The Backstreet Boy opens up about the group's new documentary 'Show 'Em What You're Made Of' and living life in the public eye.
Being a 15-year-old boy presents an array of problems: you’re learning how to appropriately talk to other human beings, you’re probably working your job which introduces the concept of “saving” “money,” hair grows in generally weird places, and your voice cracks at the most unfortunate of times. And if you were Nick Carter in the late ‘90s, you had the pleasure of dealing with all that growing up and puberty stuff—while living in the very, very public eye as a Backstreet Boy. Seriously. Remember that time you got that zit and you didn’t want to go to school because holy shit what will everyone say? Nick Carter did that in front of millions upon millions of people, every day.
This weekend, a documentary called Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of hits theaters. The film traces the craze surrounding the hype of the Backstreet Boys during their prime time and what the boys were put through, while showing what it was like for them to record of their newest record. If you're interested at all in the way pop culture functions, the movie is definitely worth your time.
Remembering that time period, it’s a bit strange to think about these types of cultural movements—swaths of teenagers doing everything that can to simply breathe the same air as someone they love. It obviously has always existed, from Beatlemania to Beliebers, but it’s rare to get someone who experienced that time from the inside to reflect on that time period after it’s passed—especially if that someone is Nick Carter who kind of publicly went off the deep-end (struggling with substance abuse, women, and more) after the height of fame passed. Now, Carter is married and seems pretty happy—at least he’s chipper over the phone. Rehab was successful, and with both of his lives—personal and with the Backstreet Boys—he feels like he's once again hit his stride. He's self-aware. He knows what he is. His viewpoint is very mature. “We’re not cool anymore,” he says in reference to the Backstreet Boys. “But not being cool, is actually cool in a strange way.”
And, oh yeah, he's currently working on creating a zombie horror western movie called Dead West.
Noisey: You’ve been in the public eye most of your life, and now a documentary is being made about that. What do you expect?
Nick Carter: I brought the idea up to the guys. I had seen this A Tribe Called Quest movie, and when I walked out I really wished there would be another Tribe Called Quest album, and it rekindled that love for me and that band, and I thought [this documentary] could do the same for us. So I brought it up to the guys, I said this would be a really, really good idea. I’m kind of into film making myself, and I watch all these documentaries. It’s with the intention of creatively putting ourselves out there and showing the world reminding them who we are and who we were. In a lot of ways, for us it was very therapeutic because we were bringing Kevin back into the mix, and he hadn’t been with us for seven or eight years. So we used that to reflect in a lot of ways to remind ourselves. Because we didn’t have any guarantees it would actually be released, we hoped for it but at the least we could reflect and remind ourselves where we came from.
You guys really were something. What was it like looking through a physical lens at that time period and remembering all the craze?
For me, I’m the youngest guy in the band so I was really on cloud nine. I was enjoying every minute of this roller coaster, but at the same time it was hard because the things I was personally going through. You see it with Bieber’s thing now, but I was going through it a lot more quietly and with a lot more issues with my family and things. Everyone knows that whole story, and if they don’t they’ll see a little bit of it. But for me there were a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I was 15 or 16, a teenager and had everything at my fingertips—all the girls I wanted [laughs]. But at the same time I felt like I was tormented inside and had a lot of issues going on.
Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of
I look at myself when I was 16, and I was going through the things you go through when you’re 16. Obviously, you had the world at your fingertips, but you didn’t really have an opportunity to just be 16, which I assume was difficult.
No I didn’t. I was a workingman at 16-years-old. They talk about the amount of work I had done at that age, from 15 to 16 to 17 to 18, I was providing all the money for my family. The amount of work the Backstreet Boys had to do because there was no social media or YouTube or things that could actually put us out there and give us instant success, we had to actually go out there to every radio station and TV station. And that took time—my schooling was sacrificed for that. We were over in Europe touring and promoting and there were times I was so exhausted, I was just passed out because I didn’t eat enough food because our managers were just working us into the ground. But that was the business at the time. It was a grind and old fashioned mentality. You had to put yourself into people’s faces. It wasn’t like it is now.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 16-year-old self? Or do you view it like you had to go through this stuff to become the person you are today?
Yeah that’s exactly how I look at it. I have to look at it. I’m very proud of the person I am, because I believe I’m a layered person. Unfortunately, and I’m not trying to take this away from any kid or artist now, but you’re more layered due to the fact you were out there experiencing the world and doing all these things. I look at it like road experience, or street experience. You’re on the streets going through all these things on the road, and running into different people and learning for yourself between right and wrong. I wouldn’t change what I had gone through then.
Is there anything about which you feel misunderstood?
No, because I worked really, really hard as an individual to do things and prove myself. Because I had gone through so many things in the public eye and given people a bad taste in their mouths, or a lack of respect. So for the past, god knows how many years, I’ve been doing a lot of things as an individual to shake that dirt off. And it’s still a challenge to this day, because I do believe there’s a lot of fans out there who may have been fans at one point, and I lost them along the way because of my actions and what I did. Not saying this movie necessarily will regain their trust or get it back, but I think the misunderstood part can be explained in this movie. I think when people see where I came from and how hard it was for me, and there’s a lot of parallels in peoples lives that I share with on this planet so they’re not alone.
