Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

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Interview: En Vogue

13 min read
We caught up with 90's icons @EnVogueMusic to talk about the groups incredible career and upcoming appearance at this years @mightyhoopla ... @satellite414

They have sold over 20 million albums, scored several Grammy nominations, secured a number of Top 10 hits including the anthemic Free Your Mind, My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It) and Top 2 hit, Don’t Let Go (Love) and have been voted the ninth most-successful girl group of all-time.

While the line-up has changed over the years, founding members Cindy Herron and Terry Ellis continue to inspire generations alongside newer member Rhona Bennett and the vocal trio are back in the UK this week as special guests in the star-studded line-up of this weekends Mighty Hoopla festival.

Ahead of the queer pop highlight of year, we caught up with Terry and Cindy to talk about their incredible career as girl group icons, selling 20 million records, personal achievement highlights and performing at this years Mighty Hoopla festival. Here is what the ladies had to tell us….

Brendon Veevers: How are you doing Terry?

Terry Ellis: I’m good. How are you?

BV: I’m good. I’m in a very wet Spain right now, just above Barcelona.

TE: Wow. Barcelona is beautiful. It’s a beautiful city.

BV: Hey, Cindy. How are you doing?

Cindy Herron: I’m good. How are you?

BV: I’m great. It’s such a pleasure to to to talk to both of you. I won’t fanboy out too much on you as I am a huge fan, I promise. I’m a nineties teenager, so your music was a bit of a soundtrack to my growing up, so first and foremost, thank you for that.

TE: Oh, thank you.

BV: I’ve got a a batch of questions to ask you both because I know you’ve got some some very exciting activities coming up over the next while and I want to touch on those. So just to dive straight in, En Vogue are performing at Mighty Hoopla Festival over here in London at the start of next month. How are you feeling about that? Are you excited?

CH: Oh, we’re very excited. Yeah.

BV: How much how much do you know of the of the festival? And is there anyone that you’re particularly keen to bump into or or perform alongside while you are there?

CH: This is gonna be our first time performing, and we’re just so excited. We’re excited to see everybody.

BV: You’re sharing the stage with some some pretty iconic performers, especially from the nineties and it is a festival that celebrates a lot about the nineties pop scene and the R&B scene. That’s also very, very, staged with some amazing apps. Wow.

CH: We’re gonna have to look at the list. We don’t know who else is gonna be there.

BV: It’s an amazing line-up this year with performers like Jessie Ware, Nelly Furtado, Claire Richards, Georgia. So many incredible artists.

TE: Wow. That’s gonna be so cool.

BV: As much as it’s based around music, Mighty Hoopla is also focused on fashion and En Vogue are pretty prolific when it comes to sense of style and fashion. Have you chosen the outfits yet for the festival?

TE: We are in the process of working on it now.

BV: So the last time we saw you perform it was at KOKO in Camden in London, which was back in 2017. The one thing that really stood out for me in particular at that show, and I don’t think I’ve encountered it quite so much since, was the sheer passion from the audience when you guys were performing songs like Free Your Mind and Don’t Let Go. The energy and love from the audience singing those songs back….how does that feel after so many years to have that sort of reaction from fans?

CH: It feels wonderful. Our favorite parts of our show is when everybody sings along because, you know, that’s when we, you know, we know we got everybody going. They got us going, and it’s just a one big love fest. But it feels so great and amazing that the fans will come out and support us so many years later and still enjoy our music.

BV: It is quite incredible because if you look back at when En Vogue started, the landscape of the music industry was very different. I mean, there was no sort of social media back then. You had to do things really by the grind, didn’t you?

TE: Yes. Right. We were going to radio stations, doing radio interviews. Now we can do what we’re doing with you, you know, via Zoom, out of the country. The accessibility has become really incredible. And it’s really cool for us because it allows us to connect even more with our fans and supporters. So it’s been really, really great.

BV: Are you big users of social media? How have you adapted to that in terms of your own work with the group over the years?

TE: Well, it’s a little challenging for me personally. But for our company, En Vogue Enterprises, we do we have someone who handles our social media, to make sure that we stay in contact and we get involved as well. So it helps when I have a guide. Otherwise, sometimes I don’t even have my phone in my hand, and I’ll just forget. But it’s been very, very good for us.

BV: Outside of social media there’s been so many other changes in the music industry like how muci is recorded, promoted and listened to. How have you adapted to all these other major changes in the industry?

