A.J. McLean attempts to fly solo
A.J. McLean is most famous for being the 'bad boy' of hit 90s boyband The Backstreet Boys but, with his upcoming solo album, he is attempting to forge a successful solo career.
The 30-year-old singer - who is partly responsible for the band's hit tracks including '(Everybody) Backstreet's Back' and 'As Long as You Love Me' - insists he isn't worried about stepping away from the sound which led to his fame.
"We're calling it a rock, funk and soul vibe. The vocals are pop and R 'n'B-ish and there's even a kind of country twang going on," he said. "It's eclectic. I think people will be a little shocked by some songs, which is absolutely fine by me. They'll be thinking, 'That is what I hoped he was going to do'."
However, A.J. is arguably more famous for his personal life as for his professional career.
He went to rehab in 2001 to seek help for his alcohol and cocaine addiction after his bandmates Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell and Howie Dorough intervened when they became concerned about his erratic behaviour.
Now tee-total, A.J. insists the experience sobered him in more ways than one, and also led to him writing a book with his mother Denise entitled 'Backstreet Mom'.
He also said he has some advice for other troubled celebrities including Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.
"I'm coming up on six years sober," he said. "I just want to sit down with Britney and pick her brain.
"I want to be just someone who can tell her straight. I'll say, 'Hey, do you want to die? Is that what you want?' If that is what she really wanted, she would have done it already. I know that is not what she wants."
Instead of turning his back on The Backstreet Boys, A.J. insists he will never leave his bandmates behind, and is currently undergoing his solo tour in conjunction with the boys' 'Unbreakable' World Tour 2008.
A.J. also revealed the boys have been incredibly supportive of his solo venture.
"We're all really supportive of each other's projects outside of the group, whether it be singing, acting, producing or whatever," he said. "The one thing we've always told each other is that we'll never hold each other back. If anyone's got any dreams or aspirations to go do something on their own, that's cool as long as they can co-exist with the group."
While the boys' comeback tour has not been as successful as their previous ones, it is clear they still have some devoted fans. Lacking former member Kevin Richardson, the boys' most recent album 'Unbreakable' was well received by critics and fans alike.
However, it seems that A.J.'s solo career could take him beyond the realms of boybandom to forge a career as a thoroughly successful solo artist.
With pop tracks and heart-wrenching soulful tracks on the as-yet-untitled album, A.J. is set to prove he has what it takes to succeed in an industry which enjoys victimising boyband 'has-beens'.
BANG Showbiz spoke to the musician on the day after The Backstreet Boys' performance at London's O2 arena, on the night of his solo performance at the IndigO2 - a more intimate concert venue inside the arena.
Q: How was the show with The Backstreet Boys at London's O2 arena last night?
A: The show was amazing - it went off without a hitch. We added a lot of new s**t yesterday - pyro and stuff so it was like because we were doing it for this big webcast for MSN and we are probably going to make it into a DVD as well - we wanted to add a little flair to the show that wasn't normally there. It went off without a hitch - nobody blew up, nobody caught fire! It was really good. There's been moments when that's happened.
Q: Why did you decide to go solo now?
A: I'm ready. A lot of people ask me, 'Why didn't you do it at the height of the Backstreet Boys fame?' But I wasn't ready then. I'm really glad I didn't do it then because I was just getting into my drinking and drugging and I would have probably destroyed my solo career. I mean, I probably would have been in the press an awful lot but it wouldn't have been positive and I want it to be positive and I want it to be right. I also like to think I would have learned as much as I did to write about. I wanted to be so honest with this record. I'm so psyched - I'm ready for this. I'm scared - I won't lie. It's kind of surreal and a little nerve-wracking because you are going to be up there on your own and you turn around a look behind you and there is nobody there - it's all you!
Q: Have you taken it in a specifically different direction that the material you wrote with the Backstreet Boys?
A: Yes, it is definitely a different direction. There are some songs that could be a Backstreet Boys record but then when you hear the lyrical content you go, 'OK, maybe not!' But the melodies and the harmonies - they have that feel to them. For the most part the sound is completely different. It's more rock, funk and soul with a pop feel. But it's me tapping into the start of where I really want to go. I couldn't go where I wanted to go on my first record because I think it would have taken people much too much by surprise. But for my second record, if this one does really well, I'll do the kind of record I want to do which is straight up funk - anything from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Jimi Hendrix - straight up rock funk.
