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The 411

11th March 2024

Interview: Chris Richmond

Photo Credit: Owen James Vincent

The 411 are officially back, and they've got a fire in their bellies like never before. After a string of hits in the mid-2000s including the R&B gem 'On Your Knees' and the club classic 'Dumb', the girls released an album to middling success. Such is the brutality of the music industry, the girls' short-lived but memorable time as The 411 came to a close. 

But forgotten they were not. If anything, their legend simply grew, with a profound sense of unfinished business surrounding the band whose lifespan was cut so unfairly short. And so now they're back, and things feel different this time. We caught up with them about their earliest memories of the band, what they've been up to in the interim, and why now felt like the perfect moment to reunite.

Hi girls! Thanks so much for chatting today. I wanted to start by taking it back right to the very beginning of The 411 and asking what are your favourite memories from the early days of The 411. How were you feeling at the very beginning of it all? 

Tanya: Well, there are lots of beginnings to The 411. It wasn't straightforward, it wasn’t like we came together and that was that. But my very first memory of us forming was my first audition. I wasn’t taking it seriously because I just didn't think I was gonna get chosen. And then all of a sudden it started to get more real and then jump forward to me, Tish, and Carolyn together. We were formed, and we needed a fourth member and we were not able to find one. We were just desperate because we wanted this deal, and we needed to do our showcase for Sony. In the meantime, me and Tish did our backing vocals for Lamar. Which every time I hear it, I'm like ‘Ohh, me and Tish man!’ And then we eventually found Susie, and we were doing all the rehearsals and everything we needed to do to do our showcase, to prove our worth for Sony. So yeah, lots of different beginnings. 

Tisha: My early memories would be the rehearsals and singing. There were some songs that they gave us to learn. Do you remember? 

Tanya: Whenever I hear them on the radio now, I still get nervous. I remember them switching the girls so they'd say, ‘Right, you 4 sing this song’, and then they go, ‘ok, you two come out then you two come in and sing the song again and they would look at us and how we looked aesthetically.

They used to do that on X Factor, didn't they? Like swapping in the girls, swapping them out? 

Tisha: Yeah, but the only thing is it wasn't filmed, so that was good. It was just quite a fun day. And I just remember us getting whittled down. There were like 300 girls, and then they'd send some home and then there were, like, 200. They’d say ‘They, like you, come back tomorrow.’

Really? They were sending girls home?

Tisha: It was quite exciting. It was a big process. I remember trying to find a fourth member and we found a girl called Recker. Do you remember her? She didn't speak a word of English. 

Tanya: This is where there are so many different starts because for a moment the lineup was me, you, Recker, and Holly.

Tisha: Oh, yeah. The blonde girl. 

Tanya: See, we're giving you the real inside scoop!

Yeah! I wonder where these girls are now. 

Tish: They were stunning girls. 

Tanya: On our bio, it’s very simple. They have me and Tisha meeting doing backing vocals, but there was a lot on before that happened. Then there were different dynamics and different members. Holly didn’t work, Recker didn’t work out and then they bought Carolyn in. We were all settled on the three of us, but we were on the hunt for a fourth. 

Was the vibe of the band always set to be slightly R&B? Or was the genre going to be decided once the members had been selected? 

Tanya: They threw us in the studio and said let’s see what you come up with. There was no set direction. The producer they picked for us, Fitzgerald Scott, was from Atlanta, and he had some backing tracks. We would sit there. He would play them and he would say, which one do you like? And we'd sit there and we'd go. ‘Ohh, we like this one. We like that one.’ We kind of weeded through this bunch of wonderful tracks that he had and I can't remember if ‘On My Knees’ was the first one we wrote. They didn’t have a direction for us. We just started writing with him and it just kind of organically grew. 

Carolyn: When we found On My Knees, it felt like we’d found our sound. 

Tisha: You know, it's funny though, there are loads of things I literally can't remember. I do remember though girls they did have an idea of what they wanted us to look like. So I remember them saying we do want a token blonde girl, we do want a black girl. They wanted a certain look. 

Tanya: With On My Knees, I remember him saying to do it with an American accent, which made me feel like a total twat. I was like why? Aren’t we English? And then they were like The 411, Mary J Blige, maybe they’ll think we’re American.

Can you remember recording Dumb? And what was the energy like in the studio that day? Could you tell that you were on to a winner?  

Tanya: I was a bit iffy about it in the beginning. I think it grew for me. 

Tisha: Me too. It was a different song originally. 

Carolyn: I love the song, but I actually prefer the original backing track which I used to have, and I've now lost it, annoyingly, but the very first original backing track was a lot less pop. I don’t know how you’d describe it. It was a bit more hip-hoppy. I remember hearing the Dumb that we got - I mean, it was great, don’t get me wrong, but it was very different from how it was. It was very different from On My Knees. 

Tanya: They would do that quite often. 

Carolyn: They would take the track and the producer does what he does on it, and then it comes back a different song. Not for the worst, just very different, you know. And I think when I listen to the album, that's the one thing that I find quite weird. It's a bit of a jump from on my knees, which I always loved, and thought it was cool to Dumb which I love, don't get me wrong, but I thought that we needed stuff to go in between that. The main cause and the main reason for that is because they didn't necessarily have faith in us, and not all of our record labels have faith in us that we were going to be a thing at all so we've got singles deals to begin. And then they went oh shit, we need an album, You’ve got 5 weeks to do it. But we had just started writing and we had learned and write every day and open stuff. 

Tisha: We had just been formed. We needed to be organic with each other and kind of like get to know each other and we were still young, so we were still growing as people and growing in life, we were just like writing all these songs. Do you remember we did Jumpin? That’s my least favorite song on the album. I was just like, why would we stick that on the album? 

Carolyn: The album was a rush job. And I think that’s sad because I think we had so much more to give in us. 

Tanya: We had such better tracks that we’d recorded which are sadly lost because Fitz sadly died. We can’t get our hands on them. There’s tonnes more stuff that we did, stuff that was more in line with Between The Sheets and On My Knees.

Carolyn: That was our sound. Then suddenly there were a lot of people popping up to make our music pure pop. For me, I didn’t align with that. I preferred the more hip-hop stuff. 

Tisha: And we kinda just went along with it. It was weird because we were four young girls, we were a young new girl band. 

Carolyn: It was always what they say goes. They’re the ones who hold the keys and we just have to follow suit. Our record label was particularly bad for that. He would very much tell us this is what happens, you don’t know about this business, I know about the business, which is fair enough, we didn’t know, we were young girls, He said if you don’t like it, you know where the door is. It was that all the time. We were exhausted doing all of the studio stuff we had to do, plus all the promo, plus we were gigging like twice a night, we were shattered. I remember going to the studio and falling asleep every day. 

Do you feel proud of the album though? It sounds like it was a little bit out of your hands in some ways but that album is very much beloved by many people. 

Carolyn: There are bits on the album that I think are great. I think for me the annoying thing is I think there’s some filler. We had a really good body of work, but we weren’t given the time to bring that through in the time we could have given another 5 weeks we probably could have done but everything was rushed and it's unfortunate. I don't like writing and recording something and that is the final product. 

Tisha: Of course not. Cause you might want to change stuff. 

Carolyn: You can make the recording amazing instead of just trying this and throwing that out then. You don't have time. Studio is money. We’d get chewed up because we hadn’t done enough that day. Or produced something of a certain quality that day. There was always a lot of pressure which is never a good thing to do to somebody, but it was it was and we rose to the challenge. 

Tisha: I must admit it was a blessing having you girls because even though we’re saying all of this I kind of remember all of the good times like I remember a lot more of the good times. You guys just made it so amazing. 

Tanya: So many good times. 

Tisha: It’s a shame we were never able to cultivate our sound. 

It is a shame that we never got a second album back in the day. Hopefully, we'll get one eventually, but it would have been interesting for you guys to have had the chance to do one back then. Did you start recording one? Was it ever on the cards or it never even happened?

Tanya: Never happened at all. 

Carolyn: And I think that was the thing and we were all left with our heads spinning because the whole industry and all our fans and everything was like where's the next album and what's happened? What's going on? 

Tisha: But when Teardrops came out, they were confused. 

Carolyn: And now we're like, well, and people couldn't understand them. Like, how can a band that's had two top fives not be doing anything else?

Yeah, it's a classic. You know, what's it like, spit you up and then chew you out or chew you up and then spit you out like. 

Carolyn: You know it's horrible because I came out of The 411 feeling like I was a product. That was all I am. I’m sure the girls feel the same, it was like that’s done for you. 

Tanya: The ending of it all was quite tragic really. If we had stuck together and said well sod you, we don’t need you, if we’d had that in the four of us to say, it could have been different. It happened the way it happened. It all happened for a reason. 

Tisha: Things were so different then. There was no social media. We couldn’t do our little TikToks and put ourselves out there. We couldn’t promote ourselves. 

Tanya: If we’d had the technology then that we have now it would’ve been a no-brainer. 

Tisha: We knew how to write a song but we didn’t know how to get in contact with the producers, how to mix or master a song, or how to send it off or get it on all the platforms. It was really difficult to carry on. 

Now artists can promote themselves, whereas now if you didn’t have someone booking you on CD: UK then that’s that. 

Tisha: There are so many independent labels now. 

Looking at someone like Raye who’s gone independent and everything’s changed for her. 

Carolyn: When you've got somebody who's you're very sure of your product and you're not. Desperate, like, you know, be all and end all I have to make this much money. I think a beautiful thing is being able to do it because you love it. And yeah, love it when you're ready to put it out because you love it. Not necessarily with someone standing behind saying “How many units have sold?” 


Carolyn: And that's just, you know, every artist that's probably on a major field that that everyone is probably on every record label, but the majors will feel like that as well. Like the pressure. Yeah, it's about the joy of it. I just watched that Robbie Williams documentary they did. 

I thought my God, even him at his level, you know. He sold loads more records than we did but he still had that pressure of like if I don't sell records, I'm out, you know? And it's somebody else holding the kind of the key. To whether or not you're going to stay in the industry. You love doing what you love or in it, it's just all gonna go away, you know? 

Photo Credit: Owen James Vincent

Yeah. So then after it all kind of came to a close, I know there were a few other girl band things going on, but 15 years passed, and then you reunited in June 2022 at Mighty Hoopla, what can you remember about that gig? Were you nervous? Were you because I was sadly not there? But I've seen videos and the tent just looked electric, like the people were so happy to see you guys there. But that was your first gig in 15 years. Like, how did you feel? What do you feel? Looking back on that gig now? 

Tisha: I was over-excited, wasn’t I girls? You were like Tish. Calm down. It's all good. You know, I was just like, oh, my God. We're gonna get another single out. We're back together!!

Carolyn: A little bit. But on the day itself, it was weird because it had been predominantly me, Tan, and Tish rehearsing together and Suzie didn't see us until the day. So that was quite weird. So. it was strange to have that moment before you go on stage again. 

Ohh, and we were like we walked in and saw this giant tent. We're like if we get like twenty people in here. I'll be happy. 

Tisha: I remember you saying that. 

Carolyn: We were backstage and my kid was there and he said to me, yep, the tent has filled up a bit and I was like, whoah. It was super exciting and fun and you know the bit literally before you walk up the stairs to go on stage. I was bricking it. I was like oh my God. I'd have come back and then walked on stage. We didn't have a choice because the track started and we had to run. 

Tisha: There's a photo of us, just before we go on and we're, like, waving to everyone. And yeah, it's a cool photo! But I remember when Carolyn gets nervous as well she goes quiet. She's just in her zone and she just doesn't want to talk. I remember you being like that. Like, don't talk to me. Let me just get on stage!

Carolyn: I’m also thinking about what to say as well. Like, I love the talking at the beginning. So I was thinking like what can I say but it's funny because we went up the track started and we're like, oh, no. Like, this is this isn't supposed to happen right now. Tan pulled it back and wanted to start again… ‘No. Stop. Wait, Stop’ Go back to the beginning.’ And the crowd’s reaction was a brilliant moment. That moment kind of broke my eyes, and I was like, this is gonna be a good show. It was weird because this time around we're doing this for a crowd that loves us, remembers us, and wants us. Whereas when we first time around, you're trying to win a crowd. Much more pressure. No one. Necessarily wants you. They're like what have you got kind of thing. This time, everyone came to see you, it felt like the crowd were our friends.

In the 15 years then, in the intermittent 15 years had you seen each other much then did you like keep in touch or was it so hectic that you kind of needed a bit of like space away from each other for a minute, and then you? Kind of found your way back together. 

Tisha: So we spoke a lot like on the phone, but we didn't see each other much. I didn't know if you two saw each other because you went back to America.

Tanya: No, it was quite like that. I think that was part of what made it quite sad too, which was like like so beautiful when we did reunite because it had been so many years since we'd all seen each other and so much had happened in all of our lives. We had an idea through social media, but don't know the details and where you're actually at. 

Tisha: Life happens, doesn’t it? I saw Tan a couple of times when you came to the UK and Kit was born. I was so sad that I didn’t see Carolyn as much but now we do!

Carolyn: It's nice that if we don't see each other, we just pick up the phone, we just pick up where we left off like it was, yeah. I found it therapeutic doing this going back and like making friends, we weren't friends at that point. 

Tisha: I was also gonna say what was nice is the fact that we've all grown up. It was nice to just see each other at this point in our lives and be so proud and to see Carolyn as well with her boys. Billy is just growing up. When I look at him and I see her as a Mum, I'm just like, oh, because I remember Carolyn when she was young and I remember her saying “I'm not having any kids”. [laughs]

I suppose as well this time around you girls have you chosen to do this? Whereas first of all you you know audition for the band and wanted to be in the band, but you were really kind of forced to do, you know, what other people were telling you to do whereas this time you, this is all your choice. You are the ones who are in control. You're not doing it if you don't want to do a gig. You've got the power to say no to it, so I suppose the vibe and the energy is just completely different. 

Carolyn: Yeah, the ability about it this time around was that on stage now. Firstly we can get the choice to do everything live where before it was like there was so much like, we couldn't sing live on TV at the time. Now, we can sing live and have creative control.

The 411 at Mighty Hoopla

Photos taken by Cody Molko

Yeah. So on the topic of, you know, like taking back control and things, is there any talk, I know you've been asked this a million times, but is there gonna be new music that might happen? I know it's so difficult and it's expensive. You know, like recording an album and releasing it, but. Is that something you'd like to do, or are you just happy to sort of live in the moment for now? What's on the cards? 

Carolyn: Yeah, I think Tish wants us to do it. If we can make it happen, we will make it happen as you say for us it's more the logistics.

It's not like we're like, no, we're not doing that. It's just finding the time. 

Tanya: Having me in another country, does not make it any easier. I think the three of us are in the same country. Some things could be easier. A lot is much easier and much better. It’s saying nothing and never, but it's just it's a little challenging. Carolyn’s got young kids as well and they're both busy and Tish has got her life and it's it. Yeah, the timing will come. 

Tisha: But I'm working on something with them! Don't worry.

That's what I'd like to hear. And the benefit is that you're all songwriters. So like you don't need to get a song, you know, from someone else.

Carolyn: All have access to good stuff as well. So that's the other good thing. Yes, there will be something, yeah.

And also you have a dedicated following. You know there are people out there who are waiting for you. Who would? Who would love new music? I mean, the gays in particular, they're they don't forget when they get you, they get you like, they're not letting you go. 

Carolyn: What is funny is that is what I think is beautiful about this time around now we know who is cor demographic. It's the gays, the gays love us and I'm all for it. I'm like, I don't wanna play the shows that aren't the gays.

Yeah. And the people who were fans of you, you know, I was a fan of you guys and I was told all my friends I was interviewing, we were all teenagers the first time around, and now we're like, you know, adults, and we've got we've. I have money to spend so. It's like the perfect time because we're, you know, we're now adults who can go to your shows and your festivals and Mighty Hoopla. All things like that. 

Carolyn: OK, so I have a question for you then what kind of sound would you like us to do? Something more like Dumb or On My Knees.

What I loved about you girls is back in the day was that it was poppy, but very much with an R&B twist, so it would have to be more of that. It needs to have that R&B element to it because that's what makes you different. From, you know, like Girls Aloud or The Saturdays or whatever they were like pop with a capital P you're like you had that R&B moment about it. And I think it's good to have a mix of, you know, the slightly more poppy one like doing, which is a bit more up-tempo. There were songs like Between The Sheets, that song itself is like a real R&B moment, I think it would have to be continuing with that sort of sound.

Tisha: Yeah, that's my favourite track on the album, by the way. 

Oh, is it Between The Sheets? That's a beautiful one. That's a lovely one. 

So, as Tanya lives in The States, she can't make some of the shows. You have the lovely Tessa to join you to help out with the songs. How did you get Tessa involved in the band? And what's it like to work with her? 

Tisha: Tess was introduced through my longtime friend and choreographer Rob Thomas who helped us with the choreography for Mighty Hoopla. I already knew of Tess as she was previously in a band before and we had mutual friends but never met. Rob connected us and the rest is history. [laughs]

We were blessed really as Tess is such a pro. I remember her saying it was so surreal being onstage with us as she remembered watching us on the telly and singing along to our songs. She really just fitted right in! She has such a great positive energy and shes always making us laugh. We’re excited for more shows with her!

Tessa, Carolyn and Tish performing at Butlins.

Right, girls, I think I've kept you for enough time. We said 20 minutes and it's been 40. I didn't wanna cut it short. It's been amazing to chat to you. I'm so honored. I love you girls! Good luck with everything!

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