Behind the Gold Shades: Dreams, Jams, and Janelle Monáe


Marlon Booker, Gary Clark, and Julian Booker could certainly be called Renaissance men. They’ve got good looks, killer style,  varied interests and brains to boot, as evident by their presence at the prestigious Morehouse College. But that isn’t what sets them apart. The gifted trio truly shines on the stage as Gold Shades, the AUC-born music group climbing it’s way up the music industry ladder. Recently they performed at the legendary Apollo Theater, following in the footsteps of some of their own musical influences. Onstage, they’re force of nature. Offstage, they’re your average group of friends, who happen to write songs. In the midst of making what will inevitably be a great EP, and maintaining their GPA’s, I was fortunate enough to go behind the lenses to learn about their everyday lives, their new music, and their plans for their inevitable success.

MP: How did you come up with the name Gold Shades?

GC: We actually decided to become a group because of New York City. So we went on a spring break trip together freshmen year and we went to New York. We were kinda just singing around and everyone thought were a group already and we had this great energy and chemistry and all that good stuff and we started to look like a group walking around the city and we had these bags. Randomly enough a whole theme of our trip was sunglasses and shades. So when we got back to Atlanta, we decided to go ahead and make it official and become a group. We were trying to think of a name and the shades were the first thing to come into our heads because it was such a huge theme of the trip. But we couldn’t be just shades. It had to have something catchy. So gold, it just kind of worked, it was catchy.

MP: So how did you three actually come together as a group?

JB: We were all students in the same freshman hall, Graves Hall, That’s where we first learned about doing music together. We didn’t start doing music together until we became a part of the Graves Hall vocal ensemble, The Heeltones. It was a group of about 8 guys singing together. We started singing a lot of songs together because the Heeltones’ songs were the ones we knew and we grew closer as a group of friends. Marlon, Gary, and I were particularly close. By the time spring break came up, Gary was like “hey you know, my parents said if I had any friends who wanted to come down for spring break, you guys could stay at my house and we could just show you around the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area”. So Marlon and said, “Ok! Yeah that’s cool”. We looked up plane tickets and found out that the tickets were only about $100 bucks round-trip. We also found out that we could take the Megabus to New York for six dollars. So we thought it’s really cheap, Marlon and I had never been to New York before and for Gary, it had been a while since he had been there. We thought it would be cool to go there to see the music industry and what kind of shenanigans we could get into. So we took that trip to the DMV and then we took the bus up to New York. And that’s where it all started.

MP: How would you describe your particular sound?

MB: Alright! So I’m really good at making up genre’s right? Lemme think for just a sec.

GC: Yes! Yes you are.

MB: Ok! I figured it out. We’re a Rhythm and Funk Pop-fusion group. It’s a mouthful but I think it’s the best way to describe our current sound. Funk and R&B is at the root of our sound but we have a very progressive vibe that I suppose is really reflective of the time in pop music in this day and age. So yeah.

JB: I guess a way to put that more concretely is that we’re kind of teetering the line between Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae and then outing the pop group aspect onto that. Because right now the focus of our group is that we’re primarily a band so we sing and play at the same time.

MP: So you mentioned that you’re all classically trained? What instruments do you all play?

 GC: So mostly, during performances, I sing obviously. I’ll also be playing the guitar and sometimes piano but I also play cello and bass guitar and drums. I’m currently working on the flute and the trumpet.

MB: I sing too obviously,laughsbut my primary instrument is the drums. Clarinet, I also know soprano saxophone and I’m also working on tenor saxophone as well. I play bass clarinet as well I play some ʻukulele a little bit of piano. Did I miss anything?

JB: For me, obviously vocal as well. Bass is my primary instrument when we play as a band, sometimes I’ll switch to guitar. I also play ʻukulele. I was classically trained in French Horn. I have a fundamental understanding of the dizi which is a Chinese bamboo flute. I’ve been learning didgeridoo. I also dabble in keys and I dabble in drums.

Making work fun and making fun work
Making work fun and making fun work

MP: How do you balance the group with everything else?  

MB: I mean our lives have pretty much just bled into each other. We know pretty much everyone’s entire family. We travel almost all the time together. We make work fun and we make fun work. For instance, every spring break, we spend it going someplace that we want to go that’s relaxing but we also spend it trying to make new connections to advance our careers, For instance when we went to New York, we were going to see if we could make some music connections up there and we actually did! We always try to make work fun because in the studio, if everything is too serious then the creative juices aren’t flowing.

