In the early ’90s, R&B group Portrait held it down with the likes of Shai, Silk, SWV and Jodeci with their hit singles “Here We Go Again” and “Honey Dip,” as well as their soulful cover of the top Bee Gees hit “How Deep Is Your Love.” Now they are back, better than ever, with a new single for the lover in all of us, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Founding members Phillip Johnson and Michael Angelo Saulsberry recently sat down with The Root to talk about the change in the musical landscape, their comeback and how they put together their classic sound.
Tell us about this new single.
Philip Johnson: The new single is called “In the Moment,” and it is a midtempo ballad love song for Valentine’s Day. I got the inspiration for it one day as I was driving down Sunset Boulevard [in Los Angeles] in my old-school car, just feeling the breeze and enjoying the scenery. Because I write from my imagination and not from personal experience, the song is based on a scenario I imagined in that moment.
Michael Angelo Saulsberry: The track was created in the same way all of our albums were created. I do all the music—
PJ: … and then me and Mike argue over the arrangement.
How does this new song compare with your older music?
MAS: Most people know us for our up-tempo songs, but they love our ballads. We’ve actually done ballads better.
PJ: Everyone is saying the same thing about the new music. “You guys are making something that’s missing from music. It’s a ’70s/’80s type of sound.”
So it’s maybe a little different than the type of new jack swing music you were tied to previously?
PJ: You know, that’s actually a big misconception. We weren’t really a part of that new jack era, and we never did music with Teddy Riley. Portrait came out in 1993. We had tried some new jack stuff before, but ultimately our music was different. We were one of the first groups to do two loops at a time.
MAS: We were different.
PJ: We toured with Shai, SWV and Silk. We all came out around the same time.
When you say you were different—different how?
PJ: We knew we were ahead musically when we were young. We were writing ballads and standards when we were 17 years old. We knew that people would be able to listen to it and feel it.
So with the new music you are creating now, what is your motivation, and how does it mesh with the way the music landscape looks now?
PJ: We’re doing it for the love and the art of music. We are not competing with anyone, and we’re not trying to make a statement. This is for the art. This is a song. This is not mumble rap, it’s not neo-soul. It’s straight R&B.
MAS: We want it to have that familiar thing.
PJ: The kids now—not the millennials, but the kids after them—they are really eclectic with their music. Those kids really love good music. I play our music in different settings and don’t say who it is, and kids dig it. Now what needs to happen is, more good music needs more exposure. Mike and I are fighting for people to hear good music.
MAS: It’s not that it’s not out there; it’s just that we don’t get to hear it.
Well, Bruno Mars makes music with that nostalgic sound, right?
MAS: Bruno is good at what he does, but it’s funny how Bruno wins nine Grammys for doing what he does, but the people who actually did that kind of music didn’t win any Grammys.
So where do you fit in with music currently?
MAS: We want to make sure it’s understood; we aren’t trying to compete with anyone. We just want to show the art of the music.
Can we expect to see all the original members of the group returning?
PJ: We have a new lineup that consists of me and Mike—we are the sound of the group. I am the original lead singer. There is one other new member, Ruben “R.C.” Monge. He was the former lead singer of the group Po’ Broke & Lonely. We’ve worked with him before.
Our former members, Eric Kirkland and Irving Washington III, were asked on several occasions if they wanted to join us in bringing the group back, but both declined because of prior commitments they had. Mike and I decided to go ahead and move forward with the project and put new music out. We love Eric and Irving and wish them nothing but success in their lives.
So what can we look forward to after this new single?
PJ: We are on social media. It’s a social media era. The preorder is on Feb. 16, and the single comes out on Feb. 18. It will be $1.29. All proceeds from the sales of the single will go towards funding the album project. We are putting the money back into the project we are doing, which is on our independent label—Aquila Entertainment.
There will be singles, videos and live performances. Content will start going up this week, and we will let everyone know on Instagram when we finalize the dates for live performances.
We are going to put three singles out over the next three months, and the album will be out in midsummer. The album is called Beach Music.
Be on the lookout for more good stuff coming from Portrait in the next few months, and in the meantime, check out the new single below and let us know what you think.