Interview: Author & Music Historian Quentin Harrison Discusses His Book Record Redux: Spice Girls
Quentin Harrison, pop music historian and music critic has been an outspoken writer for many publications. Born and raised in the Midwest, Quentin has always had a passion for music. His keen ear and unparallel writing prowess has garnered the attention some of the music elite including legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Now, Quentin is making the natural progression into becoming an author. His first book Record Redux: Spice Girls is a music guide and history book of sorts to the musical journey of the pop legends. His goal is to change the landscape of pop music commentary. We got a chance to chat with Quentin while he preps for the release of his first book:
How did you get started in music journalism?
It was a passion that needed a constructive outlet (laughs). At the prodding of my parents, I applied for an open freelance writer position at the Dayton City Paper 10 years ago. I was 21. The rest is, as they say, history. I went from ranting to people who knew me and strangers via Amazon reviews to cutting my teeth at a reputable arts weekly paper and that gave me the foundation for my writing career.
When did you first fall in love with the Spice Girls?
My first time hearing “Spice Up Your Life” in the fall of 1997. Still remains one of those great musical moments for me that just transported my imagination to another plane.
Do you feel that the Spice Girls became the template for Pop girl bands after them on an international scale?
I think that they definitely created another mold for girl groups to use as a point of reference, but not everyone dares to be brave. The Spice Girls dared. So, if you’re asking if anyone has been bold enough to take the Spice Girls’ approach and make it theirs? I’d say no. Which isn’t a reflection on the Girls themselves or their impact. I suppose the lethargy that’s set into the girl group expression is the result of, in my opinion, a more conservative vibe that’s gripped the girl group structure post-Spice Girls, especially in Britain.
For whatever reason, a lot of the groups that came in their wake (in the U.K.) took the safe route musically and visually. In the end, it comes down to preference, but I always think being yourself is more appealing and in that respect you can feel the Spice Girls influence now because it is missed. People miss the vivacity, the musicality and sheer expression of self that is devoid in pop music today. The Spice Girls had, and have, that.
Do you think that the Spice Girls were one of the bigger influencers of the Bubblegum Pop era of the mid to late 90s?
I would not call them bubblegum; I think that because they were ubiquitous and knew how to sell themselves they got lumped into the Max Martin crowd. There couldn’t be a bigger gap between their music and that of type of pre-fab pop that took root in America not long after their impact. Incidental, yes, but I mean unless you don’t have your ears on, there’s a significant difference when comparing “Too Much” and “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Song structure, arrangement, vocals, lyrics, the list goes on.
How important do you feel the Spice Girls are to pop music over the last 20 years?
Very important in continuing the tradition (think Madonna or ABBA) that you could have a market presence, but that that didn’t mean you couldn’t make great music. They were savvy in regard to how they penetrated the consciousness from a selling perspective, but that didn’t stop Spiceworld from being a fantastic record. They understood, like the aforementioned Madonna and ABBA, that you still had to put up or shut up when it came to the kind of music you put out to the public and live performance delivery.
How do you think the Spice Girls have been perceived over the years by mass media?
Manufactured and that’s totally not true. It’s a shame because as I have mentioned, they were not the first artists (genres aside) to embrace endorsement deals, etc. But it’s easy to dismiss the Spice Girls because then it avoids the axiomatic truth that the music has held up and pop remains the easiest target to pigeonhole in regard to music commentary sadly.
Your upcoming book Record Redux: Spice Girls sees to challenge the status quo in terms of general misperception surrounding the Spice Girls’ artistry and musicality. How does your book achieve this hefty task?
I balance factual detail (chart stats, certifications, etc.) with commentary. The latter half draws from my real life listening experience in that I have a very broad ear. I don’t discriminate when it comes to music, it’s all fair game to me. So when you have a strong musical education, you can look at various discographies and really understand the impact they’ve had or what conscious-to-unconscious connections they have when it comes to lasting influence.
So, the reader will be in for a treat because they’re reading about the Spice Girls through a lens of someone who has a vast knowledge of popular music and can properly platform their music to give its voice room to be heard over the din of your typical critical naysayers. Plus, the book has got a great clean, modern reference guide presentation which makes it a fun and informative read for the reader.
Do you think that this book will shift that status quo to a point where the Spice Girls will be regarded more as musicians than just pop culture fodder?
I’d like to think so. In the end, I feel that pop music isn’t really given the proper academic context and it is all about presentation. I talk to people all the time who discuss the musicality of pop acts or other singers who know there is something special about them; the problem lies in that the fans themselves don’t know how to change the narrative. I want readers to leave this book wanting to discover / rediscover the Spice Girls music and to take the power in their own hands to know they can reset the story for any artist they’re passionate for. Just make sure you know your history and how your act fits in the large scheme of popular music.
In your expert opinion, what do you think the Spice Girls legacy should be remembered?
Great music, strong personalities with fun and reflection present in equal measure in my opinion.
Your book also discusses the solo works of the individual girls as well. Could you explain why you felt that this was important to include in the book?
The Spice Girls were all about five individuals coming together to make one whole, so those eventual solo careers showed their first flickers in the group. I cannot imagine the solo turns being in existence without the group, so there will always be that connection. Tracing how the group’s sound splintered and went off with each Girl is one of the most fascinating elements of the Spice Girls saga.
There’s a lot of talk regarding another reunion and tour. Also there are murmurs of a reality show too. Given that it has been many years since all five of the girls recorded a full-length album together, do you think that would be a good idea for them to do collectively? Do you think it’s necessary for them to do another reunion?
Just gossip, the Spice Girls themselves have not issued any official statement as a unit. Once they do that, then I can form a complete opinion. Ideally, I’d love to see them together, but I know that they each lead their own lives. When the time is right for them, they’ll come together again.
It really isn’t necessary for them to make another album though; I think their story has reached its natural resting point until they’re ready to write additional chapters which they (Melanie C and Geri) seem to be doing with their upcoming solo projects.
After this book is released, will there be more from the Record Redux series in the future? If so, who will be the next artist celebrated?
Yes, it is a series of 12 discography reference guides. Record Redux: Carly Simon is the next book, it is written and currently in design phase. It will be out on April 10, 2017. Work will now begin on Record Redux: Donna Summer in the late fall of this year with a projected December 2017 release date. For further information on the rest of the series line-up, check out the book series Facebook page on September 2, 2016 for further details.
What’s next for you in 2016?
I sort of gave most of that away in the question above, ha, ha! But more staffed writing for Blogcritics, specifically a Nu Shooz interview and Janet Jackson 20 Y.O. (2006) retrospective in September I’m prepping for, but who knows? That is what makes life worth living, things yet to be revealed on the horizon!