Jeff Timmons, a former member of the musical group 98 Degrees is about to release his second solo album.
Yale Herald: You’ve got a new album coming out, right?
Jeff Timmons: Yeah, I’ve been working on an album for the past four years, and I’m just finishing up, doing some finishing touches to the songs, and doing some mixers.
YH: So a lot of your fans are people who you’ve carried over from your time with 98 Degrees. Do you feel an obligation to them to give them that same kind of music?
JT: Well, look, man, I’m formerly of a group called 98 Degrees, and we were very popular, but, heck, it’s been almost eight or nine years ago since we’ve had some stuff out. My putting this record out as a solo artist…our fans that were diehard 98 Degrees fans may not know what my sound is, or what my music is like, so they may be a little reluctant to go to a store and buy the album.
[But] I feel an obligation to give them good music. Those fans were good to us, and we got to sell 11 million albums and travel the world because of them. It was like a dream, and we had some pretty loyal, fanatical fans out there who were there with us the whole time. But this album is more my own taste.
YH: You have writing credit for all the tracks on your first solo album 2004’s Whisper That Way. Did you write all of the new ones, too?
JT: Whisper That Way was an interesting experience for me, because I didn’t know my way around the studio, so the production probably wasn’t all the best. I was just getting my feet wet as a writer, so I was a little nervous about putting what I really felt down. So I was thinking, ‘I was in 98 Degrees, I gotta make it sound like 98 Degrees and have the same vibe as that.’ But, yeah, I did write all of these songs, and produced a lot of them.
YH: It seems like the songs on Whisper That Way capture more sentiments than any scenes or details. You talk about love, you talk about breakups, but it’s all done generally. Are your lyrics more specific on this album, coming from personal experiences?
JT: You hit the nail right on the head. That was a personal album to me. It had the sentiments I was going through in my personal life, and with my children. I think this new album is even less specific than that one. Of course, I have some of those ballads, and songs that are more heartfelt and lyrically thought-out. But I have a lot of club songs, stuff to get people up and dancing and have fun.
YH: So where are you coming from when you write?
JT: Well, sometimes it’ll be a situation that I’m in or something that I’ve seen that’s touched me, and I’ll get an idea. Other times, I’ll just be messing with beats in the studio, and if something sounds really hot in the speakers and feels good then I’ll base the song around that.
Or look: What’s the most inspirational thing out there for most writers? It’s girls. If you had an experience with a girl, had a great time, and she kept your emotions on edge, then you might go to the studio and write something that’s attributed to that experience.
I’m writing now with my original group—not the guys from 98 Degrees, but my original group. We’re all from Ohio, and I flew them out a couple years back. We went to the studio, had a couple beers, wrote a ton of songs, and had fun. [And] we’ve been doing that ever since. We try to be as creative as we can while making it simple enough for people to enjoy.
YH: It seems like you get a lot of perfect girls—aside from maybe having broken up with you, they’re all great. Have you ever thought of writing about a girl with problems? Maybe you’re crazy about her but she always flirts with your friends, or she’s hot but has a few felony charges. Or maybe just a mediocre girl?
JT: Yeah, we’ve got tons of songs about different situations. A lot of those girls aren’t perfect. We try to write about some stuff that’s real. It seems like the formula is to write about the perfect love affair, that perfect girl. But a lot of these new songs are situational.
YH: You’ve actually done really well as a solo artist in parts of Asia. Do you know how that happened?
JT: I don’t know. I didn’t have major label support for that album, and coming out just a few years after 98 Degrees, there was still some backlash against so-called “boy bands.”
[In Asia,] a lot of it was grassroots. You know, here in the states, to get a song on the radio you need to have a well-thought-out, expensive campaign. You can’t just go to the radio station with your new music and have them put it on. You gotta pay a lot of money to have records played, not necessarily to the radio station but to the people who get it on there. Overseas, it’s a little different. They’ll take a song that they really feel good about, try it out, and if it reacts well they’ll continue to play it. I think that’s what happened with some of those older songs.
