- Wed, 2008-04-30 16:46
AJ McLean is better known as a member of the Backstreet Boys. Having sold over 100 million records the band remain one of the best selling boy bands of all time.
AJ has been juggling his time on both a world tour with the band and his own European solo tour. I Like Music managed to catch a moment with this very busy man ahead of his IndigO2 London show on May 15th 2008, to chat about the process of making his debut solo album, from working with Ryan Tedder to writing a very personal record.
"I Like Music because…it’s a channel to the soul and it is what brings happiness and joy to everybody’s life. No matter what you are going through, no matter where you are in the world, no matter if you are the richest man alive or the poorest man alive, music is the key to everybody’s soul. It really is. It is something that is therapeutic, it is something that is inspirational and there is a song for everybody out there that touches your heart. No matter if it is a sad song, a happy song, rock song, love song, music really is key.” AJ, Backstreet Boys
ILM: You’re embarking on a solo European tour showcasing material from your debut solo album out in the Autumn and you are also on the Backstreet Boys Unbreakable World Tour right now. You must have to prepare hard doing two at the same time?
AJ: It really is the perfect scenario. It’s an absolute blessing for me to be able to be with the boys, where I love to be, but also have a chance to do something for myself and introduce myself outside of the group. It is a bit of a stress, for example after we finish the Backstreet Tour on the 23rd May I carry on for another two weeks on my own. So the fella’s get almost three weeks off and I’ll probably get about six days off, at home on my own, before we head back out on the road. But it is definitely worth it for me. It has been a long time coming for me to introduce myself to our fans as well as hopefully new fans.
We are definitely trying to plan our scheduling. As well as talking about the next record and figuring out the direction we want to go and when we want to record. The fella’s are being very understanding about scheduling with me. Once I release my record, it is going to be the usual cycle – promotion and hopefully a tour. It is going to be a challenge but it is something that I want to do. My plate is pretty full, probably for the rest of this year as well as most of 2009.
ILM: Regarding the album, you’ve been working with the likes of Ryan Tedder from One Republic, JC Chasez from N*SYNC, Mark Hudson and more. What did you learn from those guys?
AJ: Fortunately over the last 15 years we have all learnt a lot. We have had a chance to work with some of the greatest writers of our generation. We have all learnt how to write and how to express ourselves on paper through song.
I have been through so much in my own head, that it has been very therapeutic to make the record that I have made. Initially, when I went in to make this record, I only planned on writing one or two songs, two at the most, and then doing the usual album routine where you get named producers to write songs for you and it is just “Here is a song, sing it!” But it just kind of happened that I ended up co-writing every single song on my record and they all turned out amazing to me and to the producers.
It was a chance for me to dump all my crap that I have had holding up in my head or my heart. Whether it is about past relationships or things that bother me. There is a very specific song called ‘Sincerely Your’s’ which I wrote about my father and the relationship that I really don’t have with my father and never really have had. It was very therapeutic for me and the producer that I worked with Dan. I really didn’t know a lot about Dan’s personal life and in writing the song both him and I had a crying session because he has got issues with his father as well. It was an amazing situation to be in that room and the vocal that I cut for that track is going to stay the demo version. We are not going to re-sing it, we are not going to do any vocal fixing, it is going to stay exactly the way it is. I cut it in about two takes. There was so much emotion behind it. I could never sing it again like I sang it that day. It is just such an amazing vibe and when I hear it and I tell people, that is my second take, they are like “I can tell”. There are parts in the vocal where I crack a little bit because I was actually crying when I was recording it. It is a really difficult song to sing.
Working with Mark Hudson was an absolute blast. He is such a cool cat. When I first met him, we were having coffee and my manager was there, it was just an initial meeting. We were talking about the sound of my record and what we wanted to go in and do. This guy walks up to me with a multi-coloured beard and he is dressed like a hippy and I’m like “Oh my god! Is this the guy I am supposed to work with?” And as soon as we sat down he just got it. He was like “Yeah, man, this is frickin’ awesome man” and to know that he had worked with Ozzy Osborne and many, many records with Steven Tyler and the rest of the guys from Aerosmith I was like “We’re guna get along great.” I’m looking forward to working with him in the future. He is just an amazing, amazing guy.
