Northeast Ohio-based trio Half Mile Home pride themselves in making dynamic R&B and hip-hop-infused gospel music. The group has grown out of their earlier incarnation as a secular R&B ensemble in the ’90s, but siblings Terence (lead vocals/guitars) and Todd Burton (vocals/drums), along with Youngstown native Darryl Brownlee (piano/production) are enjoying fulfilled success as a self-proclaimed “R&B Inspiration” ensemble.
The Akron-based group was influenced by classic soul acts like the O’Jays, the Ohio Players, James Ingram, and Babyface and initially came together in the early ’90s with the goal of launching a mainstream R&B career. Going under the name 1-900, they released a self-titled album in 1994 featuring production from Jodeci’s Devante Swing before their record company went out of business. Following the label shake-up, the group re-formed as After the Rain and toured with artists like Gerald Levert and Ginuwine.
However, growing increasingly dissatisfied with aspects of the secular music industry that went against their church upbringing, Terence Burton and his bandmates eventually decided to return to the gospel music of their youth. Renaming themselves Half Mile Home, they released their 2004 debut full-length album, The Movement, featuring the single “Do It Again.”
Half Mile Home then returned with several more albums, including 2010’s Change My Lyfe, and 2013’s Church Musik & Inspiration. They’ve since dropped their third CD Don’t Judge Me featuring the singles “More Than Enuff” and “Thinking Of Me.”
I chatted with members Todd and Darryl (who joined the interview later) about their newest project Don’t Judge Me, their switch from R&B to Gospel, the connection between the two genres, their new internet radio show, and much more.
Peep it below!
How did you come up with the group name Half Mile Home?
Todd: Half Mile Home was derived from me, my brother “Deacon” and the other guy in the group. We were on the Coca-Cola tour with Jodeci, Boyz II Men, all those groups. However, we were on our way back, me made a pit stop near home, and my brother “Buttons” saw a sign that said ‘½ mile to Akron exit.” My brother looked at me and said, “Man, if we ever go gospel, I really think that should be our name.” I said, “Half mile home to our exit?” He said, “No, Half Mile Home.” I said, “that sounds so refreshing, man.” Half mile to where you need to be. So from that point, back in 2003, we were wrapping up the tour with Jodeci, and we came home, and we decided at that moment, that that week before we were supposed to go back out, we decided we wasn’t gonna sing R&B anymore. That’s how we came up with the name “Half Mile Home.”
You guys were brought up singing gospel music in the church, then formed the R&B group 1-900, then a group called After the Rain in the 90s. You then decided the go back Gospel again as Half Mile Home. What attributed to the genre shift?
Todd: When you come from a solid foundation, and like you said, we come out of the church, so for us, it was more so the lifestyle that people have on the road just really wasn’t conducive to our spirits. Some things we did, some things we didn’t, but most of all, we found ourselves praying a lot while we were on the road. Often, we would pray to the audience before we sung (laughs), when we were doing R&B. Before we started getting wild, because we used to have a part of our show that was really, really raunchy. So we would pray, and we would let the audience know where we come from and why we’re doing what we’re doing because we wanna make a living. But when it came to that certain part, people would be like, “why would y’all just pray?” (laughs). So at the end of the day, the calling was strong, God was telling us, “look, come on home and do this thing the right way, where you don’t have to compromise who you are or be anybody different, just be you. Just come serve God.” And so that’s what we did. We heard the calling; we started to slow down on the R&B and went into that direction. We just understood that God is key, period. Without God in your life, we are nothing. Even though today, our music is still very much influenced by R&B (we call our music “R&B inspiration”). And that’s the title of our style of music because it’s still rhythm and blues, just the lyrics are very inspiring.
That actually leads to my next question. I listened to the album and I’d say it could be categorized as “inspirational” moreso than the traditional Gospel. Many songs like “Anything (Remix)” (a personal fav) and “I Can See You Trying” to name a few are contextually broad; they can be talking about a higher power or a loved one. Was that intentional?
Todd: Yes, yes, yes, yes, it is intentional. We really want our music to touch a broader audience. We wanna touch the masses. And a lot of time, just within the church walls, it’s kind of looked at like a VIP thing where everybody’s competing to be the best inside the church. With Half Mile Home, we have an in-reach and outreach ministry; we want to touch the unsaved. And to do that, you have to have a message for the unsaved. That’s what we were doing with our latest CD called Don’t Judge Me. That’s why we named it that. We don’t come in the traditional form, our clothing, the way we dress; we try to incorporate who we are. Anything we brought back from the R&B side is still with us; we just have a different message. We try to let the saved and the unsaved know that, listen, we have a great message for you. We wanna reach everyone, the ones that don’t know and the ones that do know. We have a song on the CD called “Show Love” where it talks about a homeless man and people; everybody needs to show love. That’s a song that’ll be a great song for us as a single in the future, cause everybody needs to show love. There’s a song called “How Much Longer” and it talks about the state of the world today; talks about mass destruction, children being abused, people are dying, crime, so it’s relevant to what’s going on now.
