I'm honored to have had the opportunity to connect withValerie Day and John Smith of the group Nu Shooz! I believe they are perfect for this series. To say they're legendary does begin to speak to the impact they've made in music. For more nearly four decades, they have entertained the world with their authentic brand of soul and R&B and inspired many along the way. Starting in 1979, they've created some of the most timeless music that has crossed multiple genres and built a career that that has practically made them untouchable in the industry. While some may not immediately recognize the level of influence they've had, their history proves otherwise. Their smash single "I Can't Wait" was release 30 years ago, and to this day is still a fan favorite. The song was recently used in seasonal/holiday promotions for Target Stores, which undoubtedly opened the group to a brand new audience. Today's music fans can now see exactly what we loved so much about Nu Shooz when they first introduced us to their music. It was imperative for us to make them a part of our Legendary series. We're greatly honored they agreed. In our feature, they take us on a journey of what was going on for them at the time, and how they managed to inspire so many people with I Can't Wait. We also learn more about the new musical gems they are arranging as we speak. We're proud to present to you our latest legends: Nu Shooz!
Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you two. I can say that I’ve followed you both for much of my life. I was nine years old when I Can’t Wait was released, so it was something that stood out for me in my childhood. My entire family is musically driven, and there's a few who have gone professional in music and entertainment, so music has always been our thing. I can remember being excited at the overall spirit and energy that the song provided. What made me really go ahead and reach out was the Target commercial. My son has been bitten by music at an early age, and he immediately took to the commercial. Initially, he would dance whenever it came on, but then I later realized that he downloaded your song through Apple Music to his phone. Surely, it made me remember how the song resonated with me, and I wanted to connect to talk with you about that type of impact you’ve made not just in music, but urban culture. It’s amazing that it’s been 30 years and the commercial has opened you up to an entirely new audience now.
Valerie: Yes, it’s true. How old is your son?
UG Digital: He’s nine…
Valerie: Nine, what a great age.
UG Digital: yes, and it's ironic that he’s nine and just hearing it, and I was nine when I was first introduced.
Valerie: That’s awesome.
UG Digital: It’s definitely something he loves. When you think back to that period, did you have an idea that it would not only be big at that time, but become iconic in the sense that 30 years later, it would resurface?
John: Absolutely not. You know, you can never know if a song will be a hit or not. It’s not just a good song, but does the song hit the singer? When you release it, is there an opening in the business? The business was very different then. There was federal grand jury investigation into Payola around the time that "I Can’t Wait" came out. All the payola money, all the mafia money was locked up, and it suspended the underground radio promotions. The independent promotion business was shut down for six weeks. We got through, but you just never know. I do know that out of the songs we recorded that fall, that was the best one. That one sounded the most like a record.
UG Digital: I think it touched so many people, and one of the biggest things here with Legendary is we like to reach out to people who have been inspirational in their careers, and here, I look at the fact that you crossed many genres. It touched people even in urban culture and hip-hop. Many people sampled this song, including Vanessa Williams, and Naughty by Nature; who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. You also have Doug E. Fresh, and Brian McKnight. A lot of people have taken from your creativity which is great. What was your thought and vision when you were putting it together.
John: There were a bunch of guys in the band writing new wave stuff, and I just wanted to write the funkiest thing I could (laughing). We started as a soul band, doing a lot of tower of power and Earth, Wind & Fire and stuff. Then, gradually there was this mission drift as they call it. Everyone in the band was writing, and it was like that blue-haired, new wave stuff. "I Can’t Wait" was an attempt to take the band back in the direction I wanted it to go, and it worked.
Valerie: At that time, we were playing 3-5 nights a week, and the nights we weren’t playing, we were rehearsing and trying to get new material into the band. John was writing like crazy, and trying to get new material in every week so we wouldn’t have to play the same tired stuff every week. We play 4 hours a night in most days. There were no openers in the clubs we played.
UG Digital: But that speaks volumes as to just how powerful and influential you were.
John: It was a great music scene here in the early eighties. Within ten blocks of each other, there were all these clubs, and some would book you in for every Wednesday. There were clubs you could put your gear in and stay for four or five nights. It was a great time. There’s nothing like that now, as far as I can tell. It was an amazing scene. Seattle got all the press later in the nineties with the grunge era, but Portland was an amazing hidden gem.