Last but not least, I’d say working with Ryan Tedder was a really fun project. I didn’t know what to expect. I had known he had a really strong past with Timbaland and Justin but he was more an R’n’B writer. When we first got together, I will never forget the first day, he played me a song called ‘Apologize’ which is their first single. I thought he was playing a song that he had written for me and I got all excited “Oh my god, that’s a hit! That’s a huge record! Dude, when do I get to cut it?” and he was like “Um…well…That’s my bands first single’ and I’m like “C’mon man!” Ha! We ended up writing four amazing songs together. We are definitely going to work in the future. He also wrote a song for myself and the rest of the guys that we absolutely love.
It has been a really, really great time working for some amazing writers and producers. I’m fortunate to be able to do it.
ILM: I hear the record has a funky rock vibe at heart. Which track did you have the most fun laying down in the studio? You recorded some of it in Nashville too, that must’ve been ace?
AJ: You know, it’s really tough. I’ve yet to be asked that question. There are different scenarios. Different studios have different environments. When I worked with Dan in Nashville there was a fun vibe and it was laid back and chilled. It was relaxed. It wasn’t like a normal studio session for me. It was just, go in, sing the whole song and we’ll do it five or six times and pick the best out of the best.
When I worked with Mark we did it in his little studio right in the middle of the room surrounded by all these guitars signed by this rock god and that rock god and I got a chance to play drums on a track and the drums were actually Ringo’s drums! There was such an amazing vibe in that studio. I felt like Steve Tyler, Ozzy and Ringo were all in the room with me!
Those two are in my top three, but to work with Christian and Carl, writers that I have worked with in the past, recording ‘Gorgeous’ was probably the most fun. Some of the lyrical content goes a little left field. We were just messing around and it came out perfect. There is something about that song, especially live. I think it is going to be one of my bigger up tempos. There is something about it. It is so different. It’s so different to what anyone has ever heard from me. Nobody would really know it is me the first time they hear it, which I like.
ILM: The album is reflective of your personal experiences. You have managed to get rid of your alcohol addiction. Ultimately everyone has a chance to make better choices in life – how did you go about beating your addictions and what advice do you have for others?
AJ: Back when I was in my addiction I was a product of my environment and the kind of people that I was associating with. I thought these people really liked me but they really didn’t. They were there to leech off me and give me free things. I am very fortunate to have got through it when I did. There are no mistakes in life. Everything happens for a reason. Everything is exactly planned out the way it is supposed to be. Now I have such an amazing support group. I have an amazing family and the most amazing set of brothers on the road for the past 15 years that have kept me in line. They are there in full support of me, even to this day. They still do it. Out of respect. If we go out to dinner and Howie or Brian want to have a beer or a glass of wine they still look to me and ask if it is OK. And I’m like “Dude, absolutely, drink up, drink til you fall out of your chair, I don’t mind.” The fact that they still take the time to do that really means the world to me. They don’t know how strong I am that day. I have good days and bad days.
The only advice I would give to anyone who is struggling with any kind of addiction is something that a very, very dear friend told me once - that the only way around is through. I have really taken that to heart and I try to apply it to my everyday life. It really just means that you have to go through things. You can’t beat around the bush and take the easy way out. You have to be OK to admit to yourself that you have a problem first and then it is OK to get help. You don’t have to do it alone. You have already got God helping you out and that’s the best person to have in your back pocket. You can associate yourself with really good people. Surround yourself with other addicts that are in recovery and put yourself in non compromising situations. It is easier than you think to get the right tools. It is still very difficult to apply the right tools but you know, anybody can do it. Anybody can be sober if you really put your mind to it.
I’m travelling the world now, going to the same countries that I have been to a thousand times but I’m seeing it all for the first time. I never really would want to go out on days off. I would never bring my camera. But now I’m looking at it through sober eyes I am able to appreciate it in a completely different light. Everything is new to me now.