Nick Carter and Jordan Knight have been stars for a long time: Knight came to fame as part of the New Kids on the Block, the quintessential ’80s boy band behind pro-parenthesis hits like “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” and middle school slow dance classic “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”; Carter is best known for his work in the Backstreet Boys, part of the ’90s wave of boy bands, and their mega-hit “I Want It That Way” (which has almost 107 million views on YouTube) as well as a string of tunes aimed squarely at the hearts of teenaged girls.
Now, after the two bands staged a months-long reunion tour, hitting the road together, Knight and Carter have teamed up for their own album, the aptly-named Nick & Knight. While they were in two of the biggest boy bands in history, their new endeavor isn’t exactly competing with One Direction — nor are they trying to.
TIME talked to the two stars about their new album, boy band upstarts and watching Wahlburgers:
TIME: You’ve both lived most of your lives in the spotlight. What’s the weirdest fan interaction you’ve had?
Jordan Knight: A few years ago a fan showed up at my door with a little child named Jordan. My wife answered the door and it was really awkward, ‘Meet my new child, named Jordan, after your husband.’ That was weird.
Nick Carter: Damn!
JK: It’s very intense! It was a very fanatical woman who had a child, and she really wanted to introduce the child to my wife. Obviously, it wasn’t mine, of course. But it was very weird. One time we were in Spain and we were at the airport and a whole bunch of fans swarmed us. We jumped over the ticket counter and on the conveyor belt for the luggage and rode it into the luggage bin under the airport.
I have always wanted to do that.
JK: I have, too! That’s why I took full advantage.
NC: During our Millenium and Black and Blue tours, there was a German girl with her mom and they would come over to America and watch our shows. I would always seem them in a lobby in the hotels and the mom would always be trying to give me her daughter. I wasn’t interested, but I was nice about it, but I guess she reached her wits’ end. We were doing the VMAs and we were staying at the L’Hermitage hotel in LA . I was sitting at my computer and I started hearing a clicking sound at my door. I go to the door, look through the people and I don’t see anyone. Then suddenly there’s this short German woman looking around, and she pulls out a knife and starts sticking the blade under the door, slashing it back and forth. I freaked out and called my bodyguard because this woman was trying to kill me!
JK: She wanted to take your toes off!
NC: I think she was mad that I wouldn’t hook up with her daughter!
JK: Whoa. That’s crazy.
Both of your stories involved European fans. Do you think they are more intense about their fandom?
NC: That was just one story — there have been some American fans who have been as crazy.
Nick and Knight kind of sounds like a TBS cop show. Who’s Rizzoli and who’s Isles? Franklin and Bash?
[Looking at album cover]
JK: What about Miami Vice?
NC: It does look like a cop show! We definitely ride motorcycles. I like this.
Who’s the good cop and who’s the bad cop?
NC: We’re partners.
JK: We’re crime fighters. We’re both nice guys, but still kind of the bad boys of the department.
NC: We definitely ride motorcycles, though. No cop cars.
JK: Like CHiPs.
When did you first meet each other?
NC: We first met when I was about 15 years old. Jordan had taken a trip down to Orlando and he was meeting with Lou Pearlman — everyone knows who he is — so we all went out on Lou Pearlman’s yacht on a lake. That’s when I met him and I was really really young, but I just remember meeting Jordan’s wife — who was his girlfriend at the time — and thinking, ‘Damn, Jordan’s girlfriend’s hot!’
JK: [laughing] Thanks, Nick. I’ll tell her that story. I remember going to the studio and watching some of their [Backstreet Boys] songs, which was really cool. The next time we met, though, was at a nightclub in Orlando. I was really drunk. I barely remember that night.
NC: It was so funny, because I had come in and was all like, ‘Hey, Jordan!’ and then flash-forward and we had been drinking and we’re on the mics and the DJ was playing “The Right Stuff” and we were singing it.
JK: We were rocking the crowd with “The Right Stuff.”
NC: Then a fight broke out and we had to leave.
JK: I didn’t see him again for a long time.
So you’ve known each other a long time. What made you decide to start working together now?
NC: It kind of stemmed from the New Kids and Backstreet tour that we did a few years ago. When we were on tour, we both had solo records out and talked about doing a tour together with him singing his songs, me singing my songs. We stayed in touch and talked about that idea, and then realized that a fresher idea that would be more exciting for both of us was to do a record together. We wanted to do something new for the fans, and fresh and exciting for us. So we ended up doing the full record together.
Having worked in bigger bands and as solo artists, what’s it like working as a duo?
NC: It’s refreshing, because it’s just the two of us. In a group, there’s a lot of politics and you have to go with the flow. There are four other guys you are dealing with. With just two, we work really well together and things move forward.
JK: I think the process goes slower when you have to get five okays instead of just two. I’ll say, ‘Nick, I trust you, just go for it’ and he’ll do the same. It’s just much quicker.
What was the songwriting process like?
JK: We wrote some songs, and then some other folks that we know wrote some songs. We would tweak them through emails. We would tweak them on the phone. He was on tour when we finished the last three songs and one of the stops was Boston. He had a day off and he came to the studio in Boston, where I live, and we finished those last three songs pretty quickly. You have to get creative, especially if you live in different parts of the country and you’re busy. Like Nick says, when you’re writing a song and it’s going by quickly, you know it’s a keeper. That’s really what happened with a lot of the songs on the album. The writing process went really quickly.
Did you work with songwriters?
NC: It’s a collaboration with songwriters. They would come in and play us a track and if we like the track, we’ll start singing to it and writing melodies and lyrics. That’s how it goes down. They write some lyrics and melodies with us. It’s a collaborative effort.
