Thursday, November 8, 2018
Michael C. Moore
Justin Jeffre is a bit sheepish about the fact that the "Christmas Tour" of his band, 98 Degrees, touches down in Bremerton three weeks before Thanksgiving.
"It's the only way we can make it work," said Jeffre of the massive 36-show tour, which kicked off Nov. 1, runs through Dec. 21 and includes a Nov. 7 stop at the Admiral Theatre. "We really love doing it, and we want to hit as many places as we can."
Unlike their heydays, though, when they sold 10 million records between 1997 and 2002, Jeffre, brothers Nick and Drew Lachey and Jeff Timmons have other people to please beside their fans.
"We're all married and have children now," said Jeffre of the resurgent quartet, who turned down the heat following that torrid five-year stretch and were inactive as a band for more than a decade. "Part of the trick of making it work is finding that balance (between band time and family time), being able to manage both.
"Now, we make sure we take breaks and get home to see our families," he added. "We start earlier, but we also make sure we finish up earlier. I think we went right up to about Christmas Eve last year."
Jeffre said the quartet — which began testing the waters for a comeback with a few gigs starting in 2013 and now consider themselves revved back up to full swing — were in touch all during their hiatus, while they were all building their families and pursuing individual opportunities. Jeffre himself made an unsuccessful run for the mayorship in his native Cincinnati.
"We're friends. We're like brothers," he said. "It's always been something we've talked about, but we've definitely made the decision (to again be a full-time concern). We decided it wouldn't be worth it to just get together once in a while. It's too much work to put the machine back together."
The group — all native Ohioans — formed when Timmons, who had relocated to Los Angeles to pursue his career, invited Nick Lachey to come west and start a band. Lachey brought along Jeffre, his classmate from Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts, and younger brother Drew Lachey soon joined the mix.
After building a base in L.A., 98 Degrees were discovered and signed by Motown Records. Their first single, "Invisible Man," vaulted them into the ranks of teen-oriented vocal groups like the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. They embarked on what Jeffre called a "rocket ship ride" until they decided to pull back, and performed together only rarely until the reboot began.
One thing the band always has been into is Christmas. They're recorded several holiday albums, and embarked on their first major holiday tour in 2017. Jeffre said it was so much fun, and so well received, they just had to do it again.
"This year, we're trying to do a lot of songs that weren't on last year's tour," he said. "For the most part, this songs people have never heard us sing or perform."
That's the second set. The first is heavy on hits, the ones Jeffre said "fans wouldn't be happy if we didn't do."
Jeffre said that for the most part, 98 Degrees are feeling less heat — as in pressure — since reconvening than they did at the height of boy-band mania.
"We also have a lot more experience," he said. "We're better singers, better performers, and we know how to handle being on the road. We have a lot of fun, and the fans can really see that."
Jeffre described the fan base now as multigenerational, but still leaning heavily to the female side.
"We always joke that if you're a single guy, there's no better place to be than a 98 Degrees concert," he said.
BY SARAH PFLEDDERER
Jeff Timmons chats about how 20 years later, the boy band plays on—even in San Diego this month
Balboa Theatre, crank up the AC please. It’s about to get heated when 98 Degrees takes the stage for 98 Degrees at Christmas on November 18. The reunited all-male quartet—calling them a “boy band” isn’t quite as apt as it was in the ‘90s—began touring to perform songs from their holiday albums last year, and this will be their first stop in San Diego. Sprinkling dad-joke banter between ballads like “Thank God I Found You,” “I Do,” and “Because of You,” the family show is meant to have a little something for everyone.
Here, founding member Jeff Timmons looks back on the past two decades, the band’s love for the holidays, and how, yes, they’re still “trying” to dance.
Give us the breakdown. How much of the show is the hits versus holiday cheer?
The tour involves everything we’ve done, really. We cover a lot of Christmas songs, we try to get our dance on—we’re not known as the best dancing group on the planet, but we move around and get the audience out of their seats. We had a Christmas album called This Christmas back in the day (1999), and last year released Let It Snow. We have fun doing those songs and pepper all of our hits in there too. And we throw a bunch of goofy stuff in there to keep it light—last year, we did a little Mr. Grinch section and a parody of “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. It’s just us being silly and doing stuff you wouldn’t expect, you know, 45-year-old grown men to be doing onstage. We’re keeping it light and still acting like we’re 22-year-old kids.
Is there anything you can’t do today that you could when you were 22?
It’s the opposite. I think we’re actually better now than we’ve ever been. We’ve had another 20 years to develop our vocals! We’ve evolved as performers and as artists, not just singers. Being apart from each other and doing things on our own, we had to develop those things. I think our showmanship has gotten a lot better through the years. I mean, we used to not dance at all, and there are those who would argue that we still don’t. We were really young guys and posed ourselves as a vocal group, so we never really concentrated on moving around on stage or performance-ship.
Speaking of time apart, you had a stint in Chippendales during the band’s hiatus (2003–2012). Did you ever think that would end up on your résumé?
Not in a million years. There’s a fallacy that I actually stripped in the show. No, I hosted the show. It was very professional, and then I created a trendier one, Men on the Strip, which Magic Mikeexemplified on the screen a couple of years later. It’s a fun culture. But especially when I started approaching it, it was still a bit taboo for ladies. With Men on the Strip, I’m proud I was able to develop it, and that it also might have been a catalyst for 98 Degrees to get back together—my wife said, “If you get out there, the group might see it and want to get back together now that you’re doing some stuff.” [At the time] Nick was obviously the rock star doing his thing, but I was doing a lot more production stuff behind the scenes. As far as bringing striptease into the group, we’ve talked about it but it seems to fall off the set list every time (laughs).
That’s a family-friendly choice. Is there anything you do regret from the past two decades with the band?
Some of the outfits were horrible, certainly plenty of bad performances that you don’t want to remember, but wonderful memories at the same time. The biggest regret I have from when we were our hottest would be that we didn’t have as much fun as we probably should have. We took it a little too seriously. It was just us and us against the world. We were always under so much pressure. We weren’t enjoying when we were on the Tonight Show with Stevie Wonder or singing with Mariah Carey. Looking back, we had all these fun things, and we really didn’t get a chance to enjoy it because we were so stressed and working so hard. Now, I try to enjoy every moment… even being with our families during the holidays.
Why is the holiday season so special to the band?
For us, the five or six years we were on the road, we spent Christmas together. Our memories aren’t like everyone else’s, where they’re getting around the tree or celebrating with families. We had our own little family and, traditionally, we were in a hotel room or doing nothing because everything was closed down. It means a lot to us to share the holidays together. And now, all of us have kids, with the exception of Justin. Just the thought of being with your family is tradition enough for us. That’s probably a boring answer, but we really cherish and value it.
BY ALAN SCULLEY