Music Times spoke exclusively to '90s boy band All-4-One about their shot to fame with their 1993 hit single "I Swear," being the longest running group with the original members and why their version of "I Turn To You" didn't gain the same success as Christina Aguilera's three years after they recorded the track for the Space Jam soundtrack.
While most groups throughout history have gone on a hiatus due to group members exiting to pursue solo careers, All-4-One members, Jamie Jones and Delious Kennedy explained that their decision to remain a group was a pact made from the very start, which has now brought them to their 20th Anniversary album due this year.
Music Times: How does it feel to still be performing together after all these years?
Jamie Jones: It's great. We always said from day one that we wanted to be like some of those groups that stayed together forever like The Temptations and The Four Tops. It's a trip to us that it doesn't feel like it's been 20 years, it feels like it was just yesterday, but it feels amazing to still be doing this with the people you love.
Delious Kennedy: I agree. And its funny, another newspaper the other day shared a fact that I had not known until they said it: 'Did you know that All-4-One is one of the longest running groups with the original members still in it?' I was like 'Really? Guess so, huh?'
MT: It's impressive. You guys are a diverse group. How did you start working together and who do you credit for your success?
JJ: The way we got started was Tony and Alfred -- they've known each other since junior high. I met them at a talent show and got their information, said we should do some stuff together. I called them not too long afterwards to do some radio station jingles with me and Tony and I were trying to win some money after that. And that's when we met Delious -- at a karaoke show. And then of course, after that, we met a producer who found me in church and said 'Look, I'm looking for a group who can sing this a capella song and if you have a group or can put one together, I can probably get you a record deal.' So of course I called them, we learned the song, we sang it for them, they gave us contracts on the spot and the rest, as they say, is history.
DK: First of all, God, we credit God for the success, for it happening. And I think we credit our hard work. All of us wanted to do it for so long and having the personality and the drive to keep it going and to get there.
MT: So tell me, it's 1993 and you're recording "I Swear." Did you think it would take off the way it did then and eventually see a Grammy?
DK: I wish I could say yes to that question, but I had no idea. On the first record, first of all, that was the last song added to that record. Our record had been done, the artwork had been done, sealed and ready to go, when the president of the label said, 'Hey guys, come to my office for a second. What do you think of this song?' And he played the country version of the song. Being newbies, we thought we were just critiquing it, so we gave our critique of it. And he was like, 'Great, I want you guys to record it.' And we were like, 'But it's country." And then he said, 'We're going to put you back with David Foster.' And another chance to work with David Foster of course, who's like the mega-producer of producers, we're like, 'Okay.' And on our last album, on that first album, it's the most popular song on that album. Up until that song, it's mostly an R&B album and then that was the last song and the most popular song on the record. So we had no idea. We were overseas when they said come back to the states immediately. The radio stations are playing this song by the cassette, we just sent out another preview and they're playing it now.
MT: Has anything changed as far as sound or chemistry throughout the years?
DK: Yeah, we always try to change a little bit, we always try to keep what got us there on the record, in some format, whether it be the a capellas or whether it be those ballads, which people love from us. But then after those are taken care of, we try to try something different and new and up-to-date. So yeah, you'll hear a little bit of change, but you will hear a little bit of the same from back in the day as well.
JJ: And if I could add to that; I think as well, the big change, I think, vocally, we are better than we've ever been. They say that you actually reach your maturity in your mid-30's as far as your vocals and to your mid-40's is kind of your strongest. And honestly, I know for me personally, but I think for all of us, I sound completely different than I used to when I was a kid. I have way more control now and I just think all of us, we're just as this place now where we've been doing this for so long that we know exactly how to accomplish the sounds when we're singing that we're trying to convey to our audience. So I think that when you do listen to this, you will hear the growth and the maturity of us, first, just as singers, and then, of course, everything that D was saying musically.
MT: You seemed to be the go-to artist for movie soundtracks, from The First Kid and Space Jam to Hunchback of Notre Dame. How did that become a new lane for you then?
JJ: I just, honestly, I just think we were so fortunate and blessed to have great songs that have resonated with people and have meant something to people. The biggest and the greatest part about music for me is, music is so much bigger than just something you listen to when you hear it -- it's a soundtrack of your life. You hear a song and you remember who you were with, what you were doing, how old you were, when it came out and when it affected you. And we've just been so blessed and fortunate to have some of those types of songs that people start thinking about the 90s because of some of our songs, whether it's "I Can Love You Like That" or "So Much In Love" or "She's Got Skills" or "I Swear" or any of the other ones are some of those, I think, that have affected people in a positive way.
MT: You did Space Jam in 1996 and "I Turn To You" on that soundtrack, and later Christina Aguilera decided to remake the song in 1999. What did you think about her version?
DK: Well, that song is sort of bitter-sweet, not because of Christina or anything like that, good for her that she had the success with it that she had, but Space Jam sold like 10 million records and had like five or six number ones on it and we were next. We did the video on it and we released it and then Atlantic Records was like, 'You know what, we're probably not going to sell more than 10 million, we're going to scrap the record.' We were like. 'No, what are you talking about, we're next!' He was like, 'Yeah, we've already had Seal and R. Kelly and Monica, and we're not going to do anything else.' Diane Warren had wrote that song. She was like, 'Do not waste my number one song.' Jimmy Jam and Terry Lew produced that song, who did all the Janet stuff for us and Atlantic stuck to their ground and said, 'We're not going to move forward with the rest of the record.' Diane Warren was like, "I'll put my own money behind it if you just release it," but they said 'No.' She was like 'Fine, I'll show you this is a number one record, I'm going to keep this song, I'm going to get somebody else, I'm going to prove to you,' and she did. I think it was one of Christina Aguilera's biggest singles.