With that being said, would you say that with your progressive sound, do you get a lot of push back from the older generation in Gospel music, or is it more accepted now?
Todd: They’re very accepting of it because we can go from traditional to contemporary in a split second, we’re very pleasing to whatever congregation we go to. No matter what, we can do it all, so we hardly ever get resistance because if we go to a church, we can do it all. If we go to a church and they do country music, trust me, we can do country. We are the chameleons; we fit where we need to fit.
That being said, one could say the only difference between R&B and Gospel/Inspirational are the lyrics; that soulful sound itself never changes. Would you agree?
Todd: Yeah, that is what made it easier to go back and forth between the genres. We looked at talking about our relationship with Christ with talking about our relationship with out wife or significant other. So when you look at the two genres, you still have the same general topic of love; one is to love even more, and one is to create a stronger relationship. For us, it was pretty much the same, it was just switching the words, that’s it (laughs).
What’s your creative process like in the studio?
Todd: The creative process starts with me, the producer. Normally my brother Buttons, he comes up with certain things. And then he says “Hey, B” (he calls me B), can you listen to this?” or be inspired by one of the greats. We study a lot of the older R&B and pop stuff from back in the 60s and 70s on up to the 80s and 90s.
Yeah, I coulda swore I heard y’all playing inside the church, y’all were probably rehearsing. But I heard The Gap Band from outside the church one day. I was like, “Is that The Gap Band’s “Outstanding” coming from the church?! (laughs)
Todd: Yeah, We continue to study and sharpen our gifts in the style of the older material. We try to keep that fresh in our minds. So from the production stage, we go into the studio and we’ll do pre-production. My brother “Deacon,” record the chorus, take that home, pray over the song and ask the Lord to give us verses that will touch the hearts of man. That’s our whole process.
How do you feel about today’s R&B sound?
Todd: I love it, I really love it. You know, some of the singers aren’t as strong as the older R&B leaders or the greats, but still, they have a place in history. They’ve made their mark in music so I applaud them for what they’re doing. Us too; we still have to create our music to compete with the younger ones. We always wanna be competitive, so we still listen to them.
Darryl: Today’s music is a little different, I would say. You know, when you’re dealing with the younger generation, it can be over the edge, but I still respect the creativity. So it kinda goes both ways; I still like the older sound, but I also respect the level creativity the younger generation is trying to display. I’ve heard a lot of stuff that’s different, but it’s creativity, nonetheless. I think it’s still much needed.
Tell us about your singles.
The first single off the CD was “More Than Enuff.” That peaked at No. 9 on the Gospel Billboard Chart. The second single is called “Thinking of Me,” and that right now’s in the Top 20 for going on 12 weeks. We just dropped the video for “Thinking Of Me.”
What are each of your favorites song(s) on the album and why?
Darryl: My favorite song is probably “Show Love” because the message behind it. I had a couple situations…you never know what a person is going through, and a simple, kind gesture, just showing love, you never know how you can reach a person on a bad day. Just showing love can go a long way.
Darryl, I read in the bio and you joined the group a little bit later?
Darryl: Yeah I joined the group later on (laughs). I had come before the transition, and it was rocky at first cause I actually replaced another great vocalist and I had some big shoes to fill. The style of music was different from what I was used to singing, but I feel like it was a match made in heaven. I feel like the opportunity was right. I’m honored to be here, and the journey has shaped me. I had left another group, and I came to this group. After we worked out all the kinks, everything else just seemed to fall right into place. We’ve been rollin’ for some years now.
You regularly play almost very Sunday at Macedonia Baptist Church in Akron, Ohio. How important is it to you guys that you remain true to your hometown roots?
Todd: Yeah, definitely. Deacon is proud of where he’s from; he’s from Youngstown, and we’re from Akron, and we’re all proud of being Ohioans. It’s a great place to be, gets a little cold, going into that cold season right now, but at the end of the day, I’m proud to be from Ohio. This is a place where we live very comfortable at a low, low, low rate (laughs). You know what I mean, so I can respect it. You have good parts and bad parts, but overall, I thank God for being in Ohio.
What’s next for Half Mile Home? Any upcoming tour/performance dates?
Todd: We’re still currently touring on the Kerry Douglas Gospel Mix Tour 2016. Half Mile Home is a featured artist and main artists on the tour are Byron Cage, Ricky Dillard, Zacardi Cortez, James Fortune, Earnest Pugh, and Damon Little. So were grateful to be a part of that great tour. And we also just signed on with new management, the Matt Ables agency, and they’re really into the reality TV stuff. So look out for us y’all, we’ll be doing some big stuff soon. Our newest venture is Half Mile Home radio on the Soar network.We have a new radio show. We’ll be talking about highlights, news, things of that nature, but you’ll get to hear from all three of us on our radio show on SoarRadio.com.