JLS: Musical 4Play
Having impressively sold over six million records since coming second back in 2008 on British high-profile TV reality contest “The X Factor”, London R&B/pop quartet JLS return this month with their eagerly-anticipated fourth album “Evolution”. Which is currently being pioneered across UK airwaves via the pent-up falsetto vocals, choppy guitar loops and hard hip hop beats of its nervy Top 10 offshoot single “Hottest Girl In The World”.
Indeed, boasting input from such “name” chart-topping American producers as Rodney Jerkins (Michael Jackson/Whitney Houston), Bangladesh (Lil Wayne/Rihanna) and Midi Mafia (50 Cent/Jennifer Lopez), the aptly-named “Evolution” sees the multi-Platinum-selling foursome of Oritse Williams (25), Marvin Humes (27), Aston Merrygold (24) and J.B. Gill (25) moving in a distinctly more urban and mature direction via such tuff, hip hop-flavoured R&B/club cuts as the overtly-sexual, bass-anchored “Dessert”, stomping, party-flavoured “Have Your Way”, and the explosively-jumpy “Troublemaker”. While slower tracks like the surging, inspirational ballad “Hold Me Down” and liltingly-melodic “Don’t Know That” in turn amply showcase the group’s already-trademark soulful vocals and clean, close harmonies.
Initially formed as UFO (Unique Famous Outrageous) by Oritse back in 2006, the quartet (with Marvin having previously been a member of the UK Top Ten-charting, Simon Webbe-mentored sing/rap outfit VS) would originally sign to production/songwriting duo Tracklacers’ production company New Track City. For whom they released two singles independently before, in 2008, entering the fifth series of the aforementioned “X Factor”. Following which, after almost immediately changing their name to JLS (an initialism of Jack the Lad Swing), the foursome would quickly acquire a near-fanatical national fan-base, resulting in them eventually ending up in second-place to winner Alexandra Burke.
January 2009 meanwhile would prestigiously see JLS signing to the Sony Music-affiliated Epic Records. Following which they have to date impressively gone on to release three UK Top Two albums - 2009’s chart-topping, Quadruple-Platinum “JLS”; 2010’s Double-Platinum “Outta This World”; 2011’s Platinum “Jukebox” - while also becoming the only act from reality TV to score five British Number One singles (2009’s “Breathe Again” and “Everybody In Love”; 2010’s “The Club Is Alive” and “Love You More”; 2011’s “She Makes Me Wanna”).
Meanwhile, other ground-breaking career highlights include winning two BRIT Awards (the first “X Factor” act ever to win one) in 2010 for British Breakthrough and British Single; becoming one of only three British groups ever to sell out 10 dates at London’s O2 Arena (the others being The Spice Girls and Take That); plus, via their own documentary film “JLS: Eyes Wide Open 3D” being shown exclusively for three days only from June 2 2011 in over 300 cinemas, having the biggest-selling music event in UK cinema history. Meanwhile, outside of music per se, the quartet have also had two TV specials broadcast and two best-selling books published, while also making tabloid headlines in September 2011 by controversially teaming up with Durex to launch a range of personalised branded condoms under the safe-sex-promoting campaign line “Just Love Safe”.
… Which neatly brings us back to today. As, with JLS now firmly established as a British musical institution, members Marvin and Oritse speak enthusiastically to “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis about their aforementioned brand-new album, as well as discussing such interesting topics as their little-spoken-of early days plus their own personal highlights of their trailblazing four years in the spotlight.
PETE: Let’s start on obvious ground - the reasons behind titling your new, fourth LP “Evolution”
MARVIN: “Obviously, as you say Pete, this is our fourth album, and so we made a conscious effort this time around to change the SOUND a bit - because for us it was important to I guess move with our FANBASE. You know, the fact is that the 16-year-olds that saw us four years ago on “The X Factor” are now 20 - and we felt it was important to REMEMBER that. Which is why we wanted to come back with something that was different, and that would give people something to TALK about... Hence “EVOLUTION”!”
PETE: Musically the album has been described as “a move in a more urban direction”...
MARVIN: “Well, musically we primarily wanted to work with HIP HOP producers this time round. Like with Bangladesh - who produced the single “Hottest Girl In The World” - having produced massive hits like “A Milli” for Lil Wayne, with us coming from a pop background we wanted to see how interesting it would be for US to work with someone of that ilk. And I think what’s actually come out of all that is the new SOUND we now have, which arguably you could call R&B. You know, this time round we really wanted people that may not necessarily have been JLS fans before to be like ‘I’ve never really been into JLS before, but I’m actually FEELIN’ this!’... So yeah, ultimately I guess we wanted to maintain our existing foundation while at the same time also bringing NEW talent on board.”
