The 98 Degrees crooner talks the value of nostalgia and escapism in these “darker times” and how he’s reliving the glory days past 40.
Nick Lachey wears many hats (not fedoras—that’s his bandmate Justin Jeffre). The lifelong 98 Degrees member became a star in his own right in the mid-aughts, when he simultaneously jump-started his solo career and left a memorable mark on the then-nascent reality TV genre.
For some, Lachey will always be one half of Newlyweds’ eponymous couple; a boy-bander and his pop star wife, struggling through the early stages of a short-lived marriage and valiantly attempting to differentiate between poultry and fish. Others will remember Lachey for hits like “What’s Left of Me,” or his various televised gigs, from Charmed to Lachey’s Bar. These days, Lachey is a happily married father of three. He and his wife, Vanessa Lachey, a former beauty queen and TRL VJ, are both featured this season on Dancing with the Stars.
When he’s not performing carefully choreographed dance routines on national television, Lachey can be found crooning on 98 Degrees’ brand-new Christmas album, out October 20th, or gearing up for the band’s upcoming 31-city tour. We got in touch with Lachey in his small window of time between dropping off the kids and heading to rehearsal, during which he was more than happy to talk about Dancing with the Stars, the strange bond between him and his fellow boy-banders, marijuana advocacy, and the allure of nostalgia in these "darker times" in America.
I read a blog post where your Dancing With the Stars partner Peta Murgatroyd described you as “an emotional guy.”
I think—or at least I’d like to think—that was probably specifically related to the last show, where it was “most memorable year” week, and I think all of us were pretty emotional that night, not just because of our own experiences but everybody else’s. There’s a lot of incredible people on this show and a lot of incredible stories, so it’s easy to get emotional. But on a daily basis, while I’m learning a new dance, I don’t think I’m an overly emotional guy in the rehearsal studio. I don’t break down in tears on a regular basis—that was a show-specific thing.
Good to get that out of the way.
What’s it like competing against your wife?
I wouldn’t say I think about it as a competition. I think it’s been incredibly healthy for us. I can’t speak to how it would be for any other couple, but for us—you know, you go through so much in this process and it’s nice to be with somebody who understands what your day looked like, and even went through the same thing. It makes it very easy to relate to each other, cause we’re going through a lot of the same struggles and the same challenges. I think for us the biggest challenge is that we have three kids five and under, so having two parents involved in a very time-consuming show and trying to find the balance between rehearsing and still being mom and dad and being there for our kids, that’s what’s probably been the toughest part of the whole experience for us. But it’s going good. I don’t think we look at it as competition as much as we look at it as an opportunity to experience something really unique together and support each other throughout.
And as far as who comes out on top, I think we’ve all seen pretty clearly who the better dancer is between the two of us. I didn’t go into this experience blind or naive, I knew that she was a much better dancer than me. So it was never really about that. It was about challenges, and challenging yourself to do new things, go out of your comfort zone…I believe that that’s a healthy thing to do in life, to push yourself out of your comfort zone and see where it takes you. So that’s what this is.
I wanted to ask you about your marijuana legalization advocacy—I know a few years ago you were part of a group of investors who tried to get a legalization initiative passed in Ohio.
I’m certainly an advocate for legalization, I think it’s well overdue, and we’re seeing a lot of reform as far as that goes across the country. To me it’s just an inevitable thing. Obviously I live in California where it’s just been legalized. So I was involved in Ohio a couple of years ago, and I’m proud of that. It didn’t go through, but because of that, the state has since changed legislation so that it’s legal medicinally, which is a great start. So even though the campaign I was a part of didn’t officially succeed and get voted through, it was certainly the catalyst for the reform you’re seeing there now. So we’ll continue to see more of that across the country hopefully, and we should. It’s been a long time coming.
As you're getting ready for this upcoming 98 Degrees tour, what has changed in the band over the decades? Whether it’s your music or the group dynamic or the experience of touring at this age as opposed to in your twenties.