MT: Do you think it could've matched "I Swear?"
JJ: I don't know if it would have matched "I Swear" but it still would've been a nice look to have another number one record. And I believe that our version could have gone number one, just like her version hit number one.
MT: In an interview, you said if it stopped being fun you would stop. What has made it fun for you guys to still be standing 20 years later?
DK: I think, as corny as it sounds, what makes it fun is getting to hang out with the guys around the world. We were just in Singapore a couple weeks ago and I think we talked about this while we were there. We're having the time of our lives. Here we are, 20 years later, out here on the top of the world in some hotel that was way up in the sky, laughing.
JJ: And honestly, life is about how we only live once and you really need to do your best that in whatever you do. Whatever your field of work is, whatever you do, truly enjoy your life. Honestly, when we're on stage together and we see how fans are affected by our music, how whatever they came into our concert with stress-wise or life-wise, they forget about for that hour, for that hour and a half -- they just let go and have a great time. For us to experience that as well as what Delious was saying, we're all really fun-loving, happy guys. We've never been the rock star type. For us, if we had a day off on tour, we were going bowling or to the movies or we might go to a bar to just play and shoot darts. That's our life. We would have band members just saying 'When are we going back on tour again, I had the most fun ever on a tour with you guys.' We're go-kart racing and laser tagging, just having fun the whole time and here it is 20 years later and we're still doing the same thing.
MT: Seeing music change throughout the years, were there any other male groups that you saw a little of yourselves in?
JJ: Well, I don't want to name names so I'm not going to, but I do know of a couple of groups specifically that I'd talk to, because when I'm not doing All-4-One, I'm a songwriter/producer and I work with a lot of artists. I've definitely been in on meetings and having an A&R guy say, 'I'm such a big fan of you guys, the way you did things and how you established your worldwide audience and we pattern this group, literally, off of you guys. Started with an a capella song or started marketing them this way and that way. Literally looking at everything that we've done in your career and did that for them.' So there's definitely been some of those, but honestly, I look at it as flattery because I think that every person, no matter what your job is, you hopefully will open up a door for someone else behind you. You hopefully will pave the way somehow, in whatever your field is, for others to come behind you and to be able to look at what you've done and part of your legacy and say 'That was great and I'm willing to borrow from that and add to it a little of my own flavor.' I know personally we've done that. There's artists who mean a lot to us, whether it was the way their style of fame or just lots of things paved the way for us that we said, 'Hey, let's borrow a little of that. A little Michael, a little Stevie, let's borrow a little of these things as well as add them to what God gave us naturally to create this.'
MT: How did you avoid the choreographed dancing phase? Who has the two left feet in the group?
DK: Yeah, Tony. No, he doesn't have two left feet. We just wouldn't be as good as the other people doing it, so it would be obvious, so why put yourself in that spotlight to be like 'Yo, N*Sync just took the stage, All-4-One is next.'
JJ: Not only that -- I mean we move. If you come to a show, you'll see we do have some choreography and we do move because we're not just going to stand there the whole time, but at the same time, for us, when we were coming up, it was more about the talent, It wasn't about the dancing. There are other people that do that better, but we were guys who were like hey, and we've done this, we've done a show when the power has gone out and literally as we're standing on stage they get us bullhorns and we can do a concert a capella for our audience while they're getting our stuff together and getting the power back on. For us, it was always about singing first.
MT: So your producer, David Foster, who's helped you with your biggest hits found his way onto reality TV with his wife, Yolanda Foster on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Would you guys consider reality TV?
DK: We've talked about. It's kind of a scary situation. I don't want cameras following me everywhere. But we have talked about it.
MT: What about if one of you decided to do Celebrity Apprentice for charity?
JJ: I wouldn't do that one either because my friends are cheap. I'd get sent home on that charity fundraiser thing. I'd be like, 'Come on guys, I just need 10 grand, hello? Hello?' You raised nothing, um I have friends with money, they're just cheap.
DK: I would love to do it, I love watching that show, I love the experience of it. What I would do reality wise, there's two shows I would do, I would do Survivor, and actually not too long ago, me and another buddy of mine from 98°, Jeff Timmons, were in the final producers round for The Amazing Race before we got cut. They took 12 people, there were 14 of us, and they only took 12 and somehow, we were the ones that got cut. I was so mad. We would have been the Boy Banders Team, that's what they would've called us, and we would've ran around the world and just sang. Oh yeah, we know that song, great; take us to where we need to go. They were like 'We can't have you on the show, you've been everywhere we're going.'
MT: So, you are performing at The Resorts World Casino in New York City. Do you still get nervous and what should fans expect from you all?
JJ: Honestly, I actually still do get nervous before every show. Not nervous because I'm scared of what I'm going to do, just butterflies. For me, it just lets me know I'm still human and that I'm not taking for granted what I'm doing. As soon as we open up our mouths and the first note comes out, I'm like oh yeah, the adrenaline is going and there's no place I'd rather be. As far as what fans can expect, the one thing people always comment on when they come to our shows is that they didn't know it would be as fun of an evening as it is. We do have a lot of love songs, but we also have a lot of songs that are not love songs, We have fun on stage and also we're all like little comedians. You're laughing, you're singing, you're dancing, you might be crying. We go through all of the emotions and for us, it's just about, every show should be a moment, creating a moment for all the people there and for us as well, something to remember. And we really try to pride ourselves on creating a moment at every show and getting ... just making people feel good that they came. That they got out and went back into their childhood or even their adulthood and heard some music that really meant something to them and something to their lives.