The men of 'NSYNC wouldn't be taking the stage for another seven hours, but a few hundred fans were already gathered outside the Rose Bowl gates, screaming their love on the first day of Celebrity's release. The fans might have been busy learning the words to the songs from the band's new studio album, but they already knew the tune: that even after years of ceaseless touring, recording and promotion not to mention selling more records in one week than anyone in SoundScan history with No Strings Attached these guys still enjoy their work, their fans and one another's company.
If Celebrity's dirty pop represents bonafide artistic growth for the group, what hasn't changed about them is just as impressive: They're still friendly, unpretentious and always willing to chat. And chat we did, about their songwriting, hooking up with Stevie Wonder and how their fame has affected their private lives ... or what's left of them.
Chris Connelly: You gave yourselves a huge writing responsibility on this record. Why was it so important for you guys to take that lead?
Justin Timberlake: I don't know if it was a conscious thing that we said, "We have to write our stuff." I think it's just something we've always wanted to do. We're realizing that we're getting the time to do it. We're also realizing that we're not having any insecurities about it ... that we can do it. It's one thing to go and write a song, but it's a whole other thing to go in and be turning knobs that you don't know what they mean. Now we know what they mean, [which] comes with experience being in the studio. We feel that we are in that place now, and we just wrote a whole lot of stuff after the No Strings Attached tour.
Connelly: The big theme of this record is getting respect and earning respect. Who do you want respect from that you think doesn't respect you already?
Chris Kirkpatrick: When we talk about that stuff, it's all tongue-in-cheek. We're real happy with where we are. ... We're just having fun making the music that we love to make. We hear a lot of good feedback from what we do on tour and what we do on the albums. The most feedback we enjoy is from our fans, and what they like. I know we're happy with the record.
Connelly: JC, you say in the liner notes that this was the most difficult year of your life. Why is that?
JC Chasez: Just because it's been a roller coaster ride. This record is tough because we're trying to do three things at once. The last record, even though we had a lot of adversity, it was one thing at a time. You record the record, you promote it, you go out on tour and you breathe for a second. This time, it's everything at once. We were still recording while we were preparing and touring, and promoting all at the same time. The workload has been triple what it usually is. The tour has been nicer, because it's big and we have days off in between, but the days off are usually filled with something else. So your head's gotta be in three different places instead of totally focused on one thing at a time.
Connelly: Did you guys ever dream that you would get to work with someone like Stevie Wonder on the song "Something Like You"?
Chris: We always dreamed about it. But that's it. You just dream about it.
Connelly: What was it like for you, Justin?
Justin: That was crazy. It came very spur of the moment. We came in the studio and we wrote the song with a harmonica part in mind and that's what I told the record company. I said, "We have to get him to do it." I mean, that's the other thing that he's famous for. Besides his incredible voice, he's killer on the harp. Somehow, the record company got a hold of him and he came in, and it was definitely a surreal moment.
Connelly: Was he familiar with any of your stuff? Did you get to talk?
Justin: Yeah. He's such a nice guy. Very humble. The thing that really impressed me is he's such a perfectionist. He stayed in there until he got [his solo] exactly like he wanted.
Connelly: Well ["Pop" producer] BT has been talking about what perfectionists you guys all are in the studio, too.
JC: We've always expected the best out of each other. We're our own worst critic, so we're gonna beat it up until it's right, at least in our eyes. We're gonna make it as good as we can, always. Everybody that we encounter usually says that we're hard working and it's great to get it from people that you look up to as well.
Connelly: How does this compare to the last time you put a record out? You had the huge SoundScan number for the first week. What number will you be satisfied with for first week sales this time?
Lance Bass: We're satisfied already with the response that we've had to it. Last year it was crazy, because we did so much promotion for the album. It was a perfect time in history to do it. This time, we've been on tour and we haven't had time to promote it. We promoted it by doing a show in every city. It's great, because people are really paying attention to the album. Yeah, there's a lot of hype of, "Oh, is it gonna break the sales record?" It's not gonna break the sales record, most likely.
Chris: Last time we were not even talking about the first-day sales. We didn't even think about that. We were thinking about how much fun we had putting out an album that was us. That's why we called it No Strings Attached. We had no clue it was gonna do as well as it did. We were hearing from other people who were like, "You're gonna be lucky if it sells 100,000 copies." And then when the numbers came back ... one million or something the first day. We were just blown away. We didn't even know what to do.
