Q&A: SWV—Still Here, Still Together

With their 1992 debut It’s About Time, SWV made an indelible mark in the world of R&B; with smash hits that included “Right Here,” “I’m So Into You,” “Anything,” and the forever favorite, “Weak,” the native New York trio quickly earned their place as one of the hottest girl groups in music.   

Four albums later, the ladies are back with their newly-released project, Still; led by the smooth single “Ain’t No Man” and the forthcoming up-tempo cut “MCE (Man Crush Everyday),” Coko, Taj, and Lelee prove why they are here to stay.

SWV 'Still'SoulTrain.com caught up with two-thirds of the Grammy-nominated group to talk about their new music, keeping girl groups alive, and the challenges and demands in an ever-changing industry.

SoulTrain.com: Your music debut in the ‘90s marked a peak time for R&B girl groups and you managed to successfully stand out among them all. What would you attribute that to?

Taj: I would have to definitely give some of that credit to Coko’s vocals. While a lot of those groups had their diversity with each group member singing, we took it back to the Diana Ross days where she would do all the [lead] vocals. It wasn’t something we intended to do; when we went to the label, we all had intentions of doing solos but somehow, when we went into the studio, her voice stood out. I think that was what set us apart—those vocals were strong and so dynamic and so clear and beautiful that it made us stand out because no one else was able to do that. There were so many talented people like En Vogue and Jade, all with beautiful voices in their own right, but none of them could hold a candle to Coko.

Coko: I think with SWV—there’s just something special about us. We were everyday girls that you could relate to. I just feel like we had the favor of God on us. It was all just meant to be.

SoulTrain.com: Today, the music industry seemingly favors solo artists and no longer really embraces girl groups. Why do you think this is the case?

Taj: I have no idea. It’s like I took a nap, woke up and boom—girl groups disappeared! And you don’t even really see a lot of male groups anymore, either. It’s sad because there’s so much variety in a group; I mean, I still get a kick out of New Edition. Bobby Brown has always been my favorite but I also love every last one of them individually. There’s something about each one that I love and you just can’t get that from a solo artist. It’s not that you don’t love solo artists—they’re wonderful—but groups just have such a variety. I don’t know why the industry isn’t embracing that anymore. I don’t understand it.

Coko: I don’t think it’s that no one wants to hear them; I think it’s that nobody is really creating good girl groups anymore, or guy groups, for that matter. I have a girl group (TTYL) that I’m pushing right now and they’re pretty dope. I think once people really hear them, maybe they can re-start this thing with groups coming back out and being popular again.

SoulTrain.com: From actual artists to technology and the way music is heard and consumed, there is a lot different about the music business than when SWV came on the scene. What part of these industry changes have been the most challenging for you?

Taj: I think the fact that all of the “outlet” stores like Tower Records and Sam Goody are gone—all these places where you can physically walk in and buy a record. My age bracket likes tangible things. Everyone, believe it or not, doesn’t have an iPod. The “older” crowd has phones of course, but everybody doesn’t want to download a song all the time. We like to stick it into a car’s CD player. We just like tangible things. And I think that kind of created a void for our age and our audience. Also, we’re pigeonholed into only adult contemporary R&B [music]. Just because we’re a little older doesn’t mean we don’t like urban adult contemporary R&B. I think that’s unfair. It should be universal. We’re pigeonholed into a genre because we’re older and we’ve been pushed out of what we’ve established.

Coko: Getting our music played on the radio has been very hard. Before when we’d come out with new music, simply because we were SWV, they would automatically add us, no questions about it. But now, it’s like, “Oh, they’re old now.” We have a much harder time getting our music heard. And that sucks.

SoulTrain.com: With your new album Still, the content is clearly geared toward a mature crowd; a lot of times though, some “older” artists tend to cater to a younger demographic, and the outcome is not always flattering. With this in mind, do you find it challenging to stay true to your style?

Taj: Some people just don’t know how to embrace age. I know I’m not in my 20s anymore. We’re very comfortable with who we are. Our music is good, we think we look good and it’s all good.

SoulTrain.com: What producers did you work with this time out? What was the overall vision for the flow of the album once you got together to create and record? 

Taj: Well, it was a quick vision. We did “Ain’t No Man” during the last season of SWV Reunited and because of that, we got a lot of demands for that song. Radio was actually requesting it so we had to rush into the studio to finish it and once we did that, we had to rush into the studio to finish the actual album. What we literally did was go in the studio [and finish it] in one week—we only had that short amount of time. We went with the same producers (Cainon Lamb)we used for the last album and they put together a game plan and within a week, we knocked it out. We went to Miami and recorded the whole album but before we went there, we thought of a theme for the album and came up with the title “Still.”

SoulTrain.com: It seems that, regarding your longevity in the music business, “still” is a little word that has a big meaning for you.

Taj: Within that title, we thought that after 24 years, we’re still here. We’re still able to go into the studio and knock out these songs. We’re still able to stand here and say, “We look good.” We’re still able to say we sing R&B. We’re still going into the studio. We’re still standing. We’re still the last girl group here with all its original members. We’re still here!

SoulTrain.com: Musically or personally, did you learn anything new about yourselves during the course of working on or upon completion of this album?

Taj: After we finished that album we were exhausted—what we learned was how to find a bed! [Laughs] After rushing and doing it all in one week we were so tired! Then we had to rush do pictures and everything—it was just nonstop. We didn’t even really have time to think. But that’s where maturity comes in after 20-something odd years. Those young kids wouldn’t have been able to do that!

SoulTrain.com: You’re starting out 2016 with this new project—what else is in store for you this year? Will you be touring?

Coko: We’re going on tour in the summer and we’ll be doing whatever else God has in store for us.

 —LaShawn Williams

LaShawn Williams is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She is an arts and entertainment enthusiast who has a serious thing for stand-up comedy, music and dance. Follow her on Twitter: @MsWilliamsWorld.

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