By Adam Carlson
Updated April 30, 2013 at 09:57 PM EDT
Credit: Jim Smeal/WireImage

The season of TLC has officially begun — almost.

The beloved multiplatinum R&B trio released their last album, 3D, in 2002, some six months after the sudden passing of founding member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and though they’ve been active internationally, the surviving duo of Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins haven’t toured the United States in years.

With the advent of a TLC mini-renaissance of sorts, though — Vh1 will debut Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story, a biopic starring Keke Palmer, Lil Mama, and Drew Sidora, later this year — Chilli and T-Boz will once again take the stage on July 27, as part of the two-day Mixtape Festival in Hershey, Pennsylvania. They also tell EW that they’re working on new music, with Drake, Ne-Yo, and J. Cole planned to join them in the studio.

Though family obligations and busy schedules — TLC is also slated to receive the “Legend award” at MTV Japan’s VMA’s on June 22 — are keeping them already occupied, appearing live for select dates was an easy choice. “With the biopic coming out, it all makes sense,” Thomas said. “We always knew, when shooting the film and when it comes out, we wanted to tour in the States.”

“There’s a lot of great things coming up lately for TLC and one of the things that we’re known for is entertaining and touring — and so I say, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’” Watkins explains. “Like, why not go out again and do what we love to do best?”

As for recent recording sessions, “Everybody has shown us love,” Watkins continues. “Not one person has said ‘No,’ and that’s amazing. So we’re just going to go in and demo and demo and figure it out. I talked to Dallas [Austin] today, we’re Skyping to see if I want to do this song that he has. I just left the studio last night. I go in again tomorrow.”

Austin was a consistent force on TLC’s previous albums, and is working with them on the new music but they want to make sure that it all feels fresh. “We don’t want to come out with sounds that people are jamming to and used to right now,” Thomas says.

Watkins has been in the studio daily, demoing songs and looking for that one hit record: “I’ll know when I hear it and when it’s done.” There’s also the biopic, which both singers have been closely involved with from the beginning, teaching the actors dance moves and giving them an inside look at their own lives. (Watkins even worked on a new routine for Sinora to perform onscreen.) “We just shared a lot of stories with them that actually go a lot deeper than the script to help them understand the script better — you read something and it’s like, ‘Let me tell you the whole story about this situation,’” Thomas says.

As always, the group will perform in the absence of its third member, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who died in a car accident in 2002. In concert, TLC has taken to broadcasting images of her on an LED screen behind them — something that they’ll work on incorporating in new and different ways for their new dates.

Watkins says she was nervous at first: Would fans be pushed away by the memory or reconnect with it? “It’s kind of a bittersweet thing. Fans are crying because they miss her but they’re smiling because they still see her. We’re rocking the dances at the same time, and she’s still doing her rap.”

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