R&B quintet Troop (Total Respect Of Other People) rose on the R&B Billboard charts with No. 1 hits "Mamacita," "Spread my Wings" and the Jackson 5 cover "All I Do Is Think Of You." But as the group seemed to dissipate in the late 90s following their fifth album Mayday, one of the members, Steven Russell Harts, continued to spread his wings, writing for L.A.-based production team The Underdogs, writing and producing for Aretha Franklin, Charlie Wilson, Chris Brown, Jordin Sparks, Tyrese, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Mario, Omarion, B2K, Joe, and Tank, to name a few.
He then established his own production company Motel Music Media and continued to turn out songs for a slew of artists. His pen earned him the 2009 ASCAP Pop Music Award for the Chris Brown/Jordin Sparks Grammy nominated hit "No Air", and another 2009 ASCAP Music Award for Chris Brown's "Take You Down.” He also earned a 2010 Grammy nomination for Charlie Wilson’s Uncle Charlie album, Chris Brown’s Fortune album, and more recently, Tamar Braxton’s Love And War album (for “All The Way Home”). In 2010, he released his debut solo album “So Random” and is now on the cusp of dropping new music with Troop as well as his upcoming sophomore solo project, The Wedding Singer, headed by the single “Shelter.”
Steve chatted with Singersroom about it all: from Troop memories and R&B music today, to his method of hit songwriting, even his unique pastime. Look out for Steve's album, The Wedding Singer, coming soon and check out our sit-down below:
Give us a little background about how you got started in the group Troop.
I got stared in the group in 1984; I was 13 years old. The group went on a TV show called "Putting On The Hits." A couple friends of mine went on a lip-sync show called Putting on the Hits and they won and they caught the eye of a producer who wanted to know if they could really sing and they added me to the group before we met with the producer and that’s how I became a part of the group.
What are some fond memories from your days in Troop?
I have so many great memories, just being in the studio, being introduced to Gerald Levert and Babyface, a lot of these people that I admire so much; to be in the studio with them is like a dream. And we got some crazy stuff on tour. It’s hard to pick one specific one. We had a craaazy time on tour, getting mobbed. There was one incident when we were performing at a skating rink, and when the show was over, the crowd rushed us and we had to run out of the skating rink and run down the street away from these people. It’s like they were after us but there were happy, but we were scared as the dickens.
As a writer for many others, where do you draw inspiration for another singer’s lyrical or physical voice?
When I was younger, my mother exposed me to a lot of great artists and music, so I always go to my rolodex to pull from the past when I’m working on an artist; I always go back to the past to find out. Cause I know for a fact the feelings and progressions in music never changes. If a song made you cry in 1988, it’ll make you cry in 2015. So if I’m working on a Chris Brown record, I look back and try to recall when there was a time when there was a song by a young male or a young male group that really affected the females and I’ll try to draw inspiration from that. Or, a lot of my hits come from personal experience. So it comes from both; I look to the song Gods to give me everything I need.
Out of all the songs you’ve written, which one is your favorite and why?
I really like “Mary Mary Mary,” I did a song for Chris Brown called “Take You Down,” that’s one of my favorites. Uuumm, wow that’s hard, man. And “No Air” is one of my favorites cause that was the first time I wrote a Pop record that accomplished so much. We loved the record when we finished writing it, but it accomplished so much; it was the biggest song of my career, got remade seven or eight times, it’s just a really, really awesome song. And “Take You Down” from Chris Brown, cause I drew from a group who inspired us called Ready For The World. And my newest favorite song is my new single “Shelter,” because it’s the perfect song to express to a woman what she needs, and what a man is willing to do to provide shelter for her, and I think it’s a really, really good song.
It does, it has a throwback sound.
Exactly! See, you understand what I’m saying! (laughs) It has that flavor like it’s been here before. It’s a great song for women aside from them being B’s and hoes and shake this, twerk that, drop it low…everybody can do that, it’s easy to talk about that. It’s not easy to talk about giving a woman shelter and understanding she’s had problems with her past but she can put it all on you because you’re gonna take it from here; THAT’S what I’m on, know what I mean?
Exactly! (Laughs) Women are grown; you guys mature faster than us. So I just think you guys need that artist that’s writing songs for you guys, that’s where I’m stepping in to try to fulfill.
Who haven’t you written for that you would like to write for?
I would like to write for Beyonce. I worked with Beyonce for Dreamgirls, but I haven’t had the Steve Russell experience with her. Miguel, I like Rihanna, and I like Drake; those are people I would like to work with.
For an example, what would you write for Beyonce?
I would go back in the past, go through my rolodex and remember any female song or vibe that excited me as a kid or made me feel a certain way and try to draw her energy or bring new life to a nostalgic feeling, cause she’s such a big star, when she sings something with a nostalgic flavor, people would love it and not even understand why they’re loving it so much. Beyonce is exciting, so I would do something really exciting and nostalgic.
