"It's pop… True pop," says JJ. "We are influenced by everything we love. From Coldplay and The Beatles, to Lauryn Hill and Justin Timberlake, to John Mayer, and literally everything in between," adds Kevin, who along with JJ, V and Travis have been defining their vocal stylings and refining their dance moves throughout their early teen years. Ripe with lush vocals and irrepressible harmonies, NLT (Not Like Them) create a smooth blend of pop, R&B and Hip Hop on their forthcoming release. Discovered by entertainment magnate and taste-maker Chris Stokes (Omarion, B2K, Marques Houston), the ensuing years have seen NLT evolve from raw talent to a distinguished and polished sound. The bouncing R&B rhythms of the lead single "That Girl" rekindle flashbacks to Stevie Wonder, Jodeci and The Whispers, but that's just the tip of the iceberg for the 17- and 18-year-old wunderkinds.
While the quartet's hometown roots are split between Los Angeles and Texas, it was their similar artistic drive that led them to each other. Growing up in his family's Synthesis dance studio in Los Angeles, V was never far from the names that have shaped popular culture's last decade, including 50 Cent, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson and Destiny's Child. Chris Stokes was a familiar face in the studio, as it was a home-base of sorts for B2K, and after much pestering, the superstar producer told V that if he put a group together, he'd be willing to take a listen. V was 14 at the time, and not knowing where to really start, looked to an acquaintance he'd worked with on an instructional dance video—JJ, whose dance coach, Terry Bixler, skyrocketed to acclaim for his choreography and staging on Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation 1814" tour extravaganza..
Then 13, JJ ironically had B2K on his young resume, having danced in one of the group's early videos (on the acting front, he'd also had a speaking part on television's "Will & Grace"). Through an agent, the pair found Kevin, who was living in Dallas. His sister was an agent, and when Kevin mentioned that the trio were looking to become a quartet, she recommended one of her theater actors, Travis. In what could be a called a fateful string of serendipity, the NLT circle was now complete.
Decidedly pop in their appeal and approach, Stokes and Geffen Records' Chairman Ron Fair knew that NLT had an intangible and infectious star quality that wouldn't go unnoticed, and began pairing the band with some of music's top production teams and engineers, lending their magic to the already dynamic quartet. Co-manager Marques Houston offers his talents to the piano-paced acoustics of "Yesterday," and kicks things up a notch with the infectious "Can't Live Without You" and "Sensational." "He knows us better than anyone, and we've learned so much from him—he's like our big brother," agree NLT.
The group point to The Underdogs' drum and keyboard-driven production approach to "That Girl" as a prime example of their divergent pop influences and sound, and cite their co-writing with Timbaland on "He Said, She Said (Time to Let Go)” as a highlight of the recording process. But integral to it all was the first producer they worked with: Troy "Treezah" Johnson ("Go," "Rose," "Move"). "That was the best way for us to start. We had a lot of input, and we learned a lot about how our sound would be built. The songs we did with Troy were the foundation for everything," says Kevin.
V, JJ, Kevin and Travis feel confident that Not Like Them is a reflection of not only where they've come from, but where they're heading. Says JJ, "Making this record was an incredible experience, and all the talented people we worked with were nothing short of amazing. These are our first songs as a group, and we are so excited to share them with everyone."
Make no mistake, that excitement is sure to be rivaled by that of their fans, who recognize the alluring vocal tapestry of NLT as just the beginning.