CH: It’s been easy because we have the access of our social media, which puts us in touch with so many people. And you know, it does a lot of the leg work for you. But, also with recording, like, a lot of our last album, which we released in 2018, we didn’t even record it in a studio, honestly. We just went into our producers house and he had his computer set up in one room, and he just had a mic stand with some padding around it, you know, set up in another room. And we literally did the whole album vocally without ever stepping foot in a studio.

And that was, you know, so easy and convenient and economical, if I may say so too. You know? And, so it was it was a lot easier. And, you know, and the landscape of how artists record and sell music changes. That last album we did, you know, we did it on our own record label, and we just did a distribution deal rather than, you know, signed with a label because the the way labels and contracts are designed today because record labels aren’t making big sales on selling music anymore.

They’ve got to figure out another way. Right? And so it involves your touring dollars. As an artist, you have to be willing to, you know, get out there on the road and allow your record company to put their hands in your pocket and take some of your touring dollars.

TE: And all the ancillary products that go along with that.

CH: Yes.

BV: I had this conversation with another artist recently, about artists that sort of push the boundaries these days, and the fact there are so few boundary pushing acts today as there were going back 20, 30 years. Before I even knew that we were going to be doing this interview, En Vogue were one of the the artists that I drew attention to. Again, I draw attention to Free Your Mind, where you’re singing about subjects that were at the time deemed controversial and incredibly important issues. There aren’t that many artists these days that are pushing any boundaries. What are your thoughts on that?

CH: I think that music is marketed in such a way that a lot of music that doesn’t have a lot of depth or substance, for instance, is pushed and marketed at the forefront. And there are artists that are writing music of substance and that has more depth but I think that the powers that be don’t think that that’s very marketable. And so that music sort of falls by the wayside, and artists like that tend to sort of stay a more low profile or underground artist, if you will. Like, they still are performing and have their following of people, but they don’t tend to get as high profile. Like, back in the nineties, you know, there was a lot of music wrote of socially conscious, social awareness, realities and it was received and accepted and record companies felt like it was fine. It was fine to push that genre or that subject matter. You know, Rap, it was social awareness and you know, like, remember sounds of blackness as long as you keep your head to the sky. You know, it was like that sort of uplifting and message.

And somehow those positive messages have sort of taken a back seat and aren’t pushed and marketed, you know, like it was back then. And so now you’ve got a whole new generation of music that sometimes when you listen to it, you’re like, what the heck? What is this about? What is this? It’s just where where the the social consciousness of music is.

And I think that the record companies feel like that’s the better music to push for whatever reason.

BV: Why do you think that there’s such a nostalgia held on to 90s music? Over the last few years we’ve seen quite a resurgence in the era. Personally I think that we are lacking and missing sort of trailblazing artists like yourselves; artists that release albums like EV3, Born to Sing, Funky Divas, you know. What are your thoughts on why the nineties era in music has become so nostalgic and craved for these days?

TE: I think because, partially because of what Cindy just said, music was more, it was the lyrical content. People were writing with more of an awareness, social consciousness back then. And also the musicianship, the craftsmanship of, of being an artist. The artist development of crafting a song, being in the studio, playing real instruments, really singing and the perfection. I think people heard the perfection and the hard work that went into artists from the nineties, and everything that it took to create a record and to create a GOOD record and speaking of something with substance. I think that’s why people hold on to that. And it you know, and music already, it takes you back and evokes a memory of time and space in your life. And, you know, the nineties is when there was just so many amazing artists all at one time.

Like, the bar was set really, really high because we were our era, our genre, our generation, is what I’m trying to say, was coming off the tails of the greatest like the Michael Jacksons, the Diana Rosses, the Marvin Gaye’s, and, you know, the Al Greens and the Earth, Wind and Fires. You know? Our generation was riding that coattail, and so it’s just sorta dropped off after our generation of music after the nineties, and it just started going into a whole different direction that led to, like, what Cindy just said. Like, what are we talking about? What messages are we delivering, and you know, where is this going?

It became mass confusion. And so I think that’s why people gravitate to the nineties, because of all the messages and the craftsmanship, and the artistry.

CH: And I just wanna add to that. You know, the artists that Terry just mentioned built respectable reputations based on putting out really great solid music. And they cared about their images. They cared about learning the content of their music, and we looked up to them because they had built respectable reputations. And so that was our standard too. Right? We felt like we had to, you know, come up to meet that bar. And I think that over the years that, I think I think that respectable aspect of it sort of started to fall off and deteriorate and not matter as much. And so now I think that when people look back to that nineties music, you know, it’s feel good music.

