Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cassie Ramone Chats with the Backstreet Boys' A.J. McLean

Boys Meet Girls
The Vivian Girls' Cassie Ramone Chats with the Backstreet Boys' A.J. McLean
By Elizabeth Thompson

 [A condensed version of this interview appears in PAPER's summer music issue, on stands now.]

Enduring pop vets the Backstreet Boys are touring the U.S. this summer in support of their seventh album, This Is Us. Indie lo-fi trio Vivian Girls are touring Europe this summer in support of their second album, Everything Goes Wrong. In PAPER's book, they've got plenty in common. Below, Vivian Girls' frontwoman Cassie Ramone gets to know the Boys' A.J. McLean.

CASSIE RAMONE: You're heading back to the studio after you finish touring. What will your eighth album sound like?

A.J. MCLEAN: We'll probably return to the original Backstreet sound, lyrically speaking. We'll go back to "I Want It That Way," "Shape of My Heart." That kind of stuff.

CR: Speaking of "I Want It That Way," the lyrics have always confused me. I never
understood what they were about.

AM: I wish I could explain, but we have no clue. Even the song's writer, Max Martin, can't give us an explanation. I think it's just such an easily singable song. It's very melodic, but it's not complicated.

CR: What is the biggest misconception people have about the Backstreet Boys?

AM: The fact that we're still here. There are a lot of critics that want us to go away, but we're not going any where.

CR: You're touring right now and you've been known to have really elaborate stage shows. Have their ever been any disasters?

AM: There have been a shit ton over the years, from sound going out to lights falling, things catching on fire, somebody forgetting their choreography or falling off stage. We always go on stage in hopes that nothing goes wrong, but you never know. As long as nobody is hurt, you just kind of laugh it off and keep going.

CR:  You've also got a solo record coming out. What will that sound like?

AM: It's still pop, but it's definitely got a lot more horns, a lot more rock, pop and soul. It's kind of like Lenny-Kravitz-meets-Ben-Folds-ish. I've been working on it for the past five years and it just got released in all of southeast Asia. it will be out in Europe, the U.S. and Canada by the end of the summer.

CR: Do you have any musical favorites that people might be surprised by?

AM: Probably Enya. Years ago I was driving down the 405 in L.A. in this Range Rover that had the whole get up -- huge rims and windows that were all blackened out. These guys in this full-on showboat drop-top car pulled up next to me and were like, 'Dude, nice ride!' They were pumping Dre and I turned my CD up and it was Enya. They just looked at me and drove off. I was like, 'What? It's good music! Don't judge me. Just because I'm driving a Range Rover doesn't mean I can't listen to Enya."

CR: What's the best record that you've bought this year?

AM: I've got three. Definitely Lady Gaga. I'm a huge, huge Gaga fan. Whe else? La Roux. I also got the The Essential Johnny Cash.

CR: What's a typical day like for you when you're not on tour or recording?

AM: I get up around 9 or 9:30 a.m., make some breakfast, go to the gym, come back to the house, play with my pup and just chill at the house. I've gotten into doing photography again so I've been in my studio here pretty much whenever I'm home. I've also been planning my wedding. So, it's been a bit of a hectic schedule.

CR: Are you interested in visual art at all? Who is your favorite artist?

AM: It's not like drawing art or photography art, but my dear friend Tyler Shields is probably the most amazing photographer and artist I've ever known. In my opinion, he's going to become like the new Leibowitz or Herb Ritts. He's just awesome. He's got such a major vision.

CR: What kind of art does he do?

AM: He does a lot of celebrity photography, but it's just different. He did this whole series of photographs that were, for example, like 'Smoking kills,' and he'd just write out the words "Smoking kills" with cigarettes. There's blood in the background and burnt cigarettes, and it's just weird, avant-garde and kind of edgy. Lot of blood, lot of weird shit. He's just a weird, weird guy.

CR: I'll have to check him out! What about body art? What's the most recent tattoo you've gotten and where did you get it?

AM: The latest tattoo I got was while I was over in Japan for my first solo tour. I got my fiancée's nickname written on both of my hands, which is Ro Ro. Right on the knuckle part of my thumb I've got 'Ro Ro' on both sides. Both of my arms are pretty much covered, but I'm filling in the gaps on my right arm with some clouds. My right arm is heaven and my left arm is hell. I've got good days and bad days.

