Although classic vocal harmony groups were radio staples in the ‘90s, the current decade hasn’t been so kind to either the male or female variety. One group that has stood the test of time, however, is All-4-One, who made their international splash with a rousing cover of John Michael Montgomery’s country hit, “I Swear.”
Lovingly dubbed as “the Dukes of R&B,” the GRAMMY-winning quartet has released six albums over the course of their fifteen-year career. Their latest effort, No Regrets, features their best work yet – marking the return of their timeless sound to mainstream radio.
Upon the release of No Regrets, Tony Borowiak, Jamie Jones, Delious Kennedy, and Alfred Nevarez managed to squeeze some time out of their busy schedules and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on “My Child,” their strong Asian following, and the roots of R&B.
While listening to No Regrets, I was instantly drawn to “My Child.” As a former teacher, I know that a lot of fathers and children have to undergo similar situations. Why do you think that song was so important to introduce your latest album?
Delious Kennedy: I don’t think that we knew that that would be the first single. It was one of those things. Jamie has this track to “My Child” and he gave me a few songs to listen to in the car. I want to believe that sometimes the music speaks to you. Sometimes you don’t know why you’re writing about something. I don’t have any kids but when I first started the song, it just sort of came out of nowhere. The music was kind of dictating what the song was about. I didn’t know why. I know I had friends in similar situations, but it was just weird. When I brought it to Jamie, you know they sort of understood what the significance of a song like “My Child” could have. I think Jamie said the one thing we love about “My Child” – besides the old-school sound of really strict R&B – is the fact that it’s causing conversation. People are talking about it. It could be one of those songs that could actually help heal situations, which is awesome.
Another one of my favorite songs on the album happens to be “Ol’ Fashion Lovin’.” You begin the song, interestingly enough, with this quote: "When did chivalry become such a crime?" When you look at the current musical landscape, most male R&B artists tend to have songs that revolve around sex or, at the very least, the prelude to sex. What classical elements of R&B do you wish to hold on to?
Jamie Jones: If you really look at R&B, the roots of R&B, it was huge in the Motown era, even before and afterwards. In country music – still to this day – men were afraid to be emotional, to be sensitive. All the dudes now who are hip, “Oh, I’m hip and I’m hard and I’m gangster and this and that.” When it’s just he and his girl and he messed up, he’s like, “Baby, please! Baby, please!” A lot of the younger folks today have grown up with this whole, “I got to be way more masculine and macho and whatever.” The artists that we grew up listening to, they knew how to talk to the ladies. Babyface said, “I’ll pay your rent. I’ll cook your dinner tonight.” Working girls love that. It wasn’t only the girls who loved it. It was just men, especially when R&B first started, that was how men got their feelings out. It was harder when you talk one-on-one with somebody to say it, but you could sing it. I think that’s one of the things as far as R&B is concerned that really needs to come back. Men need to not be afraid to talk about the things that are hard to talk about. The one thing that music always did was it was always a spokesperson for people who had a hard time saying it themselves. I think that’s what is really lacking in music. There are guys that don’t know how to say it and they don’t want to say it and there is not the music there that used to be there to help give them the words to say it and to express themselves.
Delious Kennedy: We can be the guys teaching the younger kids how to do it.
Jamie Jones: Yeah. My mom loved Billy Dee Williams when I was growing up. So I watched Mahogany. Those older cats and R&B back then reflected how to really treat a woman, how to take care of her. The thing about it is when you do take care of a girl – and every guy knows this but they may not want to repeat it out loud – but the truth is when your wife’s happy, your home is happy. When your girl is happy, the kids are happy. If you really did make an effort to try to do that, it only benefits you.
Another track I really like is “If Your Heart’s Not In It.” What was the inspiration behind those particular lyrics?
Delious Kennedy: We didn’t actually write that song. It was actually a song from a group in England called Westlife. They never released it. One of the band members is a friend of Jamie’s and he brought that song to me and I listened to it. It was a classic All-4-One. There are some songs you hear on the radio and you wish you recorded it because it’s so up your alley. We’re so glad we actually heard this before someone else had a chance to do it.
After all these years, why do you think you survived the change in the musical landscape?
Jamie Jones: You know, I think the one reason we probably credit the most for being able to survive is just giving God glory, man. God is really good and allowed us to basically live our dreams. We were always blessed to have the type of songs that so far stood out and have been around for as long as we’ve been around. I call those songs the money songs. You might open a concert with one and you definitely finish a concert with one. We were blessed to have a few of those types of songs that people really related to and loved. Third, I think the reason we’ve been able to stay together and be around for as long as we have is our friendship. We’ve always genuinely loved each other. We all have looked at each other as brothers. Our children call the others uncles because that’s what it is. It’s a family and we’ve always been that way. We’ve always cared and loved and respected one another and enjoyed each other.
You’re very popular in Asia. I’m curious to know why you think this particular audience gravitated towards your style more than any other.