You sound very self-aware, and it’s interesting to hear you talk about gaining trust back from your fans.
Thank you! For me, I really have to realize the reality of the situation. It’s like an alcoholic having to first admit they’re an alcoholic to heal. And I’ve taken that approach with my life. I’m very aware, and at the end of the day I’m about trying to relax and letting others actions speak louder than their words and actually doing something to regain themselves versus just having someone just because you’ve done all these things just say “who cares, whatever.” We’re all fighters. We all have this fighter mentality. When we first started in the business people didn’t even want to let us in the door at all, and that’s our mentality. It’s kind of difficult to be in a boy band. We look at ourselves as if we are singers first, and you’ll see it in the movie, but yeah it’s about actions speaking louder than words.
Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of
We’ve been talking about the past. What about the future? What are your goals, professional and personal?
I definitely have goals, you know. What I think I want out of life is I do want people to embrace this group, embrace what we stand for. For the industry to say, “Hey we’re proud of you guys and we respect what you guys have done, because we understand it.” Unfortunately the outsider perspective is we are contrived and that we aren’t something that’s real, and for us we do want a little bit of acceptance from our peers and people. Because we are hard workers and never wanted to be handed anything, and we do believe hard work and dedication should be appreciated in this country and our world. So that would be great, for acceptance and sort of a reminder—for me, personally, all these individual things as an artist for me to grow. Doing another solo record, finally doing a movie that I co-wrote and directed. Actor, director, writer. I’m getting ready to do a deal with a movie company called Asylum, so I’m getting ready to do cool stuff on my own.
What’s the movie about? Can you tell me?
It’s called Dead West. [Laughs.] It’s a zombie horror western movie. It’s a hybrid movie. I created the story, co-wrote the story with a writer, and just did our meeting last week with Asylum. They’re the same people that did Sharknado, so it’s definitely a B-movie, but with this movie it’s something I wrote from my creative brain. Now they’re coming in, and we’re going to partner together, and we’re going to shoot the movie in March. I’m acting in it, and possibly bringing in some friends of mine.
A zombie apocalypse western. I’m so down, dude.
It’s pretty insane, I’ll tell you, and we’re really, really excited. I’m passionate about this, and I enjoy being artistic in a sort of quirky way that’s unusual. That’s why I’m putting together the cast, there’s some names floating around like Joey Fatone from N*SYNC, or an old buddy of mine Shaquille O'Neal. Just an out of the box thing.
You have to turn Shaq into zombie.
He would be one of the main characters. I still gotta talk to him because it’s been a little while, but it’s a gang of bandits trying to rob a bank. It’s just outrageous.
You’ve sold me.
It’s fun. It’s really fun. It’s things like that. As a performer I just got off tour with Jordan Knight from New Kids. Went out for three months, did a whole release, and I’m proud of the album. I think it’s a step up from anything I’ve done musically as an individual. All these things here and there. Obviously, it’s not as big as the time we were selling millions of records and had millions of fans, but there are new fans made every day. People who want to experience something out of the box and not so mainstream. I guess what I’m trying to say is we’re not cool anymore, but not being cool, is actually cool in a strange way because it’s sort of underground. [Laughs.] We’re underground again, which is fine because then we can do whatever the hell we want. It’s awesome dude, we’re excited and have nothing but up to go, and that’s how we look at it.
Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of
Do you still experience the Bieber-level fandom from the real Backstreat Boy Heads?
See that’s the ironic thing. It’s crazy because these people, like we sold over 500,000 tickets in the States, and we were sitting there going, “we can’t even sell a lot of records, what’s going on?” And so we can sell like 15,000 a night to packed arenas, like what’s the deal? I guess it comes down to people still have an appreciation for our live show, and they trust us in our performances. It’s like they think, “Okay, we can bring our families and friends to a Backstreet Boys performance, and there’s some great songs we can listen to, and they’re probably going to put on a really great show.” Because we’re showmen still—we still dance and sing. It’s a spectacle. We’re from the old Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson show mentality. And people don't do that much anymore, and I think that’s why people come out. So at the same time we feel as though we can give some great songs, great material, great albums, and that might come full circle some day. At the end of the day, people love great music. And if all those people love this band and come to our shows, we can maybe see if that translates to albums and songs and people can listen just as much.
What’s the craziest fan story you have?
We’ve definitely had some awesome fan experiences still to this day. We get the craziest. Dude, I’ll tell you something that happened recently. I was on the Nick and Knight tour with Jordan, and we were in this place doing these after show pictures. And this girl runs up in the line and goes, “I have to go I have to go, please take this quick.” So I say, “Are you okay? Is everything okay?” She says, “I have to go, please take this picture. I have to go somewhere at a certain time.” And I go, “What is it?” She says, “I had to leave rehab for this.” [Laughs.] And I say, “Oh, I’m sorry. Please go back as soon as you can. And what are you doing here?” And sure enough she took the picture and ran out however she got there. And this just happened literally three months ago! She snuck out of rehab for this.
Eric Sundermann rocks his body, ye-eah. He's on Twitter.