I think that the band dynamic frankly has never been better. I think with maturity and age comes perspective, and I think that we all are in this experience now with a lot more appreciation and perspective than we were in our twenties. And the chance to still be able to get together and sing with people you enjoy and make a living at it 20 years later is pretty awesome, so I think we’re all pretty grateful. And we still enjoy singing together and performing together. So we’ve kind of taken the mentality of hey, as long as we’re enjoying this and people want to keep coming to see us, we’re not gonna stop. Let’s keep doing it.
And it’s been a lot of fun! I guess it was four years ago it when we got back together, and we didn’t really know what to expect. And I think we all came out of that thinking, wow, we had a lot more fun on the road together than we probably even thought we would. As far as touring goes though, it’s definitely harder than it was in our twenties. I think the part that we’ve changed is the way we live our lives. The majority of us have kids and families and it’s tough to be away from your family when you’re out on the road. We definitely still enjoy it, we enjoy performing together and being on the road together. It’s just hard to be away from your kids for that long.
I wanted your perspective on 98 Degrees as something of a nostalgia act. I think it’s clear that people feel really attached to that old music, that it’s a form of escapism for your fans.
Well I’m excited because for the last tour we did last summer we didn’t have any new music, but this time around we do have a new Christmas record which we’re incredibly proud of. So I guess we are a nostalgia act, but we like to think we’re still a relevant act, and we’re very proud of the new music we’re doing, and I think people are gonna really enjoy this album a lot. But as far as the nostalgia, I think that the era that we were lucky enough to come up in—the TRL, pop explosion era—I think it was such a feel-good time for the country in general and for music. I don’t need to go into detail about why that’s so needed now, but we’re living in darker times, and I think that there’s a real desire and a real joy in going back and revisiting those times. Music takes you back; you hear a song and you instantly remember where you were when you first heard it. And I think people enjoy that—escapism is a good word. People enjoy the chance, even if it’s just for a couple of hours, to get away from all the nonsense that we deal with today and kind of relive the glory days if you will. I mean, you see that with TRL coming back now! It was just a good time. It was a fun time to be a part of that kind of culture, the MTV pop culture, and its fun to go back.
What do you remember those pop glory days being like?
When we first got signed to Motown in 1996, we were kind of molding ourselves in the vision of Boyz II Men or Color Me Badd. We didn’t really intend to be a boy band or intend to be part of a pop explosion. But then in '97 when our first record dropped, that was the same time you had Hanson and Spice Girls and Backstreet, so all of a sudden pop was back, and we were fortunate enough to get caught up in that. But to say we saw it coming would be a lie. And that’s I guess a little bit of why we can appreciate it more the second time around. Cause when it happened, in those days, it was such whirlwind that you literally were just holding on for dear life and trying to catch your breath. So I think now we have the opportunity to do it again and appreciate it a little more. But it was awesome. There’s nothing quite like the mania that we all experienced back in those days. It was once-in-a-lifetime.
And is there a connection between boy banders past and present? Maybe like some boy band PTSD?
(Laughs). You know, I can speak more to all the guys we came up with, you know guys from NSYNC and Backstreet, those are guys that we still see on a regular basis. And you kind of share a common thread, we all lived on different levels and in different ways, but we all lived more or less the same experience. And now we’ve all gone off and started our families and gone through different chapters in our lives, but I do think you share a little bit of a bond with those guys. As far as new guys today, I’m very happy—thrilled even—that we experienced our mania in a time when it was a little less exposed. I can’t imagine what the Biebers and the One Directions of the world have to deal with now in terms of the exposure, the social media, the constant publicity…we were a little more sheltered. It’s a different game now. These guys coming up now have a whole new set of concerns to deal with than we did.
You’re also someone who’s been involved with reality TV as a genre for a while now in a lot of different forms, starting with Newlyweds, which I think of as one of the first huge, universally talked-about reality TV shows. How do you think the genre’s changed since then?
