Gary James' Interview With Backstreet Mom
Denise McLean Solis
Denise McLean Solis knows what it's like to have a Superstar son. Her son A.J. McLean was part of The Backstreet Boys. In Backstreet Mom, Denise writes about the experience. It s a fascinating account of what goes on behind the scenes in the world of Pop music.
Q - I see you were interviewed by Connie Chung, so I've got a tough act to follow.
A - (laughs) And Oprah Winfrey.
Q - Oprah too? Now you're making me nervous!
A - Yeah, after the book was published, my son and I went on Oprah and that turned into rather a fiasco.
Q - A fiasco?
A - Yeah, because she said one thing and did another. She tried to make it look like she brought the Backstreet Boys back together 'cause they'd been apart for awhile. She never told us she had invited the other boys on the show. So the show was supposed to be about the book and my son's experience and then it turned into this whole reunion, which she took credit for. Interesting how Oprah turns stuff around. (laughs)
Q - How is A.J. today?
A - He's doing quite well actually. We were just out on tour with him and the boys for sixteen days throughout the UK and Europe. We saw first hand the new show that had mostly songs from the new album. He's doing well physically. He's got new security, who is also a personal trainer, so that helps. Mentally and physically he's doing well. He's keeping up with his sobriety. It's a rough pace out there, but he's doing well. He got one knee that he had operated on a few years ago. He had an injury on it. Now, the other one is starting to act up on him. He kind of twisted it a little bit and then he was OK after a couple of days. But I think he's going to have to have it looked into more seriously.
Q - That's probably from all the dancing?
A - Yeah. You gotta figure that type of show and that type of act these boys do is not unlike that of an athlete. It's really that grueling when you're doing an hour and a half or two hours of constant bouncing around an high-energy. You gotta figure that's somewhat like being an athlete during a game. They tend to get the same injuries.
Q - Is there in fact still a Backstreet Boys?
A - Oh, yeah. They never broke up. (laughs)
Q - Are all the original members part of the group?
A - Well, Kevin left two years ago (2007) and has not returned, but the four of them continued on and have made four albums without him and have toured Europe and Asia with the albums because they have a huge, huge following there, unlike the fickle US that comes and goes with the artists de jour type of thing. A lot of your major acts, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, have their real fan base in Europe and Asia and South America, and that's where they make most of their money. Every now and then they come back home and do a reunion tour and then all of a sudden they're gone again. That's where they go.
Q - So, who are The Backstreet Boys recording for these days?
A - They're still on Jive. They had a seven album deal. Unfortunately the way it works for an American record deal or the way it did work when they signed their deal, the seven albums do not include any albums that are created overseas and they created their first two albums overseas. So in effect, these seven albums started with their first debut album here, which was after the two they had done there. I think they're down to one. I think they owe them one more album and then they're out of their deal with them.
Q - Are you the manager now?
A - No. I've been out of the limelight of the business for quite some time and happily, newly married and home to do my life coaching and other stuff. I managed them for almost a year in 1999 and ended right at the beginning of 2000.
Q - Before A.J. got involved with The Backstreet Boys, what did he think life would be like for a touring / recording band?
A - Well, interestingly enough, being part of a group like that, being part of, I hate to use the words Boy Band, being part of that was not something he aspired to when he was young. His dream was actually musical theatre. He started musical theatres quite young. That's what his dream actually was, to be on Broadway. It was really more of a combination of acting, singing and dancing is what he wanted to do and he would've gone in any direction. He started to go towards television at one point. That didn't pan out. So he went back to musical theatre. That was always his foundation. But when this particular incident came up with all this, he tried out. Then, I think what got his heart pumping about the whole idea of the band and touring was glitz and glamour like most people have. Part of that I think came from how they were treated as a group, originally by Lou Pearlman. Once that group was formed, they went everywhere in limos and went first class. Of course everything was on their own dime. They didn't realize it at the time. They were used to being treated like Rock stars before they were Rock stars.
Q - What did you think life on the road would be like for A.J.?
A - I really had no idea what the road would be like. My background was more in theatre and more in sticking on sets and stages and staying in one place. So, I didn't have a lot of experience when it came to that, hence my skepticism when he wanted to get involved in it and my latching on to him like Velcro because I really wanted to make sure that I became knowledgeable so that I could protect him.
Q - You and A.J. really had no representation when it came to signing the record deal with Jive, did you? Lou Pearlman (Backstreet Boys manager) gave you the impression he would take care of things.
A - Right.
Q - I guess then it wouldn't have made a difference if your ex-husband had been in attendance for that signing.
A - Exactly. I mean, you gotta figure both of Nick's parents were there. Brian was over 18. I don't think it would have made any difference what-so-ever, because my ex-husband wasn't any more knowledgeable than I was.
Q - How much did Lou Pearlman really know about the music business?
A - The only thing Lou actually knew about the record business was who to hire to put around him. He learned that from the guy who developed New Kids On The Block. I can't think of his name right now. That's who he met and that's who sparked the whole Boy Band idea. In Lou's mind, it was if they can do it and this guy has a formula of this is what you do to create a Boy Band type of thing, then after speaking to, I think it was Dick Scott, I can be a record mogul. That's how Lou was. In his mind, if he decided to do something, somehow he managed with his silver tongue to talk people into doing it. I mean, the guy was a con man you would not believe. He could talk an apple into being an orange. It's that type of thing, and he could. He could have you believe everything. He had them completely believing, even to the point where he hired the first management team. That was kind of a fluke. There were two women originally who started working with the boys, not really in a managerial capacity, but more in a publicity capacity really. When Lou found Johnny Wright, that was the person he wanted, 'cause that was the person that managed New Kids. So that's where Lou got all his knowledge from. Lou, no matter what the venture he went into, he would put the right people up as his shield and knew what they were talking about.