It has a respectability about it, and you just know it was solid and gold and good. You know? And and I think that the younger generation today, when they listen to that music, I think they get a sense of that. There’s a definite contrast between what we’re getting today and from the nineties era.

BV: Maybe I’m biased because I’m an eighties born child, therefore nineties music aficionado, I guess, and I refer to the nineties as the last era in music that had a solid voice. Where it had that solid message. Where boundaries were being broken down. Conversations through music were really being had. Right? From what you are saying I think we are in agreement there?

TE: 100%. 100%. Yes.

BV: En Vogue have so many achievements. You’ve sold over 20 million records and you’ve got so many awards tunder your belts including seven MTV Video Music Awards, three Soul Train Awards, two American Music Awards, and you’ve received seven Grammy nominations. What accomplishment has meant the most to you both?

TE: For me, I always think back to when we got the Sammy Davis Jr Award and I always reference that one because it was all encompassing. Sammy Davis was a multifaceted artist. And, again, the bar was set so high from his generation, and that was what we – his generation of music and artistry is what we, as artists – is what we strive for. Perfection, to be great, to represent our culture, at its finest. And so, he was just a multifaceted musician.

And so when I think about us receiving that award, for me, it felt like we were being acknowledged in that same way. So that’s why I always reference that one, that “oh, wow. We may have accomplished that!”, or at least people are seeing us that same way that I view Sammy Davis Junior. That’s fantastic. Class act.

And then there’s the Smithsonian Museum. That’s like the ultimate. It’s something that we never even dreamed of, never thought was in our trajectory, but we were chosen. Our clothes were curated, chosen and curated to be in the American Smithsonian Museum. And that’s like the Vatican.

BV: Okay. How about you Cindy? What’s your proudest moment?

CH: I was gonna say having our wardrobe on display, in the Smithsonian. There have been so many great moments, so it’s hard for me to pick just one. And so what Terry says, I think the wardrobe, being on display in this Smithsonian Museum. I would say that. It’s pretty cool. For sure. It’s quite an accomplishment.

BV: Two final questions for you. Are there any new plans for music or headlining tours possibly over here in the UK outside of Mighty Hoopla?

CH: At the moment there is nothing beyond Mighty Hoopla right now happening in the UK. But that’s not to say that it won’t happen. You know our manager has many irons in the fire and there’s there’s always you know, it’s just a matter of “is it a show that we can fit in our schedule?” and “can we route it in with everything that we’re doing?” But we would love to spend more time in the UK because it’s such a wonderful place, and the fans are so beautiful to us and so loving to us. And so that would be great. And of course here in the US we’ll be on tour here. We’ll be traveling here.

Is there any plans for any new music? There are plans for new music. We are just looking for the right music, and it’s not that we have not been in the studio. It’s that when we record something, we all have to love it. We all have to feel like it’s the right fit. And so far, we haven’t found that exactly. So we are still searching, and we’re always planning on recording.

BV: Mighty Hoopla is very LGBTQI+ orientated so aimed towards the LGBTQI+ community. With your your back catalogue – again I keep going back to Free Your Mind – fighting against prejudices and having that real powerful message. Mighty Hoopla also follows the same sort of stance, for the LGBTQI+ community. What would the message be that you give to your LGBTQI+ fans ahead of the festival?

CH: Well, first of all we are so grateful that Free Your Mind shines so many years later, you know, it’s bittersweet because the the message of the song, you know, we were singing about injustice. Right?

And, unfortunately, you know, that message is still so relevant. Like, it’s the utmost relevancy of any record I know. And so in that respect, you know, I hate that we’re still dealing with these issues and injustices, but at the same time we’re grateful that people have embraced the song in a way that they love it. It’s become an anthem. The LGBTQI+ community has been so supportive of En Vogue and we’re just grateful that at some point in time in our career as artists we were able to create something that spoke to people, and that made people feel liberated and free.

And so that’s always been our message. Especially given that we’re African Americans. Right? So we understand what that means. And so we’re just grateful that so many people have been carrying the torch, and carrying that free your mind flag, because that’s what it’s about. It’s about freeing your mind and allowing people to be who they are, and whatever they choose, because we’re all humans at the end of the day, period. God created all of us. And so, that’s our message.

BV: That is a perfect message.

Thank you so much Terry and Cindy.

Mighty Hoopla is taking place on June 1st and 2nd 2024 at London’s Brockwell Park. Full lineup below: