TLC’s Dreams Aren’t Waterfalls Anymore

Photos by Evan Keller 

TLC have had quite a rollercoaster career as far as 90s pop bands go. Even with big hits like "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls" the band faced financial ruin in their early days and just as they started to hold their own, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was killed in a car accident. They've fought on though, and after a record breaking Kickstarter campaign they crowdfunded their new album TLC earlier this year. We caught up with Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins ahead of their headlining slot on the I Love The 90s tour (hitting Ottawa on August 31)  to talk about their new record, the insanity behind it and what success means after 25 years.

Ottawa Life: How did you get involved with the I Love the 90s tour and what's been the most interesting experience so far?

Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins: Our manager brought it to us a while ago, and at first I wasn't sure if I would go, but I finally said yes. We've been headlining and the energy and crowd have been great, it's a great franchise to be a part of so we're happy to be out here.

Speaking to your new self-titled album, why are you so sure it's going to be your last one?

It's been 25 years so it's the last album. I would love to a residency honestly because we have such a big body of work. And why not live off of that and have fun. It's stability, you get to go to one place, one climate, not a whole bunch of different cities on a bus. It's more stability for us and our families, and after you've worked two and a half decades, it's just the right thing to do. It's the last album but it's not the end of TLC, so if  I tell you that residency is something I want to do, I'm really gunning for it.

Does this mean no new music at all?

I'm open to it. There's country groups that have talked about working with us, I've always wanted to do a country pop song. There might be a Christmas song or something, there just won't be a full studio album.

Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to fund your new album and what did it offer you that traditional means didn't?

Our manger Bill Dickens ran it by us, and both of us were unsure and pretty skeptical about it. When we sat down and talked about how the industry has "360 deals" and how we weren't willing to do them. I understand for new artists, but we're kind of seasoned, that's just not the route for us. We own our own masters now and we've come so far to go back in the system the same way. We thought Kickstarter sounds pretty cool now, as long as we can make it fun. We did packages, you can go to the movies with us, work out with Chilli, have sleepovers, we just made it really fun. The fans bought into it, we broke a record as the fastest campaign and the highest. Sometimes it's scary to jump out there but it worked so I'm happy we took a different route.

Katy Perry bought one of these packages right?

Katy bought a sleepover. We haven't had time to but I'm totally down. I'm not sure if she just picked it or she really wanted a sleepover, but I appreciate her support either way. I thought it was cool that our peers like Bette Midler, New Kids on the Block came out and supported us like they did. That's always refreshing and a good feeling, it's such an honour.

How did your collaboration with Snoop Dogg come about and how was working with him?

He's amazing, and I don't know anybody else who could've done that track better because it has such a West coast vibe. I do a charity even every year called T-Boz Unplugged, and he did my event earlier this year. It's an event to help children with Sickle Cell Anemia and blood disorders. So I said "Hey, we kind of have a song," then we approached him about it and he got on it. It was so funny, because he had the nerve to say "Hey do y'all like it?" and we said "Are you crazy? You're Snoop Dogg, anything you do is perfect." He just did it and it was amazing. I love him, and I'm such a big fan, he laughs when I say that but I really am a huge fan and I'm happy we finally got to work with one another.

I also understand your brother Carnoy worked on the record too?

That was awesome for me because he knows me better than anybody, he knows what I like and what I don't like. It was easy for him to bring writers and producers on. He produced on "American Gold," Perfect Girls" and "Start A Fire," and he wrote on "No Introduction." He has an amazing ear. People always say at first, "You work with him because he's family," and I say no, I work with him because he's good. I don't care about homeboy hookups because to me I'm not going to risk my career just because he's my brother, I'm going to work with him because he's a good producer. I'm happy we finally got to work together with TLC because we've only really done solo endeavours.  

How did you decide on the interview clip on "Interlude" as a way to honour Lisa?

It was the essence of Lisa and what we remember her for. That funny, spunky, energetic voice, like "What you mean we not gonna blow up?" It was funny, but it was also hard getting material of her at this point in time, especially stuff that would match the album. People weren't cooperating, but I'm not one to argue with people over things. So I did what I could, we put music to it and made it happen. 

What keeps you guys strong and pumped to hit the stage almost 30 years later?

It's in our heart and our soul, performing and entertaining is a part of us. When it's in you, but you don't want it anymore or aren't hungry, it shows. We've still got that hunger. The stage is a second home for both of us. We do what's natural and just perform.

Have there been any songs that you initially hated to perform that have grown on you over the years?

Ya, I'm laughing because you've got me dead on. "Girl Talk" was that song for me, I wrote it but I hated performing it and listening to it. When you go overseas they're just so excited and happy. "Oh My God are you guys doing 'Girl Talk'?" The beat is always bumping, so I can vibe to it.

Why did you decide to get help from fans to title the new record, and was that part of the reasoning behind the TLC title?

That title is what I ultimately wanted, so I always had that in my pocket. But, we wanted to hear what they thought too, so when they said it just reiterated what we were thinking. Some of the stuff was kinda out there and I was like (sings dramatically into the phone) it just makes you want to sing. Some of it was so deep, they were going real far with it. They were so long, one said to name the album LISA but every letter had a meaning like Legit, Irreplaceable, Satisfactory, Amazing. We were thinking "Where are they getting this." I understand Lisa is gone, but Lisa probably wouldn't want to name a TLC album after her, she would've said "It ain't my album." I appreciated the input but we had to reel some of them back in. It was high on the list of requests though so it made us feel like we were on the right path. After so many years as a band it felt like the right thing to do, you know the name, let's stick with it.

Do you have any plans after the tour?

I wish I could have a break. I have a book coming out on September 12 called "A Sick Life" so I'm working still, promoting my book as soon as we're done. I also have my next T-Boz Unplugged charity event on September 27th. I have a solo single on my audio book, so I'm busy, but I wish I had a break.