SoulCulture's Tre Williams/Revelations Interview

The Revelations press photo1_BW (hires)

In an era where contemporary R&B and soul is dominated by computerised production, with heavy studio production masking vocal mediocrity and clever samples substituting instruments, Tre Williams and The Revelations provide a stark contrast on their debut album, The Bleeding Edge.

“Everything you hear on this album is live, there’s not even a loop of a live sound. If we made a mistake, the mistake was played over in its entirety. That’s what made it a great project. When I thought about doing this, I needed something different, I didn’t just want to be another R&B act just coming out. I wanted to distinguish myself and the band.”

A few years before The Bleeding Edge, Tre was preparing to bear the depth of his soul aurally as the only R&B act on Nas’ short-lived Ill Will Records. Following collaborations with Petey Pablo and The LOX, Tre was introduced to Nas through common circles. Finding that they both shared a similar view on the type of music they wanted to create for audiences, and the pair began working together. Due to what Tre regards primarily as timing issues, Tre’s debut album wasn’t released under Ill Will.

Similarly to Tre, fellow Revelations member Rell Gaddis, formerly of Jay-Z’s Rocafella Records, was also previously an R&B artist on a hip hop imprint. I ask whether Tre feels Hip Hop micro-labels are equip to support R&B and soul acts.
“I think it was more or less the timing of everything, with what they were trying to do as artists and other members [on the roster]. Rell had a lot more to deal with than I did because he had a lot more people on the Rocafella roster. With Nas, at that point in time, I was the roster. So I think as far as me dealing with Nas, it was the timing. I know personally that he loved the project; he wouldn’t have signed me if he wasn’t passionate about the project. But I think around the time, with the whole Hip Hop Is Dead project, going back and forth with Def Jam and other things in his career prohibited it from being his total focus. I think they’re equip to do it.”
In retrospect, Tre feels like timing probably worked in his favour. “That album was called The Depth Of My Soul, and it has always been a continued project because it’s more of a personal visionary. So I think it’s kinda good that the album didn’t come right out because I’ve got more to say about the depth of my soul now.”
After parting ways with Nas, Tre began working with Bob Perry, director of urban A&R at Koch Records. “Bob said, ‘look, in this industry it’s hard to make promises, but I can promise that I will work with you diligently to come up with something that will get you where you’re trying to go.’”
However, at this time Tre was still considering where exactly it was he was trying to go. “I had an idea for a song and I really wanted this song to have a live feel to it. Didn’t quite know if I was going to be able to get a live band, but I knew it needed a live feel. Then Bob said, ‘Why don’t we just get a live band? I’ll call the band in.’”
“Our first rehearsal as a band was actually a live performance in Club Rose in Brooklyn, we were supposed to be rehearsing but they invited people to come in and it turned into a show. You’re talking about no rehearsal time, nothing; people just turned up to hear this band, not knowing that this was the first time we’d worked together ever.”
This led to the birth of The Revelations. Tre drafted in Rell as a songwriter on The Bleeding Edge. As they continued to work on the project, Rell’s involvement developed from writer to being one of the band. Tre and The Revelations began working on what would distinguish them apart from their peers in contemporary soul and R&B. This of course, was their level of musicality.
Ready to segue into a discussion about musical influences on the album, I compare Tre’s vocals to classic southern soul.
“The funny part about the term, southern soul, when you back look at it, and where the whole sound derived from, is that the whole sound came from Otis Redding,” Tre muses. “But did they call Otis Redding southern soul?”
“The Beatles were inspired by Otis, but you wouldn’t call the Beatles southern soul, you know what I mean? Otis wasn’t [categorised as] a southern soul artist, he was a pop artist. What I’m really trying to do is see this sound come back out of the box and go back to the mainstream area it came from.”
So does that mean Tre Williams and The Revelations are trying to champion the movement of soul back into popular music with The Bleeding Edge?
“First and foremost, I wanted to do something I was happy with. I wanted to do a sound I could say I’m proud of. If I had come out with the autotune sound, I wouldn’t have been happy, even if it had sold three million records, it would have been something I wouldn’t have personally been happy with because I know I have so much more to offer music itself.”
Tre reflects on where soul music is today. “When it comes to the whole soul culture, and the whole male soul R&B acts, I think because of the drop in representation in it, came the drop in the playing of it. It disappeared. The sad state of soul R&B, if we want to call it that, is that if you hear two soul male singers, the first thing you say is, ‘Who’s that? Anthony Hamilton or Tre Williams?’”
In his opinion, his comparisons to Anthony Hamilton have more to do with the scene being sparse at present rather than the two vocalists actually sounding similar. “It’s not that we sound that much alike, it’s that we are the scene. It’s almost like we need to take turn dropping albums, you know, he drops one in the fall, I drop one in the winter, just so we can keep this alive!”
Name-checking Calvin Richardson and Raheem DeVaughn as just two underrated male soul artists, Tre adds, “It’s not like there isn’t any more are there, because they are out there, they’re just not being pushed. We just have to continue plugging, with people like SoulCulture, and other stations and websites who recognise the movement that we’re trying to put forth and [support it]. I’m slowly hitting a lot of urban radio stations. At first I was only get a lot of the older, contemporary stations, but now urban stations are slowly noticing that it’s good music.”
It is clear that Tre views his position as an important one within the male soul scene and believes he has a responsibility to continue driving the scene forward. However, he knows that he can’t work alone to bring the burgeoning scene back to the forefront.
“We need to have programme directors [at radio stations] and DJs who’ll take the shrink-wrap off the box and remember this is a brand of music that was a leading driving force in our culture. There are a lot of places I play in New York that love the sound, and the first thing they’re telling me is, ‘How come I don’t hear this on the radio?’
“Radio is a powerful thing. As much as the internet is starting to take nice jab shots at the radio, radio is still the most powerful thing; if radio play you, the people accept you. And it may not happen with me, but if I can be a push, and have some younger artists come behind me to do this type of music, I feel like I did my job. I want to open an awareness that this sound needs to be as mainstream as any other sound out there. Because musically, you can’t tell me there’s a track out there that has a bigger or fuller sound than what we’re giving you. So we gonna do it! With the help of SoulCulture, we gonna find out way through that red tape and this sound is going to be something we’re gonna take back to being pop music.”
The Bleeding Edge on iTunes (US): The Revelations Featuring Tre' Williams - The Bleeding Edge
The Bleeding Edge on Amazon: MP3
Tahirah Edwards Byfield