Monday, December 22, 2014

Here's the story behind my Vegas buddies: Human Nature

Australian pop group Human Nature has certainly made its mark on the land down under. Here's the tale of the tape: 24 platinum awards, 18 Top 40 hits and five Top 10 hits on the way to becoming the No. 1 pop vocal group ever in Australia.

Now Human Nature is making an equally strong mark on North America. The talented quartet has a long-running Las Vegas show with sold-out performances galore. The Vegas show is powered by a collaboration with the group's friend and Motown legend Smokey Robinson. The veteran performer helped Human Nature launch its famed "Motown Show," which has played for more than five years in Las Vegas. The group performs in Smokey Robinson Presents Human Nature: The Motown Show five nights a week at The Venetian Las Vegas.

Following its PBS TV special, the group toured nationally in the U.S. in 2012 and scored a No. 1 position on the Heatseekers/New Artist chart with the release of its first U.S. album, "The Motown Record," and its companion DVD "Human Nature Sings Motown." After an appearance on ABC's hit competition show "Dancing With The Stars" in April 2012, "The Motown Record" shot up to the No. 1 spot on Amazon's Movers and Shakers, as well as the Top 40 on both the Amazon and iTunes sales chart.

A second collaboration is currently helping to drive the group's career. With "Human Nature: The Christmas Album" a hit last year in its native Australia, the group decided to release the album in the U.S. this year -- and it wanted to add a duet with someone it could describe as "America's Sweetheart." Human Nature's manager also managed Robin Meade, the long-running host of HLN's "Morning Express with Robin Meade," who is also a well-respected singer-songwriter with a pair of albums charting on the Billboard Country Albums chart in 2011's "Brand New Day" and 2013's "Count On Me."

The result of Human Nature's collaboration with Meade has spawned a hit holiday single and a new holiday season-themed Vegas show.

The group's holiday duet, "Sleigh Ride," with the TV news personality-singer, has been gaining steady momentum through the past couple of weeks and currently sits at No. 29 on the AC Radio Airplay Chart and holds a No. 16 position on the Holiday Music Radio Airplay Chart.

The limited-engagement Human Nature's Christmas, Motown, and More show -- featuring performances by Meade -- started an 11-day run at the Sands Showroom in The Venetian Las Vegas on Dec. 12 and will wrap up with a special 1 p.m. matinee show on Christmas Eve.

Human Nature is comprised of brothers Andrew and Mike Tierney, Toby Allen and Phil Burton from Sydney. Just a couple of days ago, Burton got together with HNGN for an exclusive interview, detailing the group's formation and meteoric rise in popularity, in both its own country and in America.

HNGN: Give us the story behind how Human Nature started.

PB: Andrew, Mike, Toby and I all went to the same high school. We were in choir together. And in high school all the music kids kind of hang out together, so we were all friends.

There was an end-of-school concert and Andrew suggested we four do something for it, like a doo-wop thing. So, at the concert we performed "Earth Angel." It was fun. For the next couple of years we'd do the odd school concert here and there.

Then we all went to university. But we were in Sydney schools, so we kept rehearsing and kept doing gigs. About 18 months into us going to university we were getting busy doing gigs, so the tipping point came. We got together and said, "One of these things -- university and performing -- is getting in the way of the other, so which one are we going to give up?" We decided we needed to give music a full-time shot, because we may never get the chance again. So, university had to go. Thank goodness we made the right decision.

HNGN: You started having success in Australia, but how did your connection to Motown songs and Smokey Robinson come about?

PB: We've always done Motown songs, ever since we started in 1989. Motown has been a big influence on us. In 2005 we decided to make a Motown record. It did so well that the next year we made a second one -- and that record did extremely well, too.

Well, we really wanted to make a third one, but we didn't want to do the same thing. To make the third one different we decided to ask the original Motown superstars if they would do duets with us. And, of course, Smokey was No. 1 on our list, because, he is, after all, the king of Motown.

We had our manager and record company call Smokey's agent and manager so that they could ask him if he'd be interested in doing a duet with us. As it turned out, Smokey had actually heard our first two Motown albums, so he was more than happy to say "yes." He actually ended up recording two duets with us.

When he was recording his parts for the songs, we went over to L.A. and walked into the studio to surprise him. We entered the studio and sang "Ooh Baby Baby" a capella for him. He loved it and thought it was amazing. He was blown away.

After that, he became a kind of mentor to us. He was from that point on really following our career closely. And he said whatever help he could give us, he would do. Eventually, when it came around to us coming to Vegas to do a Motown show, we asked Smokey if we could put his name to our show there, and he was glad to do that. He's become a great friend and we are so lucky to have him involved in what we do.

We've been doing the Motown show in Vegas for five and half years. We were at the Imperial Palace for the first three and a half years, and for the last two years we've been at the Venetian.

HNGN: And now you've released "Human Nature: A Christmas Album" here in the States.

PB: That's right. We recorded our Christmas album last year in Australia and released it there. Then we got the chance to have it released in America this year. At the same time, we put together a Christmas show for a run in Las Vegas, where we now live and where we perform.

Rehearsal with Human Nature at the Sands Showroom in the Venetian Resort Las Vegas

Then we decided we wanted a special guest on the album who would also be involved in the Christmas show. Our agent, who happens to also be Robin's agent, suggested Robin as our special guest. He said I know you've seen her on TV as a news person, but she's also a singer. So we listened to some her music and we thought she'd be just great for the Vegas show -- and then we recorded the "Sleigh Ride" duet. We couldn't be happier. Robin's fantastic.

The Vegas show with Robin allows us to do the Christmas material that we were itching do live. This show is very different from our regular Motown show. The crowds have been loving it. And it's really fun. Having Robin to be part of the show is fantastic. We'll do that show up to Christmas Eve.

HNGN: What's next for Human Nature?

PB: We're considering creating a totally new show for Vegas. Hopefully we'll get that done -- and hopefully we'll blow away the crowds with something new.

"Human Nature: A Christmas Album" track list:

"White Christmas"
"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
"Sleigh Ride" (duet with Robin Meade)
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
"Winter Wonderland"
"Please Come Home For Christmas" (duet with Smokey Robinson)
"Silent Night/O Holy Night"
"Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer"
"Christmas Without You"
"Give Love On Christmas Day"
"Santa Clause Is Coming To Town"
"This Christmas"
"Amazing Grace" (with the Prague Phiharmonic Orchestra)
Bonus Track: "Mary's Boy Child"