Best known for the iconic squeaky synths of their 1986 hit "I Can't Wait," the husband-and-wife team behind Nu Shooz took a couple of decades off following their success in the '80s. But since 2010, John Smith and Valerie Day have been back in action and Saturday, May 21 marks the release of their seventh studio record, BagTown, with a celebration at the Star Theater.
And while their first bonafide hit is an indelible track that can be heard everywhere from Blazer games to Target commercials (The Roots' Questlove recently tapped Swedish stars Icona Pop for his take on the Portland-grown hit), Nu Shooz have another funky, danceable jam in the form of "Real Thing"—"a homage to Philly soul producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff," the duo explain. "Together they crafted some of the best anthems of the '70s like 'Love Train' and 'For the Love of Money' for The O'Jays. There's also a nod to the Norman Whitfield masterpiece 'Papa Was a Rollin' Stone.' Some people find their passion early in life; for others it takes a lifetime. Never give up. Never give in, and you will find the 'Real Thing.'
Is there a reason and a purpose for everything? Maybe; maybe not. And maybe the reason's just not clear at the time. Ten years ago, I started scotch taping pictures into old phone books. The original idea was to create an image file for drawings, otherwise known as an art morgue. This turned into a sort of mega collage, while its original function was completely obliterated by Google Images.
Fast forward to the present. The Nu Shooz band had come back to life, rising from the swamp like the creature from the Black Lagoon. The creature wanted content, and it wanted it now. Valerie got busy making a series of short films about life in Nu Shooz-land: in airports, in rehearsals, in the studio during the making of BagTown.
Now she wanted to make a "lyric" video for our first single: "Real Thing." Our dining room table was soon cluttered with scissors, paste and magazines as she started cutting out letters and pasting them together to form the words from the song. But she needed a background. The phone book collage! It would be the perfect backdrop for this frenzy of fonts. Two days later, after hundreds of photos and video had been taken, she sat for six hours and started to edit. After 30 seconds of completed video it became obvious that unless she wanted to cancel life (and upcoming gigs) this project would never be finished in time!
We called [friend and documentary filmmaker] Larry Johnson. Could he take over the editing chair? Does he have time to get it done in a week? Yes! He's available and into it!
So there you have it. All these crazy strands came together: the collage book, Larry Johnson, BagTown, the films, the songs. Sometimes you have to do these things just for fun, and let the strands weave together on their own.