WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean's solo tour as his alter ego, Johnny No Name, may be a springboard for a studio album and an overseas tour, the singer said Monday (March 27), the day the outing kicked off in Los Angeles.
"There could be a potential one-off album down the road," McLean, 22, said.
"Me and a couple guys in the band have sat down and tried to work out some original Johnny No Name music with more of a rock-alternative edge ... and a trip-hop-type vibe."
McLean is touring with a seven-piece band as a character he described as a British criminal from Nashville.
Clad in blue jeans, a white jacket and a tank top, McLean discussed the tour at a press conference at the Hard Rock Cafe. The outing is the first solo venture by a member of the top-selling Backstreet Boys, whose hits include "I Want It That Way" (RealAudio excerpt).
More Than Just Fun
The nine-city jaunt will benefit VH1's Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental programs in public schools and raising awareness about the benefits of music education. (SonicNet's parent company, Viacom, also owns VH1.)
McLean was joined in the restaurant by members of his touring band (five of whom also support the Backstreet Boys), Save the Music Executive Director Bob Morrison and several children from local schools that have benefited from the organization.
While McLean said helping Save the Music was the primary motivation for the tour, he's clearly having fun developing his alter ego. He described Johnny No Name as a character who gets out of a jail cell only for his shows, and who covers such artists as R&B singer Brian McKnight, rockers Stone Temple Pilots and Rage Against the Machine, and the Backstreet Boys.
"He's on constant probation," McLean said. "Every time he does a solo show he gets off his probation, and then at the end of the show he has to go back to jail. I don't know what he does, but he's always in trouble. I'm not, but he is ... I'm a little angel."
McLean said Backstreet Boys fans were receptive to Johnny No Name when he made his live debut at a January benefit for Save the Music in his hometown, Orlando, Fla.
"I'm expecting it to be a big difference from the Backstreet Boys," 15-year-old Kathy LaCabe said. She and her friend, Kimberly Wilcox, won VIP passes through local radio station KISS-FM. that included a private lunch with McLean.
No Name's Origin
McLean said he began using the name Johnny Suede after a former member of the Backstreet Boys' band bought him a jacket in Nashville bearing the label "Johnny Suede Dressed to Pimp." The singer first used the moniker as his code name to check into hotels, but the name quickly stuck among his bandmates and their road crew.
But when McLean approached the idea of calling himself Johnny Suede on a professional level, Tom DiCillo, the writer and director of the 1991 movie "Johnny Suede," which starred Brad Pitt, was uncooperative, the singer said. McLean went through a number of variations on the name, such as Johnny Fabulous, before settling on Johnny No Name.
"Johnny is kind of a free-for-all, no inhibitions," McLean said. "He's able to be the me that I can't be on stage with the Backstreet Boys. He's a little more crazy, flamboyant, ridiculous."
His solo album, if it's made, "will be a true live rock album, which is what I'm looking forward to doing," he said. "Just to get in there, just like you see Metallica doing ... giving it one or two takes and then you're done."
Bandmates May Join Singer
The Johnny No Name Benefit Tour is scheduled to run through April 9 in New York. McLean said the songs he'd cover on the tour reflect "every kind of music that I grew up with" but added that rock music is a new love.
"I never really listened to rock until now," he said. "Rock is even more free than pop. Rock 'n' roll has been around for ages; it will never die. Pop just kind of comes and goes."
McLean said a couple of his Backstreet Boys bandmates may join him on stage Monday night. "I know that they actually want to sit in the audience and watch me perform, which is kind of weird," he said.
The Backstreet Boys long ago made a pact to support each other's interests as long as those interests didn't conflict with their activities as a group, McLean said. "This is on our down time right now," he said. "I probably should be resting right now, getting ready to get back into the studio to record the next album, but this is my idea of rest working."
McLean said he first heard about Save the Music from Alice Cooper, when the veteran shock-rocker attended the Backstreet Boys' record release party for Millennium in New York last year.
"If [McLean] wouldn't have helped us, we wouldn't have been something," said 10-year-old Sebastian Ventura, who attended the press conference with fellow classmates at Farmdale Elementary School, Lily Chen and Jazmine Lemus, also both 10, and their music teacher, Mark Hunt. "Because [of Save the Music], we can learn and grow up and play instruments," Ventura said.
McLean said he also was hoping to put together a Live Aid-type benefit concert in support of Save the Music. It would feature the Backstreet Boys and other artists.