Zero Degrees of Separation with 98 Degrees

One-fourth of the ’90s boy band opens up about meeting his heroes and his new Christmas album

98 Degrees - Let It Snow Press Photo by Elias Tahan

From left: Jeff Timmons, Nick and Drew Lachey and Justin Jeffre bring back that ’90s cheese by forgetting how to sit in chairs.
Photo courtesy of 98 Degrees

It was the golden era of boy bands, and 98 Degrees was unlike the rest. Other groups in the ’90s like ’N Sync and the Backstreet Boys had been assembled by major labels, but 98 Degrees formed organically: Brothers Nick and Drew Lachey, along with Justin Jeffre and Jeff Timmons, started the group with heavy R&B and soul influences. Then, 98 Degrees was discovered backstage at a Boys II Men concert when they sang a capella for a radio station. After that performance, the band signed to Motown records in 1998.

Timmons caught up with SN&R to share what followed for the group of friends: a duet with one of their biggest influences, Stevie Wonder, for the soundtrack to the Disney movie Mulan; a couple of opening gigs for Janet Jackson on her Velvet Rope tour; the platinum-selling album This Christmas. After a total of 10 million records sold, 98 Degrees went on a decade-long hiatus starting in 2003. But now, the (boy) band is back together. They’ve just recorded a new holiday album, Let It Snow—released on October 13—and launched a 31-day tour. SN&R chatted with Timmons about the group’s days on Motown, the innocence of the ’90s, and his love for hard rock music like Metallica and Guns N’ Roses.

How did it feel to get back in the studio with everyone to record Let It Snow?

We had an amazing time. This Christmas was an album that stood out in the past, and it was always a perennial success for us. We like holiday albums because we can step away from the pop-stuff and do a little bit more harmony-based music with cooler arrangements and a lot of orchestra. We really wanted Let It Snow to match the previous album, and I feel like we did it.

Boy bands were all pop in the ’90s. Was it hard to incorporate that genre into your music as an R&B group?

Our original record that we did when we were on Motown was very R&B as opposed to pop. Of course, the times changed, and then the Backstreet Boys came out and pop was more of the style as opposed to when we were originally out in the late ’90s, early 2000s. So, we sort of morphed our sound from R&B. … We were really influenced by groups like the Four Seasons, the Temptations and Boys II Men. I think doing a Christmas album reflects more of that kind of sound. And on Let It Snow, we have all of it. We have like a Beach Boys sound and even a Chuck Berry sound, so we feel like we have everything on it.

When you were first signed to Motown, who were you starstruck by?

When you think of Motown, you think of Berry Gordy, and you think of all these groups, but we were heavily influenced by Boys II Men. We wanted to be just like Boys II Men. We wanted to be on Boys II Men’s label and all that because they had that throw-back harmony. If you remember, they had a song called “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” out and it was an a capella song. We fell in love with that, and we were hoping we’d be discovered like that. And we got discovered at their concert when we were singing a capella. So, it’s a part of our history as well.

Tell me about the duet with Stevie Wonder.

It was an honor. But, not only that, it was Stevie Wonder with Disney. We got to shoot a video with him and hang out in his trailer where he had all kinds of musical equipment set up in there. And he had his harmonica with him the whole time and he couldn’t have been more gracious, and humble, and amazing. It was another dream come true. There were a lot of things that we got to do that were a real blessing to us and that’s one of them.

What’s changed in music since the ’90s for you?

I think the music in the ’90s was really great. I mean, there was a mix of R&B and pop and this kind of this explosion with 98 Degrees, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Britney [Spears], Christina [Aguilera], and you had a bunch of great R&B music out there. But as far as like the innocence of the time, it was pretty cool. It was pre-9/11, and the world has changed since then. I think the most important thing about it for me is those fans that were there for us in the late ’90s have evolved with us. I carry a part of it with me in my career. I have fans that remind me of things all the time when they post stuff on Instagram with our frosted tips and our big, baggy jeans. You can’t escape it.

It’s no secret that 98 Degrees is in good shape. How many crunches do you do a day?

(Laughs.) Not enough. I was up all night working on some other music. I actually need to get back in the gym. Crunches, I’ve never been a fan of. I choose to not eat food instead. (Laughs.) It’s definitely not the healthier route.

Name a musician or band that would shock fans that you’re into.

We’re guys from the Midwest and Ohio, so we grew up with all these soulful groups. But we also grew up with Warrant and “Cherry Pie” and Quiet Riot. I think Metallica is one of my favorite bands that folks wouldn’t assume that a group like ours would like—or Guns N’ Roses. We’re, like, mad fans of those guys.

ZERO DEGREES OF SEPARATION WITH 98 DEGREES was originally published in the Sacramento News & Review November 16, 2017. 

