Interview: Steven Russell Harts Talks Solo Album, Upcoming Troop Project & Mentoring Luke James and James Fauntleroy
For every artist that is trying to change the sound of the genre, there are others who are trying to recapture the essence of classic R&B. Steven Russell Harts, from the group Troop, understands that a balance between the two is needed to create the best product. That concept is evident in the songs that he’s written throughout the years including “No Air” by Jordin Sparks. Aside from his success with Troop and his writing, Steven Russell Harts has been instrumental in developing the new generation of R&B artists including Luke James and James Fauntleroy. YouKnowIGotSoul spoke to Steven Russell Harts about his new solo album and new details on the Troop comeback album. He also talked about the writing process for some of the hits he’s written.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your new album “The Wedding Singer” came out last week. Introduce us to the project.
Steven Russell Harts: “The Wedding Singer” is my second solo effort. It’s a love album. It’s an album for people who are in love and it’s a tribute to nostalgic R&B and it’s a classic R&B album. I stuck to the program of the kind of music I was raised on like The Jacksons, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. I stayed in the vein of what made me feel good. The album has wedding songs on there and songs where a man realizes that he has a good girl. It’s all based on love.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You have the new single “Shelter” out right now. Does that single represent the rest of the album?
Steven Russell Harts: Yes, I think it opens it up in a really good way. It gives you a perspective of where I’m headed lyrically. It’s a perfect example of what to expect for the rest of the album as far as content, flavor and sound.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I remember you telling us that for your first album “So Random” consisted of songs that you held on to throughout the years. Was that the same approach with this one or did you record everything in a time period?
Steven Russell Harts: 80% of this album was recorded in a time period and the other 20% were songs that just fitted perfect. Certain songs people missed for a reason and it’s the same thing with this album. I had a couple of songs that were absolutely amazing that Chris Brown or Charlie Wilson missed and it was just perfect for this album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: In addition to your own solo career, I know you’ve been working with your group Troop. Bring us up to date with the new Troop project and what we can expect from it.
Steven Russell Harts: Yes, we’re working on the new Troop project. We just released three compilation albums in the past three months. Our first compilation is called “The B-Sides”. It’s a compilation with a brand new never heard before single called “Why You Leavin”. The second compilation is called “The Slow Songs” and there’s new unheard Troop song called “Unfriendly”. The third compilation is called “Deeper (Revisited)”. I actually reproduced and remastered a lot of the songs from Troop’s third album called “Deeper”. I revisited that album because the fans didn’t get a chance to really embrace it the way they wanted because Atlantic Records took it out of print. Throughout the years, you’d hear from the fans directly and so many people told me how much they loved “Deeper”, so I decided to put it back in circulation. So whoever loved that album could get it again. We have the new single on that album called “Disappear” and “Gots Ta Be”. It’s pretty nice.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I believe I heard a song by Troop last year. The song was produced by Hit-Boy right?
Steven Russell Harts: Yes, the song “ForEver”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Something I’ve noticed about you is that you like working with the younger generation and bringing them along like Luke James, James Fauntleroy and Hit-Boy. How important is it to work with these young musicians?
Steven Russell Harts: It’s crucial because music is youth in a certain area. They consider you old and washed up after you get in your prime. I have to make sure that I keep my ear to what’s fresh and what’s young. With people like Luke James, James Fauntleroy and Hit-Boy, it just keeps me so fresh as a writer and producer. It just keeps me grounded and fresh. It allows me to stay current instead of just being stuck in old sounding music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you played a huge part in Luke James early career. What kind of potential did you see in him?
Steven Russell Harts: Luke is a complete superstar and I saw that early on with him. He was in a group called Luke & Q that The Underdogs signed. We were developing them and working on their music. Luke used to sit around when we were writing songs for Chris Brown, Jordin Sparks and all these people. He wouldn’t say anything. He would just sit there like a student and soak up everything. He got his first placement with me. I knew he had sat around us long enough to know, so I was the first person from The Underdogs to bring him in and write songs with him. We got a couple of really nice placements together and he just developed into an excellent songwriter and artist.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You also developed James Fauntleroy earlier on and now he’s one of the biggest songwriters in music. What did you see in him?
Steven Russell Harts: I thought he was very fresh and innovative with his writing. Sometimes people come along and they have a special thing. Out of the Jacksons, you knew Michael was the star. James Fauntleroy was like that early on. He sat and watched the way the veterans were writing songs and he’s so talented, so he just took that old juice from us vets and then he mixed it into a little stew. He just became a monster writer!
YouKnowIGotSoul: What do you try to teach the younger songwriters when you’re working with them?
Steven Russell Harts: I teach the younger writers to be fishers. I teach them that there’s a perfect way to say what you mean to say. I teach them that average is no good and that it has to be great. I fight for lines. I can be writing a song with someone and we’ll be writing the second verse, but I’m still making corrections on the first verse. They get from me the essence of completion and what really makes a song different from an album cut to a hit song. They definitely get that from me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One project you worked heavily on is Tank’s “Sex, Love & Pain” album. Talk about the work you did on that project.
