For Night & Day, keeping it real means making sure their songs reflect their upbringing in economically depressed Flint, Mich.
"That affects the way you approach things musically, as far as seeing things in a bad light sometimes," the R&B duo's Tony Martinez said from their Flint studio. "Growing up in Flint was hard."
Martinez, 25, and Gasner "Gaz" Hughes, 26, take a streetwise, gloves-off approach to romance on their self-titled debut album, released March 7. The album includes "Dante's Girl" (RealAudio excerpt), which first appeared on the soundtrack to the 1999 movie "The Wood." The song tells the story of a man caught between temptation and loyalty when the girlfriend of his jailed best friend comes on to him.
That's just one of the songs on the album with roots in Martinez's and Gasner's experiences. "That was a real situation that happened," Martinez said. "Some of the guys I hung out with are getting out of jail right now, so I'm watching my back. They might think their girl was the one."
Hughes and Martinez met in 1993 and began performing at talent shows around Flint. Martinez's sister came up with the name Night & Day when she first saw her brother next to Hughes, whose skin is darker. But the name has come to mean more than that, Hughes said.
"We've got our own flavors, vocally and productionwise," he said. "But when we come together it's complete, like night and day."
Hughes points to R. Kelly and Jodeci as the duo's biggest influences, along with Motown hits from nearby Detroit. "I think there's an overflow of talent into Flint because of Motown," Hughes said. "There's more talent to be tapped into, too, and we're going to try to do that."
Before recording their own album, the two worked as songwriters, singers and producers for other artists. They sang background vocals on Keith Sweat's "Rumors," from Sweat's 1998 album, Still in the Game, and produced singles for Imajin and Marc Dorsey.
Attention To Detail
Hughes and Martinez did all the pre-production of Night & Day in their own studio, then put the finishing touches on it at Battery Studios in New York. While much of the album is romantic ballad fare, Night & Day say they make sure the songs include specific details.
An example is "What the Deal Be (Baby's Daddy)" (RealAudio excerpt), in which the singer finds out his girlfriend is running around on him, and not just with anyone: "I saw you ridin'/ On the north side/ With your baby's daddy."
Such attention to detail gives the songs more emotional impact, Martinez said.
"We don't want to get too abstract," he said. "We like to keep things as down-to-earth as possible, so that the average Joe can kind of get it."
"What the Deal Be (Baby's Daddy)" will be the album's first single, according to Jeffery Ruffin, the duo's manager. Martinez and Hughes shot a video in Los Angeles for the song.
Other songs on Night & Day include the club cut "Sex Me the Way You Dance" (RealAudio excerpt), featuring rapper Too $hort, and the romantic ballad "Girl, Wear This Ring," which Ruffin said will likely be the second single.
A minor-key guitar riff drives "Game Recognize Game," another tune Hughes said comes straight out of their experiences. "It's a street term basically saying, 'I got game, so you can't run game on me,' " he said.
The duo have no firm tour plans at this time and say they're concentrating on promoting the new album. They played a Valentine's Day show in Flint with the Atlanta vocal group Silk, best known for their 1993 hit "Freak Me."
Martinez said a project with the Backstreet Boys, who are on the same label, Jive, might be in the works. He said the two acts were supposed to work together on the Backstreet Boys' 1999 Millennium album but couldn't work out the scheduling.
"We wouldn't mind collaborating with other producers," Hughes added. "We'd love to work with Teddy Riley or R. Kelly, people we appreciate."