EricaVain’s EXCLUSIVE Interview with “Man Band” CTZEN!
There’s a new band in town, and they go by the name of CTZEN. Russell Francis, Kelechi Kalu, Calvin Seabrooks, and Parker Wright are the members of this elite pop/R&B cultural “man band.” The group just released their first original song, entitled “Immortal.” In their music, they create a smooth mix of musical backgrounds wrapped in one delicious tune. These guys are definitely the real deal. Their cover of “Without Me” has gained the attention of many. What’s the inside scoop on CTZEN? Check out EricaVain‘s exclusive interview below to find out.
What’s the background on CTZEN? Who knew who first?
Calvin: We really didn’t know each other to begin with. We all moved to LA and we met at an audition. It’s kind of funny. We met at this audition and it was for a brand new group that was going to be put together and we realized it wasn’t really in the direction that we wanted to go in. And that group ended up breaking up and CTZEN was kind of formed from the demise of that group. It’s like that Daft Punk song – Legend of The Phoenix. That’s how we started up.
Parker: One thing that we did realize worked was us four, and throughout everything us four have stayed together. We were on X-Factor for a little bit and then we got off that show. And now we’ve just been working on a couple of originals, and we are working on releasing our first original, and then we’re planning on releasing our first EP soon.
What were you guys doing before you moved to LA?
Kelechi: We were all in different phases of our life. I think that we were all musically inclined. Around the same time, we decided to move to LA. I actually moved to LA from New York. I was actually an assistant buyer for Gucci and when I parted ways with the company, I was like, look, I always think about music when I wake up. It’s everything to me. And so, why not just move out to LA and try. And I think some of us have a deep background in music. Like Calvin has an extensive background in performing arts.
Parker: I’ve been doing performing arts and a lot of singing groups my entire life. I’m a beat boxer and I’ve been in some acapella groups in the past.
Kelechi – I think each of us grew up musically inclined. And it’s fate for us. We all found each other at this audition. We found each other and we clicked. And we decided to move forward with this. I’m outside of my office right now, because we do have to pay bills and each of us has a job, but at the end of the day, like, this is was we want to do. Music is all of our lives and we would love to spend the rest of our lives sharing that with other people.
Russel: Speaking just for myself, I never had a backup plan. This was always it for me. And I’ve always believed that if you want something badly enough, you gotta drop everything and give it your all. So this is all I’ve ever wanted.
How is it having fans?
Kelechi: It’s amazing!
Calvin: We created CTZEN because we had this idea, this vision to bring people together with music. So, to see all the different types of fans that we have now and to see all of the types of fans that we are getting, it’s really humbling to see that our work is paying off. We’re really bringing a large diverse group of people together with this music and that’s all that we’ve ever wanted to do. So, it feels amazing.
Parker: Going off of Calvin, the hard work is kind of the key word. I don’t know how many people know this, but everything that we’ve done, everything on YouTube, we’ve done ourselves. We’ve recorded vocal in my bedroom with our microphones. We’ve had friends shoot the videos. We edit the videos ourselves. We’ve done everything ourselves. I think hard work is the key to where we have gotten thus far.
Kelechi: Not just hard work, including hard work, but also this grass root effort, you know. We’re not signed to a label. We’re doing all this by ourselves. The only way we feel we’re actually making an impact is if we get that one extra fan, or that one extra person saying “hmm, I’ve never been into this kind of music until now.” Each of us comes from a different musical background. We bring something unique to the table. That kind of speaks to what Calvin was talking about, our diverse fan base. You know, everyone is not the same. Young, old, black, white. It’s humbling to say the least.
Parker: Kind of going off of Kelechi, obviously, when you look at us, you do see that we are all very different. Just based on looking at us. But the great thing on top of that is we actually have the- us as people are actually different as well. And it’s great that the four of us, being so different, each bring a different flavor per se to CTZEN. And that kind of makes the entire composition of it.
What have you learned about the industry?
Calvin: I think the biggest thing that we’ve learned is you have to be yourself because we do everything on our own. We’ve thought about it from the beginning: how important it is to have control over what we do. Because we had a vision for what we wanted CTZEN to be and we continue to shape that vision every day. It’s really important for us to remain ourselves. No one knows us as well as we know each other. No one knows us as well as I know Kelechi, or Kelechi knows Russell. We know ourselves now. It was important for us to grow and know each other as people. And people are attracted to us because they know it’s the real deal. That’s the biggest thing we’ve learned. That being yourself is key.
Kelechi: I think we’ve also learned that we work at our pace. Our goal is to create great music. If that means that we’re not signed tomorrow then fine… let me take that back, because we want to be signed! But, you know, someone told us along our journey that, “don’t worry about what’s happening in the next lane, you know, stay in your lane. Stay on your course.” I think that, you know, through perseverance and through the hard work that Parker was talking about, we do need to reach the goals we want to reach and being successful label-wise.
