TLC On Their Final Album, Maintaining A Legacy & Touring With New Kids On The Block: Idolator Interview

Bianca Gracie | January 23, 2015 7:00 am
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TLC is without question one of the biggest girl groups of all time, as they’ve broken chart records ever since their debut with 1992’s Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. 23 years, four albums and a VH1 film later, the entertainers have decided to wrap up their musical career — but they are doing it in a very creative way! The group partnered up with Kickstarter to fund their fifth and final studio album, as a way to involve their fans as well as take full creative control over the music.

When the news first broke about the campaign on January 19, there were many doubters. Yet TLC has managed to raise the funding in a matter of two days. Along with the upcoming album, the group plans to head on the road with New Kids On The Block and Nelly for this summer’s “The Main Event” tour. Read on to see what the ladies had to say about their new musical venture and their effort to stay true to the unique TLC sound.

This will be your first album in 13 years since the release of 3D. Why did you decide to record one after all this time?
CHILI: We always talked about making a new album, even when we signed again with L.A. [Reid] to do to some music for the [VH1] movie. We went into the studio and we didn’t have the songs we felt we really wanted to put out. I think after the movie released and the fans were requesting new music, the right time had to present itself. And this was the right time. We weren’t thinking about Kickstarter a couple of years ago, we weren’t on that path yet.
T-BOZ: I think we did a couple of things to hold our fans over a little bit with the new single “Meant To Be” that was on the soundtrack for the movie, which Ne-Yo wrote. We didn’t promote it, but we did a Christmas song (“Gift Wrapped Kiss”) right before the holidays.

 Speaking of Kickstarter, why did you chose to use that instead of working with an independent label?
CHILI: By going in with Kickstarter, this way we can involve the fans. If you go another way, it would be harder to involve them. With them making pledges, they have rights! We wanted them to understand that is how we want it. We’ve always interacted with the fans, and this is just the best way that we feel we want to do it. It’s like the perfect storm, it’ll be a great collaboration with them. This was the easiest way we could work with them.
T-BOZ: Kickstarter has raised over a billion dollars for artists, and we’ve always been known to do innovative, out the box type of things. This is what Kickstarter represents; it’s everything that we stand for. It represents creativity and freedom, so why not?

The comments on the campaign are really supportive, but you’re always going to have critics. What would you say to those people who are putting down the idea?
CHILI: First of all, if they listened to what we were saying on how we wanted to involve our fans…I don’t know how they could miss that part. We’ve said before that it’s not new for us to work with our fans and do things outside of the box. 15 years ago, we worked with [to release “I Need That”] and we were the first group to do that.
T-BOZ: And they thought we were crazy then!
CHILI: The record company was pissed!
T-BOZ: But it went number one and we got props after that. Then everyone else jumped on the bandwagon! We were like, “You’re late. We were first, haha! Trendsetters!”
CHILI: So we know the haters are always going to be there, and that’s fine. I think there’s just people who really just want to voice their opinion. I feel that people who love and have respect for us don’t feel like that, especially after hearing the reason why we chose to do it this way.
T-BOZ: People don’t do their research. They just take one comment and run with it.

With every album era you guys have, it came with a certain vibe. For this project, do you have a particular mindset going into the studio?
T-BOZ: I don’t like to put genres on anything, just because it puts you in a box. We do all types of music, there’s rap, R&B and pop. But for the most part, I think we keep our regimen of talking about things that people can relate to and that’s what we’ve been known for — the lyrical content. That creates timeless music. Those kinds of songs have no age. It’s more about the TLC sound and the subject matter, that’s the most important thing.

Did you begin the writing process for the album yet?
CHILI: Yes, and we’re putting our team together. A lot of the producers that we’ve worked with want to work on this project as well. So we’re just getting the A-Team together. It has to only be people who are passionate about this movement, not somebody who wants to come on because it looks like it might be cool. We hope that it’s going to be successful, and we just want people who are hungry and want to be a part of this different approach we’re taking to make this album.

I read that Kandi Burruss will be a part of the project, is that true?
T-BOZ: We never said it, but the fans always say that. She’s always been a part of our work and we’re friends, so you never know.