Steven Russell Harts: I wrote and produced a song on there called “Who Dat”. The rest of the songs I co-wrote with him and the rest of The Underdogs. “Who Dat” is actually the only song I produced. That was a great experience. We took our song with every song and being a fan of Tank, we were able to put our heads together and come with something that we felt could launch him in an adult level. We had a great time working on that album. Tank is such a talent. He’s a piano genius and a great songwriter. It took us a few months and we put in non-stop work putting that album together and it turned out to be a great piece of work.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another song we really like is the Charlie Wilson song “I Can’t Live Without You”. Talk about that song because I know that was originally a song for Glenn Lewis.
Steven Russell Harts: Yes, we were working on a Glenn Lewis project. For some reason, it didn’t pan out to be for him. At the same time, we were working on songs for Ruben Studdard and Charlie Wilson. Once we started working on the Charlie Wilson record, we felt like “I Can’t Live Without You” would be something that gave him a fresh element and a fresh look as a veteran. Once he recorded his vocals, we thought we wrote the song for Glenn Lewis, but we were actually writing it for Charlie.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One of your latest placements is the Tamar Braxton single “All The Way Home”. Talk about that song.
Steven Russell Harts: Myself and Sevyn Streeter were trying to come up with something that sounded fresh. Tamar is such a wonderful singer. We wanted to give her something that people could grab onto and relate to. We wanted to show her vocal ability and that’s what we were aiming for. It was something that was really sweet and easy to remember.
YouKnowIGotSoul: All these songs relate to your project in that a lot of your records are really heartfelt. Is that what you try to aim for when you’re writing a song?
Steven Russell Harts: I’m a very emotional person. I’m a man, but I was raised by my mother. I’m a man woman. *Laughs* I’m a male version of my mother. We’re just very emotional people. We’re very expressive, so everything about my music has passion because I’m such a passionate person. It does spill over into my music and writing. Everything I do is filled with passion and emotion. I came up listening to Michael Jackson, Howard Hewett, Babyface and those guys. Everything Michael Jackson sings, you believe it. Growing up singing after guys like that, it almost becomes part of your DNA.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I noticed that The Underdogs did some EDM records last year like on the Ciara project. What was the creative process like for an EDM song?
Steven Russell Harts: We knew that we needed to go in a different direction for an artist like Ciara. She’s such an entertainer. We like to work with people who are geniuses at what they do. We called in a couple of people that were excellent at the EDM stuff and we just added our professional flavor to it with the lyrics and the melodies. It turned out excellent. Without vision as a producer, you have such a short lived career. When we get an artist like Ciara, we listen to the radio and we see what’s hot. We don’t want to copy everything that’s out, but we just want to be as fresh as what’s going on. That’s why we took that direction.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Can we expect more EDM records from you guys?
Steven Russell Harts: On the new Troop album “The Return”, it’s going to have 9-10 new songs and we’re definitely going to have dance records. Troop still dances like when we were 20. We’re definitely going to have some of that stuff on our album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Who else have you had a chance to work with?
Steven Russell Harts: Right now I’m currently in the studio doing a remix to my single “Shelter”. It’s a remix featuring Keith Washington, Howard Hewett, Elliott Yamin, Al B Sure, Joe Little from the Moon Boys and myself. It’s the 2014 version of “Secret Garden”, but it’s my single. I’m actually working on Howard Hewett’s new project. I have his new single called “Better Guy”. You’ll be hearing that pretty soon. I just finished working with Faith Evans. I have a beautiful record on her album called “Thank You, Good Night”. I’m working on KeKe Palmer’s project. I’m recording an album with R&B Diva Michel’le. I’m recording her album as we speak. I’m just staying busy.
YouKnowIGotSoul: With your current project “The Wedding Singer”, how will you measure success compared to your Troop days?
Steven Russell Harts: It’s so much different. To be honest, when I say “The Wedding Singer” up on iTunes, it was success for me. The fact that the work is finished and the work is up for people to admire and see, that’s success. If I measured myself and my success based on people’s response to it, a lot of times you will be let down. The success for me is having the tenacity and audacity after all the years in the business to have the nerve to do a solo album and be proud of it. That’s success for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Steven Russell Harts: I would like to add that real R&B is on its way back. I would like for all of the fans to know that they’re getting a piece of me. I don’t just do this for money. I do this because I want my music to be medicine for people. I want my music to help people in situations. I really want my music to be what music was for me when I was growing up. Music was like medicine for me and my mother. When we were sad and didn’t have money, we could always sing and feel better. When things were going great, we would play songs and feel extra great. That’s what I want to bring back because when I listen to the radio, I hear songs that are based on dancing and the club. It’s stuff that’s for the moment, but music should last a lifetime. I’d like for my lyrics to last a lifetime. I’d like for my lyrics to matter to your children when they come up and listen to it. Also I’m also doing a songwriter mixer where you pay some money to hear somebody like myself give clues to writing successful hit records and just giving insight of all the knowledge I have after 27 years in the business. I’m finally giving that back and it’s really a nice thing because not too often do people who aspire to be in the music business, not a lot of time they get to hear from the horse’s mouth. It would be great if you could talk to Quincy Jones and run through his brain. Since I’m that guy from that era, I want to make sure that I give myself back to the people. If anybody is interested in this, you can e-mail me at email@example.com.
Follow Steven Russell Harts on Twitter @StevenRusel.