GC: It shouldn’t feel like work.

MB: Every summer since we’ve been a group, we’ve been staying in Atlanta, working a full-time job and doing music at the same time. And every summer, it just reinforces the fact that we really don’t want to do a nine-to-five.

JB: Nine-to-five is definitely a common hatred amongst our group.

MP: And where does schoolwork come into play? Are you guys just cramped in a corner with your noses in the books whenever you can?

MB: This semester we all find ourselves more or less living in Douglass [hall] or being in the library.

JB: Whenever we’re not in class or busy with extracurricular obligations, were in Douglass. That’s this year. The last two years, we’ve really just had good study habits. Sometimes, we’ll end up bringing our books to studio sessions.

GC: It’s really just about planning and making sure that you have time for everything. It’s hard sometimes but it’s really all about prioritizing. If we know we have a studio session then we’ll just say, “Well let me do this. I have this amount of time to get my work done.” Or when we bring our books to the studio, one person will be recording something and the other will be reading.

JB: And we’re always reminding each other to stay on top of our schoolwork or be mindful of our obligations. It doesn’t take a lot of reminding but sometimes there are those moments. Some things may be tempting. I think mostly Gary is the one saying, “Come on guys.”

MP: So is it safe to safe he’s the responsible one?

MB: Oh Gary’s very responsible!

JB: Yeah! He’s the one usually waking us up in the morning. Especially on Thursdays when we’re the ones who have an eight o’clock class and Gary doesn’t.

Extracurricular Activities

 MP: Speaking of extracurricular activities, what all are you involved in on campus?

MB: We’re actually all members of the Gold Key e-board (executive board).

GC: The Golden Key International Honor Society e-board.

MB: We’re also all members of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America.

GC: Incorporated!

MB: Gary’s actually the president, and Julian is the secretary, and I’m the historian. So I guess we’re all kind of on the e-board for that too.

GC: I’m also in the AUC orchestra, playing the cello. As Julian says I was “classically trained” on the cello.

MB: I’m on the e-board for Morehouse’s Sustainability Club (SOS). What else do we occupy our time with?

JB: Marlon and I actually used to be a part of the Rugby team. We very recently had to step away from the pitch for a while because Rugby and music don’t really go together that well. It’s not about the time. It’s about image maintenance. I had a black eye last week.

GC: And the week before.

JB: And our management team got pretty upset about it. They said, “If you were going to have a photo-shoot the next day what would you do? And I said, “Your right.”

MP: Because a busted face is not cute on an album cover.

JB: Exactly! It’s not.

MP: But that’s what you have the gold shades for.

JB: That’s my saving grace.

MP: So I saw your Apollo performance. What was that like?

GC: That was absolutely amazing! That was the best experience and the most fun ever. I t was a lot of work because when we went, we did an original medley and had to write the music ourselves and send it to the band ahead of time. And we had to come up with choreography, which we got help with from Jeremiah Thompson. He’s a senior here [at Morehouse] as well.

MB: We watched a video of ‘N SYNC preparing for their No Strings Attached tour and we found out that they learned all of that choreography in two weeks. So we said is ‘N SYNC can learn choreography for a full set ion two weeks, we can learn choreography for one medley performance in two day. And we did it! That was week one. We said we would prepare better for week two and we still only had two days!

GC: It was, by the time we worked everything out with our choreographer and our music. Plus we were still working full-time jobs that summer. But it was just incredible. When we you walk on the stage, right before, you rub the tree stump, and it’s like, “Let’s Go!”

MB: Because the crowd is loud and they’re cheering for you as you walk on! Right as you’re about to perform it all of a sudden gets quiet.

JB: And that energy. You’re just waiting to explode.

MB: You realize that this is the big stage, which is actually a pretty small stage. It’s a really small stage.

JB: It’s a very tiny stage.

MB: That was probably the closest that we ever felt to being celebrities.

GC: Yeah! And when the show was over, when we got our stiff and left out of the back, it took us an hour to get to the front of the building. It took us an hour. It’s because there were so many people who wanted to talk to us and get our pictures.

JB: It was a lot foreigners. Because so many foreign visitors come to the Apollo, we got a lot of international inquiries. We took a picture with these Australian blokes about two years ago and they followed our Facebook page when we posted the picture they commented and were saying how awesome we were and they hoped were a big success.

Gold Shades at The Apollo

MB: It was amazing and humbling in many ways. We didn’t win that night. We actually got…

All: Second Place!

MB: And the second time we went, we got fourth place so we actually got knocked out of the competition. But it was still a great experience and we met a lot of great people. But we developed a good relationship with Carol who’s the manager at Sylvia’s Chicken and Waffles. And we go there every time we go to New York. We went there after round two and we walk in the restaurant, and she goes to seat us and as she’s walking us to the table everyone is just staring at us and as we get to the table, everyone just starts clapping and cheering.

GC: It was like something out of a movie. It was like they were just waiting for us to sit down and then everyone stood up and started cheering.

JB: And we were like, we got fourth place. Our Apollo journey was over but everybody showed a lot of support. And we didn’t even know these people.

MB: We actually did worry about if we were going to get booed, and that second night was a rough crowd. Capone, he’s the host, he actually said that it was the roughest crowd he had seen in the history of hosting the show. Every act before us got booed and four people actually got booed off the stage.

GC: Everyone got booed. There were only two people who didn’t get booed and it was the guy who actually won that night and us.

JB: There was one guy there that was literally just there to boo everybody. Gary’s uncle was actually sitting there in the audience next to the guy and when they announced Gold Shades, he turned to the guy and said, “These guys coming up next are my nephews. You better not boo them.” The guy was like okay whatever. At the end of the performance, he turns to his uncle and says, “Hey man. There was nothing to boo about.”

GC: And this was the guy who was booing everybody. For Fun!

MB: I think what we got most out of the Apollo was that we actually have the heart and the determination to make our dreams come true.

JB: Marrion Caffey, he’s the producer of the amateur night show said, “What the Apollo is, is a test to see if you’re ready to pursue music and performing as a professional.” He said, if you can make it through that stage without a single boo, then you’re ready.

MP: So when you first got started, and decided to pursue music professionally, how did your parents react?

JB: I guess they were already prepared for it. Well Marlon and me, we grew up in a very musical household. My mom was already someone who would have faced those challenges because she’s a professional violinist. She doesn’t make a whole lot money doing that and she went to school for that, and grad school for that. chuckles She’s always been very supportive. Our dad was an aspiring producer and keyboard player when he was in college so our parents were the ones who pushed us in the direction of music when we were younger. Of course our dad takes a more realistic approach. He wants us to have backup plans. But other than that, our parents have always been really supportive of our decision to pursue music, because they see potential and because we keep giving them reasons to continue supporting us. So when we told them we were making a band they saw it as another step in our career. They just wanted to make sure that we were doing it with the right person and when they met Gary and they saw how talented he was, they really had no questions.

GC: I guess the same thing kind of goes for me. My parents have always been really supportive of what I’ve wanted to do, and my sister as well. And growing up with my mom, she’s a singer. She grew up singing in churches. She sings in church now. My dad’s not musical at all, laughs but he’s very supportive. My sister is an amazing singer and she’s actually a music teacher now. Growing up, she was the singer and I was the instrumentalist. My parents would always ask, “You’re playing in this band and you’re making this music with these guys. When are you going to do your own thing?” So I guess they were waiting for it anyway. Like Julian said, they want me to have a backup plan which is why I’m in school now.

MB: Every time we’re home, whether it’s Gary’s house or our house, Gary’s dad is like “Have you applied to any internships yet?” or our dad’s like, “Marlon, listen son. I think you should really, really consider law school.” I’m just like alright day I’ll get to that…in like five years. Don’t get us wrong , we have some serious considerations for graduate school but it’s just not in our immediate plans. For obvious reasons.

With the Electric Lady, Janelle Monáe

MP: What was the best and worst advice you’ve ever been given? 

MB: The worst advice we ever got was from a man named Howard Stern. (Yes that Howard Stern). He said, and you can quote him on this, “He said I’m glad you guys are in school because you clearly have no futures in music.”

JB: That’s not advice though.

MB: That’s not advice but he said that. What was Janelle Monáe’s advice?

GC: First I gotta say something about this Howard Stern thing. As bad as those words are, I appreciate them because I feel like everybody has to have that moment. Every performer, every artists, everybody who has ever been successful has had someone tell them they couldn’t. And up until that point, nobody told us that we couldn’t. So because that happened, I feel like now it’s about to explode.

MB: Because Bruno Mars had it.