UG Digital: In terms of the music scene, I know so much has changed in the last thirty years, and not much is the same. What are your thoughts on the shifts of the industry, and who do you feel about being out there today?
Valerie: There’s positives and negatives to everything in life, right? The positive thing about this particular time period is we are hearing from people we never would have heard from back in the old days. They had to write a letter to us to communicate. We got all this fan mail back in the eighties and tried to reply to every single letter. Now, you can interact with people via social media, and that is a wonderful thing. You can develop a relationship with your audience that was not possible before. It’s fabulous. It comes in handy when you’re making a new record, like we are right now. We’re making a new record called Bagtown, and when we put pieces out there in the world and get positive feedback, it really spurs the song. We would make it anyway, even if no one cared or listened, because sometimes you just have to do things as an artist, but getting the instant feedback that they love it and want more, that helps a lot.
UG Digital: So how did the Target commercial come about?
Valerie: You know, I don’t know how Target came across the song or who pitched it to them, but we got a call from the publishing company we work with for our catalog, and they said Target was interested. We said sure, and when they put it with Icona Pop recording it, and with Questlove producing, we knew it was a home run. We loved that they did such a good job with it, and It just looked amazing.
UG Digital: I thought it was amazing. I enjoyed the fact that they had multiple spots, so one was maybe 20-30 seconds, and then they also had one that was perhaps a minute or more. I think it was good because it opened you up to a broader audience. There’s kids listening, and much like my son, they love the energy.
Valerie: All these years later, I am so grateful that the song that hit it out of the ballpark was one that was fun, and positive to sing. What if your biggest hit is one that is a downer (laughing). You'd have to be down every time you sing it. I’m grateful that the song that hit it out of the ballpark is one that I love to sing.
UG Digital: When I think of you two in terms of artistry, I think legendary, which is why I reached out. When you think of that term, what does it mean to you, and what does it mean to even be considered that?
Valerie: First of all, if you saw what we looked like in the morning, you’s think we were so not legendary.
John: Legendary bed heads (laughing)
Valerie: I think it’s amazing that somehow the music has lasted this long that people think of us in that way. It’s hard for us to think of ourselves in that way because we’ve been hanging out on the planet for this long and are grateful for the opportunity. What do you think John?
John: I think that Nu Shooz is a thing, and it is because we recognized early on that we were unique in our sound. We had a sound, and the sound came from basically knowing that we were incapable of sounding like anything but us, and we got behind it. I think there is definitely a kind of Nu Shooz approach to music. I’m glad that this has lasted over time.
UG Digital: I believe that it was your authenticity, and that resonates with people. Authenticity allows you to last. It stands out with audiences and music fans. I really wanted people to know how much you’ve inspired urban culture. When I first mentioned to someone that I would be connecting with you, they initially wondered why because it wasn’t traditional hip-hop or R&B, but I said to them that learning your history, they would understand. You kept me motivated and happy, even through music, at such a young age. It’s wonderful being able to sit with you and get a sense of what was going on at that point of your careers. That commercial gives people the opportunity to know you in this time frame. It also helps that you’re still working on new music.
Valerie: That’s the other thing I believe is great about this time period. If I were a young musician now, oh my god. There are so many ways that you can research the people you believe are legends. All the video, and audio available. When we were working in the eighties, the only music we could find was on one radio show in Portland every Friday night on this little radio station…
John: …at 2 in the morning…
Valerie: They would play the latest funk and soul music. We would comb every song for inspiration. John would sometimes go to LA where he was from…he’s from Cleveland originally…
John: My mom was there
Valerie: He would visit his mom, and tape the radio station down there. The internet just was not happening yet (laughing). I think for people today, they don’t realize the amazing amount of music they have at their disposal. I taught voice for twenty years, and one of the things I always told my students was you learn from other people. That’s how we even learn to speak another language. We copy, and imitate. Then you let it go through who you are so that it becomes your authentic voice. Be yourself is basically what the message was, and it worked.
UG Digital: If there was one thing you could say to your fans, new and old, what would it be?
Valerie: Thank you! Thank you for keeping the music alive so we could get to this period, and even make new music. Without the people listening, we would not be anywhere.