I guess the first thing I’d say is don’t blame me for the onslaught of reality television. Although we were there at the beginning, it’s not my fault.
That experience was another surreal one in my life. And the way that we shot that show versus the way that reality TV is shot now…they’re completely different. In those days, it was much more fly on the wall, live your life, and we’ll document it all. And now you get a lot more scripted, a lot more—I don’t want to say its manipulated, but its less of a true reality than it was back in The Osbournes days. For years I think people have said this reality thing’s going to die off, people are going to get sick of it, but it’s just continued to churn out show after show. So I’m living it again a little bit on Dancing with the Stars, there is a "reality" side of it, in the rehearsal packages that are put together, so in some crazy way I guess I am still doing reality TV. But, look, I’ve been on the production side of it, the in-front-of-the-camera side of it, and it’s a genre that continues to be successful. So there’s clearly an interest there.
After Dancing with the Stars, would you ever consider do something really personal again, more in the vein of Newlyweds?
No. No, no, no. I’ve done Dancing with the Stars and other things, Lachey’s Bar, other things that fall into the reality TV genre. But no, I would never do another show where it involved in our lives, and especially now with kids. That was a decision that was made as an adult, something you put yourself into…and through…but being responsible now for three young lives I would never do that to them. If nothing else, I would never do it because of them. So I can safely say—well, I said I would never do Dancing with the Stars and apparently I lied because I’m doing it, but I can say unequivocally I would never, ever do a show like that again.
Have you ever gone back and re-watched Newlyweds?
I haven’t, and I’m sure you can imagine why. That was a chapter in my life that was…well, I lived it, and I’m not in a hurry to go back and live it again. I couldn’t be happier with where my life has taken me, and I don’t see any reason to ever look back. So I’ve never watched it since.
So why a Christmas album?
I think collectively our first Christmas album was our favorite project that we did together. And those types of albums are timeless—it’s as relevant today as it was 18 years ago when we did it. And it’s become a part of our families’ traditions and so many people’s family traditions, so it’s very special to be a part of those annual holiday traditions. It’s the 20th anniversary of our first release on Motown, and we kind of thought hey, we want to do some new music, what would be the most special, and for us, doing a new Christmas album just seemed to make a lot of sense. So we jumped into the studio this summer and knocked it out and are just absolutely thrilled with what we came up with and can’t wait for people to hear it. I think it’s really, really good.
So are you saying that your family listens to your album every Christmas?
They damn well better!
Just 98 Degrees all day?
I mean, it doesn’t have to be the only thing, but it better be the first thing they play. Of course. As you can imagine, your family, your parents, your grandparents are more proud of you than anybody. So yeah, they play it early and often. And this new one they better play just as much.
Totally changing topics, but I noticed that all three of your kids are named after places. Can I ask why?
You would think that we did that deliberately but it actually was not at all. Camden was—we had had a different C name and then Vanessa kind of near the end of the process decided she didn’t really want that name. We literally saw a sign for Camden Drive in Beverly Hills on the way to our OB’s office and thought, Camden’s kind of a good name. And at that point I didn’t know any Camdens, so…
So it’s not Camden, New Jersey?
No it’s not—I’ve played concerts in Camden, New Jersey multiple times, but it’s not named for Camden, New Jersey. Shout out to Camden though! Camden Town London, all the other Camdens! And then Brooklyn, she was actually conceived while I was working in New York, so that’s our little homage to our time in New York. And then Phoenix was more about a tattoo on my back that was kind of a tribal design that represented to me the story of the phoenix and just perseverance and never giving up. And Vanessa kind of threw it out there: hey, what about Phoenix? So it had nothing to do with Phoenix, Arizona. And then it became really appropriate once he went through everything he went through: being born premature and being in the NICU for a while. The name, although we had it picked out before, suddenly seemed very relevant. So three locations, but not in any way deliberate.