For an artist in today’s entertainment industry, you know you’ve made impressive strides in your career whenever you can put together a career that includes 6 successful albums; continously exceeding Platinum or Gold status, while garnering nominations and praise with multiple Grammy Awards, BET Awards and American Music Awards. All that’s even more impressive when you just happen to be a Gospel singing duo. Mary Mary has been changing the game of Gospel since they jumped on the scene in the year 2000, so not surprisingly, Erica & Trecina “Tina” Atkins-Campbell are role models for artists across the world. More recently the ladies have become larger than life figures, not just because of their music but because of the exposure of their personal life and showcasing their ability to do it all over the beats and on the charts, while maintaining happy homes and stable families. Fresh off the release of their latest album, Go Get It, and the success of their self-titled reality show, they took some time out their busy schedule to talk with Parlé Magazine about their journey, their thoughts on being connected to the term “urban gospel” and of course the reality show success. Our Mary Mary interview:
Parlé Magazine: Let’s start with the reality show since that’s a major look for you ladies right now, and you just locked down the second season. How’d you get involved in the world of reality television?
Tina: We had a meeting with a production company in L.A., that initially, I don’t think they thought they’d be interested in working with Gospel artists–
Erica: No they actually said, “I had no interest in you guys at all.” (Laughs)
Tina: And at the end of the conversation, before she even left the street she was calling our manager going, “I wanna do this.” Any time we’re around people from T.V. they were telling us, ‘You should do a reality show.’ Our reference is only what we saw, so we were like…
Mary Mary (unison): “Heck No.”
Tina: When we realized it would be an opportunity to let our lives shine and show, I thought we felt good about it. So we took the necessary business precautions like being the executive producers and making sure that we had a relationship with the network and the production company to get a bit of control and to make sure that the show that we’re showing kinda is true– because editing can be a booger sometimes.
Erica: Oh yes! I have to add, we just began a new relationship with a new manager (at the time), we felt very confident and sometimes when you’re doing something like that you need someone who is a great manager, mastermind behind it to help pull all the pieces together as well and help propel what our vision is and we had a great manager that was helping to push the idea. We had talked about it before with previous managers but with this manager we just kinda clicked. And we thought, perhaps we should do it after he shared some insight on why we should. Our being wives and being happily married for over 10 years, being sisters in business for so long who have not quit, having children but still managing a pretty hectic travel schedule and doing pretty well in our careers. He was like you know, “I think that that can show the inspiration that you have in your music.’ It kinda made us think about it and consider it, so we did it.
Parlé: Okay, was the meeting something you approached them about or how’d that come about?
Tina: Meeting with production was set up by our manager. We literally sat down and talked for about an hour and a half over breakfast. We were just being ourselves. I didn’t even really feel like we were pitching ourselves or selling ourselves, we were just talking about the nature of our lives and our relationship, trying to mange it all and what that means for a lot of women that want to live well. So they want a relationship and they want business and most women feel like I can have one OR another, I can not have a successful career, in anything, not just in music or entertainment and have a healthy family and relationship and be pregnant every 5 minutes (sly laugh). That’s not usually the norm. Even now, some of my entertainment friends who have since stopped music and are moreso mommying have sent personal emails like, “I’m so motivated. I want my career back because I lost it when I got married and had a baby. My label told me that I couldn’t do it, but you guys really motivated me.” I feel really good about that. And that’s what its allowed us to do, have that level of our lives and touch other people.
Parlé: There’s a lot more we have to get into but one last question about reality shows, did you ladies watch reality shows before having your own?
Tina: To be honest, not really. I’m not a big t.v. fan, I watch a little bit when I have my down time but our lives are really busy, so unless its something I really love and it really helps to make my day better if I watch it, than I don’t really watch it. Reality television just didn’t grab me like that.
Erica: I actually DVR’ed The Braxtons and I watched Brandy and Ray J, and I watched Fantasia and Keyshia. Some of these other ones, not too much for me, but the ones that included family are the ones that I did watch. And I knew that we offered something different.
Parlé: Family is really important to you ladies, obviously, but what was it that sparked you two ladies to become the duo? I know you sang in the choir and in church but how’d you separate and become Mary Mary?
Tina: We didn’t only sing in the choir, we were in the children’s choir, we were in the choir at school, we were in the teenage choir, the adult choir, music was around the house all the time, it’s how we lived. We would put on concerts not because we wanted to be singers but because it was fun. Music just brought great joy to our lives. Those of us in our family that didn’t pursue it still like it, and are still involved in it, either singing in the choir or just love music. Music was just that thing for us, but we kinda found out that the two of us were the most passionate about it. She pursued it in college, I pursued it in college and music ended up taking us away before we could finish our degrees and a degree doesn’t always dictate that you will have a successful career so we went on with the opportunities as they came. But it’s just something we wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily see myself in this capacity–me on the mic as the star–I just knew that it was going to be music. I thought that I would probably teach, but I loved it and I knew that I wanted it to be part of my life, professionally.
Erica: For me, I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do since I was 5 years old. When we were in scripture school and everyone else had to read scriptures, I had to sing. When they would be outside, I would be with the adult choir at 12 and I didn’t necessarily want to be there, I wanted to be outside playing tag with my friends but I know that that was preparation. I know that with Tina’s personality, had God told her this is what she was going to do, she would be like, NO (Tina shakes her head). He kinda had to sneak it on her cause she could sing when she was little just like I could but she would hide.
