Pop is not a musical style that thrives on longevity, as groups come and go every decade or so. Some pop groups persist, though, and even continue success at some level. That’s the juncture that the Backstreet Boys finds itself in as the vocal group continues to tour for its latest album, “This Is Us.”
“As artists, we constantly try to evolve, and I feel like the way to do that is to constantly let the music grow — and let it truly be about making good music,” said Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough from a mid-June tour stop in Detroit. “That’s something that we are able to pride ourselves on — all of our records have been better than the ones we made before.”
Dorough acknowledged that even today’s top-selling acts are selling a fraction of what his band and others in that style sold in the late ’90s.
“We’re definitely not selling like we were in our heyday, but we are still doing well,” Dorough said. “We’re able to go out and tour around the world, and in good venues. It’s just a new chapter in our lives.”
The Backstreet Boys are returning to Reno, this time in a theater setting on June 30 at Grand Sierra Resort. Dorough is joined by fellow singers Nick Carter, Brian Littrell and AJ McLean.
“This Is Us,” released last October, marks a change in direction toward more upbeat material, with similarities to the band’s ’90s heyday. That change includes use of modern pop or hip-hop producers such as RedOne (who produced some Lady Gaga tracks), techno-rap artist T-Pain and Ryan Tedder (known for his work with pop-rock band OneRepublic).
“We had the idea to go back to our signature sound: good pop tracks, always up-tempo, a semi-electronic feel,” Dorough said.
At the same time, there is a pronounced R&B influence on the new album, both in a modern way and one that harkens back to the vocal-led classics of the genre in the ’70s and ’80s. Dorough said that, too, was an artistic choice this time.
“The songs with a more pop/R&B feel are what we are able to lend our harmonies to property, and they have the best melodies,” he said.
Before “This Is Us,” the band released albums in 2005 (“Never Gone”) and 2007 (“Unbreakable”) that were closer to adult contemporary pop-rock.
“Actually, we were digging that sound at the time,” Dorough said of the band’s last two albums. “After we took that break, we were searching for a sound and trying to evolve. Coldplay and John Mayer were major influences to us at the time. We totally loved their sound. But what happened was, when we took those songs to the stage, it felt like we lost the up-tempo, feel-good songs.”
It was a mix of dance tracks and ballads that were a part of the Boys’ sound from its beginnings 17 years ago. Like other pop groups in history, the four singers — along with original member Kevin Richardson — were formed from auditions around their Florida home base. They started doing concerts in 1993 and released albums in Europe and Asia before their American debut — complied from those non-U.S. albums — was released America in 1996, according to All Music Guide.
That self-titled American debut ended up selling 14 million copies. The group’s second U.S. album, “Millenium,” was released in 1999, sold 12 million copies and went to No.1. Among the group’s hits are “I Want It That Way,” “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” “Larger Than Life” and “Shape of My Heart.”
According to All Music Guide, concerns with management and its record label led the band to call a hiatus in 2002, two years after its 8-million-selling “Black and Blue” album was released. Richardson left the group in 2006 to start a family, according to the band’s biography. But Dorough said in his interview that “one of the reasons why Kevin wanted to take a break was because he had a hard time dealing with the way the industry had changed. His heart wasn’t into it. But the rest of us felt like it was a challenge that was exciting. .
“I think we are all competitive and we always strive to win. For us, we don’t mind working hard. It almost challenges us to want to better ourselves and better our craft.”
That evolution includes a stark change in direction for this tour. In the past, the Backstreet Boys used a live band. This time, the group will be singing live and dancing (along with four female dancers) and will be backed by a DJ and keyboardist who will use samples for the backing music. Dorough said that the Boys’ new focus on more upbeat, dance-influenced pop made this a good time to stop using a live band.
“This new album has more of a Euro- dance vibe, and we’ve always wanted to have a DJ with us,” he said. “Actually, we’ve remixed the older songs a bit and done some mash-ups with some of our other songs or some other songs that aren’t ours but that we admire. It’s cool that we could have that mixture in there.”
Backstreet Boys also has another opportunity on the horizon: the band’s next U.S. album, set to be under production in the fall, will be its first without longtime major label Jive Records. Dorough said Jive will release it in Japan, but the band hasn’t yet decided if it will go for another label or if it will release it itself, as so many artists have in past years.
“It’s going to be exciting for us,” Dorough said. “The music we’re working on is exciting, also. We’re keeping it quiet as far as what it sounds like, but I think it’s really going to shock people.”
By Mark Earnest
June 30, 2010