During their visit to the UK, TLC members Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins sat down for an interview with us to talk about the upcoming project, TLC, recording without Left Eye, women’s empowerment and many more. Just read for yourself below:
The next night TLC took to London’s KOKO venue for a sold out gig and they smashed it!
Stage set with a full band, dancers in gold lame tracksuits, T Boz and Chilli’s sultry, distinctive vocals both sounding as dope as ever, and their high impact choreography and stage presence was as amazing as it ever was, putting many acts half their age to shame.
For UK fans it was well worth the wait and their new album TLC, dropping June 30th, is awaited eagerly by R&B and pop fans globally.
A truly brilliant comeback – welcome back ladies, we’ve missed and needed your presence!
Ladies, welcome back! How does it feel to be back and what inspired the comeback?
T Boz: Timing is everything. And it was organically right for us now. The fans have been asking for us to return for long time. The opportunity presented itself and here we are – boom!
You’ve never really been away though, TLC have in the past few years been constantly in demand on shows and awards, but how much for you has changed in 25 years since you started?
T Boz: The industry and social media have been the main changes and of course we lost our group member so I guess…pretty much everything.
Tell us why you decided to go down the kickstarter campaign route to finance the new music? [Ed.: Celebs like Bette Midler / Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry all donated]. Was this an attempt to control things yourselves as opposed to a record label?
Chilli: Our manager Bill Diggins brought that to table for us, talking about the freedom of it all and not having to deal with a record label and stuff. So, we said “let’s do that and incorporate the fans like we have in the past.” Like we did with the album Fanmail where we put fan names in our CD cover, so they funded this.
T Boz: Also, we gave them packages like sleepovers, personalized messages, movie dates, and stuff like that.
Chilli: If I could have done that with Michael Jackson (when I was a young fan) -whooo you have no idea! I’d give my rent, money, and car…everything.
You have a new self-titled album coming June 30th – what can you tell us about it?
Chilli: It’s called TLC. As far as the lyrical content., people know us and our style, we won’t stray far from that. The tracks are jamming. You know we thought Dallas (Austin), was gonna be on this project but with all of our busy schedules we just couldn’t make it happen, so we had writing camps in LA and Atlanta and found all this new raw writing talent which has been great.
What instructions did you give the writers?
T Boz: I think the mistake people make, is trying write for what they think we should be saying now – you can’t do that. Or they usually try and outdo something we’ve already done in the past. What we are saying to them is ‘‘we hired you ’cause we like what YOU do.” Working organically is the best way. To get to the essence of who you are and then it just naturally happened. Once people didn’t feel the pressured to outdo “Unpretty” or “Waterfalls” and did what they do best it just organically came together.
So many of your past songs are still or even more relevant today than they were so many years ago. What are you talking about this time around?
T Boz: Well, it’s less focused on fashion as we did so much of that early in our career but watching people over the years I had A LOT to say. I couldn’t WAIT to get a pen in my hand! ‘’Perfect Girls,” “American Hold,” “Way Back”…. I helped pen these songs and all of them mean something to me.
“American Hold” talks about all the politics in the world, and all the turmoil that America was going through with certain situations, and our troops..,there’s a dedication to them…they fought on this soil and died over it, so its a dedication to them as a thank you.
“It’s Sunny” is like life a story about overcoming in life. Good overcoming your fears and bad stuff. We covered a lot of stuff.
Chilli: also social media is a very, very narcissistic system and all these selfies and filters that people are obsessed with, and by the time the world sees the image, that’s not you and that’s not realistic. It’s fun to do and we all do it sometimes, but that can’t be what you’re living for? It’s easy to talk about those things and even though we have “No Scrubs: and it will exist forever and ever, and ever – some girls weren’t even born when we put those songs out – so we have to be repetitive until it really gets in there. I mean we’re not preachers or anything like that, but we do it in a fun way in a way that feels good. We’ve been called feminists, which I take it as a complement and we just tell it like it is.
T Boz: A lot of young girls try and be perfect and that’s not realistic with that Instagram shot and that’s what ‘Perfect Girls’ is about. No one’s perfect, we all have flaws and insecurities. But a lot of people alter their bodies and so that’s cool, they altered them, so let’s just call a spade a spade “I didn’t like this part of my body so I altered it and made it better”, but just be real about what you’re doing, before the youngsters out there who are striving for perfection that doesn’t exist, we are all flawed in some way!
