After Leaving Justin Timberlake's Label, A Garage-Soul Singer Forges Her Own Path

Mar 18, 2017
Originally published on March 18, 2017 10:08 am

NPR Music recently announced the winner of our third Tiny Desk Contest: the New Orleans band Tank and the Bangas. But more than 6,000 other talented artists and bands also submitted video entries to the Contest, and there's a story behind each one. This spring, NPR's Weekend Edition is checking in with a few of those entrants.

The Sh-Booms, of Orlando, Fla., entered this year's Tiny Desk Contest with a soulful break-up song called "Audible." Lead singer Brenda Radney describes the band as "garage-soul," which she defines as "a bunch of fools in a garage — not trying to make pretty music, but just getting together and being creative."

Radney is no stranger to music competitions: A decade ago, she entered a contest whose prize was the chance to sing at the 2007 Grammys with Justin Timberlake. She didn't win, but she did catch Timberlake's ear. He signed her to his own record label, Tennman Records — but after eight years with the label, Radney was ready to move on.

"It just got to the point where Justin was very busy and I felt a bit stifled, so I had asked to be let go," she says.

It was an amicable parting of ways, Radney says, and the experience taught her something important.

"I think when I had the deal, [music] became not fun, and that bothered me. Now, I do this for fun, even though I am broke," she says. "I do sort of wish that I could make this a full-time thing. I know that there are opportunities out there for this to happen, but I need it to be my opportunity, and I need it to fit my needs."

Those kinds of opportunities seem to be cropping up for The Sh-Booms: The band has recently opened for The B-52s and The Roots.

"As it stands right now, Brenda and The Sh-Booms are a thing," Radney says. "We're gonna ride this puppy until the legs fall off."

Hear more from Radney's conversation with Weekend Edition at the audio link.

Lucy Perkins produced the broadcast version of this story.

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Now to NPR's Tiny - NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest. We've been talking with musicians who didn't win this year's competition, but whose music has stayed with us. This week, The Sh-Booms of Orlando, Fla.


BRENDA RADNEY: My name is Brenda Radney, and I am 33 years old. And I am in the Orlando garage soul band called The Sh-Booms. Garage soul is what a garage band is, like, a bunch of fools in a garage not trying to make pretty music but just getting together and being creative.


THE SH-BOOMS: (Singing) That's why I says get yourself some sense. You left the funk. God, you're sick. Black hair looking most definite. One look at me (ph)...

RADNEY: I went to college for music composition and audio recording technology in Long Island, and I dropped out because what I really wanted to do was to perform. There was a contest to sing at the Grammys with Justin Timberlake, and I didn't win. I made it from top 12 to top three. And Justin really liked the fact that I wasn't just a singer. I wasn't just a pretty face. So he asked me to sign with his label Tennman Records.


THE SH-BOOMS: (Singing) If I'm the X to your O, oh, oh, oh, oh, then show me, baby. Let me know.

RADNEY: I had been signed to Justin for roughly eight years, and I was in the process of recording a full-length album. However, his label was dropped from Interscope before that came to fruition. And so I've moved on, and that's where we are now with The Sh-Booms.


RADNEY: We submitted because - I have known about Tiny Desk forever. I knew all about this contest. I didn't write the song. Al wrote the song because he's the writing genius (laughter) of the band, and we had a photo shoot. And Al's like, hey, we should try to submit because I think they're closing the submissions, like, tomorrow or something like that. We were like, yeah, yeah. Everybody had their gear. And we just made it happen.


THE SH-BOOMS: (Singing) So tell me, is this the girl you see?

RADNEY: The song is called "Audible." And the context of the song is speaking to a significant other or an ex-lover and basically telling them that, hey, you're making my life really difficult, and I'm kind of pumping the brakes on this. It's everybody's favorite song. It's the last song that we usually sing and play when we're performing. It's a very heartfelt and soulful song.


THE SH-BOOMS: (Singing) When I'm coming (unintelligible). You'll never...

RADNEY: I go back and forth between, like, I want to do this as a career versus I do this for fun. I think when I had the deal, it became not fun and that bothered me. Now, I do this for fun. Even though I am broke, (laughter) it doesn't matter. But at the same time, I do sort of wish that I could make this a full-time thing.

We've had a great year. We opened for the B-52s. We've opened for The Roots when they've come to Orlando, so. And we've had a lot of really awesome opportunities. I wouldn't mind working on my own stuff. I have no problem doing that. But as it stands right now, Brenda and The Sh-Booms are a thing. And we're going ride this puppy until the legs fall off.


SIMON: Brenda Radney of The Sh-Booms in Orlando.


THE SH-BOOMS: (Singing) Well - scraping change, plans are delayed... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.