98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons on the ‘Boy Band’ Stigma and 20+ Years as a Group (Interview at the NAMM Show 2018)

98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons on the ‘Boy Band’ Stigma and 20+ Years as a Group (Interview at the NAMM Show 2018)

The NAMM Show brings together musicians and industry insiders from throughout the musical spectrum. For a weekend in Southern California, the entire music business comes together to celebrate music — and learn about the latest and greatest products from top manufactures. It’s also a great opportunity to catch up with musicians there for the fun. Jeff Timmons of the pop group 98 Degrees happened to be there this year and was kind enough to speak with Rock Cellar for a career-spanning interview — enjoy the candid and honest chat below.

Rock Cellar: We’re here at the NAMM Show, and I understand you come every year. What’s your main interest here, and which booths do you just have to hit up and visit?

Jeff Timmons: I have been coming every year for the past three years. I’m a big studio, behind-the-scenes guy. I’m very blessed to be in front of the scenes, love being on stage … we were very mainstream, considered a “boy band,” but a pop group, and still happy to be around 20 years later. But my real passion is to be in the studio. Producing other artists, producing things for TV, all that.

In terms of must-see booths at NAMM, I’m going to check out Universal Audio, Spectrasonics, all of the VSTI – virtual instruments, since I’m not very prolific on the keys or anything like that or any instrument in general – so any of the technology that makes that easier for me so I can compose things, I’ll be nerding around those booths.

Rock Cellar: So you do a lot of production work when you can, these days?

Jeff Timmons: Yeah, I’ve been doing that for a while. When 98 Degrees got off the road there for a little while, I was doing stuff for other artists, working with other acts, was fortunate enough to do some things for TV, I did all the music for a series on Discovery Science, that was an undertaking that I didn’t expect, but a great experience nonetheless.

Rock Cellar: You mentioned the phrase “boy band,” and I wanted to ask…20 years later, is it weird to be referred to as that?

Jeff Timmons: Well, 20 years ago we didn’t even want to use that phrase. We’re one of the groups from that genre that put ourselves together, we actually got ourselves signed singing a cappella. There are some connotations that go along with “boy band,” whether you lip sync, or you’re put together by some svengali in the music business, you’re tutored and trained in every facet of the business, or whatever. That was not the case with us, but at the same time, the boy band stigma isn’t that bad.

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At the time, we were young guys, we traveled the world, meeting girls everywhere, and be affiliated with a very successful genre. We didn’t have any complaints after the fact.

Rock Cellar: And then two decades later, you see your peers from back then doing these big cruises every year, still playing to large audiences.

Jeff Timmons: Cruises, we’ve been approached about them. We haven’t done one yet but we’re considering it. A few years ago we were considering coming back but didn’t know what the climate was going to be. We didn’t know if our fans were going to be there, and fortunately for us, they are, still coming out in droves supporting us. We’re having more fun than ever, as opposed to the pressures of the business and having to rely on that as our be-all, end-all. So it turned out OK, we’re still doing it and we’re having a blast.

Rock Cellar: So it’s fun to get the crew back together, so to speak?

Jeff Timmons: it’s a nice luxury to have, yeah. It’s not like we have to start all over again, since we’ve been lucky enough to sell upwards of 15 million records by now, those fans are still there.

Rock Cellar: So back in the late ‘90s, I’m sure 98 Degrees got into all sorts of crazy experiences just from the pop music scene or your success in general. What was one of the moments that stands out to you the most in a “oh damn, we’ve made it” level?

Jeff Timmons: I mean, there were so many things it’s hard to count, to be honest. It sounds like an arrogant thing to say but it’s hard to pick just one. We got to do a song with Mariah Carey that went to No. 1, we performed for Michael Jackson and the President, toured the world, the list goes on. But I think some of the ones that really stuck out … the first time you hear your song on the radio. It was here in LA, KISS FM, that blew us away. It just sort of escalates from there. Doing a song with Stevie Wonder on the Tonight Show, all that.

