Q&A with Jeff Timmons: 98° bring the heat for the holidays

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Courtesy of ABC Public Relations

Grammy-nominated soulful vocal group 98 Degrees will keep the temperature rising throughout the holiday season with their returning 36-date Christmas tour.

The original four-member group, made up of Nick Lachey, his brother Drew Lachey, Jeff Timmons and Justin Jeffre, will make stops throughout Southern California during the 98 Degrees at Christmas tour, including the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside on Nov. 12 and the Wiltern in Los Angeles on Nov. 19.

The group will serenade fans with Christmas classics from their latest 2018 album “Let It Snow” and their 1999 multi-platinum-selling holiday album “This Christmas.” They will also throw in some of their greatest hits, including “The Hardest Thing” and “I Do (Cherish You).”

Jackie Moe of Backstage SoCal caught up with Timmons for a Quick Q&A:

Moe: I was super excited when you came out with the new holiday album, because the 1999 album has been a Christmas staple in rotation for the past nearly 20 years. What was the inspiration behind putting together “Let It Snow”?

Timmons: We really wanted to make music together, but we weren’t quite sure about the new way of going about it. We’re really traditionally about putting out the CDs, going through the record stores, going on tours for a couple of years to promote it. And that’s all changed. So we sort of attempted to put music out, but we didn’t want to go out on the road to promote it and with a traditional studio album, you have no choice but to tour.

We all have families now, we don’t want to continuously be on the road; plus we are all doing different things in our careers. So we thought a Christmas album might be a way to do a short tour. We feel very thankful that people think of that 1999 album as one of the classic Christmas albums now. So we thought of this as a way to do two things at once. We could put new music out and we can attach it to a holiday season, so we wouldn’t have to go out on the road and be away from our families so much.

It was crazy because we recorded it in July last year, and trying to get into the Christmas spirit while it’s 120 degrees outside in Las Vegas, or 90-some in L.A. was funny. But we found ourselves loving the music. Obviously the Christmas music is always vocally balanced and full of rich harmonies and really intricate in composition, and we really love music so that’s what we were really excited about to go back into the studio together.

Moe: How about the chemistry between you guys? You all have had separate careers from eachother for some time now, so I can imagine it must’ve been different working together again in a studio. How did that go in the recording process?

Timmons: I think it was a lot different than we did in the past. Early on, we went right from singing with no instruments and acapella to getting signed and trying to figure out what our sound was like with music behind it. So we were sort of thrown into the fire and weren’t really given time to develop our own individual sounds. All of us have the ability to sing lead and of course we harmonize together, but I think in the years apart where we didn’t have eachother to lean on onstage and take breaks from singing when someone else would be singing lead or the focal point would be on one member and we would sort of fall into the background… when we were doing our own things as solo artists and were out there performing on our own, there’s nowhere to hide.

So I think the years have given us some time to develop who we are on stage and develop our singing muscles and our own styles and flavors, and I think that is sort of reflected in the new recordings. I think we’re better singers now onstage and with regards to speaking in interviews and all of those things too, we’ve gotten a lot more polished in those regards. And I think we’re just in a better place. Something that people are noticing also is that we are having a lot more fun. We have nothing to lose. When we first went out, there was so much competition and there were so many comparisons going on, and we were always working and on the road, so it was very stressful. But now it’s all about fun. It’s going out there and spending time with our fans who have been around for 20 plus years and just enjoying eachother’s company; it’s not like being in a business, it’s like being with brothers.

98-Degrees-press-photo-by-Elias-Tahan-2017-billboard-1548
Photo by Elias Tahan

Moe: You mentioned connecting with older fans, how do you connect with newer fans today?

Timmons: That’s a really great question. We didn’t know how fans were going to respond to us. Music is so different now. Justin Bieber has a different style, Usher has another style; Chris Brown has his own style, and One Direction is a totally different type of boy group. We were fortunate to go out with New Kids On the Block in 2013, who have a little bit of an older fanbase than ours. And Boyz II Men who are in between our fanbase. So we were able to get exposure to new generations of fans, and those fans were bringing their kids. We were fortunate to play for at least one million people that year. We’ve gone out with bands like Backstreet Boys too, who have their own fanbases, so we’ve been able to absorb some of their fans too.

