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[ BBMak--More Than A Boyband ]

The BBMAK Base

by Chuck Taylor for Billboard NEW YORK -- Nestled in for dinner at trendy restaurant Pop in New York's East Village, the young men of Hollywood Records trio BBMak have been asked by the eatery's management to sing "Happy Birthday" to a celebrating diner. After a second's pause, they nod and rehearse at their table, nailing the three-part harmony in a cinch. Then they stand and deliver. "Can you believe this?" muses the act's publicist. "I swear this wasn't a setup." But in fact, every other exercise to differentiate the U.K. act -- Mark Barry, Christian Burns, and Ste McNally -- from their worldwide boy-band counterparts has indeed been meticulously fashioned by Hollywood Records. First, the label would like it known that the group wrote the vast majority of songs on its upcoming debut, "Sooner Or Later," due May 16. They also play instruments and focus live performances on their able voices, instead of boppy dance steps that hint at what's really behind so many youth acts. So far, BBMak has had only limited impact on U.K. airwaves, but the trio and its U.K. label TelStar were caught off guard when first single "Back Here" -- a guitar-based gem that tells of loneliness after love leaves -- stormed across Asia and topped singles charts in Japan, Hong King, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The U.S. came calling next, with the group signing to Hollywood Records. The album has now been retooled with a number of new tracks, and existing songs were remixed for release here, where "Back Here" is also the first single. "We thought the Asian album was amazing, but when we came to America, Rob Cavallo produced some of the tracks and just took it to the next level," says McNally. "It went from great to fantastic." "We're lucky in that we have a say in everything we do," adds Barry. "If we're not happy about something, then we just won't use it." "It's not a producer's record, it's not an A&R guy's record. It's our record," Burns says. "It's our personalities, our harmonies, ideas, licks, ad-libs. With a lot of producers that work with a lot of groups, songs sound the same, more like the producer. We're lucky that we really do have our own sound." A mix of contemporary pop stylings with crystalline hooks and narratives on love and love lost ("Next Time," "Always," "Love Is Leaving," "Ghost Of You And Me"), "Sooner Or Later" is certainly on the mark with top 40's current appreciation for songs that serve up genuine melodies and the sweet, soulful ring of singers who take joy in the craft of harmonizing. Barry defines the group's sonic complexion as a cross between Backstreet Boys and Goo Goo Dolls. McNally suggests Backstreet Boys and Sugar Ray, though they are quick to disparage any direct connection to what "boy band" has come to mean in the U.S. "I think when people see a picture of us, they may think we're another LFO, but if they see us live, they will change their minds," says Burns. The three met while playing for various bands in northwest England. Burns' father was lead guitarist in British band the Signs; at 14, his young son picked up a guitar and never put it down. McNally played guitar for a band that specialized in Guns N' Roses covers, and Barry, at 10, began playing bagpipes and was four times the English solo player champion; he's also an accomplished singer. (He plays the penny whistle on two of the album's tracks -- no bagpipes this time around.) They met in 1996 and began jamming together, realizing that the chemistry they shared added up to something unique. Each quit his respective band, and the three began sitting around in one another's bedrooms and writing songs as a unit. By this point, BBMak was an official proclamation (the name comes from the first letters of their last names), and they set about putting together a four-song demo, funded by their families. "Then we went down to London and started butt-kissing record companies until we got someone's attention," says Barry. After garnering acclaim from execs, they set up a five-song, acoustic showcase in Liverpool. "In the next couple days, the phone was ringing, and the record labels started putting offers on the table. It sounds easy, but it was a lot of hard work," he says. With its deal with TelStar locked in, BBMak then started adding songs to its repertoire. "We had a guitar and our three-part harmony and really could have gone in any direction," Burns notes. "We could've done R&B, rock, pop, or soul, so for the next eight months, we just experimented with different producers and writers, trying to really pin down our sound." A trip to Los Angeles led them to producer Oliver Leiber, who helped the band find its voice, and in short order, the album was complete. Radio stations in Japan then got hold of "Back Here." The group flew to Japan for a month doing promotion, in time leading to its No. 1 posting in five nations. (As a result, the Americanized "Sooner Or Later" will also be released there.) BBMak, like many overseas acts, views the States as the Holy Grail. "If you make it here, it's like making it 10 times over in Japan," says McNally. In any case, they remain appreciative of the international success they've had to date. "We did a gig on the docks in Liverpool, which is my hometown, and there were 50,000 people there," recalls McNally. "We sang 'Back Here,' and everyone knew the words, and there were BBMak banners. We wrote that song, and to have fans singing it back to us is one of the greatest feelings you can ever have." Shows at both Disneyland and Disneyworld, and a concert special on the Disney Channel April 29 are among upcoming plans for BBMak. The group will also do a Radio Disney feature the weekend of May 20, to be broadcast from ABC's "Good Morning America" studios in Times Square. In the fall BBMak expects to tour the U.K. supporting Britney Spears. Back To Mags Back Home