Pop quartet 98 Degrees kicked off their 98 Degrees at Christmas 2018 tour on November 1, just in time for the holiday season. Band members Jeff Timmons, Justin Jeffre, and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey are poised to follow up on their successes of 2017. Drew Lachey joined me on the phone recently to discuss the Christmas album, Let It Snow, how 98 Degrees keeps evolving, and his performing arts camp.
How has the new tour been going?
Everything is going great so far. We actually had our first show on November 1 … We are chugging right along. We’re having a lot of fun. The fans are enjoying themselves, same as us. I can’t ask for much more than that. We’re off to a good start!
What age range are you seeing?
We see a pretty wide range. Some of the shows we do are at casinos, so we get an older crowd there than theaters. The theaters have a wider range of the audience.
What’s your favorite Christmas song to perform and why?
I think there’s a couple for different reasons. We do “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as a way to end the show and send people off. I enjoy that because we’ve had a lot of fun, we sang all these songs, but ultimately we want everybody to have a great holiday season. It’s a great arrangement of it. We also have fun ones that we perform in there which are lighter-hearted and get the audiences involved a little more. I enjoy those as well. I don’t want to give away the whole show. (laughs) We do fun, tongue-in-cheek stuff, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
That’s a great teaser. It doesn’t sound like you guys felt nervous taking on the holiday classics.
No, anytime you do a song that’s widely known and recognized, you definitely want to make sure you do right by the most popular version of it. Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra are guys who sang the songs that we’re singing. You want to do them well and do them right. We approach our Christmas albums with a classic feel to them, with a good and strong vocal range, orchestration and production. Our Christmas albums definitely stand on their own.
How did the original track “Season of Love” come together for you?
We were in the studio trying to brainstorm about it. We decided the direction we wanted to take was that everybody is so loving, generous, giving, and in such great spirits around the holidays. Why does it have to be November to December? Why can’t we continue that year-round? We were working with our producers and we played with different sounds. They had an old Motown sample that we used as a kind of basis to write the song. It had a great groove to it. The whole vibe came from that, and we went on to the drums and everything.
How do you continue to challenge yourselves and stay strong as a band?
Every day getting out of bed is a challenge. We’re getting older now, so – no, I’m kidding. (laughs) We still try and grow and improve. We push ourselves artistically. On our last Christmas album, we had the most challenging vocal arrangements we’ve ever had. We push ourselves in the show as far as who takes lead and dividing that up.
We put on a good, active, entertaining, and energetic show. We’re not the kind of guys that get complacent and say, “It was good enough last time. It’ll be good enough this time.” We always push ourselves, change, evolve, and grow. I think any performer or artist is going to try to do that. They’ll get bored doing the same show and material over and over again. You want to keep evolving.
What can you tell me about 2019?
We still love making music together. We’re very excited about the possibilities and opportunities that lay in front of us, whether it’s making more music or continuing to tour. We’ve been really focused on this tour and promoting Let It Snow.
I want to spend some time discussing your performing arts camp, Lachey Arts. What successes have you seen over the years with your students?
The successes vary by student. Not every kid is going to come through the program and decide, “I’m going to go to Broadway.” They might say, “Hey, I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Now I’ve decided I want to go into music education” or “I’m going to go to college.”
We’ve got students that have full rides to Carnegie Mellon. We have a kid who was just on The Voice. We have different kids that are all enjoying success in different ways. It gets confusing because my wife and I will say, “Our kids,” and people don’t know if we’re talking about our two actual biological kids or however many – the 250 kids that have gone through our program.
It’s definitely a huge passion project for us to where we’ve started developing original shows and things like that based around our students. We have one called “label•less” that we created, directed, and choreographed. It focused on all the issues that affect the youth of today, whether it’s racism, sexism, homophobia, depression, and takes [you on] this journey to address those.
How has teaching made you a better singer and performer?
In general, when you’re constantly seeing kids perform and how they have an openness to explore characters and give honest, organic performances, you see the difference. You say to them, “Make it truer and make it real. Write the lyrics of the song and perform this as a monologue.” All these techniques make you go back and revisit your approach to your own performances. I can say with 100 percent sincerity that teaching made me a stronger and more educated performer. I don’t flow through it. There’s intention behind my actions and the way I perform.
As we wrap up here, what message would you like to share with the fans?
First and foremost, I want to say thank you. They have absolutely made every single one of my dreams come true from an artistic point of view. For people who want to come to the shows, come on out. We’ll have fun and a good time. There’s great music. It’s energetic and fun! It’ll get you into the holiday spirit.
Thanks, Drew. Good luck with the tour.