It’s almost impossible to recall how barren the Canadian R&B landscape was in 1994 when The Philosopher Kings released their self-titled debut album. But that quickly changed as the heavily talented Toronto band quickly went gold at home and scored a U.S. hit with the album’s first single, “Charms.”
The 1997 follow-up, Famous Rich & Beautiful, did even better, leading various members of the group to parlay that success into helping launch the career of Nelly Furtado, and laying the groundwork for the global domination of Drake and Shawn Mendes.
The downside for fans of The Philosopher Kings was that all the additional activity drastically curtailed the band’s output. And while lead vocalist Gerald Eaton created a solo alter ego, Jarvis Church, and James Bryan and Jason Levine cranked out pop hits as the animated duo Prozzak, the absence of The Philosopher Kings’ brand of organic pop was certainly felt.
That’s all about to change now that the band has reformed and just released its first new track in over a decade. The single “Still The One” is the first taste of their fifth studio album Return Of The Kings (due out later this year) and finds the group’s songwriting chops as sharp as ever, while adding a noticeable sonic upgrade.
Kings members Eaton, Bryan, Denton Whited and Brian West took some time to reflect on the past and the future, as they gear up to hit the road across Canada in the fall.
What makes “Still The One” the right song for you guys to be putting out now?
Bryan: It’s a song about loyalty, commitment, sticking it out in a relationship and celebrating that. When we came up with the concept and lyrics, I was definitely writing it for my wife, but it also speaks to our fans who have stuck by us, and to the band itself, for coming back together and really appreciating what that means.
Eaton: “Still The One” definitely sets the tone for our new album, but I’m really excited for people to hear more. There’s a song on the album called “Lovers And Liars” that is a personal favourite. It’s made it on my wife’s very selective heavy rotation playlist around the house. That's a first for me!
How would you describe the evolution of your sound on the upcoming new album?
West: Our collective sound felt really natural on this record. Because everyone has stayed active in the pop arena between albums, we all came into making this album with an unspoken focus to “serve the song.” Everyone has grown so much as collaborators, writers and producers, and the arrangements developed really effortlessly and quickly. That being said, we’ve always had an amazing chemistry that is a result of all of our unique tastes and influences, which created the core of our sound that will always be there.
We are all super big fans of modern music, and it’s been fun to spice up our core sound with all the magic and tricks of the trade that we’ve grown accustomed to using in our outside productions with other artists. Ultimately, we’ve tried to use these synthesizers and sonic sweeteners to frame the organic “human” foundation of our sound—the feeling that six musicians generate in one room together. I really believe that is an amazing phenomenon worth preserving.
What was it that ultimately brought the band back together?
Eaton: Persistent fans. We’re thankful that they still care after all these years. On top of that, the timing felt right to do it full-time again after we came back together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Famous Rich & Beautiful. The vibes just felt really good.
Do you feel the band gets enough credit for your contributions to Canadian pop and R&B?
Whited: Coincidentally, we just received a SOCAN Music Award for our song “Hurts To Love You.” It’s these types of milestones and important nods from the industry that are a reminder of what we have achieved and that our music still resonates with friends, fans and peers in the industry. When you take a look at each band member’s respective projects as producers, songwriters and collaborators, it really speaks to the talent this group of guys has. The sales numbers and stats speak for themselves. We’re all proud of our accomplishments and contributions to music in general, but especially being Canadian and having worked on projects both outside and within our band that have reached the masses around the world is a great feeling.
If you could change anything about the music business, what would it be?
Bryan: The music creators and creations are undervalued in the current economics of the business, so I would balance that out. That starts with the structure of record label deals, to the expectation of labels and publishers for artists to produce and write on spec—which is a rampant problem—to the revenue splits on digital platforms like YouTube and Spotify. The current model just isn’t sustainable for most artists out there.