By B.J. Lisko
In its heyday, the vocally focused pop heartthrobs of 98 Degrees were first and foremost focused on being the best at what they do. That being said, members were all fresh-faced 20-somethings in the MTV “TRL” era, and they were certainly prone to partake in the lifestyles of the rich and famous if the opportunities arose. There was just one problem.
“Here we were trying to be rock stars and sing these love songs hoping to have hot groupies out in the audience,” said founding member and Canton native Jeff Timmons. “And all we’ve got is a bunch of young kids! Most people assumed our fans were the same age as us, but they weren’t. They were all in their early teens and sometimes even younger.”
Nonetheless, even though 98 Degrees missed out on a lot of the sex in the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll part of the music biz, it forged a path with its landmark “98 Degrees and Rising” album, which went four times platinum in 1998. The band has sold more than 10 million records overall, scored a No. 1 hit single and Grammy nomination for its “Thank God I Found You” collaboration with Mariah Carey, and perhaps most impressive, Timmons and company largely did it on their own.
“There were benefits to us putting ourselves together,” Timmons said. “People that are purists and enthusiasts of the band know we were a vocal group, and we were signed to Motown. It gave us a bit of different credibility.”
That credibility has been evident on the band’s current “MY2K Tour” alongside O-Town and Ryan Cabrera. Timmons said 98 Degrees has recently enjoyed some of the best reviews of its career, and the tour will make an area stop Wednesday at the Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield.
“I know it sounds like a canned, cliched answer, but it’s been a blast,” Timmons aid. “It’s the most fun we’ve ever had. People are turning out. The skew of the show is one of nostalgia, so we’re throwing it back to the “TRL” era. Those fans that were 10, 11, 12 years old are now in their late 20s and early 30s and kind of reliving their heyday. We’re kind of reliving our heyday with them.”
Timmons chatted about the band’s current tour, it’s unique path to success and shared a few fond memories of Northeast Ohio in a recent chat ahead of its Rocksino concert.
Here’s Timmons on …
“I started with some guys locally from Massillon. We all went to school together, and we left to pursue the dream. But it wasn’t for those guys. We went to L.A., but I don’t think they expected it to happen. It started happening, and they kind of got scared and went home. They’re still my best friends on the planet, but I stayed out there and was like, ‘I’m not gonna quit. I came out here to do this, and I’m gonna see it through.’ I ultimately met a guy that went to school with Nick. He sent me a tape of Nick singing, and I got him to come out to L.A. from Ohio. He brought his buddy, Justin, and later his brother joined, and that’s how it started.”
“We quit school, drove across country to L.A. in a Reliant K car that literally died when we got there. We had no money, but we ended up meeting with producers that worked with James Brown, and they took us under their wing. My brother was pursing acting in L.A. at the time, so we stayed with him. Then after a few weeks, he thought we were a bunch of drunken bumbs, and he threw us out. The landlord actually heard us singing and said, ‘Look, I know what’s going on with your brother, but you guys are so talented, I’ll give you an apartment.’ She gave us one to live in and charged us a dollar a week. That’s how much people believed in what we were doing. We ended up staying in this apartment with no furniture. It sounds corny, but it was like divine intervention kept throwing us a lifeboat to make sure it would happen.”
“We’re all type As. Some of these other groups, they let themselves go or they get swallowed up by the excesses. We’re on tour now, and we have a rider and just got sponsored by Miller Lite. There’s cases of beer and cases of vodka at every show, but it’s not like the four of us are gonna go through all that. We’re all super serious and concerned about everything that involves our craft. We are serious about how we sound and look and making sure our show is always on point. The original guys I was with didn’t have that discipline. Not to say the guys I’m with now are prudes, but at the end of the day, we need to be the best. We understand the competition. We were raised a certain way. We were super disciplined, and we still are.”
“We’re paranoid, and the business is killer. We’ve gone through that machine where they chew you up and spit you out, and it happens no matter how smart or business-savvy you are. We hadn’t performed in a while and decided, ‘Let’s go on tour.’ People are definitely into these kind of tours right now, and we’ve had the best reviews of our career so far on this tour. Now people are asking us for new music, and we’re talking about doing it. People have asked us to do a country album or another Christmas album. As long as we’re having fun with it and we have a certain passion for it, we will. I think (new music) is right around the corner.”
“I try to get back to that area at least once a year. Unfortunately it’s not as often as I would like, but when I’m there Pizza Oven is a staple. I literally stuff my face with an entire pizza when I go there. I go to Tiger Stadium, and I’ll go to the Hall of Fame. I think about Canton all the time.”