From left to right: Ben Folds, Sara Bareilles, and Shawn Stockman
Photo  Credit: Sony Pictures Television / Lewis Jacob

Shawn Stockman has seen a lot in his musical career as part of the ever-popular R&B group Boyz II Men. Dazzling success, guest appearances, and millions of frenzied fans, he has seen it all. Now, he watches and judges artists who are trying to break into the business on NBC’s hit a capella show The Sing-Off. Multi-platinum Boyz II Men, just released their historic 20th anniversary album Twenty. Listening to Shawn is like listening to the voice of experience, ripe with joy but also a surprising dash of humility. He’s a man who is very grateful to still be doing what he loves and it shows.

I spoke with Shawn prior to the airing of The Sing-Off’s hip-hop night, a momentous occasion as it is the first show to ever dedicate a whole night to hip hop. We talked about that, religion, and even Justin Bieber came up. Catch The Sing-Off Mondays on NBC, 8/7c.

Is there a big difference in the level of talent now from when Boyz II Men started?

It’s a huge difference, to be very honest. Me and my guys did a capella, but never would we have thought of taking it to the level that these guys are taking it. They are taking it to places that we never imagined and never thought a capella could go. With us, it was just voices and maybe the occasional imitation of an instrument. These guys actually sound like instruments, guitars, bass, and trumpets, and piccolos, and flutes, and all that other stuff. They are really way more advanced than me and my guys ever were. They’re taking it to different heights, I would have never thought of doing the things that they do just normally. That’s what makes this so enjoyable too, the fact that they are able to do it so fluently and in such an incredible way with the incredible arrangements that they put on. It’s just absolutely and it’s fun to watch. I enjoy looking at ‘em.

What do you think is the major reason that it’s so hard for groups to survive in today’s music climate?

I know the answer, but I don’t. The more interesting question to me is “Why?” Because I don’t know why the industry has become so corporate, or why it’s become so cold, and just so un-soulful. I’m baffled by the change of the industry, because everything is so rigid and has no curves and waves. Everything is just so structured and straightforward. One of my group members said “these days it’s not about the music, it’s about the sound more than the music.” It’s about how something sounds as opposed to how it feels. You know, can you use it? Can you play this for your woman? Can you play this for your man? Can you dance to it? Things of that nature, the industry has lost that touch, and I think that a lot of artists that are doing this might not understand what it is that I’m talking about, because I think there’s been a gap too, between generations as far, as the history of the music. A lot of these kids, you know, if you told ‘em about the Isaac brothers, you hear “who are they?” or “who’s Marvin Gaye?” “Who’s the Temptations?” It’s like for some reason with all of this information and all of this knowledge that kids have access to through the internet, where you can look up these people with just a push of the button, but the kids don’t and I don’t know why.

Do you think that a capella music can dominate the charts?

I hope so. Because, the art form of a capella deserves it, and these kids deserve it. I’m not saying it just because I’m a part of the show. I might be a little biased, but the truth is that these kids work harder than any other vocal competition show that’s out there. That’s just the truth. It’s one thing to sing and dance, but to sing and dance without any instruments, it’s harder. It’s a different discipline. It’s a side of your brain that not too many people have. These guys have that and they do all of it without any help from any pyro, guitars, anything. It’s just them and their vocals. That in and of itself is amazing, and that’s what sets them apart from anybody. I’ll put it this way – I’ll put them up against any artist from any of those other shows, no disrespect, but the bottom line is that I’ll do that and we’ll start off with music and at any given point the music will cut off and we’ll see who can continue to show.

You’ve been there from the beginning, what do you love most about being a judge on the Sing-Off? What do you get out of it?