BBMak Separate The Men From The Boy Bands

UK trio hope to conquer U.S. by writing their own songs and playing their own instruments.

NEW YORK — Like *NSync, the Backstreet Boys and Hanson before them, boy band BBMak trekked to MTV's holiest of sites, the "Total Request Live" studios in Times Square, on their first visit to New York.

But unlike some of their U.S. counterparts, the British pop trio don't perform choreographed maneuvers.

They also write much of their own material and play their own instruments. Currently on tour with Britney Spears, BBMak hoped to gain the blessing of "TRL" host Carson Daly and maybe pick up a few more screaming fans in the process.

The pilgrimage was a success. "Carson Daly was really cool," vocalist/guitarist Christian Burns, 26, said. "We're number seven on 'TRL,' and Carson really likes the fact that we don't dance."('s

parent company, Viacom, also owns MTV.)

Though they don't dance, BBMak's debut album, Sooner or Later, otherwise shares the same sonic gloss and romantic lyrical focus of their more famous American counterparts.

A smooth blend of melodic pop and soul and radio-friendly harmonies frame songs such as their breakthrough single, "Back Here" (RealAudio excerpt). Co-written by the band — Burns, singer Mark Barry and lead guitarist Steven McNally — and former Pornography-era Cure bassist Phil Thornalley, the song has reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "['Back Here'] came together really quickly," Burns said. "We were having coffee with Phil at his flat, and we were just messing around with chords; we wrote the whole song in about 45 minutes."

After only four U.S. dates, crowd reactions have been "wild," lead vocalist Barry said, adding that male fans have been especially enthusiastic, partly because the group's members are real musicians.

They Play Their Own Instruments

"We go onstage and play our own instruments, and I think guys like that," Barry said. When it comes to boy bands, however, not everyone thinks that musicianship or songwriting skill really matters.

Erik Bradley, music director at Chicago's B96 FM, argues that the tunes — and the band's looks — count more than the fact that BBMak actually perform the songs.

"I've seen them play, and I'm a fan," Bradley said. "But I don't know if people really care too much that they play their own instruments. The fans, especially the females, just want to hear good music and have something nice to look at."

Bradley said Sooner or Later has "four or five really good singles," and noted "Next Time" and "I Can Tell" as follow-up contenders to "Back Here."

BBMak's members met in Northern England's mid-'90s music scene — Barry is from Manchester, Burns from Wigan, and McNally from Liverpool. "We were all in different bands that were hobbies," Barry said, before the three musicians decided to work together seriously.

"We gelled together really quickly," Barry said. After writing songs together for more than a year and a half, BBMak began to solicit record labels, and even performed on the sidewalks outside London record company offices. "It was a long process, but we all share the same passion for music," he said.

Old-Fashioned Love Songs

BBMak's particular specialty is for romantic ballads, which make up the bulk of Sooner or Later. Tried and true, as well as lucrative, love remains the songwriter's most trusted subject matter, Burns said.

"Ninety-nine percent of songs are about love," he said. "On Sooner or Later, we've got all different kinds of love songs; we've got love lost, love found, love for your family, love for your friends."

Inspiration for a song can come anywhere, anytime. "We wrote [Sooner or Later's] 'Love on the Outside' on a plane," Barry said. "We popped a few ideas on a Dictaphone to get the basics of the song down and finished it later."

It will take more than an ability to pen their own songs to reach the dizzying heights of boy band superstardom. Hanson, for example, write and perform their own songs, but their recent record sales indicate that their luster has faded.

But BBMak are dedicated to the crusade of making it big in the United States as they crisscross the nation with Spears this summer and fall.

"We're fully committed to America, so you'll be seeing a lot of us," Barry said.