“…a cappella is when you sing without instruments…vocal play is when you become the instruments.” – Roger Thomas
Literally thirty minutes before they mesmerised the audience at a sold out London show, and a day after their jaw – dropping performance at the Stables, Milton Keynes on their ‘Wall Of Sound Tour’, UK Vibe caught up with the naturally gifted Naturally 7 back stage at the Barbican. The Dood began by addressing his first question to Musical Director and Arranger Roger Thomas.
The Dood: When did you all link up initially and how did the name Naturally 7 come about?
Roger: We’re almost ten years old in reference to starting the Naturally 7 group. Some of us had been singing just before then in another outfit called ‘Last Appeal’ at the time. We started in church and decided that in the previous group we were messing with instrumentation – with this one (group) we said ok, this one is going to be strictly a ccapella.
We called it ‘Seven’, not Naturally 7, just ‘Seven’. We basically got together based on what we knew about each other, a friend of a friend. No real auditions, nobody had to jump through any hoops…we already knew each other pretty well.
Then in about 2000, when Jamal (Reed) joined us, is when we changed the name to Naturally 7, because we found that there was already a band out of Louisiana called ‘Seven’ – with three people! So they had the copyright on that name, so we changed it to Naturally 7 and we’ve been going strong since then.
The Dood: Basically, your style can be described as a fusion or cross-section of R’n’B; Jazz; Do-Wop; Motown; Country; Pop infused with Gospel, which is the glue that keeps it all together. My question to you Warren is, God gives you a gift, would you agree that you’re giving that gift back to God via the message in your music?
Warren Thomas: This is a great vehicle for getting our message our there, because everybody loves vocals, everybody loves harmonies. And it’s just been a blessing that we’ve been able to take this vehicle all over. Especially in this day and age, good messages you don’t hear that much in music anymore, it’s almost a thing of the past.
People would come up to us after the show and say, ‘you know what, you guys had a message and I really enjoyed myself tonight!’ So we’ve been really blessed in that way.
The Dood: What I noticed from your show last night in Milton Keynes is that there’s an energy which infiltrates any arena in which you perform. It’s like members of the audience were catching the spiritual vibe and doing the ‘Electric Boogaloo’ and passing it on.
Warren Thomas: Good vibes! Good vibes!
Rod Eldridge: Electric Boogaloo – I like that! Ha! Ha!
The Dood: How did you build your public awareness?
Rod Eldridge: Actually, initially the very first performance we did was in church and then when we started working professionally, we started doing College Campus’. That’s where we got our legs and learnt how to entertain.
We would go to College Campus’, where kids would come out to see an a cappella group and didn’t know whom the acappella group was and maybe really didn’t care. We had to think, ‘How can we quickly entertain them before they decide to go of to study hall, or go to a party?’
So we had to learn really how to entertain and put together a show… So we were doing sometimes two hundred dates plus a year! Running around doing Colleges, packed into a fifteen passenger Ford van.
The Dood: Just like the old Motown and Jazz artist – On the road – Keeping the tradition alive!
Rod Eldridge: Exactly!
The Dood: I’m going to broach the Take 6 comparison head on. From my view point, it seems you guys have transitioned their style and taken it to the next level with your ‘Vocal Play?’
Dwight Stewart: We pretty much see it the same way you see it. Growing up as kid you see Take 6 on stage, you buy their CD and you realise these guys are truly talented. And as an aspiring musician at that time it was like, ‘Man, one day I’ll be on stage doing that too!’ They were definitely a group that I can say inspired all of us. I think that’s a unanimous thing across the board.
Yes, there are six or seven of us on stage, obviously we’re black and comparisons will come. We’re doing harmonies, and so we decided later on that we’re gonna have to add some other elements on top of these nice, beautiful arrangements. Other than harmonies, add some vocal instruments.
The Dood: It was a conscious thought?
Dwight Stewart: Yes! I would definitely say that, I would definitely say it was a conscious thought.
Roger Thomas: Find your own place in the Sun. Find your own thing… You can’t have everyone saying, ‘Oh, they’re like Take 6!’ We had our time like that, actually a little bit prior to our incarnation as Naturally 7. We had already made a decision by the time we called ourselves Naturally 7 that we need to look for different sound, some different chords.
We weren’t sure where we could take the voice. But the similarity between us and Take 6….is that we are both coming from the church, we’re both coming from a Gospel background. They are majoring in Jazz, while we have a much stronger Urban/Hip-Hop background and our understanding of that. We wouldn’t say, ‘Hey Take 6, we’ll do what you do and vice-versa. We’ve even had those conversations with them.
The Dood: In 2008 your profile was heightened when you appeared on US chat shows hosted by Tavis Smiley and Ellen and then opened for Jay Leno in Las Vegas?
Rod Eldridge: They kind of all stemmed from an internet presence. First, starting off with the Paris Metro video, which got a lot of hits. Then after that we decided that in order for people to understand that everything we did was coming from our voices, we made the ‘Wall Of Sound’ video clip.
We made it for the Internet…where you can see how the song is built only with voices. And that’s when Ellen (chat show) picked it up. She saw that and thought, ‘Wow! If they can do that, put’em on the show.’ Then after that, more and more things started falling in line. Generally all starting from an Internet presence.
Roger Thomas: Also being on tour with Michael Bublé we performed before half a million people in the US alone.
The Dood: So now you’re promoting you’re fifth album, ‘Wall of Sound’. How long does this tour last, where do you go to after the UK?
Roger Thomas: After the UK, we’re off to France, then back to the US for Colorado. Then back out – we do some stints in China through Asia, Switzerland for the Montreux Jazz Festival and back to the studio.
The Dood: Any final thoughts?
Warren Thomas: Well what we’re trying to do is make Naturally 7 a household name and take this message all around the world…All we need is a foot in the door, as far as into people’s lives and people’s hearts and for people to hear positive music again.
That’s really what it’s all about, and bringing good music and vocal music back to the forefront, because it’s been pushed aside for so long. There are so many non singers out there that people think that talent has died. So we’re just trying to show that there’s still talent, you can still be positive, still be cool…We’re just letting people know that positive music is coming back, it’s on the rise.
Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards
Big Thanks to Sorcha Hunter @ SERIOUS
Naturally 7 are:
Roger Thomas (musical director, arranger, 1st baritone, Rap)
Warren Thomas (percussion, guitar, clarinet, 3rd tenor)
Rod Eldridge (1st tenor, scratching, trumpet)
Jamal Reed (4th tenor, electric guitar)
Dwight Stewart (2nd baritone)
Garfield Buckley (2nd tenor, harmonica)
Armand ‘Hops’ Hutton (bass)
SUNDAY 15TH NOVEMBER 2009
THEATRE ROYAL STRATFORD EAST
GERRY RFFLES SQUARE
2009 – Wall Of Sound
2006 – Ready II Fly
2004 – Christmas…It’s A Love Story
2003 – What Is It?
2000 – Non – Fiction
Essential website: www.naturallyseven.com
Essential Myspace: www.myspace.com/naturally7
Essential You Tube: www.youtube.com/naturally 7