Justin: I was like, "The week's not over, how do they know that?" I thought they meant that we were going to sell a million records in the first week. And they were like, "No, no, no, the first day. I was just like, "Whoa!"
JC: We still don't really understand that one. I mean, it's really not fathomable.
Justin: People probably don't think we think about this kind of stuff. But if you really wanna get technical about it, the whole country's economy is down 15 percent, so if you put the calculations in to sell somewhere between 1.6 to 1.8 million copies, that would be the equivalent of selling 2.4 million [copies] when the economy was a little bit stronger last year. But all that stuff, we really don't take it into consideration. Like Chris said, we put out music that we feel is us and we feel is taking our sound to a different place. ... We wanna stick around for longer than the first week.
Connelly: We're getting a peek into your lives on this record, but also we've seen more of your personal lives lately. You're being a little more forthcoming about who you're dating these days. What's that like for the people you're involved with?
Chris: They hate us. [All laugh]
Connelly: Justin, you bear the brunt of it because you have such a high-profile relationship with Britney. What's that like for you?
Justin: You just have to separate what you feel from your career. People look at people in the entertainment business differently. It all kind of runs together, your personal life and your career. Even more so for musicians, because actors and actresses can go to work and play a part, but when they get home there's still a piece of them that they feel like they have. But we kind of put ourselves out there. You get to a certain point where your priorities change and ...
Chris: It was difficult for the people we were with too, because they have to understand that we're in the business. We came out with all the Celebrity stuff and with everything we talk about, it's all tongue-in-cheek. We're not complaining about it, we're just telling people this is what it's like. It's all in fun, but the people we're with in our relationships ... I know [it was hard on] my ex-girlfriend because she didn't want to be in the spotlight all the time. It was nice to go to the award shows, but she didn't want people prying in her business. She's got her own career. She has her own thing she's doing, and now suddenly all of our relationships are out in the open and it really bothers them. It hurts them because it's not what they're there for.
Connelly: You're gonna have fun on this run, even with all the pressure. Look, you're smiling already.
Justin: This is cool, man.
JC: This is the biggest tour of all time, and we just get to jump around and look like fools every day.
Connelly: [Pointing to Justin] I noticed that you thanked Pinky on the record. I assumed that it was the character from Pac-Man.
JC: Pinky and the Brain.
Connelly: I always kind of liked Sue better. Is that a shout-out to Britney?
Chris: Sue is what happens when she leaves ya, right? [All laugh]
Connelly: You gave a very thoughtful shout out to A.J. from the Backstreet Boys on the phone a couple of weeks ago when you heard he was going into rehab. What did that event mean for you, and what kind of hopes do you have for him?
JC: I feel for the guy. I wouldn't want to go through anything like that.
Justin: As a person, you don't want anybody to go through that, and we wish him all the best.
JC: Speedy recovery, dude. We hope everything's cool.
Connelly: I believe you have a series of covers to share with us? [Distributes magazines and reads headline] We've got "'NSYNC, The biggest band in the world." This is the first time Rolling Stone has done split covers.
Lance: I look like the biggest dork on my cover.
JC: No, Joey's got you beat, hands down. What you looking at, man?
Lance: OK, maybe Joey does.
Connelly: Are they all sold for the same cover price, or can you get one cheaper?
Lance: Mine is way cheaper.
Chris: I heard somebody in the parking lot trying to trade three Chris's for a Lance.
Justin: I just don't think we can live up to this headline.
JC: That's, like, according to my mom, or something.
Justin: They mixed that headline up with like the actual Rolling Stones.
Lance: And you know what I like? They're not making fun of it. They're not like saying [sarcastically], "Biggest band in the world?"
Connelly: No question mark, no exclamation mark.
Chris: Biggest band in the world ... at least today.
Joey Fatone: It's amazing. Can't thank them enough ...
Connelly: Do you have a second single chosen yet?
JC: This has been the toughest decision we've had to make on the record so far. It was easy to pick the songs to go on the album. But it's hard to pick the single off of this one, because everything is so different.
Connelly: Do you think you'll go three or four singles deep on this record?
Joey: Who knows? Depending on how everyone enjoys it.
Lance: This record's gonna last a long, long time. We could even go five deep.