Byron “Mr. Talkbox” Chambers is a viral sensation, multi-instrumental, and talkbox extraordinaire. He's the guy who turned heads a few years ago with his viral videos. But, Byron has been in music for years. He's released his own music, was part of TobyMac’s band, DiverseCity, has produced chart-topping hits with Bruno Mars, toured with NSYNC and he's been performing with his family since he was five years old.
I had a chance to talk to Mr. Talkbox about his instrument, the talkbox, as well as all things music and, of course, his faith.
How did you start with music and most specifically the talkbox?
My dad and my mom had a gospel group when I was young. I played drums. That’s where I got my introduction to music by playing with them. I learned how to play drums, then guitar, and I learned how to play keyboards. I was just a music head. Then one of my cousins introduced me to Roger Troutman and his band, Zapp. He played a song called, “Computer Love.” I was like, “What in the world is that?” I asked him if there was more of that music. And, he told me that he had the record at his house.
At his house, he played Roger’s “I Wanna Be Your Man.” And, that was it. It deeply moved me and that’s why I started my journey with the talkbox. The talkbox was not easy to find and you had to know someone to get that sound.
My tech Bob Longo had built a talkbox for Teddy Riley and NSYNC’s music director, Kevin Antunes (I went on tour with NSYNC.). So they had a talkbox on the road. I told him that I needed to build one and I did. The rest is history. I started in Gospel music and just evolved into me working with others.
There are those who hear the talkbox and actually think it's someone using an auto-tune audio processor. Can you educate the people on the difference between the talkbox, the vocoder, and autotune?
If you take a minute to listen to all three, the talkbox sound sonically is the very best. Okay, people will walk up to me and say, “I love that autotune that you do with tobyMac and Bruno Mars.” That's not autotuning. Autotune is a plugin on computer software. It's plugged into a microphone and then the vocalist will sing to the best of his or her ability.
Autotune does what it sounds like. It tunes your voice. I won’t say that it does not take talent to use it because you have to do a lot of work to autotune it. You just have to sing into a plugin and it automatically tunes your voice.
With the vocoder, you have to be able to play keys. You could say your name and hold the chord. It will change your voice to that vocoder sound.
Basically, the talkbox is a speaker and amplifier housed in a little box. There is an opening in the speaker for you to slide a tube on top. Once you do that, turn that amplifier on and up. Then you plug the amplifier into your keyboard or guitar or bass. You put the tube in your mouth. If you want to be good at it, you have to hold your breath and tighten your shoulders. Then you speak using your larynx.
It’s almost like a whisper. But, the notes come from the instrument that it’s connected to. He then proceeds to play an example with his talkbox. For me, it’s the keyboard. You have to understand singing and know how to touch the notes. You basically have to be very meticulous. Then you have to make it look coo,l while having a tube in your mouth and dance. So, it’s a whole different ball game when you’re talking about the talkbox.
You actually developed a fan base in the Christian/Gospel music circuit. I saw you in concert with TobyMac and DiverseCity, which was a great time. How did you and TobyMac hook up?
He was on the I Have A Dream Tour with Kirk Franklin. They came to Sunday brunch. He saw me and asked me to play a talkbox for him. TobyMac saw me playing the talkbox on stage with my parents at the House of Blues in my hometown of Orlando.
Traveling with NSYNC, I thought that was it. That was the biggest pop group ever. However, touring with TobyMac was a game-changer for me because of the off-state community that we had. Toby said that the stage is just an overflow of what happens off stage. All the guys in the group are married with families. It was cool to see all the families come together and love each other. When we go through life struggles, we would be there for one another.
Touring with TobyMac taught me what community is and actually what touring is supposed to be about. It wasn’t just to make a dollar. We would come together to turn people’s hearts towards God. With NSYNC, it wasn’t as family-oriented because that’s a whole different machine being the biggest pop band in the world. I was able to be a light in that situation and that’s something that I take pride in.
I remember when you posted videos of covers of artists and bands, such as Blackstreet, Roger, and Jodeci. They went viral and became a success. We want to hear your thoughts on all of that.
A lot of people tend to first mention Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” when they interview me. However, I have been doing those acapella videos for seven years and those videos go viral every single time. Those videos are what caused Bruno Mars to contact me. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and that laid the groundwork for me to work with artists, such as T-Pain, Kendrick Lamar, and Bruno Mars.
Now with your newfound recognition, performance at NAAM (National Association of Music Merchants), I have seen people on Instagram get angry at you for sharing your faith. How do you deal with the backlash without totally shunning a person who is against religion and Christianity?
I’ve never hidden my faith and people come at me as if it’s something new. Obviously, that person hasn’t been following me, because it’s who I’ve been this whole time. Believe it or not, Tyrese Gibson posted a video of a woman praising God because she survived a car crash. I said, “Praise God. God is so real. He’s so high you can’t get over him. He’s so wide, you can’t get around him.” It went crazy. That comment went crazy and two-to-three thousand people liked it.
People chimed in and others posted that God is not real. I try to come in a spirit of love and try to say something that won’t keep them further away from God. I try to keep that line very clear and I don’t want to frustrate God. God wouldn’t like it if I turned His child away from him. I actually pray and ask God’s help even though my flesh wants to rise up. Jesus walked among the people even though they did not believe. Jesus was standing next to someone and still did not believe. So how much more will we see that now?
How have you and your family been handling COVID-19?
It’s been very good for us. You can panic and leave in fear or you can live in faith knowing that God has it all in control. We chose to live in faith. We are going to be smart, social distance, and stay home. I’ve been able to catch up on things in my personal life. We just celebrated my wife’s birthday, which was amazing. I’ve been able to love on my kids who are young adults. I’ve been able to be more detailed with them and walk with them through their lives. It’s been great for us and we’ve been able to help with others who may not be doing well.
Okay, the new single, “Hold On (Change is Coming)" is out and It’s a remake with Shelby 5, tell us about it and why it’s special.
I’m so pumped up about my new single, "Hold On (Change is Coming)." Sounds of Blackness featuring Roger Troutman were the original artists. Twenty-two years ago, this was the song that my groomsmen walked down to at my wedding. This song is so dear to me. I had no idea that 22 years later, I would actually remake it.
I go to Nashville Life Church where Pastor Alvin Love and his wife CeCe Winans. I did that song during service one day. CeCe told me that I should remake it and put it out for today’s generation. I thought that was a great idea. So, I started the process of remaking it and could not think of anyone else, but gospel band Shelby 5 to be the Sounds of Blackness. They are amazing people behind the scenes. I sent it to them and they killed it. We put it out, shot a video, and it is doing great.
I want to add that I have a new album coming out. No one has done an album like this. I won’t reveal the title yet. So, visit my website and get on our mailing list.
Dwayne Lacy is a long time History teacher in Houston, Texas. He also has a passion for diversity in unity in music and in the church.
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