How was it being on X-Factor?
Parker: Being on the show was one thing, but being able to perform in that audience with more than 4,000 people. One of the most incredible things was that performance that we did was the first performance together for an audience more than just our friends and family. So, to go out there and essentially start our careers as CTZEN and start by performing for 4,000 plus people was incredible. I describe it like you’re going out for Christmas morning, you’re going out to look for all your presents expecting a toothbrush, but the whole room is filled with amazing gifts. It’s that form of excitement. That’s what it felt like going on the show.
How was it singing in front of Simon Cowell?
Calvin: We all have nerves before we go on stage. We’ve been singing for a very long time, each of us individually. If you don’t get nerves, then you’re doing something wrong. Everyone gets nerves. Stevie Wonder gets nerves. Yeah, so we had nerves going on, but we are completely prepared; we’ve been singing our whole lives and we had been rehearsing countless hours before that performance. So, all we had to do is go out there and do what we do best. We knew each other as brothers enough to go out there and know that we could depend on the other people on stage with us. So, it didn’t really matter who was in the audience or that we knew it was going to be broadcasted around the world because we rehearsed. We work our butts off preparing something that we were proud of. So, yeah, we’re nervous in the beginning, but it really didn’t matter who was in the audience. We were just doing what we loved.
Parker: To answer your question, we weren’t afraid of Simon. We were just nervous. Simon doesn’t scare us.
Who comes up with the covers and the concepts of the videos?
Kelechi: The way our covers usually go, we’ll probably research songs before they come out or we’ll kind of know when new songs come out and we’ll literally sit around the living room and say, “have you heard this?” and we’ll play songs for each other. We got to just vibe. And yes, there are disagreements on which songs we cover or what songs should come next. Sometimes we start working on one and then start on another. For the most part, it’s a collaborative effort. In terms of the video and visual concepts, each of us has our strengths and we bring something to the table when it comes to packaging our covers in general. Calvin pretty much is the producer/engineer. Pretty much Calvin and Parker handle recording.
Parker: More so Calvin. I’m not going to take too much credit.
Kelechi: And then when it comes to things being on time and being on top of things, logistics and everything running meticulously, productions running on time, that’s Russell’s area. Then, when it comes to the video concepts, just the left side of the brain, artistic concepts, particularly for the “Without Me” video, that’s where my strength flies. Parker edited the hell out of that video. I can’t express how much I love the edit of the “Without Me” footage. The thing is, it’s tough because you have a lot of footage to choose from and a lot of great moments and Parker has the eyes for choosing the perfect moments to put on the video and get this great product. We all work together on the cover concepts and we all do a part. What you see is the final product of CTZEN working together.
Which video and cover is your favorite?
Parker: My favorite video is “Without Me.” It’s between “Without Me” and “Pusher Love,” but “Without Me” pushes it over the top.
Kelechi: “Without Me” is definitely my favorite video.
Russel: “Without Me” is my favorite. “Blurred Lines” is my favorite cover.
Calvin: “Without Me” – favorite video. “Pusher Lover Girl” is my favorite cover, we get crazy. One thing CTZEN loves to do is go vocally crazy.
Parker: I concur with Calvin.
Kelechi: My favorite cover is the Whitney Houston tribute that we did. It was an acoustic, kind of remix of “I Want to Dance with Somebody.”
How did it feel to drop your single?
Parker: Amazing, pretty much! It feels incredible.
Kelechi: Yeah, incredible is the word. It just feels so damn good to release this song. We’ve been working so hard to get this song out and we finally have the opportunity. The backing and support behind it. We just worked really hard on this song. It’s the labor of love. Hours in the study. It’s just incredible and we’re so glad to be finally able to share something original with people, you know.
Parker: Yeah, that’s a big thing a lot of people have been asking us. One person commented on our “Without Me” video and said, “You guys are amazing, you should start doing originals.” And we were like, “yep we really want to.” And it was perfect because we had so many people asking about it. And we’re like, “We want to tell you but we can’t yet!” We’re excited.
Who do you want to work with in the future?
Russell: The possibilities are -there are just so many great people to work with- Pharell, Timbaland are a couple of producers that are at the top of their game. They’ve always been inspiration for us.
Kelechi: They’re also hot right now.
Parker: One artist that is really big right now, that I would love to work with, is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. But, if we could get Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on Immortal to have a rap bridge, that would be incredible. They are such forward moving artists with their music. Just to be a part of that would be amazing. And “Thrift Shop” is my jam!
What would you tell yourself five years ago with the knowledge you have now?