Just getting out there and performing and showing that we’re enjoying ourselves and putting on high-energy shows despite the fact that we are known for singing ballads is what keeps us going. And we always have great bands backing us and great productions. I think those things have made us feel really good. We don’t want to seem like we are trying to hold onto fame or that we are desperate in any way. We are just enjoying being out there while we can, but also have the ability to go back to other things that we do, rather it be production or TV shows or hosting things. Fortunately for us, we haven’t had to do any of this, which makes it feel even better.

Moe: How about your live shows? Anything particularly new or exciting with this year’s holiday tour?  

Timmons: In the very beginning of our career, we were doing smaller theaters and clubs. Then when we were signed, we quickly started playing shows for thousands and going on arena or amphitheater tours and it became less intimate very quickly. So they were super loud, super crazy and much less intimate. So for this tour, we decided to not have any opening acts and get up close and personal with the fans and make it more theatrical and about the experience rather than just loud music, flashing lights and all that.

It’s more about the experience. And we experienced that last year; we didn’t know what to expect, but the fans showed up. And we had a lot of people saying this was the best type of show for us.

Moe: Since your early days, you guys have never really placed a focus on choreography in your live shows as the bands that you are often compared to have. Yet Drew and Nick have both been on “Dancing With the Stars” since. So have you guys developed any sort of choreography in your current shows?

We’re still far from the dancers that Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync are, but we’ve definitely become a lot more comfortable throughout the years now than back in the day. It sort of becomes like a reflex; being comfortable on stage and being confident. We’re just guys who would just stand there and sing, but we were almost expected to go out there and do choreographed moves, even though we weren’t that type of group. But we were sort of lumped into the area of ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys who sort of hinged their performances on dancing… it was intimidating for us.

We were athletes who had two left feet and bulky and muscular and our bodies didn’t lend themselves towards that type of coordination. But it just naturally throughout the years became more comfortable as we got into choreography. We’re still not great dancers but hopefully it’s more stimulating for fans now than us just sitting on stools or crossing back and forth on stage.

Moe: As a band who was known to be more vocally-based, it was only natural for you to be signed to the Motown label early on. Yet you were always compared to and titled a “boy band.”

Timmons: I appreciate you knowing that. Looking in from an outside view, if you see something that looks like something else, you assume it’s something else… and then you scratch below the surface and you sort of understand a little bit more as you become a fan or become more educated on what the people do.

So yeah, initially we were a vocal group so much so, that the staff at Motown didn’t want to put our pictures out there. They wanted the public to think we were an urban act. So they were trying to sort of fool radio into thinking we were a black group. I don’t know if that was the best strategy on the planet and it certainly didn’t work for us. So when the new Motown president came in, he said: ‘These guys look like the Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync who are all over TRL and selling millions of records. Here’s a novel idea: why don’t we put their pictures on the covers of their records and start putting their videos on MTV?’ So it really all was just a matter of marketing.

And while we consider ourselves a vocal group, being coined a boy band bothered us at first but didn’t bother us later in our careers when we experienced the success that comes with that term. But yeah, we still consider ourselves a vocal chamber. We still have our two tenors, a baritone and a bass. We do intricate arrangements on stuff; we love to perform vocals. We produce music, engineer stuff, but we look it as hey, we’re lucky to be successful. So we see it in a positive light that we are so fortunate to have been in the position and have the experiences and afforded the luxury that we have.

 Moe: What can fans expect from 98 Degrees in the future? 

Timmons: We are definitely talking about recording something. Like I said, we understand music has changed and the way that you put it out there has changed. I think it’s a great thing that we can even just put a single out. We just love recording together and we are having fun so we are going to explore that opportunity. And as long as the fans give us a chance to go in the studio and record together and accept us a group, we are going to do it. So I think you can expect that in the future.

98° at Christmas Tour

A full list of tour dates and on sale details can be found at www.98degrees.com

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