GC: Right! Everybody has had that moment. Someone told them you’re not good, you’re not gonna make it, you’re better off doing something else. All types of things that you can’t let stop you. And so I appreciate the experience because even though we were obviously upset when we heard those words, it kinda just brings you back down to the point where you won’t lose your drive. It humbles you and you won’t become complacent because you clearly have work to do in some regard if someone is telling you that. The best piece of advice came from Janelle Monáe. She told us, “Keep practicing, keep performing, keep praying.” The Three “P’s”.

JB: When she told us that she was actually in Sale Hall Chapel doing an interview and we had gotten a lead that she was there. And we happened to be practicing on the first floor of Sale Hall. I guess her interview was done and she rushed downstairs to see us. It was actually the second time that we had met her and sung for her.

GC: She actually has a video of us on her phone.

MB: Somewhere. If she still has it.

GB: She had it for a while because the last time we saw her, she still had it.

MB: But Janelle is definitely one of our favorite artists.

MP: You mentioned of course that you met Janelle Monáe. What other artists have you met that have made you completely star struck?

JB: We’ll name all of them I guess. In ascending order?

MB: We’ve met Avant, Miguel, Jagged Edge, Avery Sunshine, Roman GianArthur, Eric Benet, Jazzy Faye. He’s hilarious. Ike Dirty, Isaac Hayes’ son, the production duo The Business. We’ve met Meelah [Kameelah Williams] from 702.

GC: The most stars struck I have ever been was meeting Kirstie from Pentatonix.

GC: She is gorgeous.

MB: We actually got to sing with Avi.

GC: I respect them so much because, we went to their concert and after the concert, everybody is standing outside to meet them because they were going to come out and meet the fans. Then it got dark outside and it started raining. They came out a spoke to literally every single person in the rain and they didn’t have to do that, especially when it started raining, you can’t beat that. Especially when you’re that talented and that gracious because they really understand that if it weren’t for the people who came to see their show, they wouldn’t be who they are. Anybody else?

MB: Besides the already previously mentioned Janelle Monáe?

GC: We met Jamareo Artis who’s the bassist for Bruno Mars, and Kameron Whalum, his trombone player who also went to Morehouse. We also met Brandon Gilliard who used to play guitar for Janelle Monáe and Avery Sunshine.

JB:  He’s not really a celebrity, but we met the guy who’s behind the production of literally every single krump song that you hear on the radio. Like Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz. We’ve met a lot of people behind the scenes.

Golden Boys
Golden Boys

JB: I’m the one in the group who when we’re partying with stars, it’ll go completely over my head. When we were partying with Jasmine Guy, I wasn’t really thinking about it. Then all of a sudden we’ll be leaving and Gary will be like, “Oh my God! I can’t believe we just danced with Jasmine Guy.” Then I’ll be like “What are talking about?” And then Gary will be like, “Yeah! that was Jasmine Guy.”

GC: I feel like when we’ve met celebrities we’ve never actually really been star struck.

JB: Except for Marlon when he met Kirstie and he told her.

MB: I was just like, “Yo! I really don’t know what to say.” I’m just super smitten and when we met face-to-face, I low-key wanted to ask her on a date.

GC: Other than that, I feel like when you start working and doing things in the entertainment industry, you almost don’t get star struck unless it’s your idol or something. It’s as if ok, this is cool. It’s still exciting don’t get me wrong but…

JB: Especially if you want to be a professional in the industry, you have to kind of condition yourself to play it cool when you meet these kinds of people. Think of it like this. Would you want to work with someone who is constantly getting star struck around you?

GC: It’s like, they can’t get over you enough to actually work or be productive. No one can take you seriously.

MP: What are some of your favorite artists?

MB: The list is too long.

MP: Gimme your Top 10

MB: We’ll split it up so we can do current and then all-time. Our top current artist would be Sam Smith, Pentatonix, Bruno Mars and the Hooligans, Janelle Monáe…

JB: I’d go with 5 Seconds of Summer.

MB: Ok! 5 Seconds of Summer.

GC: Ok all-time. Gotta have MJ
(Michael Jackson).

MB: Gotta Have Prince. *NSYNC, Billy Joel, The Temptations.

JB: As far as producers go, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Quincy Jones…

GC: Ryan Leslie

MB: Brian McKnight, James Fauntleroy, Pharrell, Prince, David Foster, Underdogs.

JB: I don’t know if you’ve noticed the trend but we really appreciate a lot of the old-school producers.

