During the late nineties, any evidence of drama in the pop music world was typically swept under the rug in an effort to maintain an image of perfection — until ABC decided to expose everything, that is.
The network’s groundbreaking reality show Making The Band followed the creation of one band under the supervision of then-music mogul Lou Pearlman, the man responsible for the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync. From auditions to recording sessions and performances, North America would tune in weekly to watch Jacob Underwood, Ashley Parker Angel, Dan Miller, Erik-Michael Estrada and Trevor Penick become O-Town.
O-Town hit the top 10 charts with “Liquid Dreams” and “All or Nothing,” singles off of their 2001 self-titled platinum debut album. They followed it up with O2 in 2002, and then seemingly fell to the sophomore curse when they called it quits the next year.
Now, over 10 years and countless of rumours later, O-Town have finally reunited to release their third album, Lines and Circles.
During one summer afternoon, ANDPOP caught up with the four returning members just as one half of the band (Dan and Trevor) were doing their best to navigate their way from Los Angeles to San Diego for a photo shoot.
ANDPOP: There were talks that the band was going to re-group back in 2011. Obviously that didn’t take plan out then, so what caused the delay?
Jacob Underwood: When we started talking about it, [talk was] all it was. It wasn’t like an announcement. It was interesting because everyone called it an “announcement.” All I did was put up a tweet saying, “Did somebody say O-Town?” because I was in a meeting and somebody said “O-Town.” From the feedback that we got from me making that tweet, that’s when it started to become real…It just took us this long to find the right relationships and the right people to work with.
Erik-Michael Estrada: I think timing was a real factor, too. We have our own individual lives, adult lives, you know. It’s kind of difficult for us to just jump back into this kind of project… Dan has a family and everyone has jobs. We kind of had to make a sacrifice and decide to all do it at the right time. That’s really why I personally believe that it took us a lot longer to get us to this point.
…But to get the response [we did after] being gone that long and then being warmly welcomed, I don’t think we’ve ever had that experience ever before in our career…
What do you mean by relationships?
Jacob: We had some of the worst [business] relationships you could imagine, like an old partner who stole a lot of money and is now in prison (Lou Pearlman, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2008 after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, money laundering and making false statements during a bankruptcy proceeding).
We had agents, we had managers contacting us, and we’d sit down and talk about, entertain [the idea of a reunion], but it never felt like the right match for us. We put it on hold until we found the right team because we know how much that’s worth now.
Your team is missing one recognizable member. What’s it like to bring the band back without Ashley Parker Angel?
Dan Miller: In the beginning we were, we wondered how it would work, but once we got into it – as far as, like, how it would work in the studio or how it worked on stage – everything kind of worked itself out. It would’ve been nice if the reunion worked out for him, but the timing wasn’t right for him. We wanted to move on because it was going to happen now or never. We wanted to make a move or move past it completely.
Out of curiosity, has anyone in group managed to keep in touch with Ashley?
Trevor Penick: None of us really talk to him on a regular basis but we reached out and talked to each other throughout this process. He actually reached out to us a couple of weeks ago to say congratulations on everything. But if we were to start talking to him, it would be like no time has passed.
It’s no secret that O-Town was the product of a reality show. Ten years later, do you find that there’s more or less pressure now that you’re starting over without all the cameras?
Erik-Michael: The first time we tried this, we were so young and we happened to be put up against the two biggest boy bands in the world at the time; the standard was so high for us to reach. Obviously, we had the television show so failing was somewhat of an option that we tried to eliminate. There was a whole lot of pressure then. This time, it’s just been fun actually. It’s been a blast. Just working with the guys and discovering, you know, the limitless potential these guys have creatively, has been awesome.
What kind of pressures did you face on the reality show that you’re glad aren’t there anymore?
Jacob: I think the biggest pressure was just youth and inexperience. We really cared about the careers we wanted but we didn’t know that much. [We also] had so many big companies have a hand in what we were doing and they didn’t allow us much freedom because, you know, the investment was so great – which we realize and appreciate now. But back then it was frustrating just cause we didn’t know where we fit; we knew we were the “artists” but we weren’t allowed to be the artists we wanted. It was a really educational time for us and we now get to use [those experiences] and parlay them into the next venture of O-Town.
Dan, I saw that you posted a photo of all the VHS tapes that your mom recorded with all the live O-Town performances. Have any of you watched those videos? And what’s it like to have watched them?
Trevor: I watched a lot of it on YouTube and stuff just because it’s kind of like being on a sports team. You want to look at old film and see what was good, what was bad, what you would want to change… So it was pretty cool to watch our old stage shows and laugh at ourselves, and be like, “Oh, we were kind of good!” It was pretty fun.
Erik-Michael: I’m like, “Ughhh. I wish I didn’t wear that. I wish I didn’t do that thing I just did with my hand right there.”
