Don’t expect a bunch of lasers, explosions or other high-tech special effects in the holiday shows 98 Degrees will perform this month and in December. That’s the word from singer Drew Lachey.
“With this one being a holiday tour, it’s more of an intimate setting,” Lachey said. “It’s going to be us and our band and it’s going to be a nice long, musically driven show. It’s about the holidays and getting together and trying to enjoy the time of year with your friends and family, so that’s the kind of show we’re trying to build.”
Timing played into the decision to do a Christmas album for 2017. It’s the 20th anniversary of the first 98 Degrees album, a self-titled effort, and Lachey said the group wanted to do something to mark the milestone. But it would have been difficult to complete the writing and recording of a studio album of new material in time to do a tour this year. So a long-awaited follow-up to the group’s 1999 album, “This Christmas,” emerged as a viable option.
“We definitely wanted to get together to do something to celebrate that milestone of being together for 20 years,” Lachey said. “And for us, the Christmas album that we did, I think it was 18 years ago, we are extremely proud of that as a whole, musically and just production wise, content wise, tone, and it was very well received. So we thought let’s build on that. Let’s make some more holiday music. For us, we were able to just go into the studio and create music that we felt was timeless and classic and really spoke to us and not have to deal with much of the business side of making an album. It was more of an artistic way of approaching things.”
“Let It Snow” is indeed a straightforward type of Christmas album, sticking mainly to the kind of orchestral-flecked arrangements of “Mary Did You Know,” “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” that are common to Christmas albums. But some elements help “Let It Snow” stand out from many other holiday releases. For one, the group covers a few songs that rarely pop up on these seasonal albums, including the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.”
The group also makes the bold move of doing “Let It Snow” and “The First Noel” a cappella, a setting that really allows the foursome’s vocal talents and sophisticated harmonies to shine. These performances are highlights of the album for Lachey.
“I think the a cappellas really, really stand out on this one, and there’s a little bit more of an upbeat, happier tone, I think, to this Christmas album (than on “This Christmas”), which I think is a reflection of three of the four of us being parents now, having that kind of childish Christmas reflected on this record,” he said. “I think the vocal arrangements in general, I think the four of us are stronger as performers and singers now, so we’re able to get together and get really good powerful harmonies going and arrangements going. It really kind of stands on its own.”
In Lachey’s case, he points to several projects he did between 98 Degrees activities with helping him develop as a performer. Initially marketed as a teen pop act, the foursome of Lachey, his brother, Nick Lachey, Justin Jeffre and Jeff Timmons emerged when the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and the Spice Girls were enjoying huge success.
98 Degrees never achieved the mega-stardom of those acts, but the group did very well. After notching a gold album with the self-titled debut, the 1998 second album, “98 Degrees and Rising,” topped 4 million copies sold, while the 2000 album, “Revelation,” was a double-platinum hit.
Then in 2001, the group went on a hiatus that lasted more than a decade, before the foursome reunited in 2012 and returned to action with the 2013 album “2.0” and a slot on that summer’s “The Package” tour with New Kids On The Block and Boyz II Men.
Each of the group members took on their own projects during the hiatus, with the Lachey brothers getting considerable attention for their ventures.
Nick Lachey released a pair of solo albums (2003’s “SoulO” and 2006’s “What’s Left of Me”), but his biggest impact came through television.
Following his October 2002 marriage to singer Jessica Simpson, the couple starred in the popular MTV reality television series “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica.” The series had a three-year run – just like their marriage, which ended in December 2005. Nick Lachey went on to host the a cappella singing competition show, “The Sing Off,” during its run from 2009 until 2014.
Drew Lachey, meanwhile, saw his profile grow considerable in 2006 when he won the second season of “Dancing with the Stars” with partner Cheryl Burke. He feels his stint on the show helped him step up his game as a performer.
“For me it was a fantastic experience,” he said. “It just really helped me get out of my shell and try something new creatively. I grew a whole lot as a performer doing that.”
In between his season on “Dancing with the Stars,” Drew Lachey landed parts in two notable Broadway musicals. He portrayed Mark Cohen in “Rent” in 2005 and then, after a 2006-07 “Dancing with the Stars” tour, he played Patsy in “Monty Python’s Spamalot” for a three-month run in summer 2008.
Doing the Broadway shows remains a high point for Lachey, who performed in plays when he attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts in his home town of Cincinnati during his high school years.
“When I got the opportunity to start auditioning for shows, I was terrified. I’m not going to try and lie about that, because I have so much respect for Broadway performers,” Lachey said. “I was like ‘Oh, I’m in over my head. There’s no way I can compete with these people.’ And then I started getting callbacks and booking shows. And next thing you know, I’m working with these people I had admired for so long and growing as an actor, as a performer. Some of my greatest artistic relationships and friendships have come from people I did Broadway with. So it really is the (accomplishment) I’m most proud of in my life is (the work) I’ve done on Broadway.”