Q - The public thought the next big music capitol was Orlando, Florida.
A - Right.
Q - But it was being manufactured.
A - I don't begrudge anybody that. I don't see the big difference in five brothers or five guys that all have talent getting together and forming a group and becoming successful if they work hard enough. What's the difference? When you say manufactured, yeah, it's true they were put together, but, had it not been for the talent of each boy and the support of each boy and their families and the people around them, they would not have been the success they were.
Q - Maybe manufactured wasn't the right word. The public was led to believe there was a music scene going on, similar to Liverpool, England in the 1960s, or San Francisco in the 1960s.
A - Like an artists hub kind of thing, where everybody goes to L.A. to become an actor kind of thing.
Q - Right. Like there were clubs where groups were performing, waiting to get discovered.
A - Oh, I see. Right. It would've seemed that way. You're right. Actually, if you look at it from an outsider's prospective, you would think if you want to become a singer, that's where I have to go. They started doing some TV things from here with the house bands.
Q - You write, "The music business is like a hole that sucks you inside and grows with each success. It allows no room for the real world. It is comprised of mostly fantasy and the promise of all things shiny and bright." What does that mean? Not everyone falls victim to that philosophy, do they?
A - Well, I think if you look back over music history, you'll find that most successful artists, the ones we know about, the Billy Joels, the Elton Johns, those people have fallen into that pit at one time or another during their life. It's celebrities in general. It's not even unique to the music business in my mind. Celebrityism is a fantasy of its own creation. It's like dangling that bright bauble in front of the child and the wild-eyed child grabbing for that. They have no possible clue what they're getting into, but they have the passion to go after it 'cause its shiny. That's kind of what happens to artists. Artists by far, and I've met many great ones in the years that I traveled with the boys and had some conversations with them, most of them, not an exaggeration, 75 to 80% of extremely talented people have absolutely no business sense what-so-ever. And that's their downfall.
Q - That brings to mind Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five. He actually owned the masters of his recordings and would lease it to the record company. That was a novel idea.
A - Oh, it was unheard of. It was totally unheard of. The first thing the record company did was, you signed over your life, your heart, your soul to that record company and the artists didn't care because they just wanted to produce music and perform.
Q - So, no one in The Backstreet Boys ever asked how much are we making for tonight's concert? How much are we making in merchandising?
A - Eventually they did and that's when the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan, because we did start asking questions. Brian was actually the first to do that. He was saying "we're paying for an accountant to be on the road and the accountant won't give us any information. How does that benefit us? He's partying. He's drinking. He's spending money. He's getting per diem and a salary, but we're not getting any reports of how much money we're making."
Q - And what happened?
A - Well, at first we were asking the accountant. Then we were asking the tour manager. Then we were asking the manager. Then it finally got back to Lou and Lou was the most evasive of anyone. It was all smoke and mirrors with him.
Q - Didn't he supply you or the band members with income tax reports at the end of each year?
A - Well no, because again having your own accountant, they filed all the forms. I was getting a salary, so I filed off of a regular W2. Lou had everything sewed up in the shield. Lou had his own inner circle and nobody would come out of that inner circle and speak up until lawyers got involved.
Q - I guess this is a silly question, but was your son and the other band members able to realize any money or were they ripped-off?
A - Well, they were all ripped-off to a point. The year that their album was at the top of the charts, the "Millennium" album, made them the most money of their career and they each walked away with a handsome amount of money. Lou was already out of the picture for that album. All the bad guys were out of picture and new guys had replaced them. They did walk away with some good money. Unfortunately, it's like everything else, new found money is hard when you've never had it. You tend to spend it. My son unfortunately at that point decided he was Elvis and started hosting parties, doing things he shouldn't have been doing and getting in with the wrong people that saw dollar signs and he went through several million dollars.
Q - I don't like to hear about that.
A - Neither do I. Trust me, I fought it tooth and nail 'cause I was the one who had hired a very trustworthy financial person that I had been using for years. When Alex started making money, I was using him in a very minimal capacity, like life insurance and stuff like that. But I knew of him. The guy's got a doctorate as a financial analyst. He had written several books. When things started happening money-wise, I turned to him and said "Can you help Alex put some money away?" He said "Oh, sure." So he invested it for him, but unfortunately as easily as it was invested, it was just as easily un-invested and spent. If he's of legal age to do that, there's nothing I can do to stop that and there's nothing the financial guy could do to stop it. I have to tell you, the one person that I've met in my entire music business life that I thought was the smartest businessman that I have ever met, and actually my husband met him with me and my son is good friends with him, you'll never believe this, Alice Cooper. He's one of the smartest businessmen I ever met. Of all these people over the years, he has maintained and kept the most of what he's earned. I've had conversations with Alice and it's been amazing.
Q - He probably owes a lot of his success to his manager, Shep Gordon.
A - Really? Do you think? He's one of those few honest managers?
Q - Yes, he is. I think he did right by Alice Cooper. I saw your picture with Alice in the book and how did I know you were going to point to Alice as a smart businessman?
A - (laughs) He's a good guy. He's really a very down to earth, good guy.