Tina: I didn’t like the pressure of being out in front, being watched and being scrutinized. I’m a perfectionist, I’m overcoming… Recovering. (Laughs). And I’m very particular about a lot of things so if there are flaws and shortcomings I’ll notice them. So I was like I don’t want to be up there with everybody noticing those for me. Again, you never know what turns your life will take. I planned to do it in a small way. God planned for me to do it in a big way. I thank God for having this opportunity and having this platform and I don’t take it lightly. We try our very best to use it well and be as inspirational as our music and to be women of integrity, make sure we’re standing up for something. And make sure that our life and our time and our platform count because this is so big and there are so many people that want this.
Parlé: What are your thoughts on the term urban gospel? It’s almost pretty synonymous with you ladies now, how do you feel about it though?
Erica: We knew that ours would reach “the regular folk,” the hood, the homies, because that’s where we come from. We were raised in Englewood, there was the church… But there was also the thugs that lived behind the church, which was our cousins and my brother. (Laughs). Then there were the folks with the drug problem, the chicks who felt they needed to sell certain parts of themselves, so it was all that. And in every neighborhood you have the church and the liquor store on the corner so we relate to those people. Our brand of gospel connects to them because we’re from where they’re from. And it wasn’t like we were from the suburbs saying we want to sing this type of music, it comes from a real place. It wasn’t contrived at all. There are a lot of neighborhoods that need it that don’t have that pretentious mindset that people assume christians have. There are some regular folks with regular jobs and they love God too. I think our music offers solution and answer and reason and inspiration.
Tina: I think the urban gospel thing gives off the understanding that its cool and accessible in urban neighborhoods. And when you think of urban neighborhoods you don’t think about the things you’d generally experience in the suburbs. If this is where we’re from then we tell stories of where we’re from and what brought us up to where we are today.
Erica: But its not exclusive to. We’ve met fans from all ethnicities and regions and they told us personally how the music has touched them, blessed them in whatever way. Our music is for everybody and that’s what we intentionally went after.
Tina: When we first got signed at Sony they asked us, ‘so who do you want to sing for?’ And we said, (simultaneously) “The World.”‘ And they kind of chuckled, but I was like, no literally, I want to sing for everyone on the planet. I don’t want to just sing for Black people, I don’t just want to sing for poor people, I don’t want to sing for white people, I don’t want to sing for rich people, I want to sing for the world. And if you think about the sound of urban music in the space that it has been able to infiltrate, it has become Pop, it has crossed into every culture, all ages, been able to connect people that would not connect for any other reason and a lot of times, it’s urban music. So when I think urban I don’t just think Black, I think, from the cities, relevant today, contemporary. I don’t think color necessarily. Urban has kinda taken on a new meaning, especially when it comes to music.
Parlé: Was there ever a point where doing Gospel wasn’t the main option? When you were originally signed you got signed to a production deal and you were writing for R & B artists, creating R & B–
Tina: No, we were just writing. Some of the music we wrote, we did a song for 702, we did a song for Yolanda Adams, we did a song for the Prince of Egypt soundtrack. We were just songwriters. We weren’t any special kind of song writers, wherever our songs made sense, whoever wanted it, and whatever they wanted musically, we provided.
Erica: Writing our own songs is what came first. We wrote “Shackles” early on, we wrote it for the Prince of Egypt soundtrack but it got so much attention, we were kind’ve like, ‘we’ll keep this for us.’ The first person that paid attention to the song and to us as Mary Mary was Puff–or P Diddy. We ended up not signing to him but it was quite interesting because he hadn’t seen us or anything, he just wanted us to come to NY to meet with him because he wanted to sign us. We ended up meeting with him and Sony and ended up signing with Sony because we felt that was the best situation for us.
Tina: Signing that production deal with Warryn Campbell, who’s Erica’s husband, my brother in law, and a great producer, was one of the smartest things we could have ever done because a lot of artists have to rely on an A & R and its trying to figure out their musical style and a musical fit and its not always a perfect fit. But Warryn is a person that we made our music with before we were even artists. He understood our sound, he came from where we came from, he was a preacher’s kid who was working in mainstream music, so he got our style and our flare. A lot of people who got into music where born and raised in church and so was Warryn. When it came time to make our music it was never, ‘what are we going to write? who are we gonna get a song from?’ Warryn was always the mastermind behind that. He’d come in, he’d give us some direction and we’d put it together. Making the records always stayed between the three of us, Warryn, Erica and myself. We never had to keep finding and recreating our chemistry as record companies changed and people leave, because its like a revolving door. So it was one of the smartest things we could have ever done.
Erica: It just allowed us to have consistency musically. A lot of the time if you don’t have a production team the label has to assign one. We’ve been blessed to be able to go into the label and say, ‘this is our album.’
Tina: It’s also an advantage of being one of the writers of your original music and original hits because if you create the sound that the world knows you from then they’re confident in you being able to recreate and recreate. Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to create differently every time. We’ve never done another “Shackles,” we’ve never done another “God In Me,” we’ve never done another “Yesterday,” we don’t try to repeat ourselves, we just try to let greatness come from us when its time for us to do what we do.
Parlé: Over the course of your career you’ve received many awards and accolades, is there anyone that stands out for any particular reason?
Erica: They all have a special place. I think the first Stellar Award–the first of everything. The first Stellar Award we were just fans of everybody cause we grew up only listening to Gospel because that’s what our mother would allow. So the first Stellar Award I’m looking around at people I would listen to with my sisters as kids and its like, “OH MY GOD.” The first Stellar Awards we were nominated for 6. The first Grammy’s cause we were just so hyped to be there. When they called our names we just took off running. You’re supposed stroll and do the cool walk
Tina: uh uh, ran!
Erica: Formal gowns, I left my purse, fortunately someone sent it back to me. But the first Grammys and the first Stellar Awards will always hold a special place because it was like ‘we finally got here.’ We’re always glad to go back, but we’ll always remember the first one.