When I was 12-years-old, the Backstreet Boys were my LIFE. On any given day, you’d find me at the nearest 7-11 snatching up all the new teen mags (‘BOP,’ you owe your success to me) or planning my future wedding to Nick Carter (Lauren Kitt, you lucky girl, you).
So imagine how high I jumped when I had the task of interviewing Howie Dorough — a Backstreet Boy (squeeeeee!) — earlier this week.
Howie and the rest of the guys (Nick, A.J. McLean, Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson) are busy promoting their new documentary, ‘Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of’ (which is AWESOME and available on iTunes now).
In the following Q&A, Howie and I discussed a number of topics — including how he found his voice in the group, the hardships they’ve been through AND their relationship with ‘N Sync back in the day. (I also admitted to him that I stalked their lives like whoa outside the ‘MTV Total Request Live’ studios back in the day #NotAshamed #KTBSPA.)
Check it out below!
I’ve been a BSB fan forever, so I really enjoyed this documentary. To me, you seem like the peacemaker of the group!
Howie: [laughs] Thanks! They call me the peacemaker every so often. Not on purpose, it just comes naturally. I try to keep everything peaceful.
What was it like for you during those tense moments in the film?
Howie: Going in to making this documentary, we wanted everyone to really get to know us. I think there are a lot of misperceptions that we’re just a bunch of pansies up there, dancing along and living in Backstreet land. We’re just like everybody else out there. We have our days when we get up on the wrong side of the bed; we push each other’s buttons. We also know how to be very loving and caring to each other. We’re like a family – like brothers. Almost even more like a marriage. There are definitely times where we don’t get along. We said we were going to be very honest about it in this movie.
The band circa 1999. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
There was one moment in particular when Nick got into an argument with Brian in front of the group. What was it like in that room?
Howie: Some things that were easy for some people to talk about it were very uncomfortable for other people. I think it makes people realize that we do have issues. We’re that type of group that we’ve been with each other so long that we’re able to communicate. We can really piss each other off, but an hour or so later, we’re able to see eye-to-eye. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that we’re all such passionate people. We all have passion for our work. It doesn’t come off maliciously — everyone just has different visions sometimes and that’s the unique part of putting five guys and their visions together. It’s definitely a unique chemistry, but when it all works out, it does and it’s definitely magic.
What was your favorite part about filming?
Howie: Going to each of our hometowns. I think we got to know each other even better by doing that. I thought I knew everything about them and that the fans knew everything as well, but I definitely think there are a couple of things in there that are going to be educational not only to ourselves, but to the fans. It was a bonding experience. You could almost visualize each other growing up in the different areas.
Kevin, especially, had a moving moment during his trip home. What was the dynamic like without Kevin, and now that he’s back?
Howie: We all have unique, different personalities. Everybody in the past has kind of taken on a role. Kevin, just naturally because he’s the oldest, took on that older brother/father figure role – to keep us in line. When some of the guys wanted to slack off or not roll up their sleeves and put in 100 percent, he was the one to [motivate everyone]. When Kevin took the break, it made each of us all step up to the plate and train ourselves to be a little more disciplined. It made us grow more so that when he did come back, he came back into a group that was a bit more mature. At that point he realized he didn’t have to be the one always putting in extra time afterwards or making decisions — that each of us were carrying our own weight. And now the family is back together again. It was like the first son who left for college and then came back. [Laughs]
One of the many topics you guys touched upon was A.J.’s struggle with substance abuse. Did you guys ever hold an intervention?
Howie: At that time, it was at such a height and it was crazy around us. A lot of us sometimes didn’t hang with each other 24/7. Sometimes we had family out there, friends, and we started developing our own little cliques. I didn’t even know what was going on behind closed doors with A.J. At the every end, when it all began crashing down, I got the crash course really quickly on what was happening. It’s tough because you never want to see one of your own bandmates/brothers go into a spiral like that, but everybody has their own path to choose. I can’t judge anybody. It was tough to see him go down that route, but I had to let him experience it. When it started affecting work and all of us, then it was no stopping us of having to do an intervention.
Another big point in the film is Brian’s struggle with his voice and how hard it was for him to express that. What’s it like watching him go through that?
How: That was really tough. It was something we were experiencing the last couple of records. He wasn’t really talking much about it and we kept on thinking he was just losing his voice or that his muscles weren’t as trained. He got to a point where he was able to talk to us about it and I think he was scared because for him, this is his livelihood and it could potentially affect all of us. It was definitely a hard situation, but we’ve always been there for each other. We gotta do what we gotta do, even if that means taking some time off to recover, whatever it means. That’s what we were willing to do for him. There are gonna be days when he’s the best he can be, and other days when he’s not and we’re just going to stand behind him. Hopefully people will still love us and accept us.
I have to say, I was really fascinated when you guys talked about Lou Pearlman and visited his old home in Florida. What did that feel like?
Howie: It was definitely a challenge. We wanted to go more in-depth in the film. We were actually going to try and do a filming at the prison, and Lou agreed to let it happen, but unfortunately the warden wouldn’t allow it. I think we touched on it enough to give people a good understanding about his presence in our career and how much we entrusted him in the beginning.
You admitted you were shocked when he created ‘N Sync — your direct competition. Were there any issues with the band then?
Howie: We called Lou ‘Big Papa.’ We were the first child that was born from him. To see the second one come along, you get that little bit of a jealousy feeling. No bad will towards those guys. I even went to college with Chris Kirkpatrick. Indirectly I feel a responsibility for ‘N Sync being developed because of that. Chris always joked in the early days that I never asked him to audition for the Backstreet Boys. Instead, I had one of the guys in our choir audition. Unfortunately he didn’t work out, but Chris had the chance to meet Lou Pearlman. We’ve always wished them good luck. I think as we’ve matured a bit more, we’ve realized there’s enough space for both of us.
One of my favorite parts was getting to see you sing lead vocals. How does it feel to finally have the spotlight?
Howie: In the early days, I was one of the front men. Once Brian came in the group and we got a record deal, we got the opportunity to work with a producer named Max Martin. He had a sound for us that wasn’t exactly the Howie sound anymore. Brian filled in more of that position. I think in the early days of being young and everybody trying to stand on their own two feet, I definitely took that a bit more personally and didn’t understand why. I struggled going from being a solo artist to a team player. That was definitely a challenge for me. Back in those days, Kevin and I were more in the background and it was a little easier to swallow the pill with a person next to you. But when you’re the only one in the back there and everyone else is doing the hitting at the plate, it’s a little tough to sit in the back and not take a swing as well. After Kevin left, I went to the guys and they were very, very supportive. I think at that time we had our career established enough to introduce other voices to our fans. Looking back on it, as I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to swallow it and understand it more. Knowing that if that weren’t the sound created, maybe it wouldn’t have been the Backstreet Boys that are here nowadays. Everything happens for a reason.