If you’re one of the thousands of lucky fans that are headed to New Orleans for next week’s annual Essence Festival, not only are you lucky to be there but get ready to jam to the latest from SWV, one of the R&B music’s most popular chick groups from the 1990’s. SWV (Sisters With Voices), members, Tamara “Taj” George, Leanne “Lelee” Lyons) and Cheryl “CoCo” Clemons, became victims of their own success. Like so many other successful groups before them, the ladies disbanded after a pretty nasty breakup. Altogether the group released six albums. After their 1998 Christmas album, SWV disbanded. Two compilation albums were released after the disbanding: Greatest Hits (1999) and The Best of SWV (2001).
But that was then, and this is now. The new Jill swing ladies of SWV are back together again and stronger than ever. This past April released a brand new CD, I Missed Us that features the talents of new jack swing master music producer Teddy Riley and other talented producers. This marks the group’s first studio album since their disbandment in 1997. “It felt really good to be recording with my sisters again,” reveals group member Lelee Clemons in a recent interview. “And the title of the album, ‘I Missed Us’ says it all. We missed the fans, but we also really missed each other.” Lyons said, “We wanted to bring love back. We wanted to take people through the process of love.”
With their 1992 RCA debut, It’s About Time, the all-female trio SWV scored a string of top ten R&B hits such as “I’m so into You”, “Right Here”, “Downtown”, “Weak”, and “You’re Always on my Mind”. This established the trio as a commercial force early in 1993. Teddy Riley helped the group craft their sound further with the remix to the hit “Right Here” that featured samples of Michael Jackson’s hit, “Human Nature”, which also went #1 on the R&B charts and #2 on the POP charts. SWV gained enormous attention with their auspicious debut. Among their list of honors were 11 Billboard Music Award nominations, and nominations for a Grammy, American Music Awards and The Source Award in 1993.
Additionally, they won a Children’s Choice Award and a BET “Best of Video Soul” Award. SWV’s “Anything” contribution to the sound track for the movie Above the Rim became a top R&B hit in the spring of 1994. The entire soundtrack released a number of top 10 smash hits, resulting in the multi-platinum status of the soundtrack’s debut. In the spring of 1994, SWV released the remix version of “Anything”, which went gold.
In 1996, SWV returned with another platinum album, New Beginning, which was preceded by the number one hit “You’re the One” and The Neptune’s hit “Use your Heart”. The following year, SWV released their third album Release Some Tension, which spawned several top ten hits, such as “Someone” with Sean Puffy Combs, who produced the track and who was a featured artist on “Lose My Cool”, a rhythmic duet between SWV and rap artist Redman; “Rain” a trademark torch ballad written and produced by the first album collaborator, Brian Alexander Morgan; and “Can We” featuring Missy Elliot and produced by Timberland, which was also featured on the Booty Call soundtrack.
SWV member, and Nashville resident Taj George, recently sat down with the Tribune to chat about the group’s comeback and other details about the “making of the comeback.”
TRIBUNE: You ladies are part of the performance lineup for the 2012 Essence Festival next week. I know you’re all excited.
TAJ: “OMG! We are just so excited—almost speechless. This will be our first time performing at the Essence Festival. We’ve always dreamed about performing on the stages of these festivals with such great names as Charlie Wilson, Patti Labelle and so many others. But for some reason we were never included, that is up until now. I guess people can say SWV is like Essence Festival virgins or something. (LOL)
TRIBUNE: I know that when I spoke to you last year you mentioned that SWV would have some new projects for this year. Can you give me some details?
TAJ: “One of the projects that we’re working on is a possible reality TV show. We’re about to shoot a pilot or sizzle reel for that, in hopes that it will be picked up by one of the networks. We really want this show to be special and not just som cookie cutter show like so many others out there.”
TRIBUNE: In addition to the Essence Festival are you ladies doing any other tour dates?
TAJ: “Yes, we’ve been touring with the Fresh Music Festival with Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh, Kci & JoJo and Guy. We’re all having so much fun on this tour. Over the years we’ve done some spot dates but this tour is really our first official full tour in 15 years.”
TRIBUNE: I know that you of course live here in Nashville with your family but where do the other members of SWV now live?
TAJ: “Lelee (Leanne Lyons) lives in Atlanta and CoCo (Cheryl Clemons) lives in Virginia Beach, VA. We’re not too far apart, so whenever we need to get together for rehearsals or something, we just meet up in Atlanta because it’s a halfway mark for all three of us.”
TRIBUNE: So did SWV officially disband as a group or did life just get in the way, like starting getting married, babies, etc?
TAJ: “No, we actually disbanded totally. In fact, we kind of disliked each other for a while! We were just young and dumb, so to speak back then. We had no real direction, nor any guidance. We allowed our emotions get the best of us, so when we parted ways we really did break up. But after a while we grew up and matured.”
TRIBUNE: So who made the first move on getting SWV back together?
TAJ: “Actually, it was Teddy Riley. It all started when Teddy reached out to see if he could get us to perform with him on one of the Tom Joyner Cruise events. But in order to do that he had to first reach out to me and CoCo. So that caused us all to start talking again. And from that point it was a lot of comments like, ‘Girl, you hurt me..I hurt you and I’m sorry I said that.” (LOL)
TRIBUNE: What is it like to see your fans that now have children coming to your shows?
TAJ: “It’s a really special and incredible feeling. I’ve had fans come to our new shows and bring items that we autographed 20 years ago with them. It amazes me that they still have these things!”
TRIBUNE: What is it like when your kids watch those early videos of SWV before they were even born?
TAJ: “My son saw one of our early videos and his reply was, ‘Mom is that you? You were so skinny back then!’ My son is so uninterested in what I do. He’s more wrapped up into football and what his dad does.”
TRIBUNE: So what is it like for dad (husband Eddie George) to see his beautiful wife back out on the road and the stage again?
Eddie and Taj George
TAJ: “He was my fan first! And he still is my biggest fan. Eddie will be with me at the Essence Festival but I don’t think the kids will be with us. But they can always see it on video.”
TRIBUNE : Was there any special preparation done for the new tour SWV is now on?
TAJ: “We did do any special diets or anything. We had already started doing our running/fitness routines long before the tour started. For about a month each of us would call the other one to keep ourselves accountable on the running program. But unfortunately, that only lasted for about four weeks. Lelee dropped out first but CoCo and I are still into our running routines.”
TRIBUNE: Tell me about your new CD “I Missed Us”.
TAJ: “The CD was released in April and in my opinion, this is the best SWV album we’ve ever done. I became an SWV fan all over again after I heard this project. It was put together so well. The music is classic. We’re not trying to be too young or sound dated. Our sound is mature but still hip for today’s audience. Everything is just right.”
To keep up with the travels, music and news about the ladies of SWV visit their website at: www.therealswv.com