'Give Glory Where Glory is Due'

Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell talks about his solo album, his faith, and why he almost left the music business behind.

BY: Interview by Dena Ross

 
Brian Littrell

If you've listened to a pop-music station anytime over the past decade, chances are you've heard a song by the Backstreet Boys. With such hits as "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," and "I Want It That Way," the quintet is known for its success in combining bubblegum pop, romantic ballads, and cool dance moves--and for making preteen girls swoon. Now, one of the Boys, Brian Littrell, wants to take his talent in another direction--toward God. His debut solo album, "Welcome Home," which hit stores a few weeks ago, is full of the kind of "pop positive" music he's wanted to record for a long time—traditional gospel, inspirational, and Christian Contemporary music. He recently spoke with Beliefnet about being public with his faith, what drove him to almost quit the music business, and why being happy "doesn't sell."




Listen to Brian Littrell:



How do you plan on balancing your career as a member of the Backstreet Boys with your career as a solo artist?



I'm going to be busy. But I really think that's why God has given me the platform to touch so many people's lives through the Backstreet Boys and also to be able to talk about my faith. I will make myself available to anything and everything that I could possibly do to further both careers. And the guys, the other four Backstreet members, I tell them all the time, "I'm a Backstreet Boy first." [Being] a solo artist has come second fiddle for quite some time--other than now. I really think God is planning on rearranging things for me to be able to do both, and I look forward to the challenge. It's going to be tough, but at the same time, I can't go anywhere as a solo artist [without being] a Backstreet Boy. I'll always be a Backstreet Boy.

Are the rest of the members supportive of your solo career?

Yes, very much. They've known for quite some time that this is the direction that I've always anticipated or seen myself going. This is me, this is who I am, and this is where my heart is. They like the material on the record. I spoke to AJ [McClean, a fellow Backstreet Boy] a couple of weeks ago, just before my record came out, and he was like, "I'm going to the store to buy it."

Did you always see yourself going solo? Did you want to do mainstream songs or specifically Christian music?

I specifically wanted to do Christian traditional gospel, inspirational, "pop positive" music. I grew up singing in church as a little boy. A lot of people don't know that I had a four-year vocal scholarship offered to [attend] the University of Cincinnati Bible College, right out of high school, but that I did not take that scholarship because that was when my cousin Kevin [Richardson] called me to be a Backstreet Boy.

I really thought at that time--13 years ago--that that's what God had planned for my life, to start a youth ministry and a music ministry. That's what I really wanted to do. Little did I know that he would make me a pop star. [laughs]. So it's been a little different.

Are you concerned about alienating your non-Christian or your secular fans?

I'm not really concerned about alienating the fans that I already have through the Backstreet Boys, because I've always talked about doing this in my career. I've always talked about my faith and my relationship with God, through my "thank yous" on the records and giving the glory where I feel the glory is due.

I hope that it intrigues the Backstreet Boys fans that may not be believers, but yet at the same time, I think the material on the record is open enough to interpretation. The inspirational songs can be taken however people see fit and whatever meaning of life they can put on it. But there is strictly mainstream Contemporary Christian music as well. Those are the messages I want to tell.

Mainstream radio doesn't play much Christian music unless the music isn't overtly Christian—bands like Switchfoot or P.O.D. Why do you think this is the case? Is mainstream radio afraid of Christianity?

There's a fine line between mainstream secular radio versus mainstream Contemporary Christian radio. They both have different formats, but you have listeners on the Christian music side that, when someone plays a brand-new song and it doesn't talk about God enough, people get upset on the Christian side, and vice versa on the secular side. You have people calling up radio stations saying, "Why is he talking about God?" And I think there's this fine line that I hope my music can cross over and fit both formats.

"Welcome Home," the first single from the new CD, could very well do that. We just have to wait and see. I think with the way our radio world is today, nobody could deny good music.

There was a song by MercyMe several years ago called "I Could Only Imagine," and here it is talking about "surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel? Will my heart dance for you, Jesus?" It referenced Jesus from a Christianity standpoint, yet that song blew up all over secular radio. It was really huge because that's where the multitude of the people are—secular radio. I'm hoping that my secular past, with the success of the Backstreet Boys, will also open doors to allow me to come in and introduce my story and talk about what I want to talk about lyrically in my music. And it's already happening. I'm not shooting for the moon or anything, I just want to touch people's lives in a positive way.

What do you think of music today?

Music today is much like music of 30, 40, 50 years ago. People want to hear live music, they want to hear live drums, they want to hear live bass and guitar-driven songs in today's music world.

Country has evolved into a powerhouse market across the world. I think it's kind of changed the way pop music looks at making songs--even [in] the R&B/ hip-hop world. Fans want real songs, they want real experiences, and they want real instruments. There was a time in the mid to early 90s where all of the sequence sounds and European sounds were making it big, and we kind of helped that with the Backstreet Boys with "We've Got it Going On" and "Larger Than Life" and some of the songs that we had that were successful back then. I think radio has changed where people want to hear bands, they want to hear guys singing, and it doesn't have to be perfect anymore. And I think that's good. When I think of the yesteryear of music, I think of the Beatles and Elvis and Dean Martin. The Beatles, for instance, played [a song] one or two times in the studio and sang it while they played it, and then they printed it on vinyl, and then that was it. It was a feeling, it was an emotion. It wasn't perfect, yet it did a lot of things.

Your song "Wish" expresses your desire to meet Jesus face-to-face. If you could meet him here on Earth and ask him one question, what would it be?

There would be many things I would ask him. One would be, "Why me? Why bless me with a God-given gift and why give a person like me the platform that he's given me?" Because he's done nothing but bless my life and show his provision on my life.

Do you think Jesus would be happy with Christianity today?

Probably not. I just think that the God I serve is compassionate and loving and is forgiving. There's nothing that's happening today that he doesn't really know about, because I feel in my heart that it's in his ultimate plan. He had a beginning and he will have an end. I just think that the way our world is—the violence and the things that we see on television, our reality shows, the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and what people desire to be like, and what they have to have materialistically---I think our world is running out of the positive side of life.

Continued on page 2: Why he almost left the music business behind... »

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