Next year marks two decades since TLC released its groundbreaking, diamond-selling second album CrazySexyCool. But as the group’s two surviving members, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, tell Rolling Stone, 2013 is shaping up to be one of the pop group’s busiest years yet.
“It really is the start of another chapter for us,” says Thomas of the seminal R&B crew’s jam-packed year. This includes the premiere of a VH1 biopic this fall (supplemented by a soundtrack with a pair of new singles), a new album in the works (featuring collaborations with Ne-Yo and Drake) and, perhaps most exciting for longtime fans, the group’s first U.S. show in years.
“I’m nervous,” admits Watkins of the duo’s just-announced appearance at this summer’s Mixtape Festival in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “Not because I don’t think [fans] will like it. But more so just ’cause it’s been so long.”
Since original group member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in a car accident in Honduras in 2002, TLC have toured intermittently overseas. But the VH1-sponsored Mixtape Fest will mark the group’s first Stateside show since they briefly reunited at a benefit concert hosted by Justin Timberlake in 2009.
“With the biopic being done and all the other things we have coming up, we were like, ‘Why not?’” explains Watkins of signing on for the fest, which takes takes place on July 26th and 27th in Hershey Park.
“It’s long overdue,” adds Thomas.
Neither member would reveal definitive plans for a much-rumored, full-fledged forthcoming TLC tour. But Thomas all but confirmed it to Rolling Stone, saying, “Trust me. It’s going to happen!”
Specific plans for the Mixtape show are still up in the air. “We’re still in creative mode right now,” Thomas says. “That’s why I cannot sleep at night, because my brain will not turn off.”
But Watkins confirms that Lopes will be honored. Specifically, she says, projections of archival footage of the late rapper will appear on a screen behind the stage while the group performs. “It’ll be bittersweet because she’s not there, but she’s still there,” says Watkins. “[Audiences] are left with a good feeling, because you see all three of us rock out together.”
The group has been busy in the studio of late: Watkins was in a TLC session this past week in Los Angeles. The duo re-recorded a majority of their most popular records for the biopic’s soundtrack, laid down two new songs with the help of longtime producer Dallas Austin – both of which they plan to release as singles this fall – and are wrapping up work on their as-yet-untitled new album.
“Everybody has been so responsive about working with us,” Watkins says of the sessions for the group’s first album since 2002’s 3D. “No one has said no yet.”
Watching the filming of the biopic – which stars KeKe Palmer, Drew Sidora and rapper Lil’ Mama as T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye, respectively – was a strangely rewarding experience. “It was very weird,” Thomas says, laughing. The singer was amazed by Lil’ Mama’s performance as Left Eye.
“I tell you, she transformed into her,” she says. “It was spooky!”