Catching Up With The Backstreet Boys
By Noah Michelson
Though some might want to dismiss them as a mere boy band, the Backstreet Boys have sold more than 130 million albums in the last 17 years, making them one the biggest-selling groups of all time. With a recently released album, a summer tour, and their first BSB cruise on the way, we sat down with two of the group's members, Brian Littrell and A.J. McLean, to chat about growing out of the boy band label, insane groupie encounters, and supporting their gay fan base.
Out: I was reading a press release for This Is Us, and Brian, you said, "We made a conscious effort to go back to being ourselves." What were you before you went back to that, and what have you returned to?
Brian Littrell: I think, today, you will find that the Backstreet Boys are comfortable being who we are. There was a time when we were young men that we were trying to discover a sound that we wanted to have for the future. When you back up to after the Black and Blue CD, we took a little bit of time away. We came out with the Never Gone CD, which was a more pop/rock direction -- we kind of got away from what the Backstreet Boys are known for. In that turn of events, after Unbreakable, we were trying to get back to that dance-oriented music that people know us for. The pop, easy songs. Again, it's not rocket science, it's just easy-listening music that you want to move to. So in that, I think with This Is Us, you'll find that the Backstreet Boys, after 17 years together, we're comfortable being the Backstreet Boys, we're comfortable making music that is what it is. We do have a -- we call it some sort of "magical sound" that, when we all sing together, is something that is special that's lasted us for a long time. And you'll find that we're not trying to be anything that we're not. Like I said, it is what it is, and this is us.
A.J. McLean: Well said, well said.
Brian: [singing] Yeah, oh my God, we're here to stay. Brothers, sisters and this is A.J.
You have worked with some of the biggest producers in the industry, especially on the last album.
Brian: Like myself.
So how do you make sure that you're not dwarfed by their contributions? How do you make sure in the end it's a Backstreet Boys' song and not a Red One song?
A.J.: Working with the producers that we've worked with -- like T-Pain, Jim Jonsin, Red One, Max Martin, again, Ryan Tedder -- they're all artists, as well. So they understand when we go in the studio that it is about the Backstreet Boys -- we are making a Backstreet Boys record. Not even once have we felt that any of the writers or producers were trying to one-up us. They're all just great guys to work with. We definitely would work with them all over again. And we now have a lot more creative control than we used to. Back in the day, when we first started, it was kind of like point and shoot. Now, we're the ones holding the gun, so to speak.
Brian: [gun shot noises]
A.J.: And we kind of call the shots. And say, "You know what? We don't really like that part, or I don't like that sound. Can we try this? Can we try that?" We even get more into the production side now, whether it's a keyboard sound, or a guitar lick, or whatever it is. We never used to do that before. It makes the recording process much more fun now than it ever was before.
Brian: It's funny, because when you go back to the beginning, the beginning times for the Backstreet Boys were about the success of the Backstreet Boys. And then there was a time when the industry kind of turned to who was writing, who was producing. And if you do go back, way back, on our second record -- that was our first record in the U.S. -- we even had songs that we were writing and producing at that time. I think, we talk about this term, "dwarfed by the producers," or, "how can we make it ours when we're the Backstreet Boys and we're working with somebody amazing," it's a good collaboration because we have many, many years in this business. And I think we're seasoned artists. A lot of times we're great writers that have been also overshadowed by our own success. And in that, when you really think about it, it's something to take in. And these producers know they are the guys that read the liner notes on the CD, and they know who wrote something, and they know who produced it. Working with great producers now, in today's world, it's all about who produced it and who wrote it, so it's kind of turned, but I think it'll get back to us again -- hopefully.
Tell me about this cruise you guys have coming up in December. It's already sold out.
Brian: [Makes cruise ship horn noises]
A.J.: Yup. The Backstreet Boys Cruise. It's the first of, hopefully, many. We'll see how the first one goes.
Brian: Carnival Cruise!
A.J.: A bunch of artists have been doing it. I know the New Kids did it. Rick Springfield did it.
Brian: Yeah! Go, Rick Springfield.
A.J.: It's just -- it's something that's more intimate for us to be with our fans. It's kind of a vacation for us, but not really. It's a vacation that involves work. But...
Brian: We're on a boat.
A.J.: So obviously, if we get a little stressed out, we can't just jump overboard. But...
Brian: Send in the chopper.
A.J.: Give me a dingy.
A.J.: It's going to be fun. We're going to do a lot of personal stuff with our fans. Whether it's hosting a pool party or a casino night.
Brian: I ain't doin' that.
A.J.: Heck, it could be even bingo, who knows?
Brian: I ain't doin' that.
A.J.: And then we'll do a proper concert -- we'll have our dancers.
Brian: I ain't doin' that, either.
A.J.: But Brian won't be there.
A.J.: It's just going to be fun. It's our very first time doing it. I'm not a big boat guy, so I'm a little leery about the boat part. I know it's a cruise, and they tell me that you don't feel it. But if I get it in my head that I'm feeling it, I'll be all, [singing "I Want it That Way"] "Tell me... [throw up noises]" I'm not trying to throw up on a fan, but, it should be fun.
Brian: [In the tune of "I Want it That Way"] Ain't nothing but a stomach ache [throw up noise].
A.J.: We start in Miami and then go down to Cozumel and end up in Key West and then back up to Miami.
Brian: It's fun; we've been talking about this cruise for like five or six years. It's actually now come to pass where we can say, "Hey, we're doing a cruise." So hopefully it'll turn into something that's a yearly charity event type thing that we could raise money for a great cause out there.