Interview: Arjan Chats with Backstreet Boys' A.J. McLean
After more than 15 years in the music business, the Backstreet Boys recently released their seventh studio album. Titled "This Is Us," the disc features an impressive list of A-list producers who helped the quartet usher in a new phase of their career with heartfelt ballads and catchy uptempo tracks. Their sound is still decidedly their own with their signature harmonies and distinct solo vocal contributions.
It may not be getting the attention that pop newcomers are receiving, but "This Is Us" is a solid pop record that easily ranks among the best pop discs of the year. And fans everywhere agree. The group is currently on an extended world tour selling out venues from Tokyo to London. Some things never chance.
Recently, I had a chance to meet up with AJ McLean (pictured right) to talk about the group's new album. We talked about working with hitmakers like RedOne and Jim Jonsin and much more. AJ also talks about the importance of the gay community early on when the group just started out. He shares a candid story about performing at Tampa's Gay Pride many years ago. Read on for all the scoop. (Click here to listen to Backstreet Boys' "This Is Us.")
Arjan: Congratulations with the release of the new Backstreet Boys record. Your seventh!
AJ: That's right! Thank you very much. We're very proud of this record. Honestly, this is our favorite record. We feel every song is a hit, so we're really proud of it.
After 15 years in the business as a group is chart success still as important as before, or are you more interested in the artistic process?
It's a little bit of both for me. The creative aspect is very important to us and we want to be trendsetters. But we also find it important to make music for the masses and perform. We definitely want to make more records as long as the fans want us to keep doing it.
You lined up an A-list of producers on this album. Are you interested in producing at all or does it work better for your creative process to have external producers involved?
It depends on the song, but overall our biggest hits have been written by other people. For this record, we wanted to take the opportunity to work with people like RedOne, T-Paine and Jim Jonsin, and add our own input. For us everything worked out as it was supposed to.
What are the requirement for being a Backstreet Boys producer?
Obviously, a Backstreet Boys producer have to understand how to make a hit record, but they also need to understand what defines us as a group. They have to work with our voices and what we can do with our harmonies. As long as they get that, it is all about having that special chemistry.
For you personally, how do you keep things interesting and challenging after being in the same group for so long?
My goal is to keep trying to do new things and keep reinventing ourselves. That's very important to me.
How important is it for you to do your own solo work on the side?
It is a very important thing to do to when you're part of a group for so long. It is important to maintain your own identity that will benefit both you and the group.
How would you like to describe your contribution to the group?
I think I bring a lot of soul to our music. I bring a little bit of grit and balls, if you will, something different. If you put us all together and we harmonize that is our signature sound.
I wanted to chat with you a little about the beginnings of the band. I'm a gay blogger, and I'm curious how important the gay community has been in the early beginnings of the band.
The gay community has been hugely important to us. There has never been any discrimination or separation with our music or who we are as people. I have a slew of gay friends that all have been very supportive and have been into us and our music. Like I said before, our goal is to make music for the masses. It doesn't matter if you are straight, gay, black, white, European, American, it doesn't matter. We make music for everyone. And that makes our music so unique.
Do you remember playing gay clubs early on?
We did an event years ago, I don't even remember when it was. It was in Tampa, Florida in Ybor City. We played at [a gay pride party], and we weren't exactly sure what to expect. I can honestly tell you that must have been the loudest crowd we have ever performed for. They had a blast and we had a blast. It was so much fun!
You're a straight man, but if you would ever had a guy crush who would be your ideal guy?
Hands down Johny Depp. He's just awesome!
Following the release of the album a few weeks ago, you will be touring all across the world for the next few months. How do you keep up with such a brutal schedule?
You have to prepare mentally and physically. Get the stamina up to be able to perform every night and give it your best. When you're on the road it is important to have maintain a healthy balance between performing and getting enough rest. You can't party and live the rock 'n roll lifestyle, it is going to catch up with you. I don't do that anymore, and touring has gotten a little easier now I'm getting older. I would love to bring my dogs on toor though, but that's a little difficult [laughs].
What's the worst and best thing about fame?
The best part is to express yourself through music anywhere in the world. Even if people don't speak your language, they can singalong to the music. That's a beautiful thing. The worst part is to be traveling so much and being away from friends and family. It is a blessing as well, because there are many talented people that will never have that opportunity so you gotta run with it.