So have you reached out to any other frequent collaborators, like Dallas Austin or Babyface?
CHILI: We definitely have a few people in mind. But once we get it all together, then we’ll say.
T-BOZ: But we did record some songs with Dallas already, but you never know what you’re going to use. First we get a vibe and see where we want to be, and then once that goes it kind of evolves. After you get a number of songs and the name of the album, then you’ll know what you want to do for the videos. So it’s a process, and we’re just at the beginning.

Obviously you are a timeless group, but do you look to anyone of today for inspiration? Like a Rihanna, for example.
T-BOZ: No, absolutely none whatsoever. You know why? We’ve always been trendsetters and we’ve always had our own lane.
CHILI: And what they do wouldn’t even fit with us.
T-BOZ: We don’t dance in heels, we’re not girly. No disrespect because I like their stuff, but that’s just not us. We have our own sound, and that’s what I love about this group. I’d just like to keep it that way. But if I was to look at someone, it would probably be a Michael Jackson or somebody who has been known to change the world. Not who’s hot today.
CHILI: Everybody, including us to a degree, all have learned something from Michael Jackson.
T-BOZ: He was a game-changer. Being hot and being a game-changer are two separate things. So I’m looking at people who change the game, and that’s really the artists from back in the day.

The reason I asked that is because I see so many legendary artists trying to make a comeback, and they just latch on to the hype.
T-BOZ: We’ll never chase sounds or anything, ever.
CHILI: And the only reason why the J. Cole collaboration happened was because he reached out to us. We had to hear the song first, and it was an amazing record no matter who honestly sung the hook — it would still be a hit. But the fact that he was really talking about something that’s very relevant, he was speaking our language. It [“Crooked Smile”] was like the guy version of “Unpretty,” so it was a perfect fit. Now I will say this, because he wants to work with us too, I really hope that could be a collaboration.
T-BOZ: He’s a great producer and songwriter! Today I just think lyrical content and things of substance is missing overall in the industry. There used to be way more superstars back in the day than there are now. Now they’re sprinkled here and there. Like Beyonce is doing well and Rihanna has great songs, but you don’t hear about great superstars like how it used to be.

Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was obviously a big part of TLC. Have you thought about ways to incorporate her on this record?
CHILI: Really and truly, at this point it’s just us — T-Boz and Chili is TLC. We love our sister, and when we perform I don’t know how anybody could not feel her presence. But moving forward, we’re just concentrating on moving on. Not moving on because we don’t want her involved, that’s not it at all because she’s always going to be. What people don’t know is that 3D when we had to finish it after she passed away, we had to go back and do some of her raps that she was working on. It was a little difficult only because her solo stuff was very different from what she was doing with us. We got the best stuff that we could to fit what we were working on, so we’ve already done that. I’m not going to say that it’s not possible, but it would have to be something so different and creative and it has to make sense. We don’t want anything to feel forced, because trust me, the fans will know! They’ll call us out on it big time.
T-BOZ: We’re always trying to come up with stuff. But like she said, her rap styles are different and the lyrics are like 14 years old or more. We can take certain things like “TLC Is Forever!” but we’re trying to figure it out. She’s always with us, we made history together. And especially when we perform because she’s incorporated in the show every time. But this is the new normal, we have to pick up the pieces and keep going. That’s exactly what she would want us to do.

For this new “The Main Event” tour, why did you decide to partner up with Nelly and New Kids On The Block?
CHILI: Nelly was actually the last to come on. We, meaning New Kids and TLC, did a show a couple of years ago at Hershey Park’s Mixtape Festival. They watched our show and shortly after that we got a phone call from our manager who told us, “New Kids On The Block wants you to go on our with them.” We’re fans of theirs, and it makes perfect sense. Because the thing is, TLC never looked at girls as competition — ever! Our competition are boys. With Boyz II Men and all that, we were always like “Ooh, we gotta get ’em! We have to pass them!” It was serious like that! Because we’re tomboys, I even feel more comfortable going on tour with all these guys. I like that more!

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