Re-Catching the Songwriting Bug: Covering the Classics Hasn’t Hindered Human Nature’s Creative Side
Posted by Andrew C on Friday, April 11th, 2014
For nearly a decade now, Human Nature has found great success putting their own unique spin on some of the greatest songs from the pop and R&B canon. From one project to the next, the band has been able to pay homage to their heroes, while focusing on the element that’s always been the centerpiece of their art—the joy and execution of the performance. Still, for fans who were first drawn to Human Nature’s songwriting and those original, chart-topping hits from the ‘90s, one question has lingered: Will we ever see another Human Nature album of all original material?
“It’s hard to say whether we would record another original album,” says Phil Burton, being equal parts blunt and vague. “It’s completely different from what we’re doing at the moment. Songwriting takes a lot of focus, and with all we have on our plate right now, it’s hard to say if we would have time to knuckle down and create something brand new. I think it would be a great challenge to undertake, though. And what might it sound like? Would it be more adult or would it still have a pop edge? Hard to say, but I wouldn’t expect another ‘He Don’t Love You’ [from the 2000 Human Nature LP]. That type of song has probably had its moment in the sun!”
As Phil suggests, it’s the band’s rigorous schedule that may pose the biggest obstacle in their chances of writing a new record from scratch. Along with the daily demands of the Vegas Motown show, the boys also have growing families to think about, as well as the occasional extended tours of North America, Europe, and Australia. Add in the logistical limitations of studio time, and all of the sudden it can become pretty difficult to get those new songwriting ideas from the gestation stage to the production stage.
“I still write songs myself all the time,” says Andrew Tierney, “but they often only get recorded on my phone [laughs]. My ‘voice memos’ box is full of ideas and choruses. I think the hardest thing about song writing is having the discipline to finish each song. It was fun to write the original song we did on the Christmas album [“Christmas Without You”] and I’m sure as we move through our career we will revisit original material.…I can still remember wanting to write my own songs in high school and just noodling around on the piano. That’s still how I fill up my voice memos these days– noodle and sing.”
Lest it be forgotten, Tierney and his bandmates are proven pros when it comes to writing memorable hooks. Going all the way back to the group’s 1996 debut Telling Everybody, the Tierney brothers, in particular, were co-writers of that record’s title track and its hit singles “Got It Goin’ On,” “Whisper Your Name,” and “Don’t Say Goodbye.” As a hint of things to come, the boys also covered Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” on that album. But overall, the majority of the tracks on Human Nature’s first four albums were original compositions.
As Phil noted, not all of those songs would work quite the same coming from a band of sophisticated 40-somethings as they did from 22 year-old heartthrobs. But the track record is established. Tierney, Tierney, Burton, and Allen built their career not just on their “show,” but on their songs. Which is why the idea—and the hope—of a new original album remains an intriguing possibility.
“I think making the Motown records and performing those songs so much has given us a real appreciation for great songwriting,” says Michael Tierney. “I’ve always been interested in songwriting and always enjoyed writing with my brother, so hopefully we’ll do some more writing soon. It’s hard to say what our next record will be, but I think it will always come from a soulful place.”
And maybe that’s the most important thing in the long run. Sure, original compositions can help reveal something new, exciting, and personal about the artists behind them. But in more cases than not, a cover song can accomplish the exact same thing. As Michael says, when music is coming from “a soulful place,” the origins of the melody or the lyric quickly take a backseat to the quality and passion within the performance itself. It’s why Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” replaced the original Bob Dylan version as the accepted standard, and why Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” managed to work on a completely different emotional level. To put it simply, there is often just as much original thought and creativity involved in a quality cover song as there is in an original composition.
“I love doing the albums we have done recently, including the Christmas songs last year,” Andrew Tierney says. “Interpreting great songs is always a thrill when you land a great version you are proud of. We never take it for granted.”