Drew Lachey discusses the band’s recording process, the moment they knew they had made it big, and their first Christmas album in 18 years
Over the course of their career, 98 Degrees has sold over 10 million albums. Back in 1999, the band released their first Christmas LP, This Christmas, and now they return with a holiday follow up, Let It Snow.
The band recorded the album in Los Angeles this past summer, and listeners will find a smattering of seasonal favorites on it, along with the newly penned original, “Season of Love”. Created alongside producer Adam Anders, the record is a perfect companion for the fast-approaching holiday season.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Drew Lachey to discuss their recording process, how they choose which songs to include, and their first Christmas album in 18 years.
Christopher Friedmann : We’re talking because you are about to release a new Christmas album, Let It Snow. Just to start, how is the mood in camp? Are you anxious, nervous, excited?
Drew Lachey: I think we’re a little bit of all those things. We’re excited for people to hear it. We’re excited for people to listen to it, and hear what people think of it. We’re anxious. We want to make sure that everybody likes it, but we’re very proud of it and the way it turned out. I think it’s a great next step for us, musically. There are some beautiful arrangements on there, some great a capella stuff, some fun, more uptempo kind of Christian songs. So it’s a really great balance, in our opinion, of there are classic hymns and modern, more Christian songs. We’re just excited for people to hear it, and we hope everyone enjoys it as much as we do.
CF: It’s been 18 years since you’ve released a holiday record. What made this the right time to make another?
DL: I don’t know. It was just kind of one of those things, where we were like, “You know what, we’re really proud of that last record. We feel like it’s been long enough that we could go back and do it,” and people wouldn’t be like, “Oh, they’re doing another Christmas record? Oh my God, they just put one out.” For us it just seemed like the right time and obviously everybody was able to find the time in their schedules to tour to support it. We’re going to hit the road for a couple months and are excited about all of it coming together and excited for the fans to hear it.
CF: You said there are a number of different Christmas songs on the album. How did you go about choosing the songs you would do? Were they personal favorites or was there a discussion process where you nominated different ones?
DL: We all put together our own individual lists for one, two, or three songs we wanted to make sure were on there or given consideration, and then once we had 20-25 songs we started to ween through them, and we wanted to make sure that it had a good flow to it tempo-wise, mood-wise. We didn’t want every song to be this classic different hymn, but we also didn’t want everything to be completely modern and from the last 20 years. It was a matter of finding balance, and we voted on it. That’s how our big decisions are made. We vote on it, and we also asked our executive producer Adam Anders to weigh in and give us his thoughts, and he had some great input as well. So, ultimately, it ended up being a great collection of songs.
CF: Speaking of Adam Anders, he produced the project, how did you guys get in contact with him, and what made him the ideal man for the job?
DL: Nick has been friends with Adam for 15 years, maybe, through songwriting, working on different albums together, and I met Adam through Nick over a decade ago, so we’ve got a personal friendship there, as well. But obviously, his track record over the last 10 years has been pretty undeniable, with everything he did with Glee and all the hits he had there, and just the way he understands taking a song and creating a new version of it, is something that’s real creative, and his musical mind is really… when you’re in studio with him, it’s a sight to behold. We were very, very fortunate that he agreed to be part of it, and we definitely took his knowledge and his wisdom to heart.
CF: You recorded the album in Los Angeles this summer. How did you get in the Christmas spirit while it was 98 degrees outside?
DL: [Laughs] I get it. I’ve never heard that one before [laughs]. Basically, you just try to throw yourself in the moment in the song. Very similar to if you’re singing a song about having a broken heart, and you’re madly in love. Or you’re singing a song about being in love, and you don’t have anybody. You just kind of put yourself in the moment and situation and try and connect to the lyrics in the melody.
But these songs were really handpicked by us, so they are already some of our favorites, so to go in and sing them, we didn’t really have to twist anybody’s arm to get in the mood. When you’re singing songs that you love to sing and speak to you, it just, kind of, comes a little bit more naturally. You’re not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, you’re just singing something that already speaks to you, creatively. And that’s kind of what happened on pretty much every song on this record.
CF: You also penned an original song, “Season of Love”, for this album. What’s the difference in creating a holiday song versus writing a more traditional single?
DL: I think a lot of it comes down more to production than it does to melody and lyrics. You want something that is going to be a little more timeless. Something that isn’t so focused on what’s hot in the top sounds for these six months, so you try and add more general, timeless sounds into the record. Then for us it was more about what message we wanted the song to have.
“Season of Love” is more about taking that connection, that feeling, we all get around Christmas time where you’re spreading love and cheer and all that stuff, and continuing that year round and continuing that theme of love. It’s one of those songs that just started flowing, once we had a concept, and the imagery in it, lyrically, is really great. It’s a little bit of a different process, but it’s not that different. It’s a little different lyrics, a little different production, and we hope everybody enjoys it.
CF: You are also heading out on tour in a few weeks. What makes for a perfect night on stage for you? How do you know it feels right?
DL: I have a little more philosophical take on performance. The relationship between the performer and the audience is imperative, where both are giving and both are receiving at the same time. I think if you have an audience that is doing that and a performer that is doing that, that’s the ideal scenario. If both kind of close off and are not open to the situation, then the show is never really going to ring true.
I feel like if you are able to go out there, and you are able to kind of open yourself up to the audience and let them see who you are as a performer and a musician, and they are able to support that and embrace that, that’s when you have those memorable shows. Obviously, you have to have a great band and all that stuff, so all that stuff goes into it, but ultimately, I don’t care if you’re just one person sitting on the edge of the stage singing a capella, if you’re connected to the audience, and they are connected to you in return, that’s the most important thing to a great show.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
DL: I’ve had a couple. One of the ones that is first and foremost is when I was doing Rent and made connections there and friendships there, during that show, that I still have to this day. And one of my costars was leaving the show – it was the end of their contract, they were moving on to other stuff – and I just remember being so emotionally distraught. And having these connections with other people on stage, that show taught me so much about being a performer and being a better performer that I was like, “Wow, this is what it’s really supposed to be about.” It’s not always just about going up and being a pop singer and singing your songs and walking off and getting on your tour bus and rolling away. My philosophy on performing now is shaped from those experiences, especially Rent with those people. So that’s definitely one of them.
Then situations like doing a duet with Stevie Wonder, there are things like that, that I don’t care, whatever happens, I don’t care if you love 98 Degrees, hate 98 Degrees, if you bought a record, if you bought four records, if you never bought a record of ours ever, nobody can ever take away from us the moment where we were performing on The Tonight Show with Stevie Wonder and Jay Leno said, “Hey Stevie, why don’t you come over to the couch,” and he said, “Not unless you bring the boys over with me.”
And we were nobody at this time. I mean we had one song and he’s Stevie Wonder for Christ’s sake. He could have said, “Sure, whatever,” but he had the humility and the respect for us and what we were doing to bring us along with him. He didn’t have to do that. For me, as a younger artist coming up, he was the pinnacle for what an artist is, to have that helpful side was a true lesson to me as well. There’s tons of lessons like that, but those are two, for me personally, that definitely stick out.