“When we thought about it, we didn’t want to come out with more of the same. So, we had this crazy idea that we might be able to work with some of the original artists,” Human Nature’s Toby Allen says about the band’s third Motown album Get Ready. The group signed on Motown legends – including Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, and Mary Wilson of the Supremes – to perform with them and bring a touch of classic Detroit to present-day Australia.
SSO: Take us into the studio with you. What was it like to work with greats such as Smokey Robinson?
Toby: We were nervous, for sure. He [Smokey] is such a legend and we have had so much respect for him over the years.
SSO: What were the most memorable moments of this album?
Toby: When we arrived, he [Smokey] had actually done takes of two songs for this album – Get Ready (the title track) and Tears of a Clown, which is one of his classics. They played through what he had done and when I heard his vocals with ours on Tears of a Clown, I got a bit emotional actually.
Then, we played in Detroit and met Martha Reeves (she’s a Councilwoman there now). She actually took us into the Council Session and paused the session and got up and presented us with these Spirit of Detroit awards for continuing the Motown sound.
SSO: How did you select songs that you felt would represent Motown and the biggest names from Motown?
Toby: We started out with a list of people we would like to work with and the songs we felt they would like to do and that we would like to do with them … we demoed Get Ready for the first Motown record Reach Out and, at the time, it didn’t feel like it was sitting with us particularly well. We weren’t looking at it for this record but, when Smokey came on board for Tears of a Clown, which is an obvious choice for him, we thought it would be great to do a second song with him. He actually wrote Get Ready for the Temptations, and he had never done a recording of it.
SSO: When you first started 18 years ago, did you ever imagine you would be in a recording studio working with the original Motown greats?
Toby: You obviously dream. Over the years, there are artists we looked up to, but being in Australia you wouldn’t think those opportunities would come around as easily as if you were living in the States in their backyard. It is only by virtue of these last two records doing well that it has afforded us the opportunity to do it. I still can’t quite believe that Smokey Robinson is getting on a plane and flying down to Australia to do some promotion with us for the album.
SSO: Do you see any link between Motown classics, the pop music of a few decades ago, and the pop culture of today?
Toby: I think the style of writing for Motown is so identifiable with the era that I don’t know you get that same approach to the music these days. In the 80s when pop music was having its explosion, technology really made a change, and the production value in songs created a big shift in music – electronic drums and all that sort of stuff. Some of the charm in the way things are recorded was lost. You can certainly try and recreate it, but there is a magic in hearing a band, a lead singer and backing vocals all performing at one time to put down a track and the irregularities in that, that a lot of artists these days wouldn’t let slip by because they would want to correct it …
We changed the way we sang together in the studio on these albums. We went back to how we first started, all singing around one mic to put it down, not particularly concerned if something wasn’t absolutely perfect because, in the mix of things, that actually creates the unique vibe.

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