Kelechi: Five years ago, I would’ve told myself to just go ahead and move out to LA, chase my dreams early instead of being safe and just getting a job. I think the fact that going after your dreams as soon as you have them because you don’t get the chance every day. I don’t regret the time it took to get to this point and meet these three guys because I may not necessarily have been a CTZEN. But five years ago, I would’ve told myself to just go ahead and go for it. But I’m here now.
Parker: Time paradoxes aside, I would have told myself anything. I believe everything happens for a reason. And everything that has happened both good and seemingly bad in the past five years has put me in the position that I am in right now; sitting here and talking about our single. So, I wouldn’t have told myself anything because I wouldn’t want to change anything that has happened in the past five years.
Russell: That’s what I was going to say.
Calvin: Honestly everything that’s happened to CTZEN has been so serendipitous. We’ve had so many small things that have happened to us, that have changed us and gotten us to this point. There are so many things that have seemed lucky, that have happened, that have brought us to this point and we wouldn’t want to change that. Like meeting each other and meeting the people that we have. We wouldn’t want to change any of that.
What do you like to do outside of music?
Russell: I love to workout. I love movies. I’m a huge movie buff. Scary movies. Romantic movies. And I skateboard a little bit.
Parker: It’s tough to say something outside of music. I love to beatbox. I’m just going to throw that out there. But I have my motorcycle license. I love to ride my motorcycle. As of right now, I don’t have one and it pains me every day. But another thing, I’m working to getting a pet frog. Frog is my favorite animal. So yeah, motorcycle, frog, and beatboxing.
Calvin: It’s hard to mention anything outside of music because that’s what we love to do. Personally, I wake up with a tune in my head and I have to write it down or record it or play it on the piano. Whenever I’m not working on anything with CTZEN, I love to draw. I’ve always been an artist. I think that being a musician, being an artist in general, you should try other art forms. They make you look at things in a new way. So I draw, I paint, I do coal. I think it makes you a better musician because you look at the world differently. And that’s what I love to do.
Kelechi: I think Russell left out that he plays the piano. He’s really good, actually. To be honest, outside of singing, I like to party a lot. I do. And, I mean, what else am I supposed to do other than sing and have fun with my friends? I actually like to read. I’m a big novel and magazine person. Oh, and I like to play the cello. I don’t have a frog, but that’s cool.
What is your favorite color?
Parker: Neon Orange
Calvin: I say black. I just love black. There’s something so sexy about black.
Kelechi: I love the colors black and old gold.
What’s your favorite movie?
Russell: I’m huge on comedies. I love Jim Carey. So, one of my favorite movies is Liar Liar.
Parker: I just have to say two movies. War of The Worlds and Day After Tomorrow. I love those movies. They’re so cool!
Kelechi: The Five Heartbeats –
Parker: Wait, I changed my mind. The Help!
Kelechi: So, The Five Heartbeats and the Tina Turner and Michael Jackson movies that come on BET.
Calvin: Honestly, my favorite movie is Blade Runner.
What is your “Muspiration:”
1. When Waking up in the morning:
Parker: “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson
Russell: “Battle Scar” by Guy Sebastion
Kelechi: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke
Calvin: “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder
2. After a long day of work
Parker: “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Russell: “Give it to You” by Robin Thicke
Kelechi: “Say You’ll Go” by Janelle Monae
Calvin: “U16 Girls” by Travis
3. Guys Night Out
Parker: “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Russell: “Take Back the Night” by JT
Kelechi: “F*uck With Me, You Know I Got It” by Jay Z and Rick Ross
Calvin: “Til’ I Die” by Chris Brown
4. Date Night
Parker: “Treasure” by Bruno Mars
Russell: “Lost Without You” by Robin Thicke
Kelechi: “Last Night” by Sebastian Mickel ft. Wale
Calvin: “Beautiful Ones” by Prince
5. When You’re Sad
Parker: Just to prove I have a sensitive side, I’ll go with ‘If I Were a Boy” by Beyoncé … even though I am a boy.
Russell: When I’m in a bad mood I try to pull myself out of it a quick as possible, so I play happy music. Which tends to be 80’s rockband music. I’d have to say… “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.
Kelechi: “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt
Calvin: I just go through my entire Radiohead catalogue and then cry by myself… with a bottle of wine.
6. When You’re Happy
Parker: Thrift Shop – by Macklemore 100%. That’s my jam!
Russell: Jammin’ by Bob Marely
Kelechi: Blow The Whistle by Too Short
Calvin: Hey Ya by Outkast
What upcoming projects do you guys have?
We might be working on an EP that might be coming out before the end of the year.
Where can we find you?
Our website: CTZENmusic.com