Meet the Macaron

At local bakeries, these French morsels are having a moment

Photo by Rachel Valley

On a cool Saturday morning, the Midtown farmers’ market bustles with the ebb and flow of regular shoppers who browse through offerings from more than 50 local vendors selling everything from fresh-picked produce to peppery beef jerky, handmade pasta, and warm Belgian waffles.

It’s here that Tiffany Domingo, owner of the Elk Grove-based bakery Love and Macarons, began to sell her delicate, French-inspired sweet treats to this dedicated crowd more than two years ago. By the end of the afternoon, she’ll sell out.

The mother of two and self-taught baker recalls the first time she tried the bite-sized sandwich cookie in 2011; the salted-caramel macaron inspired Domingo to get in her kitchen and try her hand at the technically precise recipe.

“After lots of trial and error — and several failed batches — I finally got it down,” Domingo says. “You have to make sure that you mix the batter correctly, fold it correctly, and not just that, but the ingredients have to be measured perfectly.”

Tasty works of art

A naturally gluten-free sandwich cookie made from almond flour, egg whites, and sugar, the macaron’s ingredients are deceptively simple. Yet, the recipe is anything but, as humidity and even the number of stirs can lead to a too-watery or too-stiff batter.

But conquer the recipe, and the reward is sweet.

Often confused with the macaroon, which is similar in spelling, the macaron is different in texture and flavor. The macaroon is a moist, dense cookie mound made with dried coconut and frequently dipped in chocolate, whereas the perfect macaron is light and airy and fits in the palm of your hand. The cookie shell is smooth and crisp, and the buttercream filling adds just a touch of sweetness; it’s all enjoyed in one or two bites.


Tiffany Domingo behind her Love and Macarons cookie stand at the Midtown Farmers’ Market on select Saturdays. Photo by Rachel Valley

Domingo’s love for macarons inspired her company’s name, and over the years she’s developed 13 flavors inspired by the seasons as well as books and even cute cartoon characters. Her butterbeer macaron, for example, was inspired by the Harry Potter book series. It’s filled with a butterscotch-and-sea-salt buttercream, and the cookie is lightly dusted with edible glitter.

Her glass cookie case, on display at the Midtown market, also is filled with flavors such as pumpkin spice latte, strawberry shortcake, and a ridiculously cute, unicorn-shaped macaron that’s filled with watermelon buttercream and a chewy, watermelon-flavored Sour Patch Kids candy. Domingo also makes an adorable Pusheen the Cat-shaped macaron with passion fruit buttercream, as well as macarons shaped like emojis, cacti, and even an assortment of lovable pandas and brown bears, which come in flavor varieties that include cookie butter, s’mores, and black cherry-vanilla.

“Everyone looks forward to seeing the characters in the morning, especially the children,” Domingo says. “When they stop by the table, it makes me feel so warm inside to know that people like what I create. Macarons are definitely the new it dessert.”

Bakery staple

Across town in the Curtis Park neighborhood, Freeport Bakery owner Marlene Goetzeler and her dedicated staff of bakers and cake decorators make sure to keep macarons stocked in the dessert case. They come in such popular flavors as mocha, lemon poppy seed, and lavender, as well as seasonal varieties that include hazelnut, salted caramel, and peppermint during fall and winter.


Tiffany Domingo preps her Birthday Cake macarons from her certified home bakery. Photo by Rachel Valley

The bakery celebrated its 30th anniversary in August, and it remains a staple stop for sweets with its assortment of classic confections such as fruit basket cakes, cupcakes, and cookies, in addition to freshly baked breads.

For the bakery’s head cake decorator, Carol Clevenger, who’s been employed at Freeport since the bake shop first opened its doors, it’s important to keep up on the trends in the ever-evolving world of sweets, whether that has meant getting creative during the cupcake and cake-pop crazes or developing unique macaron flavors during the fall and winter seasons — because, at the moment, the bite-sized macaron is proving to be in demand, she says.

“It’s actually surprising how popular they’ve been, but macarons are so different and elegant,” Clevenger says. “People really like the little sweet stuff.”

MEET THE MACARON was originally published in Edible Sacramento magazine’s Winter November/December 2017 Issue. See the full story for a pumpkin spice latte macaron recipe from Love and Macarons’ owner Tiffany Domingo!

Rock & Roll: WSCXGP

The party’s on at NorCal’s biggest cyclocross event


Cruising down the American River Bike Trail behind Cal Expo in August of 2012, Matthew Hargrove and his then 8-year-old son Jack heard the distant sounds of punk rock blaring from an empty field. A small group of people was gathered there with bicycles. Intrigued, the father and son decided to check out what the group was up to out in the middle of nowhere. As they rode up to the fellow cyclists, Hargrove recalls, they were greeted with, “Hey! You’re here for cyclocross!”

