Howie D

Staying "in the game," as he calls it, is very much on Howie Dorough's mind these days. In fact the Backstreet Boys singer, better known as Howie D to his fans, uses that exact phrase no fewer than four times during the course of our conversation to promote his solo debut album "Back To Me." I ask Dorough, 38, if he has taken lessons from the destruction of the old major label music industry -- the one that made stars of the Backstreet Boys just a couple of years before Napster forever changed the way people consumed music -- and applied them to his burgeoning solo career.

"I think just being able to roll with the punches and stay in the game and not be scared of it has definitely made us even stronger as a group, and me, I can stand on my own two feet," he says. "Now the CD, the music itself is the tool to be able to get you out there on tour, and that's where the living is nowadays.

"People come out to your concerts, and now there are different things -- meet & greets, after parties -- and it's just a different model now," he continues. "And I think the way to stay in it is to be able to open your mind to it, not to get stuck on old trends. Social media has a huge impact now on how fans are getting to see you. I am very viral; Twitter and Facebook and tour packages and a bunch of different ways to think outside of the box to stay in the game."

The times certainly have changed. I distinctly remember interviewing Dorough's fellow Backstreet Boy Nick Carter over a staticky cell phone line for just ten minutes in 1999 as the group was being hustled out of New York in a van following a press conference to announce their then new album "Millennium," and that was for the cover story of a national magazine. Twelve years later, Dorough and I are sitting in the lobby bar of a swank Toronto hotel, talking for a relatively leisurely 20 minutes. The boy band singer even refills my water glass for me.

"The industry has changed so much I don't really try to get too caught up in all the expectations," he says when asked how he views the release of this album compared to his band's records back in its heyday. "I made this record not only for myself but also for my fans, and it's a dream come true for me to finally say I accomplished this record.

"If it sold one record... Obviously I would be happy selling many records, but at the end of the day, if it's not on the Backstreet Boys level, which I am not expecting, I am glad to have my first record out there, and hopefully that will be the catalyst to catapult the next record."

But don't expect a second Howie D solo album anytime soon. Dorough's schedule is pretty full. He's spending the fall promoting "Back To Me," including a stint opening for Britney Spears in South America later this month, before rejoining his bandmates for the second annual Backstreet Boys cruise in early December. They will then meet back up for a European tour next April with fellow boy band New Kids on the Block. That jaunt is a follow-up to the successful 52-date North American tour the combined group, known as NKOTBSB, put on this past summer.

"It's great that both groups of our magnitude are able to coexist on one stage; and the fan base is almost three or four generations that are out there in the audience. It's a trip down memory lane for all of our fans to come and see us."

Not that Dorough is stuck in the past. He's very conscious of attempting to create his own fanbase with his music -- which is perhaps a bit edgier and more European than the Backstreet Boys' pop sound but does not stray too far from it -- and not simply piggyback off that of his band.

"With me doing something individually, it gives me a chance to hopefully do that. Even in our own group each of us have our own individual fans and stuff like that," he explains. "Sometimes they don't even get a chance to know all four of us because of the dynamic of so much going on, and so it's about gaining some fans from my own group and gaining fans outside of the group."

He's certainly willing to put in the work. Dorough financed the making of "Back To Me" himself, co-wrote much of it (including the track "Pure" which features fellow Backstreet Boy Carter), and made himself available to fans at his record release party that night. I finish our interview by asking if he misses the old days when rock and pop stars, like the Backstreet Boys, had a little more mystery around them and weren't constantly tweeting and Facebooking.

"I think now it has changed because people back in the days used to go 'he's untouchable,' and there is that mystique. And now it's like, between TMZ and everything else out there, they are going to know about you whether you like it or not. So it's almost like learning to work the game in a different way. You can create that mystique in a different way but be able to still give your fans what they want."

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