Last week while attending a Boyz II Men show here in NYC, it was a surprise for me to bump into Marc Nelson backstage following the performance. It’s not a big deal for the fact that I bumped in a fellow musician coming out to support their peers, but more so ironic for the fact that Marc Nelson was originally part of the group. Although Marc unfortunately left before the group went on to attain worldwide super stardom, he has managed to put together a very solid career in his own right. A mutli-talented artist, he has three solo albums to date, another as part of the group Az Yet, has appeared in a number of stage plays, and has over a dozen writing credits for other artists to his name. Judging by what he goes on to explain in this interview, it seems as though Marc Nelson is just getting started. In this interview, we discuss his origins as part of Boyz II Men, why Az Yet never recorded a follow up to their successful debut, if he wishes either situation would have worked out, what he hopes to accomplish with the book he’s currently writing, if he plans to continue recording music into the future, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: First of all since I ran into you at the Boyz II Men show, talk to me about your history with Boyz II Men and how you were originally part of the group.
Marc Nelson: We all went to a high school called Creative and Performing Arts, better known as CAPA, and me and Nate were best friends and still are. So we were always forming groups and coming up with different ideas and stuff and this particular time we came up with this idea of putting together a group called Boyz II Men because we loved the song the group New Edition sang called “Boys to Men”. Then one thing led to another in getting discovered and then from that point what I will be sharing in a future book that I’m writing led me to not be a part of the group situation. So I can’t really share that part right now, you’ll have to read it in the book!
YKIGS: In the time between your debut album and joining Az Yet, you did a lot of writing for other artists like Toni Braxton, Tamia, Brandy, etc. Is there a particular song you wrote that stands out as a favorite?
MN: Yea actually two of them. The greatest one for me is the record I wrote for Babyface which is a song called “Seven Seas”. It’s really special to me because Babyface was my mentor and because he’s an extraordinary, iconic song writer, he really didn’t need the help of another song writer. *Laughs* So for him to take a special interest in my ability as a song writer really boosted my confidence and really uplifted my career as a song writer. So sitting in a room with him and just kinda sharing that moment of writing a song for Babyface, wow! *Laughs* It’s the greatest feeling in the world and I love the song a lot and then I got a chance to sing the backgrounds with him on the record. Babyface has general really shaped my career just as a professional singer/song writer and producer. The second one is a song I wrote for Brandy called “Truthfully”. The reason why I love that song is because when I went to the studio, it was so funny because she’s so shy, it really took me five different sessions to get her in the recording studio, I would go to the studio and she was not there! *Laughs* So when I finally got her in the studio we had a five minute conversation and just broke the ice of her being nervous about working with me and when she went in, she killed it in one take! It was phenomenal, it’s not often you have someone sing your record the way you heard it and envisioned it. There’s nothing wrong with the way other people have sung my material, but usually they give their own interpretation which is just as beautiful, but Brandy really hit what was in my spirit.
YKIGS: Can I just ask you about another song you wrote, and that’s the song you worked on with Jon B., since he’s a personal favorite of mine.
MN: Oh yes, “Don’t Say”. I love that song as well, and that song is special to me because literally I was writing that song in my bedroom feeling very depressed about breaking up with my woman. *Laughs* So it has sentimental value to it.
YKIGS: Looking forward, and if you can’t talk about this because it’s part of your book let me know, you had great success with the group Az Yet but you guys only had one album. Could you talk about why there was never a second album?
