Mouseketeers no more!
The group’s resident heartthrob gears up for the erotic presentation this week when I join the male contingent— Damon, Albert “Jeune” Fields and Chasen Hampton, all 38—for a day at Studio D Recording inside Lava Room in Cleveland. (Deedee Magno arrives one day later.)
Well, that’s one way for the gang to prove they’re all grown up now more than two decades after they met while starring on the same Mickey Mouse Club that launched the careers of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling and Keri Russell.
Still, The Party was first. The pop group went from the Disney Channel to the music charts in 1990 with Summer Vacation, ultimately releasing five albums, and touring with the likes of Vanilla Ice, Taylor Dayne and Color Me Badd. Their tunes were featured on Doogie Houser, M.D., and Blossom, and their choreographer's other client was Janet Jackson.
In fact, Albert even schooled Justin in the ways of the music industry when he was a young teen.
And now The Party is ready for their return to the spotlight as they prepare new music for release later this year. Psst … a tour will follow!
“We’re not looking to recreate the past,” Albert tells me. “We’re looking towards doing new stuff.”
Chasen adds, “This is a whole new chapter. This is not remaking old songs. This is current stuff, and continuing where we left off.”
Aside from the fact that beloved Tiffini Hale is not participating in the reunion, what’s different?
“I love it because I think we have more control now,” Damon tells me. “It’s a much simpler machine right now than it was when we were doing this in the early 90s, so there’s no middleman, and there’s nobody controlling what we’re putting out. It’s all on us. Which I love. Which we wanted back when we were kids, and we didn’t have that privilege.”
Chasen continues, “A lot of people were controlling us back then. It’s been a long time. We’ve all continued to do our own thing, and keep going in life. Getting back together, I realized how much greater this is going to be because all of our skills have been honed and perfected. We’re ready to throw down!”
Albert says, “When we did it as kids, we were kids. Now we’re seasoned. Now it’s not the same ballgame. You have all those years of experience, and doing those things now is easier. It’s trying and it’s challenging, but it’s a lot easier.”
Another change is that while they come together to record in Cleveland, they are spread out across the country, and living with families of their own. (Damon is based in the South, Albert is in the Midwest, Chasen is in the Northeast and Deedee is in California.)
“When we were teens, the responsibility level was extremely minimal, and now we have responsibilities,” Damon says. “We’re trying to balance taking responsibility for our family and home life, and do this, and this is full time. We could go seven days a week, 24 hours, as far as what we need to get done.”
Chasen adds, “Somehow I think it makes the whole experience better, too, because we’re working for a greater cause, and we’re more mature.”
Damon says, “It puts some passion behind it.”
Chasen adds, “Our girls keep us in line, that’s for damn sure.”
Being back together as a group after more than twenty years apart is surreal.
“We have so much time together under our belt,” Albert says. “We grew up together. We’re more siblings than probably our siblings, without question, and our experience. We’re the only ones that can relate to our experience. For us, it’s like we never left. We pick up right where you left off because it’s so familiar, so that’s good. It’s not a hard thing for us to make music, so that’s great.”
Still, it’s also clear that much time has passed.
“I’m proud of myself of not getting down,” Chasen says. “There’s been a lot of things that have gone on in my life that have tried to put that wall up, ‘OK, time’s up, you’re too old now.’ But there’s no too old. I’ll do this ‘til I die. If people like it, they’ll listen. If they don’t, I can’t help you there. It makes me happy.”
Damon jokes, “I’d like to give a shout to our sponsor Viagra—and Just For Men.”
Of course, the fan reaction has been unprecedented.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Chasen says. “I think it brings them back to their youth. They see us, and they remember growing up with us. We were ourselves on TV, we weren’t characters, so people legitimately identify. We’re their friends, in their head.”
And celeb support is strong, too.
Not only is Nicole Richie a fan (she tweeted “does ANYONE remember the band The Party? Please someone say yes.”), but Vanilla Ice, Joey Fatone and Wayne Brady have also reached out. Turns out, Wayne dials up the guys, pledging his support, during my visit!
“It’s a reminder to ourselves that a lot of time has passed, but if you just flip the switch, we’re in the zone and we’re doing our thing,” Chasen says. “We don’t even have to plan it out.”
Still, the most notable non-Mouseketeer fan of The Party just might be Prince, who will be honored with the Icon Award during the Billboard Awards, which air later this month on ABC.
“We used to go out all the time, back in the day, when you could go to clubs before you were 21 in L.A.,” Chasen begins. “All of a sudden, you’d see Drew Barrymore at the bar, and you’d be like ’hey, what up? This must be the right place, but we’re all 15.’ Our publicist worked at a popular bar in Beverly Hills that was frequented by Arsenio Hall and all sorts of cool people. They would let us DJ and screw with the lights and dance. It was an escape for us because we’d be working in L.A., and we just wanted to get out and dance, be in the zone and not worry about anything.”
He adds, “Literally, Prince would walk in and request Frontin’—these two [Albert and Damon] did it—he would go out in the middle of the floor, and dance by himself. Every time he’d come in, he’d request that song to our publicist. It would be like ‘Prince requested us again.’”
Damon pipes in, “Which is God to us. He’s like the artist of all artists.”