Jamie Jones: What I think it is – and I tell people this all the time – is back when rock ‘n roll was popular and of course, R&B and all that stuff, Americans taught the world how to be fans of music. When you heard Michael Jackson was going to be playing at The Forum, you slept outside in a tent for two days. We taught the world how to be fans. When deejays could still create their own play lists, they played “Beat It” eight times in a row because they loved it. Somewhere along the way, we in America stopped being that type of fan. We kind of changed the game up a little. But in Europe and in Asia, they’ve always continued to do that. They just never forget. It’s always like when they hear that song, they immediately put themselves back where they were the very first time they heard it. That’s why in America, some of the older groups that are touring are still touring without a record. They haven’t had a record in 20 years but they’re playing in the Staples Center because the original fans – the ones who taught the world how to be fans – are the ones who are still going to see them. Over there, it’s still like that. They’re just so appreciative of the music. It’s just always a trip when you go into a country and you can’t really have a conversation with the people who are watching you but they know every word to your song. They’ve done their research and they know what each word is saying and the meaning behind it. They’ve done the translation. You know what I’m saying? They love that song and they know that we’re coming. They’re doing what they got to do to come see us. They’ve just been so supportive.
At what point did you realize that the group had developed such a strong international following?
Delious Kennedy: After “I Swear.” When it became an international hit, I’ll be honest, I don’t think we knew that song was going to be the song it was because it was so different from anything else that was on our first record. The impact worldwide that people had on that song, the people that came up to us crying, it was immediately a song for someone’s life. I would tell new artists who ask for our advice, “If you’re blessed to have an international hit, you need to go over there and work all those countries. And work them well, because long after the United States is done with you, you can be there for the next 20 years.”
Although the title of your new album may sound self-explanatory, after all these years, do you truly have no regrets?
Jamie Jones: The one thing that we’ve learned through all of the ups and all of the downs – and this is not just music but life in general – everything that you go through shapes you into who you’ve become now, who you are and who you will become in the future. All of the ups you go through, they prepare you. Even more so, the downs are what really prepare you for life in general. We’ve gone through a whole lot as a group. Here we are, still together. We’re still strong men. We still love what we do. Honestly, we don’t have any regrets because if we didn’t have gone through some of the challenges that we went through, then we wouldn’t be the guys that we are now. This album wouldn’t sound the way it does now. We wouldn’t be saying the things that we’re saying now because those are all lessons that we wouldn’t have learned. So we don’t have any regrets.
Since you’re known internationally as a group, first and foremost, it’s often hard for your individual personalities to shine through. With that in mind, I want for each of you to describe the kind of role a fellow band mate plays in the group. Jamie, you can take Tony. D, you can take Alfred. Alfred, you can take Jamie. And Tony, you can take D.
Jamie Jones: Tony, his role in the group is a couple of things. Singing-wise, Tony sings all of the high parts. When you listen to the song and you hear the highest note in the harmony, that’s always Tony. He has a fresh-sounding falsetto and a classic falsetto, as well. Tony’s voice is the sound – believe it or not – of All-4-One background. It’s the one sound that, in my opinion, provides the glue to our background, to the sound that we’ve had for so long that everyone recognizes as All-4-One. Tony also plays the resident crazy man at the airport. You send him in the middle of Taiwan and there are all these armed, machine-gun-carrying security guards that accidentally put him in the middle seat. He’s the resident crazy man and we just kind of restrain him. Very important role, you know.
Delious Kennedy: Alfred, vocal-wise, is our bass. All the low stuff, the really, really deep stuff is all Alfred. I tell you, in a lot of the groups they have a person that sings the “bass” but they’re not really bass. Alfred is a true bass. He can get down there to a level that can make you go, “Wow!” He likes to use it when girls are around. When he’s with us, he just talks normally. But if a girl comes around, all of a sudden he’s way down here. They love that crap.
Tony Borowiak: Delious’s singing role is obviously the sweet R&B sound. I would put Delious up against any R&B singer and I know we would definitely win, just a soulful sound. The role in the group – there are a few roles. He’s the one that always says, “Come on, guys. Let’s practice. Let’s get together and do a rehearsal. We got to make sure we don’t go out late. Don’t go out in the cold without your scarf.” He makes sure we’re well for the concert. There is a little bit of craziness to him, too, but it’s more of a family, fatherly-figure type.
Alfred Nevarez: Jamie works really hard in the studio. He also gets us together and makes sure that everything’s right, just an all-around great guy, family guy. I take a lot of notes from him with his family. I’m just really proud of my brother Jamie and all of my other two brothers.
For your new fans that are coming up in an iTunes world, what songs would you cite as mandatory listening in order to get a feel for your overall style?
Jamie Jones: Luckily, this new record, No Regrets, encompasses a lot of different sounds, including classic All-4-One sounds. But out of the classic All-4-One catalog, I would say: “I Swear,” “Down to the Last Drop,” on the first record, and “Someday” on the soundtrack for Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. They’re classic pop/R&B songs with soaring melodies with something to say.
For more information on All-4-One, visit the group’s official website.Powered by Sidelines