MN: With Az Yet, it’s really interesting that Az Yet was the journey in my life where I learned about the music business because that’s where I had the most success as an artist. Getting together with the biggest producers, Babyface and LA Reid, and they become the CEO of your record label, you’re just kinda thrown right into the middle of the phenomenon of LaFace. The group were all from Philadelphia and it was ironic because years ago when I had started Boyz II Men and I had started that situation, I met those guys literally just outside on the streets and they approached me and asked me to help them work on vocals. So it would just be so coincidental that I would end up being one of the lead singers of the group. With that said, I think the biggest problem that we had is that our manger was the mother in law of Babyface, Tracey Edmonds’ mother, so I would say it was a bit incestuous. As I really am grateful for her and what she did as a manager, we all felt that it wasn’t enough to continue to catapult us to great success. I took the brunt of it by kind of being the fore front person in truly expressing how we felt. The other guys weren’t as expressive as I was and one thing led to another and I was no longer in the group. The details of it definitely will be in the book because I think it’s so important to clear your name of whatever rumors go around and giving your version of your side of the story. At the same time, because it’s going from Boyz II Men then to Az Yet the impression is clearly I’m the one who’s causing the issue. *Laughs* So that’s why I’m excited about writing this book because people will really get my side of the story.
YKIGS: Just simply looking back at both of those groups you were a part of, in either situation do you wish it would have worked out?
MN: Well definitely I wish the Boyz II Men thing would have worked out, no question about it, it was so painful for me. It was very, very hurtful how the whole situation went down and the person that I am today in comparison to that 18 year old kid *Laughs* I feel for him. He really had to deal with a serious blow especially knowing that it was his baby and his dream, his total vision. But the beauty of it which I say to a lot of people that are trying to make it in this industry or any industry is I think it could be a testimony, especially in the book. If you take a good look at it, the average person would have probably done some serious damage to themselves mentally and emotionally when Boyz II Men became successful after. On the other hand, I decided I’m going to make it anyway. So I thank God for my career and it’s truly extensive and not to brag, but to give a clear understanding that even though Boyz II Men had the success that they did, if you take a good look at my career I’ve been blessed. I’ve traveled the world a number of times, I’ve toured, I sang a duet with Beyonce, I’ve written for Michael McDonald, Babyface, Toni Braxton, Brandy, Jon B., Tyrese, Aaron Neville, I’ve been nominated for a Grammy. So I’ve really had a very full career just having for the first maybe three or four years of my career the pain of not being able to share in the massive success of Boyz II Men.
YKIGS: What do you remember most about recording your second album “Chocolate Mood”?
MN: The thing that I remember most is the people that I worked with. Tone and Poke of Trackmasters, at the time they were senior Vice Presidents of Columbia Urban Division. Because the world knows me for the balance in terms of balance in music between “Last Night” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, so when I did “15 Minutes” it was kind of alter ego. *Laughs* It was a spin on the totality of who I am and so it was a lot of fun, it was a whole lot of fun to work on that project and have these guys who understand the streets and the urban market really well to collaborate with me and say “Marc, why don’t we try this because this is a part of you as well.” So that part of the recording process was great and then moving into once it was released, I had no idea it would do that well. *Laughs* I didn’t know people would embrace that song that well where it took me on tour with TLC for their last tour, the “Fanmail” tour.
YKIGS: Later on you formed the group Blayse, how did that group come together?
MN: Well there’s a guy named Tony Grant who is an actor and singer and the irony of it is, Tony replaced me with Az Yet. Once the group caved in, I ran into Tony actually on a basketball court, isn’t that funny? *Laughs* He comes to me and says “Listen man, I’ve got this idea to put a group together lead singers from Az Yet, Blackstreet and Silkk. So after we parted ways, I thought we should called it Blayse, BL from Blackstreet, AY from Az Yet, and S from Silkk, and he thought it was great. Then I went to Sony, who was my publisher, I’m a songwriter for them, and I asked them to fund the project, and then they gave me the dollars and cents to make it happen and we started pursuing it. We just tried to do it virally, kinda grassroots at first, we had a couple of deals on the table, but once you get into the whole group arena, you will always find a situation that kinda made it disturbing from one of the members. Again going into details about that, I have to save it for the book my friend! *Laughs*
YKIGS: Talk to me more about the book and kinda what motivated you to write it and what’s going to be included in there.
