Following the departure of Kevin Richardson over the weekend, the Backstreet Boys are plowing ahead with sessions for their upcoming album, which member Brian Littrell says they hope to have out later this year.

"[The sessions] started yesterday, actually," Littrell said on Monday, less than 48 hours after the group announced that original member Richardson, 33, was leaving to pursue unspecified "other interests" (see "Kevin Richardson Quits Backstreet Boys"). Littrell said he and the group's other members — Howie Dorough, Nick Carter and A.J. McLean — began work on the first two songs for the yet-untitled follow-up to last year's Never Gone. "We're in the process of trying to put this record together for a fourth-quarter release, so we're excited about it."

Littrell said the Boys started talking about heading right back into the studio about midway through the Never Gone tour, which ended earlier this year. "The Backstreet Boys audience has been loyal and continued to support us as a group and we're very appreciative of that," he said. "During the middle of the tour we were talking about getting back in the studio and making another record and not having another four-year downtime between CDs.

"I was the first one in the studio just yesterday, actually," he continued, "working on Sunday, trying to get my vocals in, because in two days I have to head to Montreal and Toronto and start press and promotion for the Canadian campaign for my solo CD." Littrell issued a Christian-music album, Welcome Home, in early May.

Despite his excitement over getting to work on the Boys' seventh album, Littrell said the departure of his cousin Richardson is taking its toll. "Personally, Kevin is my blood," he said. "Kevin got me in the group almost 14 years ago. I'm a little sad to see him leave, and I'm sure some of the fans are a little sad. But I'm very happy for him and very supportive of him personally and businesswise and I hope he's successful in any endeavor that he plans on moving forward with his life."

Richardson, 33, hasn't spoken about the other endeavors he wants to pursue outside the multiplatinum group, and Littrell didn't shed much light on what the future holds for his cousin, either.

"During the Never Gone tour Kevin had kind of relayed his personal thoughts and his individual aspirations, personally and businesswise, things that he wants to further accomplish in his life," Littrell explained. "And he's the oldest member of the group and he's just at a different place in his life. There is no bad blood whatsoever."