- Singer LJ (AKA Syvelle Story) jumps between go-go and soul vocals. (photo courtesy of the artist)
As a vocalist with Backyard, L.J. (AKA Syvelle Story) is known for tearing up the Tradewinds, and other area venues, with the go-go band. But he also sings with the '80s soul group Atlantic Starr, known for hits such as "Secret Lovers," and "Masterpiece."
So which is more difficult?
"The hard thing is, coming from go-go, the go-go scene make you stronger, but it's different in a sense," he says. "In go-go, I've had issues with being hoarse because you're just banging. Then, to go to a setting where you're singing into this professional, crystal clear mic that can pick you up from two feet away, that was a transition."
L.J. also says that, even though Atlantic Starr plays big, intimidating arenas overseas, that standing up in front of a hometown crowd is always more nerve-wracking. "Backyard prepared me in a sense, because if you can deal with this crowd in the inner city, they prepare you. I'm still more nervous when I'm with Back than when I'm in front of 60,000, 100,000 people with Atlantic Starr."
The singer actually fell into both gigs around the same time. He first met Atlantic Starr member Wayne Lewis in his Northwest D.C. neighborhood around 1998. “There was this house where celebrities were coming back and forth, and one day I said, 'I’m just gonna knock on the door.'”
He told the owner of the house that he was a singer. The owner then invited him in and introduced him to Lewis. " I sang Boyz II Men's 'Please Don’t Go,'" he says.
LJ says Lewis became a mentor, then, in 2000, asked him to learn Atlantic Starr's songs and come to Japan and do a show with the band (Wayne Lewis, along with his brother, Jonathan, are the only two original members left in the group, but they continue to tour with new musicians).
Although L.J. became an official Backyard member around the same time, he'd been angling for a spot with the go-go group since 1998, when he received a call that the band was looking for a vocalist. But there was another singer in the running as well, so a sing-off ensued. "The lights were cut off, everybody from the band was there, behind glass, and we just went back and forth singing," he recalls.
There was no clear winner that day, so both LJ and the other singer were invited to sit in with BYB. But eventually, LJ's work ethic nabbed him a coveted microphone, or permanent vocalist position with the band.
"I'd just come around lot of the shows, just hang out, soak up as much as I could," he says. "The other guy didn’t show up as much. I'd come and they'd feature me on a couple of songs, then it moved into me getting my mic there. I started singing in the band in 1998, but I got my mic in 2000, when I came back from Japan with Atlantic Starr."
L.J. says that, naturally, there have been scheduling conflicts, but Backyard has always worked with him. "It conflicts, because Backyard plays constantly," he says. "Touring [with Atlantic Starr] is strenuous, but Backyard basically 'toured' for 10 years straight, playing almost every night, so they're lenient when I have to go out of town."
In addition to holding down both singing jobs, LJ has his own label, Yunek Entertainment, and belongs to two production teams: Dream Regime and Money in the Bank Productions. And he has his own solo project in the works under the name Syvelle Story. “A lot of people know me as LJ from Backyard, but Syvelle is what my family calls me. It’s more personal," he says.
The singer also has a part in the upcoming movie Hood Related, with his fellow Backyard member Anwan "Big G" Glover, and actors that appeared with Glover on The Wire, including Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, and Tray Chaney.
In October, Atlantic Starr begins touring again, and will begin work on a new album. And of course, Backyard still plays out every week.