MN: I can’t reveal the title yet because I’m working on it but I have a couple of ideas but I have one in particular that I really think is going to be the title of the book. The inspiration behind it is a number of things. First of all it is my journey through the music industry from being a teenager to an adult, the ups and downs that you go through mentally and emotionally with the success and the failures. The thing that really inspired me to write it was I know quite a few peers of mine in the music industry who are or have gone through a seriously tough time trying to adjust to the fact that they are no longer “on top” or even doing well in the music industry. They had to come to grips mentally that they are a human being, they are a person that the illusion that we create for the audience to enjoy us as entertainers is not real. It’s to be enjoyed of course, but you the entertainer have to maintain a sense of self and a sense of humanization, you have to be a human. You have so many of us out there when the glitz and glamour are gone, say you’re not doing so well financially, you have to go back to being an ordinary person or try again! *Laughs* In my case, thinking now that I have multiple talents to write as well and produce records and vocally arrange stuff, I was able to kinda really survive but it was a time I didn’t, I didn’t survive at all. But it didn’t break me, and that’s the thing I really feel that going from 18 years old and experiencing such a traumatic blow of kinda being left out of what I created with Boyz II Men, it made me strong very early. So I kinda want to be that poster child, that example for others that it really doesn’t matter how traumatic the situation is or was, you are still a person, you still have to go to work and eat, you still have to survive, and if you have a family you have to take care of them. You have to understand that what we do as musicians, you have to remember you would have done it for free in the beginning! *Laughs* You didn’t know anything about money, you didn’t know anything about the fame and glory, you only knew what you saw, and if you were a true musician you did that just for the love of music. So I want to actually kinda help people to wake up and tell them it’s ok, if someone recognizes you on the street, just say hi and keep it moving. If you’re working somewhere where you might be embarrassed because you were once upon a time doing something that was “grandiose,” you want to make sure that you don’t lose your self respect and your self dignity and your love for self. In this world, people if you let them will make you feel contrary to what I’m suggesting you should and I’m just hoping that my story can reveal that and inspire someone really in need of that!
YKIGS: That’s pretty interesting because I don’t think a lot of people even really understand that side of things so that’s interesting that you’re bringing that to light.
YKIGS: You released your last album back in 2007, an independent project. Do you see yourself continuing to release music into the future?
MN: Absolutely. It’s actually even more interesting, you’ll be very surprised. Currently I’m writing songs for Kem, Lionel Richie, and I’m also about to sell one to Boyz II Men on their project. I have a deal that’s on the table for me as a solo artist. I’m kinda weighing back and forth how I want to do it, if I’m actually going to do it. But it definitely is looking really, really good. There’s another iron on the fire that will probably blow a lot of minds *Laughs* if I so choose to do this. I hinted it but I cannot reveal it.
YKIGS: Another thing I read in your bio is that you were involved in some stage plays. Talk about that and how you got into acting.
MN: Tony Grant, who I mentioned earlier, that’s exactly what he was known for before he took my place in Az Yet. He’s become a friend via the Blayse project and he’s constantly getting calls about plays. So one time he called me up and told me he couldn’t do this one play because he was already on another one and asked if I’d be interested in going and auditioning for it. So I thought I’d go ahead and try it because I’ve had interest in acting, not to a heavy degree, but just something that I thought would be a lot of fun to do and I’m always interested as a creative person in testing and exploring. So I went and auditioned and the first play I did was called “Men Cry in the Dark”. That was an interesting experience because I was very nervous and I can’t remember the first or last time I was nervous as a musician. *Laughs* It was different but it was a lot of fun and it was even funnier because I was performing with very well known actors in these plays and that made it even more kinda intimidating. It was really nice to already know these people from being a musician so it was very helpful and I kinda got tips here and there. The biggest play that I did was called “Love Aint Supposed to Hurt” part one and two, it was a lot of fun. So it was cool and I thought since then that I might want to do some off Broadway stuff but that’s kinda a little bit down the line. I’m still a musician. *Laughs*
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
MN: Yea I’ll say again, the most important thing to me about my music career and what I do is now more so about touching people and helping people, and I really enjoy that. For those who are out there who are really trying to get their foot in the door, please know that no matter what that odds are, no matter what the situation is, I am living proof *Laughs* that nothing is too great. If you want, you will have it, you just hang in there and keep going.