Nothing says timeless like some good Christmas music and that’s exactly what fueled 98 Degrees‘ desire to create a sequel to their classic holiday record from 1999, This Christmas. Well, that and being on the road with Ryan Cabrera last summer.
“Ryan would literally be in his dressing room playing Christmas music, all summer long,” the group’s Nick Lachey tells Billboard. “[We’re] like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ He’s like, ‘It just makes you feel good, man!'”
While it may have been a little strange to hear Christmas music in the middle of the summer heat, Lachey admits that he eventually came around to Cabrera’s good-mood holiday music, as well as the rest of the group. Eventually their memories of making This Christmas came back and they began to miss creating new music and always being on the road together. Flash forward a year and a half later and fans not only have another 98 Degrees Christmas album, but a holiday tour as well.
The 14-track Let It Snow is available now and the 31-date tour — which kicks off Friday (Nov. 10) in Larchwood, Iowa — will hit cities around the country all the way until Dec. 23. Ahead of the tour, Billboard caught up with Nick and his brother, bandmate Drew Lachey, to reminisce on their now-iconic holiday record (and listening to it every year since its release), recording the second one and what fans can look forward to if they catch a Christmas concert.
What do you remember about recording the first album?
Nick: We were pretty psyched. I can honestly say it wasn’t necessarily our idea, I think the idea came from our manager. I think our biggest memories of making the first one is that we don’t remember much, because it was such a whirlwind at the time. Things had started to really take off for us and it was like in between we were touring that summer and in between tour stops, we were running to the studio to record a Christmas record.
Drew: I was very excited about it, Christmas was always a big deal in our family… I think the first thing we all agree on as a group is that the Christmas album is ultimately the one we’re most proud of. Just the timelessness of it, the arrangements, the vocal harmonies, everything — we feel very, very proud and accomplished to put out something that we’re excited to listen to every year and have people listen to every year. So regardless to what our motivation was going into it, since Nick can’t remember [Laughs], I’m sure he’s pretty happy that we did it because he’s so proud of it now.
Nick: We have a lot of respect for that record. We tried to do a kind of classy, timeless jazzy way and we had walked away from it just feeling like, “Man, that’s our favorite record.” For whatever reason, it’s made a real lasting impression on us and I think that’s what kind of was one of the real catalysts for making this second go around.
Because you’re so proud of it, do you listen to it every holiday season?
Nick: I don’t really listen to any of our other records, but yeah, at Christmas time, I shamelessly put it on and probably put it on first. [Laughs] It just feels kind of timeless and classic — it’s like one thing if you’re like, ‘Ah man, that song — there a couple good ones on there, but that song feels dated,’ and it just doesn’t ever feel that way when I listen to our Christmas record.
Drew: You can put it on any year and it still carries the same classic sound and timeless characteristic that we were hoping for. When you listen to holiday music it’s very easy for it to just become glossy and not have a real emotional connection to it. “Oh, it’s Christmas lights and all these great things, and here’s our church song!” So to be able to put out something that evokes emotion and the true inspiration behind it, that’s something to be proud of. I listen to “O Holy Night” and I still get goosebumps.
My son, his favorite thing to do when we get in the car is for him to be DJ. And it’s the funniest thing in the world for him to go on whatever music site he’s on — for him it’s Apple Music — and play 98 Degrees songs. I’m like, “Dude, come on.” And he’ll put on “Because of You.” I’ll be like, “I’ve been hearing this song for 20 years. Can we pick a different one?” I will steer [my kids] toward the Christmas record and they enjoy it. They like picking out which one’s Uncle Jeff, which one’s Uncle Nick, which one’s Uncle Justin, oh that’s you!
So the kids are aware that they have famous dads?
Drew: It’s funny because [my son] didn’t understand when we went out on tour last summer last year. He was like, “What? Why are people here at your show?” My daughter understood a little more because of when we went on tour with New Kids and Boyz II Men. [But] our kids have no idea, really, what our history is. They just know that we’re Dad and we’re coaching the soccer teams and we’re taking them to places. So I guess that’s a badge of honor that they don’t know and they don’t care, and they just like us ‘cause we’re Dad and it doesn’t really affect their life. But it is cool for them to see it.
Do you think being dads while recording this album made you feel a little more connected to it?
Drew: I think [so]. When we did the first one, we were all single guys, none of us had kids. And now three or four of us are married and have children, so our lives have changed dramatically since then. It was a completely different experience making the record and it’s a part of your children’s life as well and the memories that they’re gonna have moving forward. Everybody kind of understands that Christmas is about spending time with your family and appreciating what you have. So for that to be part of our family and our musical legacy, it’s definitely very special.
You had to record this album in the summer too, right?
Drew: We were actually recording it on some of the hottest days of the year in L.A. in July. So we’re really standing in this studio in a T-shirt and shorts looking out the window at a beautiful day out and you’re singing about the snowflakes falling, building snowmen and all of these great Christmas images that you are so far removed from. You kind have to turn your back to the window and turn the air conditioning up in the studio and really kind of try and trick yourself into getting into the holiday spirit in July. I would always wear a hoodie sweatshirt in the studio — when you’re in flip flops thinking about Christmas, it doesn’t jive very well.
Nick: All you can do is bring a fake tree into the studio and try to create some ambiance. Dim the lights, you’ve got the Christmas lights on… You know, get a little eggnog going. You can set a mood pretty quick.
What’s your favorite song from the old or new albums?
Drew: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which is an a cappella that was on our original demo that we used to get signed to Motown. So when we went and did that again, that was a full-circle moment for us. Like, this version of this song that was arranged by a friend of ours from high school, helped us get signed, and now it’s on our platinum Christmas album. And that was kind of a cool story.
I kind of like moodier songs with darker key, minor chords. So “O Holy Night” is in there, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” On the new one, we have “Mary Did You Know?” which is just a really, really pretty version, Nick sounds fantastic on it. “River,” which is a Joni Mitchell song.
Nick: “River” is one of my favorite songs on the [new] record. It’s really — I never even had heard the song until it was suggested to us by our producer. It’s technically a cover and a little more obscure. Not every song [on the new album] is just an obvious choice.
All great choices, of course. I hear the Christmas album gets rave reviews from dudes too.
Drew: I was hosting a show for HGTV, I don’t know, seven years ago or something. And it was a challenge competition. So there was one family that was redoing their yard. And he came up to me, the dad came up to me and he said, “Hey, I just want to let you know, your Christmas album? That is amazing. We love it. Every year we put it on.” It wasn’t the mom. It wasn’t the kids. It was the dad that came up to me and commented on it. I think there is truth to that. Guys, they’re a little more open to saying they like our stuff because it is holiday. We’re better singers, we’re better performers now than we were then. We have great production, the producers were fantastic on this record. But we’re proud of it and I’m confident that this new album is gonna have similar results.
What can fans — male or female — expect from the tour?
Nick: We’re doing two acts with an intermission, so it’s much more — I don’t wanna say theatrical — but it’s much more a classic kind of show than your typical concert stop would be. I certainly wouldn’t call it a variety show, because we’re still putting the show together. We’re not even totally sure what it’s gonna be yet. But yeah, I think it gives us the chance to take some more liberties and do some things that are a little bit more out of the box.
We’re doing, as you can imagine, a lot of holiday music from both records, but also doing most of our hit records as well. So it’s gonna be a really well-rounded show. I know the fans will enjoy it, and I think maybe people who have never even seen a 98 Degrees show will enjoy it, because it’s such a special time of year. Hopefully we’ll have some people come out who have maybe never seen us and can walk away saying, “Hey, that was a really great show. I like those guys.”