Where Ya Been? Marvelous 3 Now Down To One, SWV End 10 Years Of Resting Their Voices

Former Marvelous 3 leader Butch Walker is a production guru; SWV are ready for their comeback.

We couldn’t get enough of them. Their songs were our soundtrack, and we laughed, danced, cried and loved along with them. They flashed across our radio and TV burning brightly — but where have they been lately? As you’ll find out in our new regular feature, Where Ya Been?, sometimes the stories behind your favorite songs are more interesting than the hits themselves.

Who: Marvelous 3

Biggest hit: “Freak of the Week” (1998)

Claim to fame: Former leader Butch Walker has turned into one of the hottest producers/songwriters (Avril Lavigne, Lindsay Lohan, Pink, the Donnas, American Hi-Fi) this side of Linda Perry.

Why do I know that name?: When a 15-year-old Walker got his first band together in 1985 while camping out in line for Mötley Crüe tickets in Rome, Georgia, he had no idea where it would take him. Three years later, he moved to Los Angeles to take a stab at a music career with the only other guys from his hometown who “listened to punk rock, heavy metal and new wave, wore eyeliner and weren’t farmers or football players.” All six crashed on the same floor in an un-air-conditioned apartment and spent their nights flyering up and down the Sunset Strip. They were signed by Virgin Records within eight months (after a bidding war), and guitarist Walker was sure SouthGang were going to be huge.

Well, they were, sparking riots in China, but they couldn’t get arrested in the U.S. and broke up, giving Walker his first chance to be the lead singer, in his new group, Marvelous 3. “I ended up being the singer by default,” he said. “But I’d always written songs, so it worked and we decided to ditch all the pampered things we had before and do it all ourselves.” The band bought a van, made its own merch (printing up cassettes instead of CDs) and toured 250 days a year, building up a solid fanbase.

Hard work never killed anyone: While the rest of the world was wallowing in the second wave of grunge bands, Walker and the Marvelous 3 were reveling in glammy pop-metal. “We were so tired of one syllable, Jesus-Christ-pose-striking bands looking ridiculous,” Walker said. “We grew up on glam and hard rock and flamboyance and showmanship, so we didn’t care about bands that wanted to look like roadies.” Inspired by the Knack and the Ramones, Marvelous 3 rocked skinny ties, tightly pegged jeans, black blazers and eyeliner in 1996, when Creed ruled the charts. They released their indie debut, Math and Other Problems, in 1997, leading to a major-label deal with Elektra and a re-released version of 1998’s Hey! Album, which spawned the poptastic hit “Freak of the Week.” “Turns out bands who are big now say they saw us and loved our show,” Walker said. “We were 15 years too late and five years too early, but we stuck to it and had a big hit with ’Freak,’ which was a nice comeback to all those label guys who called us
f—-ts and said we’d never get signed. Because suddenly they were offering us blank checks.”

Even a hit is no guarantee: With nü-metal bands like Limp Bizkit ruling the airwaves in 1998, people just didn’t get the Marvelous 3, though. “I remember going in to do a radio interview with my eyeliner and tight jeans on, and the DJ had his Static-X tattoo and long hair and weird beard, [and I was] thinking, ’This guy hates my guts, but his girlfriend probably likes me,’ ” Walker laughed. “The only people who bought our records were guys in bands. We didn’t want to be ass-kissers. We were rebels and we pissed a lot of people off, and I’m glad.” Feeling like even its label didn’t understand them, the group was desperate to get out of the rat race. The result was one more record for Elektra called ReadySexGo, which Walker admits the trio — which included bassist Jayce Fincher and drummer Doug “Slug” Mitchell — intentionally sabotaged by making an arena-rock album they knew the label wouldn’t support.

