For most artists, fame comes as a by-product of creating music; hardly ever is music the by-product of fame. As they near the release of their sophomore outing, the five members of O-Town find themselves trying to grow out of being regarded largely as the rare example of the latter.
Ashley Parker Angel, Erik-Michael Estrada, Dan Miller, Trevor Penick, and Jacob Underwood — whose “O2” was released Nov. 12 — became instant household names through the reality TV show “Making the Band.” While many fans — particularly young teenage girls — fell instantly in love, to many in the industry the show only perpetuated the stereotype that labels were simply “adding water and mixing” to create disposable, less-than-talented bands for a buck. So, while the show may have been a blessing for visibility, for five guys looking to be taken seriously as artists it was a double-edged sword. No one really expected the by-product of the show to be a viable, talented pop band — and according to Angel, not even the producers of the show itself.
“They weren’t expecting a real music group to form,” he says. “There was no record deal built into the show. Getting to [former J Records chairman/CEO] Clive [Davis] was the moment of truth. Three months after the first season of ‘Making the Band,’ it looked like there’d be no more of the show. So, we started on our own, renting out a rehearsal space. We practiced every day, lived in little tiny apartments in Orlando [Fla.], and practiced our asses off until we felt ready. Clive was leaving Arista, and through mutual contacts we got a meeting at his house. We sat in his living room and sang a cappella. We were flipping out; we felt it was the biggest thing to happen to us.”
It turned out to be just that.
Davis signed the group, and its eponymous debut has since been certified double-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for U.S. shipments of 2 million copies. Each of the set’s three singles gained more success than the previous, with the last, “All or Nothing,” becoming a top-5 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100. Still, some thought the band lacked credibility.
“So here’s a group that could have been written off as a creation of television, formulaic, Davis says. “[But] I knew when they sang and when I spoke with them that their intelligence factor was always there, especially their musical intelligence. They were an impressive group of guys. After the success of the third single, they were able to take it through their touring and show their talents. No one was prepared for their ability as headliners and their talent as performers.”
The group puts on a show that not only showcases its pop sensibilities but also allows each member to come out and sing solo, providing the opportunity to explore new musical genres. On top of that, the group tours with a live band, rather than singing to pre-recorded backing tracks.
Now the group’s members they feel they have something to prove, and that “O2” is the album to do it. On it, the band is allowed to explore its own talents, with half the project being written by the group.
“The music sounds so different on this record-it’s more real, more organic, [and] not as synthesized and slick sounding as the last,” Angel says. “Erick and I wrote almost half the record this time, and that’s a huge thing for us as a group. Clive would tell us how Whitney [Houston] used to submit songs that didn’t make the records, meaning he had standards. If he was going to executive-produce, he wanted good songs no matter who wrote them. So to choose five or six of ours is a huge deal.”
While “O2” is the group’s second full-length release, the members of O-Town feel it is more of a debut album. A mixture of ballads, dance, pop, and even rock, the set showcases the band and presents it as a grown-up, cohesive musical unit and not a prefab boy-band creation.
“I hated that the TV show stood for the fact that you could just add water and mix and create a pop band,” Angel says. “We hated what we stood for, and we didn’t know how to manipulate the situation to bend it in our favor except to do the best we could on the first record, [with the hope] we could start to create something organic [afterward]. On the second record, that’s what we’ve done.”
Excerpted from the Nov. 30, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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