PETE: As you’ve said, “Evolution” also interestingly sees you working with big-name US urban producers such as Rodney Jerkins and Bangladesh…
MARVIN: “Yeah, I mean Rodney is just LEGEND, man! Like the guy produced “You Rock My World” for Michael Jackson, big Destiny’s Child hits like “Say My Name”, he’s produced stuff with Beyonce... I mean, his discography is INCREDIBLE! And though, when you work with these American guys you do worry that you’re literally gonna turn up and they’re gonna put you with their juniors and you probably won’t even MEET the main man himself, with Rodney that was totally not the CASE! He was literally 100% hands-on with us making beats, writing, working on the vocals… You know, he was totally involved in the entire PROCESS! So massive respect to him for that!.. Plus we also had a great time working with BANGLADESH. I mean, obviously the fact he’s more hip hop meant we did have to adjust our way of WORKING - in that he works HIP HOP hours, which is different to POP hours! So, whereas if we’re working in London we usually start at midday and finish at 8pm, working with someone like Bangladesh meant we were starting at 6pm and finishing at 6AM! But while, as I say, we did have to ADJUST to that, ultimately it is all a part of the process and it is all a part of the EVOLUTION!”
PETE: So what was your experience like after coming out of “The X Factor”, as one of the very few runner-up acts over the years to not be immediately then given a record-deal with boss Simon Cowell’s Syco label?
MARVIN: “Well obviously, when we came second we were DEVASTATED! Because Simon had already said to us that he was only gonna sign the winner that year - and he stuck to his WORD! He only signed Alexandra Burke, which meant we were then basically in limbo thinking ‘Right, what are we gonna do NOW?’… But then luckily Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington from SONY decided they wanted to sign us. And with them having already been behind Another Level and also having been involved in the early stages of Blue, they obviously already knew exactly what it took for an urban boy-band to MAKE it... So yeah, they were very keen to sign US, and we were obviously over-the-moon to be signing a RECORD-deal. And in retrospect, I suppose we really do owe a lot TO them. Because they didn’t stick to what the obvious route would have been for us MUSICALLY. Instead they thought outside the box a bit, and came up with “Beat Again” as our first single. Which, looking back now, was probably the best thing that could have HAPPENED. You know, because that song wasn’t your traditional pop-song for a boy-band, it meant from the start that we were able to turn heads and open ears that before may have had their own pre-conceived ideas of what we’d be COMING with… So yeah, with “Born Again” they were obviously shocked - but in a GOOD way!”
PETE: So, with the numerous trailblazing and even record-breaking achievements JLS have managed over the last four years, what to you are the personal highlights?
MARVIN: “My standout has definitely got to be winning two BRIT Awards. Because that’s exactly the stuff you dream about - well, I certainly did - when you’re young and aspiring to be in the music industry. You know, you watch it every year, you see your idols picking up awards and getting the recognition... So for us to get two of those awards in one year was just a dream come TRUE!... Then another definite highlight was being part of the Michael Jackson tribute concert (October 2011 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium). I mean, when we heard we were gonna be performing with the Jackson brothers it was absolutely AMAZING! Because I’m a huge fan of Michael Jackson AND his brothers - and so for us to be sharing a stage with Jackie, Marlon and Tito singing “Blame It On The Boogie” with Michael’s mum and his children watching was UNBELIEVABLE! You know, the fact we were put on a world stage that night along with people like Christina Aguilera and Beyonce was just really INCREDIBLE!”
ORITSE: “Yeah, for me too the Michael Jackson tribute concert was awesome! I don’t think ANY performance could compare to that! I mean, I still have my plaque on my wall; I wore the honorary Michael Jackson Swarovski Crystal armband in his name along with his brothers.... I mean, it’s very hard to TOP that - I can’t even DESCRIBE the feeling of performing with The Jacksons!… So yeah, the whole experience of being up there WITH your heroes and AMONGST your heroes, and to be a part of celebrating Michael Jackson’s name and his legacy and his life will always remain one of the most amazing experiences I’ve HAD within JLS... And then I guess another thing that definitely stands out for me is seeing our name advertised on billboards saying ‘Come And See JLS At The O2 ARENA!’. You know, I remember driving up to The O2 - and the fact that I wasn’t driving to WATCH the show but to put ON a show was just an absolutely incredible feeling! I can’t even DESCRIBE it!”
The album “Evolution”out now through RCA/Sony Music
You can check out more insightful thoughts direct from JLS as we delve further into the workings of new album "Evolution" - also the guys tell how/where it all began as they formed the little known band UFO... all available + a whole lot more in our current print issue, click below to get your copy OR get down to your local newsagent (including WH Smiths) now!
Words PETE LEWIS