What’s your opinion on the current state of R&B or male R&B groups?
You want my politically correct answer or my real answer?
We want the real!
(Laughs) My politically correct answer, first, is, I think that music has always evolved and progressed from one state to the next. I feel it is evolving into a place of nowhere, no content, no essence, no attachment to its history. I think when you lose attachment from where you come from, you lose yourself and that’s exactly what’s happening with R&B music. They’re trying to fuse it with this and fuse it with that and they’re gonna fuse it right out. There are only a few artists that get it, Miguel, Ne-Yo, I like K. Michelle’s stuff, she gets it, Faith, Fantasia. There are a handful of people who still get it, but you know, I come from a day and age where there were so many artists and songs where you couldn’t even name them all, and you just heard me name anybody who’s doing anything. But I don’t feel too good about it, that’s why I’m releasing my music and new Troop music, so we can do our part to represent our ancestry through our music.
You connected with your father’s side of the family in 2012, hence adding the last name Harts. How did that come about?
I guess I mentioned too many times to my wife about how it was not having a father and she took the initiative to help me find it, so she interviewed my mom, and got all the information she could from my mother, whatever she could remember and before you know it, I was on the phone with my aunt and my father passed in ’74, so he’s been dead along time, and when I found my family, they were just outdone cause he’s been dead so long; how is it possible for him to have a son in California? But when they saw my face and saw that I was his identical twin it was over. And I met my grandfather, who was still alive at the time, he’s deceased now, but I spent two great years with my grandfather. And my last name is Harts, but my mom, she did a wonderful job teaching and raising me, so I gotta represent her as well, so that’s why the Russell is still there.
That’s amazing! So you’re releasing a new LP. Is it with Troop, or is it solo?
Well it depends on the one you’re speaking of. Troop is back, and we released Troop: The B Sides; it’s on iTunes right now. There’s a song on it called “Why You Leavin?” We released Troop: The Slow Songs, which is all of our B-side slow songs that people probably never heard before. You know how people buy albums; they’re just into the hits, you know? But we did a slow song compilation of all of our really good slow songs and we have a new song on that called “Unfriendly.” And we have Deepa Revisited that’s out right now, Deepa was our third album, third release on Atlantic Records, but because of political things, they took the record out of print and press to guarantee that it would only be so successful. Over the years, I’ve gotten so many compliments on the work I did on that album as a writer and producer until I decided to do Deepa Revisited where I remastered and reproduced a lot of the songs, and that has several new songs on it. But right now we’re in the studio working on the new Troop album with ten new songs called The Return. And I just finished my second solo release called The Wedding Singer, which “Shelter” is the first single, so I’m very excited about that.
What can you tell us about The Wedding Singer?
Well, again, I’m a man of a certain age, and the music represents that; this is a love album. It’s called The Wedding Singer because I have several songs talking about meeting a woman and she’s having the effect on me where it makes me want to leave all the other chicks alone and focus on her. And I have several good wedding songs and it’s just about love; I wanna be the guy whose album you put on at a certain time, you wanna have a love environment, you wanna have a certain message to somebody and you can’t say the words, you can put on the Steven Russell Harts album and let it run and everything you wanna say is there. It’s mature and adult, and it’s fresh, it’s not so nostalgic R&B that you forget it’s 2014, but it’s a nostalgic R&B album that’s the core of where I come from musically and brings me to date now.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I raise and breed Birmingham roller pigeons. They do backwards somersaults really fast down towards the ground and then they come out of it only to go back up and do it again as a team. I’ve been breeding roller pigeons since I was eight years old and now I do it professionally so in my pastime, that’s what I do as a hobby is breed roller pigeons.
Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriters?
Yes, I would say, your success as a songwriter, in my opinion, would be based on how much as a student of music you are. I would say, If you wanna have an effect on the music industry, you should be well-versed on the music that came before you. We have YouTube, there so much access to hear great older music that can help develop a writer today into something really special. But if you’re a writer of today and all your basing your skills on is what you hear and listening to now, I think you’ll be limited as a writer as the songs that are out today. The songs out today, you’ll hear it this month, this year, but next year you’re not gonna hear any of it. “All I Do Is Think Of You” is still being played on the radio today. So you have to decide what kind of writer you wanna be. And that’s gonna depend on how far your rolodex can go and pull to make a hit for somebody today. Just remember, each song is its own creation, don’t beat yourself up over one song, it’s just one song. Don’t pigeonhole yourself in one box, and you’ll be fine. And the more songs you write, the better you get, it’s like working a muscle. And I wouldn’t love everything I write, make sure it’s good, that it’s excellent work.
Catch Steve on social media:
Facebook: Steve Russell Harts
Info on Steve's songwriting workshop/mixer: firstname.lastname@example.org