Over the past couple of months you’ve seen a few posts on our blog about the Dirty Little Secrets Era including a refresher on the New York Times article, The Lost Boys. That New York Times article was written by Neil Strauss and featured quotes from only one member of the group, Kevin Richardson. Strauss went on to write a book, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, featuring interviews with major stars in the music industry and his commentary on the fickle world of fame. Thanks to a fellow member of the Backstreet Army, we have some of the excerpts from the Kevin interview below and I’m excited for those that have never read it to get the chance to dive into this awesome insight.
There’s a lot of pressure on you for this next record. Do you feel it’s a make-it-or-break-it moment moment?
KEVIN RICHARDSON: Yeah, I feel it’s a very crucial record in our career. In April we just had our nine-year anniversary. In nine years, we’ve had nine albums, including the greatest hits album. So I just want to put out something I’m proud of, and happy and excited about. The last record, and I’m not whining or complaining or blaming anyone because it sold a lot of copies, but for me personally, creatively, I wasn’t happy with it.
RICHARDSON: I wanted to experiment more. I felt like we should have.
Experiment in what way?
RICHARDSON: Just working with different people – exploring taking chances, taking control, and trusting in our gut. But, you know, it’s not always that easy. There was all this pressure and fear from our label and our management company at the time. And I’m like, “Guys, we’ve got millions of fans all over the world. If we make great music, that’s all that matters.”
So tell me one of your ideas they wouldn’t use.
RICHARDSON: You know, we’ve thrown all kinds of ideas around. We thought about having an album that was about different styles and flavors of pop. Like almost a compilation, but it would be all us doing the music and a picture of like a lollipop on the front with the words, :”Suck on this.”
Did you read all that? Okay, now I need you to go back and reread it knowing that the album Kevin is talking about here is Black and Blue. I’m a huge Backstreet Boys fan (does the fact that I write for a Backstreet Boys blog give me away?).. but I think Black and Blue is their worst release. I don’t think it’s the worst musically, necessarily. Just that it was the one moment when the Boys could have done something truly unique, as they had all of the fame and industry power in their favor, but decided to instead travel along the safest musical road possible. The Call was really as boundary pushing as the album got, unless you count when they let Howie carry a song with the simplistic yet still lovely How Did I Fall In Love With You.
Even the unreleased stuff from Black and Blue was terribly boring: Drowning and What Makes You Different. I’m yawning just typing this. Black and Blue, had they followed through with the work they did in the Dirty Little Secrets era, could have been hugely influential and had a lot more staying power. Ultimately we got Millennium-lite. Not terrible, but mostly not memorable either, full of sub-par ballads and drab lyrics. I would have preferred to purchase Suck On This!
And because of that, the corporations that release your music are so worried about their bottom line that they’re not always going to do what’s best for the group.
RICHARDSON: I mean, when you have the level of success that we’ve had, there are a lot of expectations and responsibilities that are put on you. And with all of the business coming in, it blocks the artistry.
So maybe [your second management company] the Firm was the right place when you started there, but –
RICHARDSON: When Millennium came out, they were the right place. We were all so depressed ad so sad and tired of fighting everybody. We were dealing with lawsuits and fighting our original management company – and the managers were locking our production equipment up, our stage, everything.
They locked up your equipment?
RICHARDSON: Yeah, our past manager. We were trying to get rid of our management contracts. We gave them an ultimatum and we had attorneys give them notice. And they locked up our production equipment and stage and everything and said, “You guys are supposed to do a tour, but you’re not getting your equipment.”
Pretty sure the person locking up their equipment was Johnny Wright. The Boys first separated themselves from TransCon before entering a battle with the Wrights over their relationship with N’sync – that’s the ultimatum Kevin is referencing above. Johnny has discussed it a few times and essentially told the Boys to take their ultimatum and shove it, doubling down on his attempt to refocus and make N’sync the Pop Kings of the 90s.
With your Greatest Hits record, I felt that maybe your record company or managers needed money, so they rushed it out.
KEVIN RICHARDSON: Let me tell you what, the five of us wanted to put our greatest hits album out on our ten-year anniversary. That’s what we wanted to do. We thought putting it out now was too early in our career. That’s why we called it Chapter One.
Shouldn’t your management company be fighting on your behalf?
RICHARDSON: Well our management company was supportive of the album and we weren’t. And the record company was going to put it out anyway. So it’s either promote or fight with your label, don’t promote it, and risk it doing very badly. But ultimately, who is it that’s going to get hurt? It’s not going to hurt our label. It’s going to hurt us. But it’s just frustrating because the five of us are trying to do things for a long career and it’s like our label sometimes, man, whatever. It’s a necessary evil. I don’t want to be bitching, but…
I was in my mid teens when Chapter One was released and remember thinking, “Oh okay, their careers are officially over now.” I was glad we were able to get one new track, Drowning, but was mostly irritated by the release. I had all of the songs and made no attempt to buy it like many others, which ended up causing the industry to question the Boys’ selling power (even though all they released was a greatest hits album that still debuted at number 3 on the US Billboard 200, and ultimately went platinum).
The fact that the Boys weren’t supportive of the release isn’t nearly as interesting as the other tidbit that Kevin throws us: The Firm supported it. Let me remind all of you that, as we covered in our Dirty Little Secrets post, the capital that The Firm earned based on their relationship with the Boys was basically their start up money. Is it any wonder they were no longer considered to be the right management company for them at the time?
In other amazing pieces from the interview, Kevin spends time discussing Brian’s heart surgery, the grind of fame, and a monster $100 million deal with Clear Channel for the Black and Blue tour that blew up in their faces. For all of the Kevin specific excerpts, click here (HUGE thanks to Mike for sharing the content on his Live Journal).
Strauss’ book is pretty awesome and is well worth the read for the pieces that don’t include insight into the Backstreet Boys’ career. If you’re interested in purchasing it, it comes highly recommended.