I feel like it’s the first actual O-Town album because we have our fingerprints all over it. If we weren’t producing it, we’re playing on it, or writing it, we were there to arrange it.
What do you think of modern day boy bands?
Jacob: They stand around too much. [Everyone laughs]
Dan: There does seem like there has been a move for the boy bands to do less choreography, which was something that we did a lot of in our first run through.
I think the biggest thing for us this time is that, with our comeback, we’re really trying not to like compare ourselves with other boy bands. I mean, we are a boy band, but everyone has their own niche, and everybody’s trying to do their own thing.
Jacob: We kind of try to mix it up in the show and do a bunch of different things, and bring in a bunch of different things we didn’t do before. Actually, I was just really nervous the first time out when we just did our Europe run and seeing some of those shows on YouTube kind of filled me with some confidence, and filled the guys with some confidence [especially] moving into these stateside shows.
What was the reception like during those first couple of shows overseas and as the new O-Town?
Trevor: It was actually kind of surreal. You know when some people say, “Oh, we got back on stage and it felt like no time has passed,” and it actually did feel like that. We hadn’t done a show together in over ten years. After the first couple of beats of being out there on stage at our London show, our very first one back, it literally felt like old times. By the end of it, we were grooving again. It was awesome to see the fans out there singing our songs back to us again, and they were actually even singing “Skydive,” the song we just released (via their website) like a month before that. And that was a really cool thing as well.
Jacob: The last trip we made was unbelievable for the fact that we hadn’t released anything. We show up, and they’re singing word for word not only our old stuff, but the new stuff, and following us around and meeting us at the airport. It was like when everybody says they wished they could go back to high school. It was awesome.
What was like to see the Internet’s response to “Skydive”?
Erik-Michael: I think for me it was the most gratifying of all of the single that we have recorded. I know “Liquid Dreams” was the first time we were played on the radio – that was a big moment, a huge moment, I’ll never forget that – but to get the response [we did after] being gone that long and then being warmly welcomed, I don’t think we’ve ever had that experience ever before in our career — even with “All or Nothing.” To me, it was just a wonderful experience, probably the stand out from all the singles.
Let’s say we were able to bring social media back to when you first started as a band. Do you think you would have been as successful if you had social media around you during those early days?
Jacob: I think we did – we had like the first form of social media [with the show]. We were the first band to bring our fans into our personal lives in a sense. It was like a first connection. They didn’t just know our music; they knew our parents, they knew our brothers and sisters, they knew what we did last month… Back then, there was this big wall, everything was a big secret, and we tore that down with the reality show by allowing everyone into our personal lives, which is exactly what social media is doing now. We’re utilizing now to full effect because we don’t have a show; we’re trying to build the same connection we had before so we can share that with the fans and keep them in our personal lives.
Dan: Also, I think a Twitter by a 20-year-old Jacob would have been very controversial.
Jacob: Yeah, I probably would’ve been fined or been kicked off Twitter back then.
Just to touch on your new album, how many songs did you record for this album and how many made the cut?
Jacob: I think we did about 16, 17 or maybe 20 written, but we’ve picked 10 of our favourites. Like most albums, when people heard that we were making a record, they started pitching stuff to us. We were going through 100 songs a week. They seem to be all the same songs that people expect O-Town would do. We started looking through songs, and then started writing once we decided to do an album, and now 80 per cent of the album has been written by us. And I feel like it’s the first actual O-Town album because we have our fingerprints all over it. If we weren’t producing it, we’re playing on it, or writing it, we were there to arrange it. Everything that this record is is a piece of all of us. So it really it the first O-Town record.
I have one last really weird question. I was just wondering, if there was a boy band brawl, who would you want to see in the fight and what weapon would you wield?
Trevor: I would every band in the fight and the weapon I would choose is a floaty raft on a pool and I would suffocate everybody with it.
Jacob: I would have everyone in the fight, and I would have a peace pipe in one hand and a gun in the other. I would give [my opponent] a peace pipe first, but if that’s not working, I got solutions.
Dan: My weapon of choice would be my supersonic shoes because I would run away. I’m a lover not a fighter. I would run away as far as possible as everyone battles to the death. Then I’ll be the only one left standing—
Jacob: I would join you with a peace pipe.
Dan: —then I would be like, buy my album.
Erik-Michael: It would be me versus Justin Timberlake, and I would use my power of falsetto versus his power of falsetto. Then we would see who has the falsetto-y falsetto. Blow your eardrums. [Everyone laughs] It would be a boy band battle of falsettos.
Dan: That sounds painful.
Erik-Michael: It does sound painful.
Dan: I think Justin would win that. [Laughs]
Erik-Michael: I’m so glad my band has faith in me.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.