Blues & Soul, 7th-20th November 1995
And then there were three! Britain's most successful female pop/soul group work their collective charms on Pete Lewes who, amazingly, is more interested in their new 'Power Of A Woman' album and life as a trio.
Throughout music history, the task of following up a multi-platinum-selling debut album has always proven notoriously difficult... And in the case of Britain's most successful female soul group of all time - Eternal - the challenge of repeating the two-million worldwide sales of 1993's 'Always & Forever' could conceivably prove tougher than most, with original member Louise Nurding having, of course, recently departed to pursue a solo career.
However, Eternal's remaining trio Kéllé Bryan and sisters Easther and Vernie Bennett - seem reassuringly self-confident, as - sipping white wine and orange juice in the seclusion of a plush Holland Park hotel's conference room - they meet B&S to enthusiastcially discuss their eagerly anticipated second album "Power Of A Woman".
"With this new second album we've definitely moved on on in a big way! Before we started recording, we sat down with our record company (EMI) and our management (First Avenue); told them what we wanted and who we wanted to work with... and within six week's we'd made the album of our dreams!", began an ever-smiling Kéllé, before Croydon-raised lead vocalist Easther adds, "We feel it's the next phase up, as it were. We've grown up a lot since we originally recorded "Always & Forever" three years ago. You know, promoting it for two years we've learned and experienced a lot. We've been to a lot of places, heard a lot of different types of music... And so we've been able to make "Power Of A Woman" very strong! It's got your soul; it's got you R&B, your pop, your gospel... All of the songs have got a lot of depth to them, and musically it's moved on a great deal".
All of which has arguably already been evidenced by the full-blooded gospel soul vocal attack of the punchy title track hit single:- "Oh, we loved the song straight away! And when we went in to record it, we worked really hard to get the harmonies completely right, 'cause they're quite intricate and powerful", continues former Italia Conti Stage School pupil Kéllé, - "It's basically an extension of where we've already come from, in that it's got a bit more depth to it. So we thought it would be a good opener for our new concept - you know, Eternal Phase Two... which is also reflected in the video.
We recorded that in Los Angeles with Randee St. Nicholas, who did the Toni Braxton "Breath Again" and Whitney Houston "I'm Every Woman" videos... and being that she is a female director to make it into an all-woman day with a female band, four female bouncers, - plus of course the three members of Eternal! I mean a lotta people have come back to us and said 'Oh it's raunchy! It's sexy!'... and while that wasn't something planned, to us it's still fine - 'cause we're very open like that! We'll do what we feel is right and what we feel comfortable doing... And then it's up to the people to take it how they want".
Meanwhile, the fact that Eternal themselves have co-written six of the thirteen or so tracks this time around possibly makes their new album a better reflection of the group's own personal musical leanings. "Wheras before, because of our being at college, we were only able to contribute three songs to 'Always & Forever', this time we've written practically half of 'Power Of A Woman', explains one-time law student Vernie, - "So obviously our own influences will actually show through more, I feel all three of us have injected more of the soul feel that we actually wanted to hear, while also being a lot more involved musically and vocally in the actual arrangement of the songs. Then vocally too the sound is different - largely due to all the constant touring we've been doing. Obviously, when you're regularly doing a lot of live sessions your vocals are going to move on. So, from the point of view of our own personal input, this second album definitely sees an improvement all round".
Production-wise, meanwhile, the bulk of the new album (which ranges from a throbbing remake of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" to the chunky pop-swing of "Who Are You") was once more recorded in London under the auspices of Britain's own Ronnie Wilson & Dennis Charles: "Yes, just like on 'Always & Forever', the core of 'Power Of A Woman' is Ronnie and Dennis - they are the ones that really bring in the Eternal sound", explains Easther, while Kéllé adds, -
"And we feel they too have progressed a lot from the first time around. I mean, when we talked to them before we started this album they were already using new techniques and spending their own money to get a better quality of sound for us. So, even before we came in to record, they were working very hard on the groundwork. In fact, I think one of the best tracks on the album is a song we co-wrote with them, 'Faith In Love'. They lyrics can be taken either way, - either about faith or about faith in whatever it is that you struggle with in life... And it's basically saying it's great to have faith in SOMETHING, because that in itself will pull you through. So that is definitely one of our personal favourites."
Novertheless, the American connection remains, as the swirling anthemic ballad "It Will Never End" one more finds Eternal in the studio with a modern-day gospel legent BeBe Winans. Meanwhile, significant new blood is introduced this time around with the girls recording three tracks ("Secrets", "Your Smile", "Don't Make Me wait") in Atlanta under the executive production aegis of multi-Platinum R&B "wonder-kid" Dallas Austin... A determined attempt to finally crack the US market big-time by the use of a contemporary "big-name" producer?: "No, who we work with has nothing to do with the name of the person, - it's got to do with the product they're capable of producing!" retorts Easther, somewhat on the defensive,"and so all I can say is the reason we picked Dallas Austin was because we liked the type of tracks he'd produced on TLC and Madonna.
"But that in itself doesn't make him any better than our two producers here, because we like the kinda stuff Ronnie & Dennis do too! It's just that we wanted to have some variety, because everyone writes soul in a different way. I mean, you certainly don't need to be an established 'name' to be a good R&B writer-producer! In fact, if Eternal found somebody completely new who was creative and talented then we'd still be open to work with them... Even if they're unknown to ANYBODY!"
So, sticking with apparently touchy and delicate subjects - what was the full story behind Louise's aforementioned, much-publicised departure from the group?:- "Well, as you know, Lou left the band to pursue a solo career. It wasn't something she just thought of overnight. She did consider it and we did ask her to stay, - but she chose to leave. It was an amicable split and we're stitll very good friends", replies Kéllé with apparent sincerity, before Vernie adds"In fact Louise was actually invloved in the direction of 'Power Of A Woman' because - although by the time of the actual recording she'd made her final decision to leave - she was there when we were picking the songs... and, while I think for live performances we'll now have to work a little harder on the vocals, the fact that there was just three of us in the studio made no difference to the actual recordings.
"You know, with technology today you can do virtually anything - and so where one is missing it's easy to compensate. I also have a strong feeling that Louise's absence will make no difference to the actual appeal of the group. Although having a white member in Louise did at first help extend Eternal into markets which would not have been possible for a completely lack group, the fact that we've been out three years now means it's the music that today people find most important. So, bearing in mind that there hasn't been a major change in the style of music and that the three other original membes are still here, I can't really see why anyone should now feel 'Oh, Eternal's not the same anymore!'.
Meanwhile, all three members are delighted with the UK music industry's seeminlgy new-found interest in home-grown R&B. "We think it's excellent! A lot of people have said 'Oh Eternal are responsible for the new interest big corporate companies over here are giving to black artists!' - and we're very, very pleased!", concludes Kéllé with a smile, - "All we want is for people to be given a chance - the opportunity and financial backing to go out there and prove that they do have talent. There is a breakthrough happenining slowly but surely, and we wish everybody the best of luck!"