MB: We really appreciate the musicality of the 70’s through the 90’s because they were doing pop music without sacrificing that artistic complexity.

MP: Do you think, as burgeoning artists, that you have responsibility to maintain positive messages in with your music?

JB: Absolutely!

MB: We even discussed it with our team.

JB: Our motto is, if you wouldn’t perform it directly in front of your parents, then you should probably think twice about recording it.

MB: We really make it a point in our music. We don’t want any explicit profanity and we don’t want to victimize anybody. The ultimate goal of Gold Shades is to promote positivity through music to the whole world. We really don’t want to go back on that pledge.

The Ultimate Goal

 MP: Where do you see yourself in five, ten, and fifteen years?

MB: In five years, we’re expecting to have already debuted. Probably done at least two albums and at least two tours by then.

GC: A couple of Grammys

MB: In five years, also to have started The International Music Project which would be a travel channel TV show documenting Gold Shades…

JB: Traveling across the world, learning different instruments and incorporating them into a bigger piece of music that would promote world peace.

MP: That’s pretty ambitious for five years.

GC: You’ve got to start off ambitious.

JB: In ten years, we hope to have a “versus” album where the three of us make separate albums, and it’ll be ten tracks for each album. It’s going to sound somewhat minimalist but what people will discover is that you can combine each album together to make one full song each.

GC: A few more Grammys and we want to open “The Gold Shades Kitchen”. We all cook. We all love to cook.

JB: and we all know a lot of recipes.

GC: I would say, hopefully we will have gotten into some voice acting by then. And some music for TV shows and stuff like that.

JB: An SNL feature. Some music for TV shows.

GC: We should save that for fifteen. We’ve got to save something for fifteen. Besides I feel like, when we get a little bit older, I’ll have some time to just sit down.

JB: Yeah. We really want to practice the investment aspect of our future, so we already talked about different business venture that we can involves ourselves with so that we a more…

GC: Broad reach. So in fifteen years, maybe have been in some movies. “Gold Shades Mansion” or castle, or whatever you want to call it. It’ll be epic. We’ve haven’t figured out the total layout but it’ll be awesome.

JB: Gold Shades Mansion, Gold Shades Yacht. We’re probably going to be all booed up in fifteen years.

GC: Probably. Maybe a kid or two. But in no less than fifteen years.

 MP: Tell me about this Gold Shades Kitchen. What do you like to cook?

MB: So I recently made stuffed Portobello mushrooms for the first time and it came out absolutely amazing. They were vegetarian completely. It was just so good. I also make chili and Gary makes these really bomb cheese crusted chicken tenders.

JB: We kind of conceived the idea because our moms are really bomb cooks and when we were little we would tell our moms that when we got famous we would help them open a restaurant.

MB: He’s experienced our mom’s food, we’ve experienced his mom’s food, and when we got in to cooking we thought that it would be really cool to open to a restaurant.

JB: We kind of want to make it a musical venue as well.

MB: It would start as Gold Shades Kitchen the restaurant chain and then transition into…

GC: Cookware! And then a Food Network show.

Next Project

MP: Any advice for aspiring artists?

MB: Absolutely believe in what you do but also be open to good critique.

GC: 1. Don’t Stop. 2. Be assertive. You have to make your own opportunities. A lot of people expect stuff to come. They think if their doing something and making songs, something is going to happen. It doesn’t work like that. You have to go out there yourself and find opportunities and meet people. And when you meet people you need to be ready for them. If they were to say, “Show me something right now.” You need to be able to do that. You also have to be very proactive and have a go-getter mentality. Every time an opportunity arises, it’s usually because you were in the right place at the right time and you’ll only get there by making yourself visible. And don’t ever stop learning.

JB: My advice would be to really discover who you are as an artist. Discover what it is about your artistry that makes you different. I think the best advice I’ve ever gotten was to not be afraid to explore your capabilities. That advice was actually given to me by Mr. Bellinger at the admissions office at Morehouse. There was time when we would go to his office all the time and just talk about music and Morehouse Grads who were in the music industry.

MP: When can we expect some new material?

MB: We’re actually working on a Christmas EP.

JB: We’re really trying to release by the end of November or early December.

GC: Right in time for the holidays.

MP: Are these the classic Christmas songs or some material you created yourself?

GC: A bit of a mix.

JB: The Gold Shades Mix. laughs

MP: Anything else you would like to say to my readers?

JB: Stay Golden!

*Photographs courtesy of the artist’s social media pages and

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