Falling up: Even though Elektra didn’t want to promote Ready, the band again toured furiously, further building up its live fanbase, according to Walker, who continues to benefit from that groundwork. While Fincher now plays in local bands in Atlanta and Mitchell teaches drum lessons, Walker, 36, has released two well-received solo albums, Left of Self-Centered and Letters, and has emerged as the go-to producer for bands looking for a punchy rock sound (Hot Hot Heat, All-American Rejects, Bowling for Soup). He’s also prepping the release of his third solo album in mid-July, The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites!

The moral: “To this day I do it all by myself,” said Walker. “I built this empire and I’m going to keep it.”

 

Who: SWV

Biggest hit: “Weak” (1992)

Claim to fame: One of the most widely known new-jill-swing groups of the 1990s hit paydirt twice with its first single. “Right Here” was re-released as a remix called “Right Here/ Human Nature” with a sample of the Michael Jackson song, and went to #2 on the pop charts.

Why do I know that name?: SWV (which stands for Sisters With Voices) were huge in the early and mid-’90s — think Destiny’s Child with big hoop earrings and perfectly blended voices. But after a five-year run of hit singles and sold-out shows, the group disappeared into a now decade-plus hibernation. Why? Well, like DC, you can chalk up the deep freeze to a solo project. “Coko wanted to do her solo thing, so we decided to take a break,” explained group member Tamara “Taj” Johnson, who, along with Cheryl “Coko” Gamble and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons, made up the group. “We never thought it would be this long, though.” The three singers were school friends whose demo tape caught the ear of the king of the hip-hop/R&B hybrid new-jack-swing sound, Teddy Riley. The former leader of Guy liked the tape so much, he produced their triple-platinum 1992 debut, It’s About Time, which spun off the first hit single, “Right Here,” followed by the #2 smash “I’m So Into You,” the #1 pop and R&B single “Weak” and the hit remix of “Right Here.”

Top of the world, ma: “We were living it,” said Johnson of the group’s 1992 to ’94 heyday, which also featured the final Time hit “Always on My Mind” and a 1994 success with “Anything” from the “Above the Rim” soundtrack. The group quickly capitalized on its heat by releasing a remix album, inventively titled The Remixes, in spring 1994. SWV followed it up with a second studio album, 1996’s New Beginning, which featured the hit “You’re the One,” and a third album, Release Some Tension, in 1997. But after five years in the limelight, the group shocked fans by going on indefinite hiatus. A greatest-hits album came out in 1997 and a Christmas record followed in 1999, but since then? Nothing.

Solo, so long: Though they never officially announced a breakup, Coko went solo in 1999 with Hot Coko, and that was the last news about the group. Johnson said all three got busy starting families (each has two children) and working on their own projects. For Coko, it was recording a solo inspirational/gospel album due in September on Artemis Gospel and a line of candles called Oh So Jazzy, and for Johnson it was writing a playful book titled “Player HateHer” with a friend, speaking tours on the subject of battered women and a possible reality show with her husband, former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George.

Second time around: After taking a decade off, Johnson said the group’s members — who live in three different cities but have always kept in touch — began dipping their toes back in the water with some live dates last year. Now they’re gearing up for a full-fledged comeback in 2007. “It’s been so great to play these shows and see how a whole new generation reacts,” she said. “Radio has kept playing [SWV songs], and they must have heard them from their parents. They are loving it!” The women have been playing a series of shows with fellow new-jack stars like En Vogue, Guy, Blackstreet and Tony Toni Toné, and Johnson said they are sifting through songs for their first album in a decade. Though they don’t have a record deal yet, they hope to release the new album next year, along with a live DVD, some soundtrack songs and, yes, a possible reality show about their comeback.

The moral: “Oh, if we had it to do over again we’d do everything differently,” said Johnson, as the sound of her son splashing around in the pool behind her echoed through the phone. “Different manager, different … everything. We know a lot more now than we did then.”

 

Ever wonder what happened to Crazy Town? How about Snow? Ace of Base? Tell us which faded stars you’d like us to check up on, and you just might find them in a future edition of “Where Ya Been?” Send us your suggestions and we’ll get digging…

I'm so fancy.