Bold, yet classy, saved, yet sassy: Erica (the brunette) Campbell and Tina (the redhead) Campbell have made a successful career (if you count their plays and background gigs, over 10 years and counting) of mixing sanctified songs with a secular touch as a sisterly duo known as Mary Mary. The Sound, their fifth studio recording, finds them expounding on their proven hitmaking formula; optimistic uptempos, tender testimonials and a formidable list of guest appearances over a backdrop of mesmerizingly modern beats.
In a recent phone chat from their home base of Los Angeles, their excitement about The Sound is downright contagious as they share details on the personal crisis that arose during recording, the one thing that believers can get twisted about Christian performers at times, and most importantly, what they need their fans to do to keep the music playing...
I appreciate you making time for me ladies; tell me about the title of The Sound, first of all, that's an intriguing title. What made you entitle it The Sound?
T- "There are so many different sounds that we've experimented with while making the record, but the main point is that when you hear a certain sound in someone's voice, you know what they're feeling, no matter what it is they're saying. There's a sound of victory, the sound of desperation, the sound of joy, the sound of sadness... you can hear a scream, but that scream is telling you, 'I am moving on, I hate where I'm at, I'm gone." That's kinda what we talk about...we're gonna make you feel something. We got a little bit of everything on the CD, and there's no one song that's indicative of the next. It's clearly faith-based music, but you hear all kinds of formats on one record. At the end of the day, it's all about God, and it's all good."
Is this CD a total departure from your previous effort, 2005's Mary Mary, or is it a continuation of that? Are there any favorites?
Tina-"We're building more layers on the process. We still challenge ourselves, comb through old albums and make sure we're not repeating ourselves. We still listen to different genres and artists to make sure we are as fresh as possible. I think the one thing that might be slightly different is, you know, as you grow and go through different things in life, meet different people and do different things, your faith grows. There's a song on our new CD entitled 'Dirt' and it's saying that you need a little dirt to grow. The funny thing about a beautiful garden is that it's wonderful when you look at it, but none of those plants can grow if they don't live in dirt. It's grimy, there are worms in it, rocks, sticks, but that's what's required; with a little dirt and rain, you become beautiful."
Erica-"There's another song on the album called 'Superfriend' with David Banner on it, talking about how people are here now and then they gone, and you don't really know where they went, but we know that we've all got a superfriend that looks out for us better than anybody else could, someone who will always be there, and that's God."
I was saddened to hear that Warryn Campbell was afflicted with cancer while you all created The Sound, but I'm glad to hear that he's made a full recovery. What did that do to the recording process?
E-"it was a very short process, actually; we found out on a Friday, and by the next Friday, it was gone. He just had the 3 weeks in recovery after the surgery, no chemo, no radiation. We grew up in a church where we saw people get healed. I've seen God do some amazing things---I'm not talking about weirdo, witchcraft stuff, I'm talking about a sick person going back to the doctor and the doctor can't find what they were supposed to operate on. Straight-up God healed in the body. That's all I know, and that's all I knew to believe. There's a scripture in the Bible that says 'speak those things that be not as though they were.' All I spoke over my husband's life was that 'you're healed, whole and complete in the name of Jesus.' And after that surgery, after they pulled out that big, 10 centimeter chunk of cancer of his body, he was 100% healed."
T-"Cancer was never looming over the recording process of this album. We were just saying, 'God, we need You to do what You're going to do," and God took care of it and we went back to work. It was kinda like (we were saying to the cancer), 'Oh, you gon' try to come in here and take us off track?' Warryn's much more than just a producer, he's Erika's husband, he's my brother, this is our family that you're talking about. Outside of being family, everything that's created by Mary Mary, that's us and Warryn---he's like the member that's not on-stage. So for God to work that out, we came back in the studio with a vengence, like 'Okay, this situation is trying to get us frustrated and off track... watch this.' We were so grateful to what God brought us through, so inspired."
Erica-"It made us that much more motivated to make great music and tell the world about it."
What a blessing! Are there any individual favorites for you on The Sound?
Erica-Right now, that would be the single 'Get Up,' but the one that's gonna overtake that one is 'God in Me.' We have a lot of birthdays around this time of year and so everybody's been getting together and they all end up dancing to that, so I hope that's a sign of what people will do when they hear it. The song is telling people that you see what I have, but it isn't just me, it's the God in me."What about the guest appearances?
Tina-"We have KiKi (Kierra) Sheard on the song called 'God in Me,' and David Banner, who we made 'Superfriends' with, is a great dude, he was well-spoken, incredibily talented, a family man who's well-informed of the business that he's in. We worked a lot in the same studio, and when we had this song, it seemed like he could make sense on it. He's speaking from his heart, and the song became so much better when he added his element.