How will your new music translate to new generation of young women?
Chilli: This generation is hungry for that stuff. This generation is repeatedly going back to the 90’s ’cause the music back then was so diverse! For example at the MTV Awards we would be in same category as Hootie & The Blowfish and all these other guys, it was crazy and so you had a nice, beautiful variety of music. But today, it seems like its just one box and the sound is all the same and so I feel it’s important for groups like us to come out and not jump on bandwagon. Also we’ve always been on our own train, people just need to know what their lane is, own it, be confident about that, don’t worry about what’s going on everywhere else.
T Boz: And also I think people now praise promiscuity and being promiscuous. That’s unfortunate. Strive to be bigger and better ’cause some of the goals are just not really that great these days. You wanna respect yourself ’cause no one else will if u don’t.
How much is better for young people nowadays compared with when you guys first started out?
Chilli: It’s definitely better now. Social media is a blessing and a curse. We opened up a lot of doors for women to have that girl power thing in them and do what they wanna do.
T Boz: I think the whole word ” public figure” is very interesting. I think if Instagram went away a lot of people would have no jobs. It’s funny I saw an insta model tweet “they should get rid of the title instamodel.” I was like, “why?” Don’t be ashamed of what u are! That’s what you do! …and then they change and call themselves public figure?! I just think that’s funny! Things have changed for the better for women but also focused on the wrong stuff. “Public figure” is funny to me. That’s not hot. If that were me, I would want an actual job title that’s legit. A real job!
With your new music, even though there are two of you in TLC now, have you managed to capture the spirit of Lisa within the new work at all?
Chilli: It’s second nature to us. Lisa’s spirit lives on through us forever. When we perform you’re gonna see that. We have a Left Eye interlude on this album. We’ve had 15 years to try and continue to move forwards. It’s just the two of us now but we know that she would want us to continue and so this is the new TLC.
We’ve gotten past the part now where we know she’s not here, but she’s forever missed, that’s our sister. But I think about it this way. No one else is ever gonna be in this group, it’s just the two of us. We’re never changed that. She’s always with us.
T Boz: With Lisa we made history together ….
It’s an unusual and horrific experience to lose a fellow band member so young, there was a lot of shock worldwide. How did you personally deal with that time?
Chilli: losing a family member is heart-breaking. I lost my grandmother but you expect that as she’s older, but to lose a sister at the age of thirty? That’s like what? It’s unbelievable ’cause you never think that that’s gonna happen!
T Boz: And then with the world watching, there’s no way to grieve. That’s not something you’re taught and to go to a grocery store or anywhere and everyone’s talking about it…”did u hear about Left Eye…” You almost wanna become a hermit seeing the headlines on every counter …that’s really your life. I didn’t know how to take people approaching me and smiling going “I’m sorry for your loss but can I have a picture with you?” And I’m like “did u mean that?” Or they’d say “sorry that she died, but I can Rap!” People just say the most insensitive things.
T Boz: I was most probably depressed for a couple of years over it, it was hard.
Chilli: I spoke about her like she was still here for a long time cos I could not talk about her in the past tense. I just, I just couldn’t do it. And that’s how I had to grieve and deal with it.
T Boz, you just mentioned depression, something else that’s been huge with young people recently with many young pop stars and even our British Royal family talking about it is mental health. Have you ever had any difficult experiences in this area? Do you think young people today have it much better or worse than your own teenage experience?
T Boz: I think everyone shouldn’t ever be ashamed. We all deal with something and the reason people don’t get help with something is cos they’re embarrassed. And I’m glad more public figures are speaking out and admitting that they have problems. I got a whole bunch of people I know with mental disorders. They’re locked up they’ve been medicated. Some have psychiatrists. You have to let it out. We have a campaign in the states called “SILENCE THE SHAME,” and a lot of people are getting into it ’cause you have to silence the shame. There are too many suicidal kids out there. Like when I hear two of my friends with ten year olds – at ten years of age, what can be soooo bad? You don’t wanna be here at ten? I think it’s a taught and learned behavior where your child can go to school and talk to people like they do and the parent knows about it and doesn’t stop it? That crazy, that’s a problem!!
I wanna blame the parents. There’s no way my daughter would go to school spark to anyone that way and upset them. That is a no no!
