98 Degrees' Nick Lachey Following In Footsteps Of Justin T., Nick C.

Singer hopes to have album ready by early 2003.

Look out Justin Timberlake and Nick Carter, Nick Lachey is breathing hot down your necks.

The 98 Degrees singer has demoed over 30 songs for his debut solo album and he's hoping to have the disc ready for release by early 2003. This time, he's really planning for a revelation.

"It's going to be a little different from what people are used to hearing 98 Degrees do," he said during a break at the studio. "It's going to have a rock/soul feel, kind of like George Michael. I've always been a huge fan of his and there's just a huge void for someone to do that kind of guitar-driven, soulful music."

Lachey was motivated to go solo when 98 Degrees decided to take an extended hiatus after getting off the road last September.

"People needed to focus their attention on other things personally in their own lives and on their families," he explained. "So it was either sit at home and do nothing or try to do something else. The opportunity was there to do a solo record and it was always in the back of my mind as something I'd like to attempt to do one day. The time was right, so I just went for it."

In addition to giving him something to do, working on a solo album enabled Lachey to expand his horizons and explore sonic and lyrical elements that wouldn't have been approved of by his pop democracy.

"I think 98 degrees played it safe with the kinds of songs we recorded, and most of them were romantic love songs," Lachey said. "While there's still a part of me that wants to do some of that, there's also a big part of me that wants to do things that are a little less conventional. I wrote a song the other day called 'Fantasy,' and it's about the world of entertainment and how everyone sees entertainers. The way people

interpret their lives is not necessarily the way it is. The hook is, 'I'm fantasy's freak/ Look at me, picture plastered in a magazine.' It's kind of a 'Don't believe everything you read, hear, see' type of thing."

Other song titles so far include "Lost in You," "Can't Stop Loving You" and "Edge of Eternity," which was written about Lachey's upcoming marriage to pop singer Jessica Simpson (see "Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey To Go All The Way").

"I'm very excited about it," said Lachey, who will tie the knot this October. "The song's kind of about staring the rest of your life in the face, but when you know the situation's right, you don't have anything to worry about. I've got normal kind of nerves [about the wedding], but we're planning a lot of stuff and we're excited."

A host of producers will assist Lachey on the disc, including Keith Thomas, Guy Chambers, David Ericson, the Matrix and Walter Afanase. Initially 4 Non Blondes guitarist and vocalist Linda Perry, who has worked with Pink and Christina Aguilera, was signed on as a songwriter and producer, but things didn't work out.

"We didn't like the direction the songs were going, so we decided to step back and take a break from it," Lachey said. "She's at a point in her career where she's making a huge name for herself and she didn't want to put anything out that she didn't 100 percent believe in. It was nothing personal. We got along great and had a great time together, but it wasn't something she felt comfortable moving forward with."

If all goes well, Lenny Kravitz may pitch in a strumming hand. Lachey is currently trying to coax the rock star to play guitar on a track called "Out of Time," which was co-written with Richard Marx.

"I think that would be a really incredible collaboration," Lachey said. "The song's basically about a relationship between a guy and a girl, and he's kind of reached his breaking point. He's saying, 'I'm fed up and I'm out of trust and you're out of time.' "

Lachey insists that his decision to do a solo record in no way indicates the implosion of 98 Degrees. Although the group plans to remain out of commission for another two years or so, Lachey is still close with his bandmates.

"We talk almost every day," Lachey said. "We'll definitely do something at some point, but we needed a break. There's been a lot of speculation that the group's broken up and that we hate each other. That couldn't be further from the truth."