TLC’s Chilli Talks Kickstarter-Funded Final Album: “We Have to Involve the Fans”

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

TLC Wants Fans to Fund Their Final Album.

Doing stuff outside of the box is what TLC does…We did our research, met with the people at Kickstarter – they are brilliant, and they’re excited to work with us. The trio — comprised of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes — defined pop culture beginning in the mid-’90’s with global hits like “Waterfalls” and “No Scrubs,” signature dance moves and, of course, their undeniable brand of cool. (CrazySexyCool, that is.) But what’s truly buoyed the girl group to lasting success isn’t sales or awards, but their endlessly loyal fans — which, they say, is exactly why they’re now putting their fifth and final album in the hands of the public. While pledges start at $5, higher fan contributions will get you things like a custom TLC voicemail, signed vinyl, an exercise class with the group’s Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and even clothing from their vintage videos.

The group has officially launched a Kickstarter for one last record today, Jan. 19, a decision that TLC stress was brought about solely due to popular demand. It might seem surprising that a group with four Hot 100 No. 1s, a TV movie (VH1’s CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story) that attracted 4.5 million viewers and 65 million records sold worldwide would use Kickstarter for their new album. Although acquiring funding without the backing of a major record label might seem risky from afar — or perhaps just a worrying reflection of the band’s current financial status — TLC feels that the crowd-sourcing move is the natural next step in response to the current state of the music industry. For a $1,000 you can go to the movies with T-Boz, take a personal fitness instructed by Chili for $2,000 or a photoshoot with the ladies for a measly $7,500. Following successful high-profile crowdfunding campaigns from Spike Lee, Zach Braff, Amanda Palmer and more, Kickstarter is starting to look less like a last resort and more like a viable business model (at least for established names).

Fifteen years ago, TLC was one of the first major musical acts to partner with to distribute a new song (“I Need That”) while promoting their 1999 FanMail Tour, back when the idea of a digital download was a curiosity at best. Billboard chatted with Chilli about the details of the group’s Kickstarter campaign, what this “final album” really means for TLC and whether audio of the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes will be part of the album.

Fan participation is an established move for them, too: Inside the liner notes of the tour’s namesake record, FanMail, are the names of hundreds of fans who’d submitted fan letters to the group over the years. Chilli explained, “They have so much love for us, and we thought, ‘we gotta do this, and we have to involve the fans.’” In 1999, TLC creatively included thousands of their fans’ names inside the cover of their album, FanMail. While there are no specifics yet about an upcoming tour, rumors have persisted for weeks that the ladies will hit the road with New Kids on the Block and Nelly.

This year, however, T-Boz and Chilli are committed to getting back into the booth to record one last TLC studio album, currently due for release at the end of 2015. We love performing, so it’s not like somebody’s dragging us out, like ‘Come on and do this!’ and we didn’t want to do it! [laughs] We really want to do it, but they put the icing on top by wanting it from us. So to kind of narrow it down, we’ll take a poll and have 5 songs, and if the majority chooses Song 3, that’ll be the song that we choose — that they chose — to do a remix.

It feels more natural to go this way, especially at this point in our career and the way everything is digitally, and how you’re able to connect with your fans a lot easier because of social media. For years, we’ve heard about rumored recordings — everything from producer Dallas Austin, who produced “Creep” and “Unpretty,” to a song with Lady Gaga. He was like, “Count me in!” You know, when we did the last album, 3D, during the time that she did pass away, the song “Girl Talk” was the only one that her rap was current — she did the rap specifically for that song.

Like when the movie came out and people saw how Lil Mama did portraying our sister, the diehard TLC fans, they fell in love with her for doing such a good job. It’s funny because when she first met Tionne [T-Boz], she started crying, and Tionne’s daughter [Chase] was with her — you know, our kids are so used to us, we’re like moms.

So when Chase saw Lady Gaga, who she loved so much, crying over her mom, she went, ‘Wow, my mom is really cool!’ [Laughs] That was such a neat moment. And to hear [Gaga] say that our song ‘Waterfalls’ really helped her to be more confident about herself — both of us aren’t the norm, and that’s great!

We have a ton of ideas, and we know you have them, because you guys have no problem telling us on Twitter.” (Laughs.) I promise you, every single day I go on Twitter and Instagram and see something that blows me away. It’s rare that we’ve heard songs that were already put together, that we were like, ‘Okay, that’s great, we’re going to put our own thing on it.’ So we don’t want to mess up that formula. If the stars are aligned later and it makes sense to do anther one, we can say, “Hey, we decided to make one more.” But now it feels like the final album.

For instance, I know for a fact that if Michael Jackson — who happens to be my husband, he’s my baby — if I could say I helped him pick out that jacket in “Thriller,” I mean come on, that would be crazy. Not that they don’t do great music with other people too, because they do, but something is just a little bit more special about that collaboration between those three. You know, it would have to be two songs actually: “Unpretty,” mainly because young girls are always going to have those self-esteem issues, unfortunately. And I think for a little while, we had it under control because no guys in America wanted to ride on the passenger side and talk to a girl. [laughs] They’d rather ride in the backseat.

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