CR: Do you consider the other boy bands of the late '90s friends or rivals?

AM: They're mainly friends. There was never any real rivalry. Howie went to high school with Chris Kirkpatrick from 'N Sync and I've known Joey Fatone from 'N Sync for years. JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake are really good friends of mine as well. I play golf with Justin whenever he's free. Nick Lachey, from 98 Degrees, we're friends with all of those guys. We all try to hang out together.

CR: Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were also popular at the time that Backstreet Boys were starting to get famous. How did you feel about that style of music?

AM: We're fans of Korn's music, and whether they want to admit it or not, I know [Korn frontman] Jonathan Davis is a fan of ours. When you hear something on the radio that's popular and melodic, you really can't deny [that it's appealing]. Even if you want to be a badass and be like 'No, I'm in Limp Bizkit. I can't like Backstreet Boys.' Yes you can. It's not a bad thing to like our music, but some people thought it was. Nowadays most of our fans have all grown up and they're all older now, so we have a lot more guys at our shows, admitting that in high school they were closet Backstreet Boys fans, which is really cool, you know?

CR: What was your group of friends like in high school?

AM: I was only in high school my freshman year, because the rest of my high school years I was on tour with a tutor. But when I was in high school, I hung out with all girls. I was like the good, not-gay-friend kind of guy. I was the guy that avoided drama -- I wasn't a jock, I was on the track team but that was it. I'd sit with the girls at lunch, the head cheerleader asked me out. That was weird.

CR: Did you miss high school after you left to go on the road?

AM: Not really. While most of my peers were reading Shakespeare I was touring England and actually getting to go to Shakespeare's house. I was actually visiting these places [I could otherwise] only read about -- it was like a 3-D version of going to high school. I did miss getting in trouble in high school, though. Going behind the bleachers and making out with a girl, or doing the house party thing, or going to prom or homecoming. I didn't get to do any of that.

CR: Speaking of high school, are you familiar with the game "fuck, kill, or marry?"

AM: No.

CR: I'm going to give you three options, and you have to choose who you would have sex with once but never see or speak to again, who you would be married to platonically for the rest of your life, and who you would kill. Your options are Minnie Mouse, Jessica Rabbit and Betty Boop.

AM: I would marry Betty Boop because she's tattooed on my arm. I would have sex with Jessica Rabbit and I would kill Minnie Mouse. I grew up in Florida, where everything is Disney. Yeah, I would definitely do away with Minnie Mouse.

CR: Do you believe in astrology?

AM: I do, actually. It's funny you say that, because when I was really young I didn't really understand it but my mom got me into it. I'm a Capricorn and my horoscopes are pretty damn close all the time.

CR: You feel like you fit the Capricorn personality.

AM:  I'm the epitome of a Capricorn. Capricorns have a really strong work ethic, are good communicators and have really big hearts that unfortunately get walked over quite a lot. I'm much more of a giver than a receiver. I definitely like to take care of everyone that I care about first and myself second. I'm learning to deal with that and trying to put myself first but that's still difficult. It's just the kind of person I am. I'm a very giving person. I love to make people happy. I'm a really good worker, I'm kind of a bit of a workaholic.

CR: Do you have any interesting obsessive compulsive tendencies?

AM: Yes. I'm very anal about things in my house always being in a certain place. If anybody touches my things or moves them, it drives me up the freaking wall. Everything is where I put it for a reason. There are some things that are put in places for spiritual reasons and some things that are in a certain place because that's where I want them to be. Or my '68 Seville -- nobody can drive it but me. Nobody. But, you know, if I go out and I have a couple drinks or I can't, for whatever reason, drive home and I'm with my fiancée, she's the exception. She's the only person that can drive that car.

CR: If the Backstreet Boys were a family, what would your roles be?

AM: When Kevin was with us, he totally would have been the dad. I would say Brian is the mom. Howie is the oldest brother. I am the middle child, the one that kind of had good days and bad days, kind of like the rebel. And Nick is the baby.

CR: Do you still keep in touch with Kevin?

AM: Absolutely. He's still family. He's acting, still writing and producing. And he's being a dad. He's enjoying his life and doing his own thing. But the door's always open if he wants to come back.

This story was published on Jul. 14, 2010