Having never heard of “cyclocross,” a sport that blends road- and mountain-biking with criterium racing, Matthew and Jack decided to stick around.

“Before we even stopped our bikes, we had people who were happy that we were joining them,” Hargrove says. “That was how this all started. That small group was putting together free cyclocross races just to get people excited about it.”

The following week, Hargrove and his son were back out in the field with their new friends. Soon they were volunteering during newly organized cyclocross events, known then as GHETO races, which stood for “Go Hard Every Time Out.” As an avid record collector, Hargrove began bringing his favorite vinyl to spin for the cyclists during the dusty competitions.

Six years ago at the GHETO races, Hargrove met professional cyclocross athlete Emily Kachorek, her husband Pete Knudsen and race organizer Marty Woy. Together, the four would later form the Northern California Cyclocross Association and organize the first West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix, a homegrown cycling race now in its fourth year that has developed into one the largest cyclocross races on the West Coast.

“That little core group of people are part of this huge international race we’re putting on,” says Hargrove, now WSCXGP race director. Jack occasionally takes over DJ duties.

“It was DIY,” Hargrove says. “We weren’t in a garage putting a band together, but we were out in a field putting races together. As we get to higher levels, we’re trying to figure out ways to keep that spirit alive within our race. So, we’re insistent that we have local music playing there, and that’s a nod to our DIY roots.”

Cycle culture

Heard from a distance across the Tower Bridge, echoes of upbeat punk rock music battle against the rowdy sounds of cowbells as they swell and fade to a steady stream of boisterous cheers. What sounds like an all-out party happening down by the river is actually last year’s WSCXGP.


Digging in the sand at WSCXGP III. Photo courtesy of Jeff Namba

Each year, hundreds of cyclocross athletes from across the country are invited to suit up and pedal hard on a 2-mile mixed-terrain course right along the city’s River Walk Park. As with all cyclocross tracks, this course makes use of the park’s natural features, so riders will race through the difficulties of fine sand, speed up on paved roads, adjust to the track’s many loose and hairpin turns, and overcome obstacles—a cyclocross-course component where riders hop off their bikes and carry them over barriers before hopping back onto their saddles to brave the course ahead.

Cyclocross tests the aerobic endurance of each rider throughout its course. It’s a sport for men and women, amateurs and professionals. Even kids even get in on the fun during WSCXGP.

Organized and co-hosted by the city of West Sacramento, the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates and, of course, the Northern California Cyclocross Association, the WSCXGP kicks off cyclocross season, which runs from September through January.

For the first time this year, the WSCXGP is recognized as one of 22 Union Cycliste Internationale-sanctioned races in the United States, and it’s one of few that provide an equal prize package for women and men—with the largest women’s cash prize in California. It’s also the first year it’s recognized as a USA Cycling Pro Cyclocross race.

These two official titles mean professional athletes can now earn points to improve their international ranking when competing at other UCI or USAC races around the country and abroad. As this grassroots race gears up for the weekend, professional cyclists from Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and throughout California have already registered to compete.

How she rides

On a warm Sunday evening at Squid Bikes’ headquarters located on 14th Avenue, co-owner and pro-rider Emily Kachorek sits comfortably on a gray couch inside her shop as she cracks open a cold La Croix.

Kachorek and her Squid team, which also has members in Texas and Massachusetts, just returned from competing for the Qiansen Trophy in China, where she placed third both race days out of 35 female competitors who represented countries including Belgium, Japan and Latvia. Kachorek, who’s been an active cyclocross racer since 2011, is currently ranked No. 64 in the world.


Emily Kachorek is ranked No. 64 in the world in her sport. Photo courtesy of Jason Perry

Having traveled from the East to West Coast and around the globe, Kachorek is proud to see how quickly the WSCXGP race has grown in four years.

“This is one of the top events in the country, and I’ve been to a lot of them,” she says. “In terms of it really being a celebration and a party that’s more than just a bike race, it’s one of the best in the country.”

This year, Kachorek will represent her Squid team at the WSCXGP and compete in the Women’s Elite race to scoop up some UCI points before the crew travels to compete in Boulder, Colo., and then off to Japan.

With years of training, traveling and competing on a national and international scale, Kachorek says the sport never ceases to present new challenges, such as adjusting her tactics during cold weather races (she was born and raised in sunny San Diego). For Kachorek, the ultimate reward is motivating and inspiring others to hop on a cross bike and try their best.

“It’s hard no matter what,” she says. “Just riding around the course is hard. The professionals are going to ride it faster and may look prettier when they do it, but everyone has the experience [that] cyclocross is a hard thing to be doing. Everyone’s there to cheer you on and it’s perfectly acceptable to stop and rest—and someone might even grab you a beer.”

