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Interview: Michael Tierney

The Human Nature singer on getting out of quarantine to tour Australia, 25 years of "Got It Goin' On" and resisting the boy band tag

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Interview from April 2021

Exactly 25 years ago, fledgling Australian boy band Human Nature were working their way up the ARIA chart with debut single “Got It Goin’ On”. Several hits, albums and tours later, not to mention an ARIA Hall Of Fame induction and a successful Las Vegas residency, the quartet comprised of brothers Andrew and Michael Tierney together with their high school friends Phil Burton and Toby Allen have returned home and are about to embark on a regional tour of Australia (tickets available here). Chart Beats called Michael while he was halfway through the obligatory two-week quarantine to discuss the vocal harmony group’s journey through pop.

How is quarantine going?

It’s fantastic! No, it’s OK. We’ve been rehearsing quite a bit for the upcoming tour, which has taken up a good amount of time. That’s been good to take your mind off the fact that you’re in the one room for two weeks.

The tour is going to keep you busy for the next few months…

It’s great to be able to come back to Australia and get in front of audiences, particularly when, in the rest of the world, live performances have basically ground to a halt. And also out to some areas we haven’t been to in, like, 15 years. We’ve put together a show that’s different from everything we’ve done before. We’ve just got one musician with us — he plays guitar and piano — so it’s more of an acoustic-style show. And the songs throughout our career work really well that way. Normally our shows have this big production behind us, but this is more just us on the stage and more stripped back. Getting back to the roots.

Speaking of your roots, it’s 25 years since “Got It Goin’ On” debuted on the ARIA chart. What are your memories of that single coming out?

The first time it got played on radio was on [Sydney radio station] 2Day FM — they would play new songs and people could ring up and say, “Yeah, you should keep playing it,” or “No, don’t play it anymore.” We were gathered around to have a listen and see what it sounded like on the radio; we were all excited and anxious to hear it. At the time, I think we were still finishing off the rest of the album, but we were thrilled to be hearing ourselves on the radio and to be finally releasing some original music.

You’d been performing together since high school in 1989. Did that process of getting signed and then writing and recording seem like it was taking forever or did it pass by pretty quickly?

The thing was when we were kids, we weren’t thinking about getting a record deal or anything like that, we were just performing live. We would go out and do talent quests and different shows at clubs around Sydney. Once we started doing quite well and people liked what we were doing, we thought, "To make a career out of this, we need to find our own material and sound." We couldn’t just go out and do these cover shows — we weren’t going to go any further than that.

So my brother, Andrew, and I started writing songs with a few different people. We found a great songwriter and collaborator in a guy called Paul Begaud — he wrote a lot of those first songs off Telling Everybody with us. Back in those days we didn’t even know how to go about getting a record deal. What do you do? We got together with our parents at some point, the four of us, and said, “We want to make a go of this,” and they said, “Well, you need to get the right people involved to find out how to do it.” There weren’t shows like Australian Idol or The Voice, which just catapult people into the public eye.

Eventually, we found our way to Sony Music and the A&R guy there at the time, John Watson, who’s a big manager now. We went in and sang a cappella in the boardroom, and we had demo tapes with us. They loved the fact that we could just stand up and do something live. There wasn’t really anything manufactured about us at all. It just kind of happened that way.

Human Nature seemed to successfully straddle the boy band side and the vocal harmony side of things, but “Got It Goin’ On” felt more like a boy band song, especially with the dance routines and outfits in the music video. How was it decided that would be the first single — was it to tap into that boy band thing initially?

We wanted something a bit more up and pop first, but at that time, we kind of railed against, like, “Don’t call us a boy band!” But looking back, we were pretty much a boy band. There was no denying that, but back then, there were other groups that had been pulled together from random guys and it was a very manufactured pop world, which we were not at all. No one had put us together or given us songs to sing. It all came organically. We formed like a rock band would get together — kids in high school who’d start writing songs. So it was trying to get that across more — that’s why we didn’t want to have that boy band label because of the negative connotations that went along with that.

Human Nature on Chart Beats

Especially in Australia.

Especially in Australia, because Australia’s always been very much a rock band culture and that culture of the music needing to come from the band. I think people respected that more than just a couple of good-looking dudes who got thrown together, and that’s why we didn’t want to be called a boy band. But looking back we really did fit into that category. It’s just that we came together in a different way.

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