Which song are you most excited about on the album?
NC: We love the entire record. It’s hard to choose! Personally, I like “Drive My Car.”
JK: I like that one too.
NC: I also like “Halfway There” a lot.
JK: That one’s great.
Neither of those are singles, though. How did you choose what to release first?
JK: I think you have to get other people’s opinions on singles. You can get biased about, like, how you sing the line on one particular song or something. So it’s good to see how other people take the songs in. After all, it’s for the rest of the world to hear, not for our own entertainment. I played some of the songs for my kids and “One More Time,” the first single, seemed to be right off the bat the catchiest and the poppiest. It’s probably not either of our favorite, but even today, when we were performing it on GMA, I was singing it and thinking of how catchy it is.
Do you feel like you’re competing with bands like One Direction or Taylor Swift for radio play?
JK: My philosophy is just move forward and whatever happens, happens. As long as we know we did a great job, that’s enough. I think this album has potential to reach new fans. If that happens, that’s amazing, we would love that. If it doesn’t, that’s cool too. It definitely has the goods in there to reach new fans.
You have 37 upcoming tour dates. Does that sound daunting at all?
NC: Not at all. We’re so excited to get to perform this material. We’re lucky that we have fans who will come to our shows. A lot of artists don’t.
What can fans expect on a Nick and Knight tour? Choreography?
NC: Choreography, but not the aerobic type stuff. It’s going to be sexy, adult, mature and there’s going to be the new music. There’s going to be some older solo stuff, some Backstreet New Kids stuff. A section where we pay homage to the ’80s and ’90s. It’s going to be a big party.
What’s in your iPods right now?
NC: I still play ‘80s music. Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” The Cars, but also new stuff like Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea — it all depends.
JK: Prince and Michael Jackson are two of my all-time favorite artists. I have two kids, so I have to listen to Top 40 radio and it’s awesome as well.
NC: As music connoisseurs, we listen to everything — rap, country. When you write, those influences that come out.
JK: One track has sort of a Drake vibe, “Drive My Car” has an indie rock ‘80s sound, “Switch” has a Michael Jackson-Pharrell sound. There are different influences throughout the album.
As two happily married men, is it strange writing love songs that other women will listen to and imagine you are singing to them?
NC: No, our wives are cool. It’s what they signed up for.
JK: When you write songs like “Halfway There,” we’re all the way there with our wives, so instead you just remember times in past relationships when that was happening. You go into the past or into an imaginary land.
NC: It’s no different from acting.
Speaking of acting, Nick, you have a new reality show coming out — I Heart Nick Carter.
NC: Yeah, it’s an interesting concept. It’s really about my wife and I, and how difficult it is to be in a relationship with me, an entertainer, and all the things that she has to put up with, and whether we can make it to the altar. Obviously, we did. Jordan’s on the show, too, I think in the third episode. It shows our project and what we’re doing. It just shows my life in the entertainment industry — I’ve been doing this for 22, 23 years now. It’s on VH1.
Do you watch Wahlburgers?
NC: I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.
JK: I have. I think it’s really funny. I think it’s even funnier, because I know the whole cast. I was just at Donny’s wedding this past weekend. The whole place was rigged. There were cameras everywhere! Paul, his brother, I just grew up with all of them. Seeing them on TV, just being themselves, is so funny. The New Kids on the Block are on a few episodes.
New Kids on the Block pretty much set the mold for boy bands. What was it like for Backstreet Boys coming on their heels? Was it like the Sharks vs the Jets, or one big happy boy band family?
NC: Obviously we knew who they were and had seen everything that they had done, which was extraordinary at the time. Then they took a break and we started to develop. A lot of what they did influenced us to a certain degree, but there were other groups, too. Jodeci, Shai and Boys II Men. It’s based on generations. A lot of the guys in my group are older than me, so Brian [Littrell], Kevin [Richardson] and Howie [Dorough] — they were right in the middle of the New Kids’ popularity. It’s cool, though, being able to share our experiences and understand what we both have gone through.
What do you think of some of the up-and-coming boy bands like 5 Seconds of Summer?
Five Seconds of Summer? They have some pretty big hits.
JK: Five Seconds of Summer. Hm.
JK: No idea. People used to ask me about Backstreet Boys and say they were sort of like us and, well, boy bands don’t become big for nothing. The ones who have it, rise to the top. When people ask me about Backstreet Boys, I never dissed them. I always thought they were extremely talented.
NC: That’s the same thing with me and New Kids.
What about One Direction?
JK: One thing that strikes me about new boy bands is they don’t do choreography.
NC: And they love to say, Oh, it’s cool that we don’t do it and we don’t need it. But I think, hey, put on a show! I get bored if I go and watch someone just stand on stage. We come from the Jackson era. Give the people their money’s worth!
JK: True dat.
Today’s boy bands are growing up on social media, and constantly getting in trouble for saying things or tweeting photos that they shouldn’t. What do you think it would have been like for you if social media existed back then?
JK: We probably would have done the same thing. We probably would have gotten in trouble for saying dumb stuff. They are all kids. I like social media. I like that we can reach out to our fans. I think it would have been doubly awesome to have been on Twitter when we exploded on the scene. I think social media makes you more human. Back then, if a paparazzi got a picture of me picking my nose, it would have been on the National Enquirer. Now everyone does that and uploads it to YouTube. It seems to have humanized people. There’s no expectation of being perfect.
How many Backstreet songs can you sing?
JK: All of them.
How many New Kids songs can you sing?
NC: A lot.