Par for the course

Five years ago, Ashley Fruhwirth jumped right into cyclocross without any prior experience, she admits. The energetic, bright-eyed 28-year-old, who sports fuzzy cat ears on her bike helmet, loves to take any woman or child with an interest in the sport on a ride through some of her favorite trails, because that’s just how she rolls.

“Serious guys on the trail will crack a smile. The ears brighten people’s days,” Fruhwirth says. “I want people to know you can take your sport seriously and have fun, and that’s where I’m coming from. That’s what I want people to know about cyclocross.”

But Fruhwirth says she wasn’t always the motivated go-getter. She speaks openly about her darkest year, in 2015, when she fell into depression and turned to alcohol to cope. When she decided to get sober and healthy again, cyclocross was her conduit.

“It was February 2016 when I got sober and I said, ’my goal is to podium at cyclocross,’” Fruhwirth says. “I kept this goal in my head, and everyone was so supportive and really there for me through the darker times, even when I didn’t ride my bike.”

She set a couple more goals for herself that year, including a vow to ride 3,000 miles, which she surpassed by the thousands. She also accomplished her initial target to podium, or place, at a cyclocross race by tying for third place during a Sacramento cyclocross competition. Ultimately, there was a tie-breaker and Fruhwirth says she was bumped to fourth place, but it didn’t matter—she did it.

“I didn’t stand up there at the award ceremony, but I worked so hard and I was so proud, and points-wise it was a tie for third,” Fruhwirth says. “I have changed so much emotionally and as a person, and even in my weight. I was so happy. So it didn’t matter that I wasn’t standing up there—I felt like a winner.”

Throughout her years competing in cyclocross, Fruhwirth usually races in the women’s C category, where riders go hard on the multi-terrain course for 30 minutes. This year at the WSCXGP, she wants to up her game, so she registered for the women’s B category, which races for a total of 45 minutes.

As for new goals, instead of upping her mileage even further or vying for a solid podium spot, Fruhwirth, who rides for River City Velo on a bike she calls “Black Widow” because of its black and red colors, says her goal is simply to continue to have fun.

“I wish that everyone could find their own version of cyclocross because it really has changed my entire life,” she says. “I think there are people who have never even heard of it, and I want everyone to be involved if they want to be. I think a lot of people would benefit from it.”

Down by the river

High-pitched feedback fades in and out before loud and fast beats blast from behind a drum kit, drowning out the cowbells in the hands of cyclocross fans who cheer on passing competitors. The sun beats down on Sacramento hardcore band RAD as vocalist Lory Gil shouts into her microphone, at times pointing to cyclists as they whiz past a stage set directly in the middle of the course at WSCXGP.

Fans vie for shade underneath the Bike Dog Brewing Co. beer tent and listen to the music, or huddle next to one of many large outdoor fans to cool down. Toddlers run in circles during the next performance, by the band Pets. With a set filled with energetic and effects-driven guitars, Pets’ catchy beats are fit to motivate the swarms of cyclists as they start the next race.


Cyclocross athletes remount after hopping over barriers on the course. Photo courtesy of Jeff Namba

By the end of this race day, Katherine Nash, a former Olympian originally from the Czech Republic, will take No. 1 in the Women’s Elite race, followed by Kachorek. Nash is currently ranked No. 2 in the entire world, and when she’s not splitting time between living in the Bay Area and Truckee, depending on the weather, she enjoys supporting local races like WSCXGP.

“For somebody who has to pack up a bike and fly places with it, it’s nice to load it up in the car and just drive,” Nash says.

“This year, I had a choice to go to the East Coast and race in a bigger event, but I really wanted to be part of this UCI event. We only have two weekends of UCI racing on the West Coast versus every weekend on the East Coast. So this is a really big deal. I’m excited to be a part of it again.”

Nash, who placed No. 3 at the Worlds races last year, said she looks forward to scoring UCI points in the United States before trotting off to Germany, Denmark, Belgium and—if everything works in her favor—the UCI Cyclocross World Championships, hosted in the Netherlands in January. Still, riding bikes in Sacramento is just as enjoyable, she says, because of the community that follows.

“It’s something that you can relate to with a lot of friends because cycling is accessible at different ages, and people can do it their whole life,” Nash says. “It’s not some form of exercise that only some elitists get to do.

“Everybody can ride and race a bike, and that’s what’s cool about it. Another thing is that feeling of accomplishment, and that may not be winning the race every single time, but just having a nice feeling when you crossed the finish line and you did well based on your expectations.”

ROCK & ROLL: WSCXGP was the cover story of the Sacramento News & Review
September 28, 2017.