Q: Normally, the album precedes a tour, but you've done it the other way around. Why?
A: I think just because we have talked about when we are going to make another record. We have talked about the sound that we are trying to go for on this next Backstreet Boys record. I think it's just the timing - it just happens to be what is best for me. We are going to wrap up this whole tour in September and then I am going to continue doing shows like this right up until the single release and then do a proper solo tour next year. But it just seems to be the right time.
Q: Have you found your solo music has had a different reception with American and European audiences?
A: I don't know. I've done two US shows, at the House of Blues and at the Roxy, and they seemed to love it. There was a lot of European fans there but there was a lot of American fans there too, and everyone seems to really love it. They get it - they see that it's me and that's what I want them to see. And also they take something from it because it's more real music as far as directly what I'm talking about. It's more relatable and it's just people - guys and girls. There were guys at my show, there were guys rocking out - I think it's OK to like Backstreet Boys if you are a guy now and even more so, it is OK to like just good music! It doesn't matter who is doing it - a guy or a girl.
I spent probably about four years making this record. It started in one direction, and then I went in another direction, and then in another direction again. Everything just kind of fell into place.
Q: What do the other boys think of it - are they supportive of you?
A: They love it - they are in full support. They love the record and they think it's going to do really, really well. After I cut a couple of songs I bounced it off a couple of the guys and said, 'Hey, check this new one out, what do you think?' They all have two particular songs across the board which are their favourites which are 'London' and 'I Hate It When You're Gone'. They are going to be there tonight to watch the show. They haven't seen the show yet so they don't really know what they are in for. It's a little different than a Backstreet Boys show.
Q: You started as an actor in the very beginning - have you got any plans to go back to that?
A: I would love to. I mean, obviously I want to put the cart before the horse, but I definitely want to get back into doing my musical theatre, and I actually want to get a flat here in London next year. I love London and I want to move here. I want to move down to the West End, to really be near the theatre district, and I definitely want to get back into acting again - I do. It's something that I would really love to do. I don't know how many parts I can get with all my tattoos though! I don't want to be stereotyped as the prison guy or the bad guy.
Q: What do you think about Britney Spears starring on 'How I Met Your Mother'?
A: I think her performance on the show will do well. I think as long as she can just keep her feet on the ground and just find herself again. She is a little lost but I know she can do it, I believe in her. I believe in anybody who wants to do something for themselves.
Q: Nick found a lot of fame in the US because of his reality show, 'House of Carters' - would you ever consider doing a reality show?
A: I'm not a big fan of reality television. I can openly admit and accept that TV is becoming a great bit outlet with people nowadays, but the layout of a group like us - we have been doing what we've done for the past 15 years without it - we don't need it. We don't need to conform to doing a reality TV show. There is really not much to us to watch the four of us do a reality show - it would be kind of boring. There's not drama, there's not fighting and bickering - there's nothing to watch. It would have to be made up. I do like stuff like 'A Hard Day's Night' that are more like a true documentary, or something like that that shows who you are there - real - it shows everything. That to me is more credible and more respectful. But I don't know - reality television is the big thing right now. I think Nick learnt a lot about himself through his. He was kind of 50/50 doing it - part of it he hated, and part of it, he learned about himself. I don't think he would ever do it again, but who knows?!
Q: You said the Backstreet Boys' show last night was broadcast on MSN and you have found a lot of success with your solo material through YouTube. How much of an impact do you think the internet is having on the music industry?
A: It's huge. I mean, you ask anybody who is an artist and more than likely in the next five years there's not going to be any more record companies - period. There will be one big huge one that has every artist and iTunes and YouTube and the internet is going to run through that. Or you get artists who become their own record companies. There are people now who are just doing distribution deals with people - they are their record company. And that is what every artist has ever wanted when you really think about it - to have complete and utter creative control and all you really need is a great publicist, a great distribution company and a great marketing plan. The rest is you just doing what you love to do. You don't need a record company nowadays anymore. And record companies are becoming obsolete - there's nothing for them to do. But the internet - especially sites like YouTube and MySpace - is huge. MySpace now is going back to what it was originally meant for, which was for new artists in the music industry to promote themselves. You look at people like Ryan Tedder from One Republic - they were one of the biggest MySpace bands in the world and now look at them! They are doing quite well for themselves! But YouTube has been really great for me with my solo stuff because now I think a lot of fans will know a lot more of the words.
by Sarah Bull
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