Rock Cellar: Unlike the other boy bands, you guys put yourselves together, as you said earlier. But then, as your career took off, a lot of your big hit songs were credited to other songwriters.

Jeff Timmons: That’s right.

Rock Cellar: So once you formed, got signed and all that, did they basically tell you how things were going to go?

Jeff Timmons: It all happened so fast for us. At the time, none of us had any instruments, we just had our voices. So we all migrated to California, basically toured southern California singing a cappella until we were discovered. We didn’t have any instruments, we didn’t have any money, none of us were prolific on anything, so we just had our voices.

We got signed and immediately, rather than putting us in the studio and telling us to make music, they bombard you with a number of songs and you basically A&R your record rather than writing it. We’d have loved to have been more creative, but we did produce a lot of our stuff. We certainly won’t get credit for that in the liner notes, but we definitely arranged a lot of stuff and contributed to how the music sounded outside of just our voices.

Rock Cellar: You do a lot of charity work and charity events, safe to say that’s something important to you?

Jeff Timmons: I think it’s karma. It should just be in your nature. To be as fortunate as we have – the odds of selling as many records as we have is something like one in 55 million – it’s mind-boggling. And there are a lot of things that go into that, but we were blessed, whatever you want to call it.

I think it’s a natural thing that you should give back, and it doesn’t matter what degree your success is. It’s something that we’re obligated to do, I just think that for us, if we’re in a position to live our dream and have fans out there who enable us to do that, we should give back anytime we can and as much as we can.

I’ve been giving to a number of charities. Look – if it’s a legitimate charity and the money goes to somebody who actually needs it, then I’m all for it.

Rock Cellar: I’m assuming 98 Degrees had some familiarity or kinship with LFO back in the day. Unfortunately, Rich Cronin passed away a few years ago.

Jeff Timmons: The first time around it was such a whirlwind, you’d be on a plane, on the bus, off the bus, in stores, radio stations, TVs, on stage, whatever. That was a rinse and repeat for like five years, so it was really hard to get to know people as people. We’d done a number of shows with LFO but I didn’t get a chance to really know them until Rich and I did the Mission Man Band reality show on vH1. It was a complete disaster, but it was a wonderful experience. He was an amazing guy, brilliant lyricist, he could have been a stand-up comedian. A ton of charisma…it was so sad to lose him.

LFO wasn’t like the other boy bands. Their main thing was rapping, and singing was secondary. So they were a little of a deviation from the norm, so I think them not being very mainstream made them a bit harder to promote at the time.

Rock Cellar: At the NAMM Show, there’s classic rock and older music everywhere. In that mindset, what bands or artists did you grow up listening to and taking a liking to that might surprise people, considering you’re in 98 Degrees?

Jeff Timmons: I grew up in the Midwest, in a small town in northeast Ohio. I didn’t get into pop music until Boyz II Men came out, so I grew up with Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, all that. Classic rock groups definitely inspired us, like Styx, Journey, the Eagles, harmony-based groups like them. We’re all about it. To be in the same place as somebody like that, look: Music transcends boundaries. It blurs the lines when it comes to emotion, so we consider ourselves just lucky to be here.

Rock Cellar: The music world has seen some big losses lately, with Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington among the most tragic in the rock realm over the past year or so. The conversation about mental health is always important, but when you see artists like them succumb to their own demons like that, it says something about how difficult the struggle can be. Any thoughts on that?

Jeff Timmons: You’re not immune to life when you’re a famous celebrity or successful musician. Everybody goes through their ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Musicians and creatives, that’s a big part of what makes them so dynamic.

So couple that with taking your art and adding a business aspect to it – it’s not always the most fair business, of course – you can have success and not be able to sustain a family or a lifestyle. All of those things sometimes culminate into depression or lows that you can’t climb out of.

Part of being a celebrity is people think you’re untouchable, they’re afraid to approach you or whatever, and then you become isolated. I think that’s what happens sometimes, you feel isolated and don’t think you have anybody to turn to.

Nobody’s immune to that.



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