with me through it all, and this song is how I feel about her. At some point, people have been in love or will fall in love or are in love right now, so everybody should understand what that song’s about. I think it’s a pretty good wedding song, too! (laughs)
Soul Train: (laughs) Throw those hints out there! One of the things that seems to be a common thread among artists that have been in the industry for awhile is most say the same thing, the lyrical content in songs today is lacking. Do you agree?
Treston Irby: I believe that as well. The type of music that I’m doing now is so you can listen to the lyrical content and the video actually goes with the song, so you get a visual from it. A lot of times these days, you watch a video, and it doesn’t make sense because it has nothing to do with the song! (laughs) It’s easier for people to get the gist of what you’re saying if they can see it.
Soul Train: Is the situation that you are referring to when you were shot several times a few years ago?
Treston Irby: Yes, like I said, through that time, the special person in my life, she helped nurse me back to health. I remember waking up telling her that God has me here to not be a preacher but to spread the message that He’s real, but through my music and entertainment. I also direct videos and have been for the past few years. I felt like God just wanted me to use my artistry as His vessel.
Soul Train: What was your last conversation like with Tony Thompson before he died?
Treston Irby: It’s funny that you asked that question. I am in the middle of writing a book, and that question will be answered in there. However, it was pretty much a couple of weeks before he passed away I actually stayed at his house for about 3 or 4 days. We were able to talk about a lot of things. He had started a group with another Hi-Five, he had gotten a couple of guys from…I don’t even know where he found them (laughs). It was just a whole bunch of stuff, but I had to do what I had to do, myself and Marcus actually by stopping the whole project since we had a lot to do with the making of the name Hi-Five. We had to go the legal route and shut that down, so with people knowing about that people felt like me and Tony had bad terms between us, but that wasn’t it at all, it was just business. Marcus and I couldn’t just allow him to get four other guys and call them Hi-Five, it doesn’t work that way. I don’t blame him, I think that it wasn’t him; it was the people around him to push him to come up with that idea, so I don’t blame him at all. So to make a long story short, it was two weeks before he passed. I went to Waco, Texas to talk to him about putting the group back together, the right way, the way it should be done with the appropriate members. I felt at the time the fans were ready for it. I went there and stayed a few days and we just talked and apologized to each other for everything that was going on and how we should have been better. We pretty much made up and let bygones be bygones. The last couple of words were pretty much; we’re going to get together and do this Hi-Five album, shortly after that I got word that Tony had passed away.
Soul Train: Wow, that’s deep; you got the opportunity to make amends. How did you find out he had passed away?
Treston Irby: I was thinking wow, this is it! Hi-Five is back and we’re about to show the world we still have it, Tony’s back, Tony’s good to go and that he’d fought his demons, and so I’m preparing myself to get back in, and I’m ready. I had signed a contract with Tony, stayed at his house, I was able to be around Tony, the Tony that I knew from back in the day, not the fake Tony that everybody knew. I’m talking about the Tony that lived with me when I moved to Waco and I had a townhouse out there, it was him and me. I was able to see that guy again and talk to him, a boy that has turned into a man. We were able to sit and talk as men, so there was no cameras, no radio stations, nobody else was around. We talked about maybe trying to see if we could get R. Kelly to do something with us, since he did our second album. We were having those kinds of conversations. That’s the last time I saw him, then the last conversation was over the telephone four days before he passed. He had lost the cell phone that I had given him, so I told him I was going to get him a new one and he kept apologizing and I said don’t worry about it dog, I’ll get you a new one. So, it was all good. Then four days later Marcus called me around one in the morning, and this cat never calls me that late. I was asleep. So I answered the phone and he wasn’t sounding right, and all he said was “Yo man, he’s gone,” and I didn’t know what he was talking about, and he told me Tony had passed away. It was the worst news that I’ve ever heard. Here we are about to come back strong, and for that to happen, it was crazy. Tony’s mom was an evangelist and she said that God has a way of doing things and He made a way for Tony and me to talk and work things out before He took him home. I didn’t think about it like that until she said that, and it made sense. We had been going through some things, so I don’t really know why I picked the specific time that I did to reach out to him, but I did. That’s pretty much what happened.
Soul Train: Now that Tony is not here, how does Hi-Five pick up the pieces to move forward and deal with the nay-sayers saying the group isn’t the same without him?
Treston Irby: Well the thing is we have new members now. They are also going to be on the new record. We split up the songs now. On Tony’s parts we have someone singing them. It’s a good thing, and we kind of do like a tribute then hit the fans with the new stuff as well. That’s how we are working it.
Soul Train: So how many original members are still in the group?
Treston Irby: Myself and Marcus Sanders are two of the original members, but Shannon Gill is still with us and he was on our last record, so we have two new members.
Soul Train: With the level of success that Hi-Five reached as teenagers, do you think that the grown man version of Hi-Five can duplicate that same type of success?
Treston Irby: Yes, I believe we can. First of all, we still have a lot of fans that are still listening to our music. They have grown up right along with us, and that’s our demographic we will be targeting as well as targeting new fans. We still have the Hi-Five sound and we know that sound very well. We have a good production team, and we all bring things to the table and with the new look, we’ll be alright and we’ll be able to capture the fans ears again and capture new ones as well. I’m excited.
Soul Train: When will the album be released?
Treston Irby: In a perfect world? (laughs) We’re looking at September 2012.
Soul Train: Do you have any memories of Soul Train?
Treston Irby: I remember when we performed on the show with Don Cornelius (laughs)–of course I have memories! When we were there it was crazy that we were finally able to be on the Soul Train set. We performed two songs, and being able to see Don Cornelius in the flesh was crazy. I remember watching him on television, and then being there on the set with him and performing on a stage where big name artists had been fortunate to perform there as well, it was just the fondest memory I have.
Soul Train: Did you have a favorite Soul Train dancer?
Treston Irby: Lou Ski!
Soul Train: Wow, you’re the first one that hasn’t said Cheryl Song! (Laughs)
Treston Irby: I had to say Lou Ski! That’s my boy! He used to do the Cutty Mack like this and like that! He used to call us the little Cutty Macks. He used to call us that because he had a lot to do with, well our first time performing on the Arsenio Hall show, he helped choreograph our performance. Then of course, my next favorite dancer is the Asian chick, Cheryl Song! (laughs)
Soul Train: What is your favorite Hi-Five song?
Treston Irby: I like “Faithful”, I like “As One”–those are my favorites, and of course “Kissing Game”, “Quality Time”. Dang, how are you going to ask me that? (laughs) The list goes on and on. So I love them all, I can’t even lie.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.