Sunday, July 13, 2014

98 Degrees – ‘The Hardest Thing’ (Jeff Interview)

Dan Weiss - Single Again

So for 98 Degrees and Rising, did the band have much of a say in which songs you got to pick?

We really did. We played a big hand in most of our albums, even the first one. They didn’t let us write a lot of the songs on the first album; we started writing and co-writing a little bit more on the second album. But we definitely picked the songs — from “I Do” to “Invisible Man,” “Hardest Thing,” “Because of You,” we were receiving songs at a huge clip, sifted through all of them and we thought that those were hits. It’s funny you ask about “Hardest Thing,” we were finishing the album and the album was basically like, “yeah, one more song on the record.” It was the last one we recorded and it almost didn’t make the record, ironically.

What made you guys decide to throw it on at the end?

It just sounded like a hit. It was formulaic, it sounded amazing, and we liked the words a lot. We liked the meaning of the song. We thought it was a well-crafted song, it was written by a really great writer, Steve Kipner, who wrote [Chicago’s] “Hard Habit to Break” among other hit songs throughout the years, and we just thought, well, we have a surefire way with this one.

Replaying it for this interview, “The Hardest Thing” was a lot darker than I remembered. Did it dawn on everybody immediately that it was about a mistress and not a traditional breakup?
Yeah, absolutely. Just because at the time it was considered boy-band pop, people were just assuming by the production that it was a happy song but it was not. It was a darker song about choosing someone else.

Do you think a lot of the group’s teenage fans understood?

I think like you said, a lot of our fans were teens and decided they were more into the song than they were the lyrics, but I think when they got older they started to realize what it was really about. Same with “Invisible Man,” that song is pretty sad as well. People would always say, ‘oh that song means a lot to me, I was going through a breakup and didn’t know who to choose from’ and they would tell us their stories.

There’s a lot of songs in pop that people think are sweeter than they are, like “Every Breath You Take.”
Haha, good example.

What’s up with him saying he’ll meet her again? The guy in the song sounds like the least trustworthy person ever.

Yeah, exactly! He sounds pretty scandalous. Guys a lot of times would come up to us — of course they’d be embarrassed to say that they were fans — so they’d come up to us incognito and be like, “Yeah, that song ‘Hardest Thing’ reminds me of my girl and my mistress, or this girl I was cheating on…” And I’d just be like, “Oh well, good…I mean, it’s not a good thing you were cheating but it’s a good thing you relate to the song!”

That’s amazing that people would just walk up to you and tell you about their mistress.
People will say the craziest stuff. A lot of times people think because you’re a celebrity that you’re not a human being. So they’ll say the most outlandish things, because they’re nervous and they don’t know what to say. Some of them sound so crazy that you’re like “…okay.” It comes with the territory, but we did hear a number of crazy things on the road from different people in different scenarios.

Does one story stand out in particular?

One girl was obsessed with one of the songs, “Invisible Man,” and we were doing something for NBA’s “Stay in School,” and we were in the basketball arena, backstage before we could go rehearse before our little show. And someone had posed as an interviewer for NBC. She came into our dressing room and had the camera rolling and was asking us a bunch of questions. She seemed really nervous to be a reporter, and our security guy realized the light wasn’t on on the camera, and it wasn’t really recording. And she turned out to be that obsessed fan, she starting freaking out like, “I’m the invisible fan, I’m the invisible fan!” It was kind of scary, obviously harmless but sometimes you never know.

Yeah, wow. So was everyone familiar with the Doctor Zhivago reference in “The Hardest Thing”? Be honest.

Well, look, a couple of our guys were not, okay? We assumed since some of us weren’t, that 14-year-old girls would never understand that. To this day, I think people don’t even know what the words are on that part. You’d see people in the audience mouthing at that part like, “wherever I go…” It certainly got lost in translation with our demographic. We did try to get it changed, but the guys who wrote the song were much older and they were like, “no way.”

It’s a really random surprise in there, the only literary reference I know of in a boy band song.
Yeah, exactly. We were the scholars. [laughs] No, we didn’t want the lyric in there either but it makes for a really interesting trivia question when people talk about the song.

Were you guys trained for boxing at all when you made the video? Had any of you boxed before?

I think a couple of us did some pickup training in maybe one session but it was too hard.

Did you guys feel a sense of competition with *NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys at the time?

Not a bit, we were all going through the same thing at the time. We had a mutual respect of both those bands, their talent, and the struggle behind the scenes to even make it. Just yesterday I was asked, “Didn’t you guys hate *NSYNC?” No, we partied with them, sorry!
Tell me about Men of the Strip, your two-hour “reality movie” about male strippers which premiered on E! Sunday evening?

“Men of the Strip” is a modern-day male revue. We decided to take the traditional male revue—which people assume is stripping—and added a more professional element to it. Magic Mike put a taboo aspect of male revue into the forefront and made it acceptable for females to like that sort of thing, made it mainstream. These guys actually have talent; they can sing, they can dance, they have charisma, girls can really relate to them when they talk to them. But I was fascinated with the behind-the-scenes aspect and wanted to portray that on TV: how these guys relate to each other, their different personalities. It’s extremely interesting to watch and observe.
As one of the few people who’s done both, what’s harder to train for, stripping or being in a boy band?

Contrary to popular belief, I did not strip. I just hosted and emceed, so my part was easy. I see a lot of parallels between the boy band stuff and this: they work all the time, we had to work hard to look good, they do the same. They were thrust into this entertainment business, and what we experience in a five-course period of the roller-coaster ride, they experience in two months.
Who has the crazier fans though?

Here’s the thing, the fans that were our fans were crazy when they were 12- and 13-year-old girls, who’ve now graduated to being adults, and now you have alcohol in the mix. I’d say they’re the same fans only a little crazier.