Nostalgia is all the rage right now, so there couldn’t be a better time to be Nick Lachey. As the lead singer of 98 Degrees, one of the massively popular boy bands that dominated the pop-music landscape in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he’s well-aware that there’s a huge appetite for reunions.
So he and the band — Jeff Timmons, Justin Jeffre, and his younger brother, Drew Lachey — hit the road this summer to headline the My2K Tour, directly aimed at millennials who want to re-live their teenage years. (The openers are O-Town, Ryan Cabrera and Dream.) While 98 Degrees was best known for hits including “Because of You,” “The Hardest Thing” and “I Do (Cherish You),” Lachey, 42, is its breakout star. He’s starred in reality shows, hosted various TV series, and frequently pops up in celebrity magazines with his wife, actress Vanessa Minnillo, and their two kids.
We talked to Lachey by phone the first day of the My2K Tour in July; it arrives in the Washington area this week, on Aug. 13 at Wolf Trap and on Aug. 18 at Pier Six Concert Pavilion. Lachey discussed how the band decided to reunite three years ago; if rumors of ’N Sync and Backstreet Boys rivalries were real; and lessons from “Newlyweds,” the 2005 MTV docu-series that famously chronicled his marriage to pop star Jessica Simpson.
(This transcript has been edited and condensed.)
How much did 98 Degrees keep in touch between the early 2000s and when you got together to record another album and tour in 2013?
Lachey: Oh, we were constantly in touch between 2001, when our last official concert was, and 2013 when we got back together. We had talked about getting back together kind of loosely… it wasn’t really a “break up,” per se – we just all took a break and pursued individual things.
How does a reunion happen – were you all hanging out one day and decided to get the band back together? Or was it a group-text situation?
Lachey: It’s funny because 2013 was one of those situations where I actually ran into Donnie Wahlberg [of New Kids on the Block] and he was like, “Hey, we’re going out on tour, you guys should think about getting back together, I think you’d really enjoy it.” So he and I just started a conversation. Then we all got together as 98 Degrees and I said, “Would you be interested in doing something like this and doing a new record?” It just felt like the right time. Then on the heels of that tour [with NKOTB and Boyz II Men], I think we were reminded how much we enjoyed performing together.
So I guess I should credit Donnie Wahlberg!
Lachey: (laughs) Yeah, he and I ran into each other at some J. Lo concert or something. I can’t remember what we were doing. So he gets the assist on that one.
What was your strategy for putting a set list together for this kind of tour?
Lachey: The whole kind of vibe for this tour is nostalgia. It’s the My2K Tour and bringing everybody back to that time in music and pop culture when things were a little lighter, and the pop craze was at the height of its success. All the groups on the tour are doing the hits we’re all thankful to have. But we’re also going to try to do some stuff that kind of takes people back, a couple medleys. It’s just a fun night of nostalgia and taking a walk down memory lane and losing ourselves in 1999 and 2000 for a little bit.
I have to say that sounds pretty good right about now.
Lachey: Yeah… it was a happier time. It was a lighter time. And unfortunately we’re dealing with so much crap now that every now and then it’s good to get a little escape and get away to times that were a little happier.
Were there any songs where you were like, “Oh God, I hoped I never would have to sing these again?”
Lachey: (laughs) No, you know – look, as I said earlier, we’re thankful to have hits that people still know, still sing and still love to hear. All the hit songs that we had that we’re able to perform, those are fun, because the crowd gets into it. Really, all the songs that we’re doing in the show, we’re very proud of and excited to perform. Thankfully, there’s isn’t one that’s, “Oh my God, I have to do this again.”
In that height of the pop era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, many thought there was a big rivalry between you and ’N Sync and Backstreet Boys. Was there really this competition?
Lachey: No, I think we just pretty much laughed about it. That was more a media-charged thing than anything else. We knew everybody back in those days, we’d all run into each other at different shows. We toured with ’N Sync in Europe even before they broke here, so we were pretty good friends with those guys. We didn’t know Backstreet as well but we knew them, certainly. So it was definitely overblown in those days and clearly in the years since, we all get along and hang out. Jeff [Timmons] just shot a zombie movie with guys from O-Town, guys from ’N Sync, guys from Backstreet. So whatever perceived tension there was back then, there really wasn’t any back in those days, and there certainly isn’t any now.
What point in your career did you realize that 98 Degrees was a nostalgia act? Is that a weird thing to recognize about your own work?
Lachey: Yes and no. I think we realized it on our last tour [in 2013], it was the Package Tour with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men. We had a new album out and what we realized is that we’re out there performing, you’re looking out and seeing all these familiar faces, fans that we’ve known for the better part of 15 years now. They’re there with their kids, some of them, and I’m thinking, “This is really cool.”
We would love to do new music and continue to have hits on the radio. But if that day never comes where we’re what people perceive as a relevant “now” band competing with the One Directions of the world, that’s fine. Because we’ve had a fantastic career and we love the fact that we’re able to still come here nearly 20 years later and still perform for our fans, so no complaints at all on our end.
I wrote a story about you last year… it basically said that while people focus on Justin Timberlake, Nick Lachey is the real star of the boy-band era. Because even though you’ve done all of these other projects, you also embrace the boy-band legacy – even if it was cheesy, you never seem embarrassed by it. Was it ever something you wanted to shy away from?
Lachey: You know, I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of different chapters in my career, so I’ve tried to embrace every one of those. Whether it was a brief little acting stint or hosting or a solo career or reality TV, I’ve tried to embrace it and give my all. But it all started with this and these guys. It all started in music, in a group, in a boy band, and that is something that I don’t shy away from. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and hopefully what we’ll continue to accomplish.
Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong if you leave a band, never going back and doing it again. People evolve and go on to different things.
Speaking of reality TV – it’s funny to look back, but you were this very groundbreaking reality star with “Newlyweds.” Did you have any idea what this genre was in for?
Lachey: No, we certainly didn’t. I don’t think anyone who was involved with reality TV in those days can claim they knew how it was going to evolve and what it was going to turn into. That was a very simple effort on [mine and Jessica’s] parts to promote our solo records at the time. It was on MTV; we thought it would help promote the music. It clearly took on a life of its own, as have many shows after it. But I think we were just kind of dumb kids – I don’t think anyone could have predicted it or known what was going to come out of that whole thing.
Why did you go back to documenting your life on camera again with “Lachey’s Bar?” [The A&E docu-series follows him and his brother, Drew, as they open a bar in their hometown.]
Lachey: That was a very, very different kind of show and I went into it knowing that. I would never sign up for the scope of what we did on “Newlyweds.” It was an opportunity for Drew and I to promote the opening of our bar. It was a great chance to promote and give a profile to Cincinnati, which is our hometown and a place we love a lot. There was never any apprehension. It was through our production company and we had creative control over it. There was never any fear on mine or Drew’s part that, “Hey, this is going someplace we don’t want it to go.”