With more awards and accolades than you can shake a stick at, even if you don’t love them, you have to respect their achievements. Marvin, Oritse, JB and Aston have come a long way in just four years and their new album, aptly named ‘Evolution’ certainly reflects that.
A more mature sounding JLS, with an album that has been stripped right back to the band’s original RnB roots, complete with a Rodney Jerkins seal of approval, sounds nothing like the four ‘jack the lads’, doing back flips in matching pastels, that we have become so familiar with. Flavour’s Trina John-Charles sat down with the foursome at Sony HQ. Whilst munching on a Pizza Express lunch (1 large each!) they explained why the change in their sound was necessary, their thoughts on Starboy Nathan’s untimely departure from this year’s X Factor and how they have (so far) managed to escape the boy band curse.
Your new single ‘Hottest Girl in The World’ is out today…
JB: Yes! The 21st October. We are really excited.
A lot of hip hop and RnB fans who wouldn’t normally listen to your music, have given this single quite positive feedback. Was the new direction with your sound intentional and is this a common thread throughout the album?
Marvin: Definitely intentional. The comment you just made about people not necessarily listening to our music, is exactly what we wanted to achieve with this album. We have such a loyal fan base and throughout the past four years, they’ve grown with us. X Factor was four years ago, so if the average fan was, say, 14yrs, they are now 19yrs and their musical taste may have changed a bit, so for us it was important to not only to continue to maintain that fan base, but also to move with them. For that reason, we took a conscious decision to push the boundaries and think outside of the box a bit more.
The majority of the album was produced by Bangladesh, who is famous for Lil Wayne’s ‘A Milli’. We decided we were going to go into the studio with a big time American producer, give him us – which is ultimately a pop band – merge the two together, and come up with a new sound. ‘Hottest Girl in the World’ was the lead single from those studio sessions. We are getting a lot of love from people who wouldn’t necessarily go and buy our album. Now we have people like that on side, we have definitely done what we set out to achieve.
As always though, there has also been critique; ‘Timberlake-esq’, ‘Justin did this ages ago’, ‘Justin wants his record back’ etc… How do you feel about all the Timberlake comparisons and what do you make of people trying to imply that you have copied him – especially as Justin Timberlake has clearly ‘borrowed’ from Michael Jackson for most of his career?
Aston: I think it is amazing to be compared to Justin Timberlake. That guy… for that particular time… I don’t know many people who don’t like Justin Timberlake, so it’s a compliment.
JB:Everyone ‘borrows’ from everyone though? In music, it is the same eight notes which ever way you go about it. Even Michael Jackson said he learned how to dance from kids in the street. He just put his own spin on it.
Oritse: You’re an extension of your influences at the end of the day. By watching other people/artists is how you get into music in the first place. Music is a constant evolution. Michael Jackson was inspired by somebody, and the people that inspired him, were inspired by somebody else.
You mentioned working with Mr. Bangladesh, who is synonymous with a much harder hip hop sound. How did you get him to tone it down for this record, or did you have to?
JB:We didn’t. We just told him what we wanted and this was the end result. I don’t think it’s toned down at all really. I don’t think our album is a soft album. This is as edgy as we’ve ever been and that is reflective of the people that we’ve worked with. Bangladesh is a hip hop producer, so he naturally has quite a hard sound, but I think we reached a happy medium.
You also worked with Rodney Jerkins. Was it slightly nerve-wracking working with such a hip hop/RnB legend?
Oritse:It was a bit daunting initially, but he is actually the nicest and most humble guy. He was amazing to work with. Most of these American producers don’t even show up to the sessions. They put the stamp on the record “produced by big time American guy” and that’s it, but the producer didn’t even meet the artist most of the time.
Marvin: They will send their junior in to do the sessions.
Is that allowed?
Oritse:Well, who is going to know…?
Marvin: So to have Rodney in the session actually vibesing with us was just incredible. His musicality, his presence, his whole vibe was just on another level.
As always, I have to ask you about X Factor…What do you think of the contestants this year?
Oritse:One of my favourites is James Arthur. I also like Jahmene… as well as Ella. There are some good artists up there. The great thing about X Factor is that it produces new, fresh, talent every year. It is very different to when we were on the show. It has definitely changed and developed a lot.
JB: I like Jahmene. Where does he get that kind of tone from and those types of licks? You can tell he listens to really old school artists and finds a way to put his own spin on that style.
What are your thoughts on what happened to Nathan, because he was on your tour at one point wasn’t he?
Oritse:I think Starboy Nathan has worked incredibly hard. All credit to him. He has gone through some personal things with his family etc, whist maintaining his composure and trying to stay on top of his game. He is someone you just have to show respect for; his hard work, his consistency, his persistence and tenacity. I think he just felt that was the next step and he took a chance. I think he deserves the right to do that after everything he has worked for and been though.
Girls Aloud have just announced that they will be touring again soon. In terms of pop bands, you have never chopped and changed group members, or separated to pursue solo projects. What do you think it is that makes you so solid?
Oritse:Our love and respect for each other.
Marvin: Awww thanks, Reesh.
You can have a little hug if you like…
[Marvin and Oritse hug each other]
Where does it all go wrong for some people? If I had to work, live, eat and sleep with five other girls, I don’t think I could cope.
Aston:No, girls are completely different for a start…
JB: For me, it’s all about respect and love. People say, ‘love can heal most things’ and it’s the truth.
Marvin: Gwan J!
JB: I’m going deep.
Anton: These lyrics… [Laughs]
JB: For real. We are family, that is how we see each other and you can never abandon your family. That is for life.
Marvin: Also we have a very strong foundation. We were together for a year before we did the show and we learned so much about ourselves in that year, because we literally had nothing.
Maybe that’s what it is, as a lot of manufactured bands don’t have a solid foundation to build on?
Aston:When you’re manufactured you get the goods straight away, you don’t know about the hard times or the struggle.
Marvin: We had that family love from the beginning and we also treated JLS as a business from the very start. Even though we had nothing to rehearse for we, would rehearse every week. I think it was those foundations that set us apart from the bands that have problems.
What are your thoughts on the current state of RnB?
Oritse:The current state of RnB is us.
Marvin: If you look at all of the American artists that we grew up with, Usher, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown etc… They are all making dance music. Chris may bring out an amazing ballad or whatever, but it’s never going to get played on mainstream radio. If you would have played ‘Don’t Wake me Up’ to Usher ten years ago, he probably would have laughed.
Aston: We were one of the first to do that with ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and eventually everyone else followed suit.
And you were one of the first to wear pink and yellow. We all saw…
Oritse: Now that we have come with this type of sound, people may start to go this way as well.
You are nominated for a MOBO in November. In addition to the four MOBOS you already have, plus the two Brit Awards – and a tonne of other stuff – is there any award you feel you deserve but don’t have, be honest?
JB: Maybe not yet, as we haven’t actually released that much over there (laughs). Maybe with ‘Hottest Girl in the World’, who knows?
JLS’s new single ‘Hottest Girl in the World’ is out now, whilst their brand new album ‘Evolution’ will follow on November 5.