YH: You said 98 Degrees wasn’t formed by a producer. How did you guys come together, and what were you trying to do? What music did you want to make?
JT: Well, when I started the group, I was at college in Ohio. And we started the group at a party. We were trying to impress some girls. Same old thing. They thought we were cool, and we didn’t know that we really weren’t. But we had a good reaction, and a sound that I thought was pretty unique and interesting. Boyz II Men was a popular group, and Jodeci and this group called All-4-One. And I thought, ‘All those groups were successful, why couldn’t we do the same kind of thing?’
We picked up and went to California to pursue the dream. We really didn’t know what we were doing. The original guys quit and got homesick. I ended up meeting Nick and Drew [Lachey] and those guys out in L.A. We lived together and had no food, no money. We basically got discovered at a Boyz II Men concert singing backstage. We modeled ourselves after Boyz II Men. They were extremely successful, one of the highest-selling groups of that time, several number one hits, long-running. Then the boy band explosion happened and we sort of got mixed in with those kind of groups.
YH: Now as a solo artist, what artists do you look up to? Is there anyone you’d like to cover or work with?
JT: I’ve always been inspired by Michael Jackson. I was blessed enough to have an opportunity to perform for him on a TV special. And I was really open to working on a song for his album—in fact I was about to write with the guy that was writing for his album. Of course, the tragedy happened where he died and that didn’t happen. But I’ve idolized Michael Jackson as well as Prince. Big fan of Stevie Wonder—I was able to work with him in the past. But also rock bands, you know classic ones like the Eagles, Boston, and Journey—people who use a lot of harmony in their music.
And then, of course contemporary hip-hop singers and groups: I love Justin Timberlake, Usher, Chris Brown, and Ne-Yo. All those guys influenced me and this record.
YH: I saw that you went into bodybuilding after 98 Degrees. How did that transition work?
JT: What? Who said that? [Laughing]
YH: Your Wikipedia page, man.
JT: They think that I went into bodybuilding? That’s crazy! No, I never did that. I’ve always worked out because I played sports and I played football in college, but I mean…of course the label was always trying to get us to rip our shirts off for all these photos, and we did that. I’ve always tried to stay in shape, but never, ever, pursued it. I mean, my god, the real bodybuilders would look at me and start laughing if they hear something like that. No way! I’ve always just tried to keep in shape.
YH: Well you’ve gotta get your Wikipedia page updated.
JT: That is comedy. [Laughs] I gotta take that out. That is too funny. No, I never pursued bodybuilding. Jesus, that’s hilarious.
YH: 98 Degrees was a pretty big-selling band. What are the perks of being a celebrity? Are you sitting courtside at Cavaliers games?
JT: Well I don’t live in Ohio anymore; I actually live right outside of L.A. in Orange County. And yeah, I’ve got plenty of perks. I can’t complain. I’ve been very blessed to have been in that group, man, being a rock star like that—a lot of it’s great. I got to sit courtside and sing the national anthem at a Bulls game when Jordan was playing in the finals. I’ve been to Super Bowls; I’ve been all over the world, man. It’s pretty awesome.
YH: Who do you find it is who recognizes you on the street? Is it girls who listened to you back with 98 Degrees, people who saw you on your reality show [Man Band on VH1] or what?
JT: You’d be surprised. I get recognized a lot more than I’d expect. You never get used to it. Being from Ohio, we’re pretty much just regular old guys out there. So I’ll walk around with my kids in the mall, and people come up—usually girls, but you get guys occasionally. Guys will be a little apprehensive about coming up at first, because people have a preconceived idea of how I’m going to be. So they’re thinking, ‘Naw, he’s going to be a jerk. ’And I usually feel like, ‘Ok, be yourself, and everyone will become comfortable,’ and that’s usually what happens.