BY GRACE MCQUADE
While the weather outside gets chillier, the pop and R&B vocal group 98 Degrees is keeping things warm with their nationwide 98 Degrees at Christmas 2018 tour that includes a stop at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m.
The band’s concert last year celebrating the launch of their Let It Snow holiday album was a jolly, jam-filled occasion so they are returning to Westbury once again to play favorite Christmas songs and their greatest hits, a collection of music featured on a recently released double-CD available at Target.
Comprised of Jeff Timmons, Justin Jeffre and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey, 98 Degrees is known for their soulful, pitch-perfect harmonies that will make their performances of songs like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Silent Night” special ones to experience live in concert.
“We’re there to try and get people into the holiday spirit and enjoy a night out,” Drew Lachey said during a recent chat about this year’s show. “There’s enough seriousness going on in the world. We want to lighten people’s mood a little bit and allow them to have a good time.”
Described by Lachey as a musical journey, the 98 Degrees holiday and hits tour kicked off on Nov. 1, with a series of sold-out shows.
“It’s awesome to look out and see a full house with people singing along and having a great time,” he said. “Obviously the closer you get to the holiday season, the more people get into the mood.”
The Long Island concert will take place just over a week before Christmas and feature a festive mix of holiday songs, including an original from 98 Degrees entitled “Season of Love,” classic carols like “The First Noel,” and nods to a few music legends.
“’River’ by Joni Mitchell is a great, beautiful song. People don’t think of is as a Christmas song… but it’s more about the melody and the emotion that it brings out,” Lachey said. “We also have some fun songs (like) the Beach Boys’ ‘Little St. Nick.’”
A part of the show is devoted to R&B and Motown, music that inspired Lachey to want to perform.
“It was a lot of what I was influenced by growing up — the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Jackson Five… So I really enjoy performing that section of the show.”
Lachey said they will also share a few stories and Christmas memories during the concert. For him, that includes moments growing up with his older brother and bandmate Nick in their Ohio hometown.
“Our family was very active in the church so we would always go to midnight services at Christmas Eve and be in choirs there,” he said. “We were definitely always into the Christmas season when it came around being a family of young performers.”
The Lachey brothers began singing at early ages. Drew was in the 5th grade and Nick was in the 7th grade when they first attended a performing arts school, yet Drew didn’t start his career in music.
“Right out of high school I joined the Army, working as a medic, and I got my national registry as an EMT,” he said. “When I got out of the Army, I moved to New York because that’s where my girlfriend — now my wife — was living at the time, and I started driving for Metropolitan Ambulances.”
While working as an EMT in NYC back in 1995, Lachey received the call of a lifetime.
“I was literally out on a shift and my beeper went off,” he remembers when Nick called him to say they had an opening for him in a newly formed group. “Six months later we got signed to Motown.”
Although he is the band member with the medical background, Lachey didn’t come up with the name 98 Degrees.
“Yes, it’s body temperature,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s more in relation to the tone of the music that we wanted to create… the love songs and all. I can’t take credit for it.”
The number 98 also marks year the group hit it big.
After releasing their first single, “Invisible Man,” in 1997, which Lachey said went as high as No. 11 on song charts, Disney approached the quartet to record the song “True to Your Heart” for the soundtrack of the animated film “Mulan” (1998).
“Stevie Wonder agreed to be part of the song and for us that was kind of a turning moment,” he said about the band’s first big break that involved a guest appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” with Wonder. “The Mulan soundtrack took us to another level, at least in our eyes.”
That same year, the group released the platinum-selling album 98 Degrees and Rising (1998) that includes the hit songs “Because of You,” “I Do (Cherish You)” and “The Hardest Thing,” followed by their first Christmas album, This Christmas (1999), and then Revelation (2000), which has the top tracks “Give Me Just One Night” and “My Everything.”
In 2002, they released a compilation album, The Collection, with the new hit single, “Why (Are We Still Friends).”
And then, at the height of their popularity, 98 Degrees went on a nearly 10 year hiatus.
“I think at that point everybody had been 100 percent committed to the success of this group with pretty much blinders on for the previous six years,” Lachey said. “I think (we) needed some time to go on and do our own things.”
Nick got a solo recording deal and starred on several television programs. Timmons did his own recording, writing and producing. And Jeffre pursued politics.
Drew kept busy, too, becoming the winner of the second season of “Dancing with the Stars” after performing spot-on tangoes and Paso Dobles, as well as a memorable freestyle routine to the song “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” with his professional dance partner Cheryl Burke.
“To go on there and wear a Cuban heel, a Latin shoe, sequins and the low-cut, tight shirts, it was everything that was out of my comfort zone, but by doing it, it allowed me to grow and expand who I am as a performer and as a person,” Lachey said. “So ‘Dancing with the Stars’ was very, very important in my book… I can’t give enough credit for it helping to push me as a performer.”
The push worked because Lachey returned to New York — this time, to perform on Broadway.
“Broadway is my love,” he said. “My first Broadway show was ‘Rent’… It was such a nurturing environment to be a part of that piece of art and be able to contribute to it and learn from it.”
In 2008, Lachey performed in Mike Nichols’ “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
“I take so many lessons I learned with that cast,” he said. “I take them with me every time I go on stage and I teach them to my students.”
Lachey’s students are the many children who are inspired and educated in musical theater and performing arts at the non-profit he founded with his wife, Lachey Arts, “a big passion of mine” he said.
When the opportunity came up in 2012 for 98 Degrees to do The Package tour with New Kids on the Block and Boys II Men, “by far the biggest vocal influence on us as a group,” Lachey said, the foursome decided to get back into rhythm for what he says was a “dream tour for us.”
Since then, 98 Degrees released their 2.0 album in 2013, and continue to perform and write songs together. Lachey says that fans can definitely expect new music from them at some point.
“We have grown, we have figured out a little bit more who we were as individuals and as performers,” he says. “Is it a little bit harder to get the knees working the way you want after a redeye flight? Yeah, there’s a little bit of that, but for the most part I think we’re better and stronger than we ever were.”
As for their current holiday album and tour, Lachey says their wish is to record and perform timeless music that people of all ages can enjoy every Christmas for years to come.
“Who doesn’t want to put out something that when our kids are having their kids they can put this on and it will still resonate,” he said, adding that “we hope to see everyone out at our show.”