It’s four days before TLC hits the road with Nelly and Flo Rida for a six-week jaunt around the country, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas is at her Atlanta home, packing and sorting and organizing what will join her on the tour bus.
She and partner Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, 49, haven’t shared a bus since the first TLC album in the early-‘90s, and she laughs when it’s suggested that is how the pair have remained close for three decades.
“We’re sisters, not just partners” Thomas emphasizes.
Along with their third partner/sister, the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, TLC sold more than 85 million albums worldwide and earned the distinction of the best-selling American girl group (they’re worldwide runners-up to the Spice Girls). They topped the charts in the mid-‘90s with a string of saucy and empowering No. 1 hits - “Creep,” “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs,” “Unpretty” – that blended their distinctive R&B/rap with Atlanta-centric production from Dallas Austin and Organized Noize.
And they’re embarking on their fourth tour in five years, which will play its second date on Wednesday at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood.
The always-gracious Thomas – who at 48 is so positive-minded, it is only semi-jokingly hinted that she consider motivational speaking as a side career – chatted about what to expect from the live shows, the anniversaries of seminal TLC albums and the status of their Broadway musical.
Q: You did the “I Love the ‘90s: The Party Continues” tour a couple of summers ago and now you’re heading out with Nelly and Flo Rida. Do you like these group tours and getting to hang out with other artists?
A: Because I’m an artist, I love it. When (TLC) first got started, we always did fun things together - with Boyz II Men, Destiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera. It makes for a fun tour. People get to see everybody that they love and it makes it more exciting. We’ve done a few tours with Nelly before, he was on (2015’s) “The Main Event” tour with us, and we did some shows together in Australia. But this is our first time working with Flo. He is the sweetest guy. He is so polite, always on time, his people respond so fast to email. He’s so professional, which is the way it should be, but it’s usually not that way. He’s very humble. I love people like that.
Q: Since the tour is just starting, do you know if there will be any interaction among the three acts during the show?
A: We thought about that and had some cool ideas before the tour started, but we couldn’t get anybody on board. We are creative and think outside of the box and everybody doesn’t always think like that, and that’s OK. We really did want to do something very different. It would have started a new trend. Maybe we’ll wind up doing it on another tour with someone else. But it’s all good. All of us are very blessed to have these great songs that people love and it means different things to them.
Q: Where does TLC land in the performance lineup?
A: We’re co-headlining with Nelly, so we’ll take turns with closing. I really love the second spot (in a show) because everybody is in their seats and they’re energized. As it gets later and later you get tired and it’s hot. You’re still enjoying the concert, but it’s a lot different than an hour earlier.
Q: Atlanta is only the second date of the tour, so it will hardly feel as if you’ve left home.
A: It’s always nice to have your folks there. It makes me sing and dance a little harder.
Q: This is the 25th anniversary year of “CrazySexyCool” and 20th anniversary of “Fan Mail.” When you think back on those records, what comes to mind?
A: It is a blessing. There are a lot of amazing songs that are great for the moment, but they don’t have the lyrics to endure. When you make these songs when you’re recording them, you don’t know they have these legs - only time tells you that. We’re blessed to have a few songs like that…When I see the little girls out there who are, like, 8, and I tell you “No Scrubs” is coming, they are jumping up and down. I wish I could hold all of them and bring them on stage! I never get used it.
Q: It’s so cool to see everyone from Weezer (“No Scrubs”) to Bette Midler (“Waterfalls”) covering your work.
A: And Taylor (Swift) with “Unpretty” and even the coaches on “The Voice,” when they did “Waterfalls” (in 2017). It is such an honor to see that, especially when your peers respect you. It makes us feel good about the body of work.
Q: What’s this Broadway musical you and T-Boz are working on?
A: (Laughs) I spilled the beans too soon on that! I thought I could talk about it, but I really can’t yet. It’s definitely something we’re currently working on, and it’s a process. But we’re very happy that we’re putting together a team and will be able to check that off the bucket list…The only people who know our story is us. I can sit down and share things with my friends, but it’s still not Tionne telling them, too. Only we can tell our story 100 percent.
Q: Tell me about the experience of being on “Girls Cruise” (the new VH1 reality show with Chilli, Lil Kim, Mya and others).
A: It was actually a very pleasant experience. I would not have signed on to do something like that if it was going to be ratchet. We all love some ratchet TV sometimes, but I don’t want to be a part of anything like that! I spoke to Kim prior to agreeing to do it and I’ve always been in that family with Viacom, so it was nice to reconnect. There were some challenging moments, of course - it’s TV. But I think that the show is definitely something refreshing. You’re still getting reality TV, but it’s positive. We’re not cussing each other out, none of that stuff is going on. I would have jumped off that boat otherwise! I’d be like, I’m done. But it’s just positivity between women; you’ll see that exists, because what you usually see on TV is the complete opposite. We shot it in February. It was a gorgeous yacht. We had a whole team of people helping on the ship. It’s crazy! I was trying to help them!
Q: When did you make the life changes to be celibate and become so spiritual?
A: Honestly, I have gone back and forth through the years. When you know what’s right with the truth and you go against that…maturity can come at any age, and when you really get it, you say this important to me and my faith to God. It’s not easy. I’m a human being. But I put forth every effort to try to do the right thing. I feel really good when I do the right thing. It’s a great feeling. It gives you a different kind of strength that you didn’t know you had. We’re so used to getting into whatever that weakness is and then you give that temptation so much more power. I love sharing the knowledge, especially when it’s something healthy for you. I ultimately want everybody to become their best self. I’m not one of those Christians who’s like, you better read the Bible. It’s a different approach because people are in different places in their lives. The last thing I want to do is push someone away from the truth.
Nelly and TLC
With Flo Rida. 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 24. $18.75-$135.50. Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood, 2002 Lakewood Way, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, livenation.com.
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