The biggest song for us is the final track, "It Will All be Worth It." We were able to get Karen and Dorina Clark, Tramaine Hawkins, Rance Allen and Andre Crouch...me and Erika were sitting up there like, 'We'd been listening to them since we were 5 and cannot believe they're actually in the studio with us,' we were just so happy. They were so kind, so helpful and so happy to be there, our faces were about to burst. I called my husband and my mother and I said, "this is what it must feel like to make it, to have people who mean so much to you, that inspired you, you've been standing on their shoulders and they're in the support of what you do.
Erica- "It was a real dream come true, what we wanted and didn't realize that God was gonna allow to happen. When we were little, Tina would always have her head up under the covers listening to the music because she didn't want everybody to hear that she was singing along, and then to grow up and get to meet them, record with them, laugh with them, it's like...'What? That ain't the norm (laughing)!'
Tina- "My first solo in church was your song, and now you're singing with me?"
What impact do you feel that Mary Mary's had on the contemporary gospel industry? What makes you stand out?Erica- "I think we're still breaking ground. I think, initially, we wanted to do something different, wanted to do it our way. We've been singing in churches for forever, and part of us weren't really into recording, because we just enjoyed singing that much. We stayed in the background, but kept writing, and by the time the opportunity came, we had written 'Shackles' and people loved it, so we knew it was our time. We had a lot of smart people around us, and my husband had already been in the business and worked with a whole gang of people----he was actually working with Death Row a whole lot at the time, so we didn't just have gospel knowledge, our publisher was informing us on a lot. I think a lot of times, Christian artists are like, 'I wanna make sure that you get God,' but we want to make sure that you get the point. I want to talk to you in a language that you can understand, I wanna come to where you are so that it makes sense to you. If you come to me talking about science formulas, I'm gonna be like, 'What? I don't know what are you talking bout, what is your bottom line?' People are having issues with their families, self-esteem issues, they wanna be loved, they wanna feel important and be valued, they wanna figure out how they're gonna make it through. And that's what we speak to in a way that they get it and they know that the answer to all of that is God. "
Amen! Can fans catch you live and in person?
Erica-"We're gonna be doing an HBCU tour, then we're touring next year with Deitrick Haddon and KiKi Sheard, and a lot of Wal Mart appearances...we're gonna be everywhere."
Are your kids into Mary Mary?
Erica-"Our kids are 4 and 5 and right now, I think Veggie Tales is kinda beating out Mary Mary right now. If she's watching Veggie Tales and I turn on Mary Mary, she'll say 'Mommy, I want to listen to my music!' I think I gotta win her over as a fan (laughs)!"
Tina-"Mine are actually the opposite; they get into the car and say 'I want to listen to Mary Mary.' She loves a new song on the CD called 'Forgiven me'. It's just talking about taking responsibility for your past, or about someone else doing something to you, because bad things happen to good people, but this songs gives you the strength to forgive yourself and start over."
What do you want the fans to take from The Sound?
Tina-"We want the fans to get this record, because it is a hot, blazing album that you oughta have. If you wanna hear good music and artists that are trying to lift us up and help us do better and be better, this is the album that you ought to buy. In order to speak that language to the powers that be, you have to support the CD in its first week, not just for us, but for the KiKi Sheards, for the Tye Tribbetts, and all of the other artists.
Erica-"They will supply what's demanded, and if hip-hop's what's demanded and everybody buys a million records, they're gonna put more of it out there. It'll be on the TV shows, the magzines, on every TV show and website. Gospel is something that's positive, morally uplifting, but you can party to it and it inspires you to be better, to stop making excuses and do better with your life. It helps you to remember that God is for you and not just for these perfect individuals out there. There's a soulful sound, banging beats, and this literally worth the support and the money. If consumers are really demanding the Mary Mary record, then they'll be other artists representing something positive that everybody can be proud of, music you can take to every family function without anybody feeling violated. We want everybody to push it and give us more of what we can appreciate in the media. The record is bangin' yall!"
Do you ever run into problems from gospel fans about your image? Some believers are under the impression that Christians are supposed to be plain, not glamorous.
Tina-"I'm a married woman, but I'm a young woman and I have style. I like to look and feel good, so the oversized robes just isn't doin' it."
Erica-"We weren't raised like that: my mom has a gang of sisters, and their clothes fit nicely, their hair was always nice and they always looked together. A lot of times, in the Christian world, we're so scared to be cute, so scared to be appealing in any way. We think, 'God is mad at us, we're giving the world the wrong impression,'....how y'all think I got my husband (cracks up)? For real. We don't have a problem being sexy. We're about quality product, from the music to the presentation, I think all of that counts. What we're selling is our music and that whole Godly experience, your imaging has a lot to do with that. We're not gonna expose all that we have, because how are you gonna hear God in our music?"
Tina-"And then too, a lot of people think of being beautiful is about lessening yourself. If I serve a great, big, wonderful, awesome, capable, awesome God, shouldn't something about me look like that? I should look, not rich, but full of life, living and loving every day of it."
By Melody Charles