Chilli: some people are born bad. I do believe in a bad seed. You have to recognize there’s a problem but recognize and deal with this problem.
T Boz: but I promise you if I see my kid has a mental health problem I’m gonna take care of them. Cos I really believe that if family and friends had spoken up before then, a lot of these tragedies wouldn’t have happened. And a lot of people would be alive today.
Chilli: With my son I’m like “close the door? For what? Privacy? What are u talking about? No.” The only time he had a lil bit of privacy was when he needed to go for a shower. I know what’s going on. I’m listening to his conversations with his friends. You have to be involved. These are developing years and teenagers are not cool, they’re emotional. That’s when parents are needed the most. It’s not about stunting their growth; it’s about paying attention to things and their lil personalities and guiding them correctly but not to break their lil spirits and stuff.
T Boz: I look at my daughter. I have the two T’s. They’re good. Compared to what I see on the streets, they’re good. If all I have to deal with is a smart mouth, I’m good. ‘Cause I have one too. But that’s better than my child being on drugs. Or beating on me, and stuff I hear other parents go through, I can’t fathom what that’s like.
You’ve seen the impact and power of elections in the states. Something that’s big on the UK News agenda this month is our General Election. How do you feel about voting? Do youu vote? Should young people be encouraged to vote?
Chilli: I’m in the middle with that. It’s important to know what you want to do but maybe you’re not happy with both parties? If you think that it’s important for you to exercise your rights to vote, then do. Pick someone you feel most comfy with. But all these politician people at the end of that day are the same and they’re not as upset with each other as we get with them! They’re really cool with each other! Half of them are really good friends and much of the time you vote and you’re pumped and you think these changes are gonna happen and then they usually don’t… so politics to me is just ….tricks.
T Boz: I’m all for keeping hope alive so maybe you should vote …
You’re known for taking songs about serious issues to the top of the pop charts (AIDS on “Waterfalls” / Female self-esteem on “Unpretty”),
One thing that’s been a big talking point in music recently has been equality for women in music. You had your own issues with your record labels and management years ago…. How have you found being women in music…was it and is it still sexist?
Chilli: I personally think some stuff is just the way it is. I’m not saying it’s right, so as women we have to continue to kick those doors down and continue to have a voice.
T Boz: It’s not right. I remember sitting in the record company and I had said something two weeks prior to this man and no one had said anything. Two weeks later he says what I said …but see WE are different women …I hit the table I was like, I HIT THE TABLE, I said “no no!” I will stand up like a man and speak up. He ain’t about to take my credit. If I can pay manly bills I can do manly things. I’m gonna stand strong, and loud, and say what I wanna say, how I wanna say it, and when I wanna say, I’m not gonna let you take anything from me man or not!
Chilli: Even in the acting world, male actors can still be cast with a young actress, but with a female you are hot for a limited time, but as I said it’s always been the way, but you just gotta keep on fighting.
Your new single “WAY BACK” features Snoop…
Snoop! No other person who would fit that track except him. Everyone has that person in their life, when no matter how long you haven’t spoken in, when you do its all good, and its still ‘you’re still my everything’.
Finally, your legacy is historic. TLC formed the blueprint of modern-day girl groups. Beyonce says you influenced Destiny’s Child and you can definitely hear it. How would you describe the legacy of TLC?
T Boz: I just want us to be remembered for the things we’ve done and the doors we’ve opened. When we came up there was no social media and we had to work really hard …men then could in those days could just take off their shirts and people would scream and we’d be like OMG we’re fully clothed? Like, how we gonna get that reaction and do that? But we did, so our talent and everything spoke for itself. But when you look at TLC it’s the dancing, the clothes, the timeless music, the lyrical content, and the true essence of what we stood for to make you feel good. Feel good in everyone’s life and not just girls but everybody. And not to come across as preachers but we did it in a fun way with music and dancing and energy and it should just be a good old feeling!
(In conversation with Jasmine Dotiwala for Channel 4 News – UK)
New TLC Album Track List
1. ‘No Introduction’
2. ‘Way Back’ ft. Snoop Dogg
3. ‘It’s Sunny’
5. ‘Perfect Girls’
7. ‘Start a Fire’
8. ‘American Hold’
10. ‘Aye MuthaFucka’
11. ‘Joy Ride’
12. ‘Way Back’ ft. Snoop Dogg [extended version]