For Next 17 Years, Call Backstreet Boys A 'Man Band'

Categories: Q&A
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For all you doubters: Backstreet's back, alright? Next week the
Boys are heading west to perform at San Francisco Pride and the Warfield Theater. If you asked the guys, though, they'd tell you they were "Never Gone" and "Unbreakable." (Yes, we're reading straight from some of their recent album titles, which do seem to have a running theme.) You've got to hand it to them, though -- 17 years later, and about a decade since the boy-band thing started to dissipate, the Backstreet Boys are the only example of that cultural phenomenon still on tour.

Those years have seen many changes, however. The group just left its label, Jive records -- a split that member A.J. McLean told us will open new doors for the Backstreet Boys. Now, the four members can be "who they are" -- part of which means emulating long-lasting bands like The Rolling Stones and The Eagles -- and hone a sound for "the next 17 years." Soon the group will be hitting the high seas on a Backstreet Boys cruise, with fans who are now older, saucier, and way more intoxicated. Where do we sign up?

Hey, A.J. How are you today?
A.J. McLean:
I just had some unfortunate news about my oldest
dog. He got diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It's been a bit of an
emotional roller coaster.

I'm so sorry. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
AM:
Absolutely.

How is the tour going?
AM: The show's been sold out. The fans have been really excited. We're just looking forward to coming down to San Fran.

What do you think it will be like playing at Pride?
AM: I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends who are stoked that we're doing this. I want to get heavily involved with the gay and lesbian movement. One of my dear friends just started the very first gay and lesbian yellow pages for Los Angeles, so I'm gonna try to get on board and try to ixnay Prop 8...just try to make everybody equal.


Why did Backstreet Boys split with Jive Records last month after more than a decade?
AM:
It was time for us. It was a parting on good terms. It's now giving us the freedom to be the artists that we are. Fortunately, record companies are becoming more obsolete, [which is] giving the artist a lot more freedom to be creative without having people dictate what songs to do. We've all met so many talented writers over the past 17 years that we can easily pick up the phone, call T-Pain and say, "Hey, we're going back into the studio in September. Let's make a new record."

You didn't have that luxury before?
AM: We did, and then we didn't. There was a bit of a dictatorship going on, which is the case with most record companies. They kind of run the ship. But towards the end, before we parted ways, we were getting a lot more hands-on with our music. We still have one more record that's part of the contract, but that's just going to be released in Japan under the Jive label, and then we start making a new BSB record this coming fall, which will either be on a new label or will be straight distribution. We haven't decided.

Can people expect a different sound on the new album?
AM:
A little bit. This next record is going to be where we're headed for the next 17 years. We definitely emulate groups like The Eagles and The Stones, and having that longevity and that staying power. We've definitely proven that we can do it, but now it's time for us to just be who the Backstreet Boys are gonna be.

What do you think caused the disappearance of boy bands?
AM:
There was this huge pop explosion in the late 90s, early 2000, and it was overwhelming for everyone. There was us, there was *NSYNC, 98 Degrees, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera. It went on as long as it could and then some of the groups just didn't want to do it anymore. Some of them didn't have the success that they used to, so they just gave up. And then there were groups like *NSYNC who had members leave who did equally as well if not better on their own. I think [Justin Timberlake] is much better on his own. I think he was really good as part of a group, but I think certain people in groups just stick out more than others. We have always said we would never hold each other back. I just released my very first solo record in all of Asia and it's about to hit the States, Europe and Canada at the end of the year.

Whose idea was the upcoming Backstreet Boys Cruise?
AM:
It was a collective idea. We've been talking about it for years now, because we've heard other artists have done it, like New Kids on the Block. It's something cool for us to do with our fans. Whether it's having a pool party or a gambling night...we're doing a full concert with our dancers. We might do some weird things. I heard some rumors that New Kids went as a group and knocked on fans' doors to say hi and hang out.

It doesn't seem like you guys would have been able to just go and knock on fans' doors a few years ago with the hysteria that surrounded you.
AM: Yeah, I don't think that would have been a good idea. But now that our fans are older, they still get crazy. Believe me. There's still girls passing out, there's still girls throwing underwear and bras. It's just as crazy. They're just older. And now that they're older, they can drink, so they're a little bit saucy. They're having fun, kicking back and letting loose.

Are the people who grew up listening to Backstreet Boys your target demographic?
AM: I would say our core demographic is probably ages 25 to 45. But there's still quite a lot of young teenage girls coming to the shows, and a lot of kids. Because now our fans who grew up with us are married and have families of their own. Their kids look at us like we're brand new, so we're starting the Backstreet fan pandemonium all over again.

Now that you guys are men, how do you feel about being grouped under the boy band umbrella?
AM:
It actually makes us feel young again. Nowadays, it doesn't bother us. In the very beginning, it did. Now we're being called a man band.

Some of your album titles, such as Never Gone, Unbreakable, and This Is Us, sound defensive. Are they?
AM: I don't think they're defensive. I think the only defensive title we've had is Black & Blue. During that time, with the record company [lawsuit] and with all the stuff going on with us personally ... me going to rehab, Brian having open heart surgery, a couple of us losing family members...it was a rough time. We also went through a break with management. We felt battered and bruised.

The lyrics on your solo CD are more explicit. Is this the direction you'd like to see Backstreet Boys go in?
AM: I think that's more me than Backstreet Boys. We're four individuals, but we're still a group. A couple of the guys are fathers. It might get a little squirrelly if they're singing lyrics that are risqué and over the top. It's expected from me, because I'm not one to sugarcoat anything.

For old times' sake, who is your favorite *NSYNC member and song?
AM: It's going to be a tie because I'm actually really good friends with JC [Chasez] and Justin. JC and I have worked on quite a few songs together for my solo record and the Backstreet Boys record. As far as songs go -- "Gone." It's just a great, well-rounded, well-crafted record. It's one of those records I actually wish we had.

Do you guys ever get together and have boy band reminiscing parties?

AM:
If I'm in the studio with JC, we'll start talking, and it'll spark a whole conversation about when we were all on tour together. "Remember that place...remember that girl... remember that party... remember that show." If we wrote a book together, good God, it'd be bigger than War and Peace


Follow this blog @SFAllShookDown and the writer @TaylorFriedman


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