During the five-year span he spent making his first solo album, Backstreet Boys' Howie Dorough talked about exploring his Latin roots, working with the likes of Jon Secada and Wayne Rodriguez and even singing in Spanish. But "Back To Me," which comes out Nov. 15, sounds more like... well, a Backstreet Boys album.
"I'm very proud of my Latin roots, but when I finally put myself into finishing this the last year and a half, I started doing some soul-searching and asked, 'Is this the right direction for me?' " Dorough, whose mother is Puerto Rican, tells Billboard.com. "Backstreet Boys have an international fan base, and fans love what we do. I didn't want to be one of those artists that does something totally different so people would ask, 'Why did he do that?' Is he not proud?' I'm very proud of being a Backstreet Boy, so why stray too far from the mold?"
So for "Back To Me," on which Dorough goes by Howie D, shifted gears. Instead of crooning in Spanish -- which, he notes, "I really don't speak very well" -- he opted instead to "push the tempo a little bit, get into more European dance stuff and also the Backstreet Boys' signature sound in the slower songs."
Dorough didn't write on either of the albums first two singles, the uptempo "100" and the ballad "Lie to Me," but he had pitched three of "Back to Me's" songs -- "Over My Head," "Shatterproof" and "Dominoes" -- for the group's last album, 2009's "This Is Us," "but they didn't fit the sound at the time." "Pure," meanwhile, was co-written with BSB mate Nick Carter, but when it wasn't chosen, "I said, 'Dude, I want to keep this for my record.' And he was excited for me. There's nothing better than to have the support of your own guys for something you're doing."
Dorough will open for five Britney Spears shows in South America starting Nov. 20, then will take part in the second annual Backstreet Boys Cruise during December.
"I'll do my solo touring during the (group's) down time," Dorough says. "I never wanted to make the group stop our stuff for my individual project."
Kevin Richardson, who left the group in 2006, will be part of the cruise and has made some noise about returning full-time, which Dorough says is an exciting prospect.
"We've always told him the doors are open," he says. "There's no beef between us. He just needed that time to be... away. I do foresee us on stage together again. I would love to see him on the next record. Whatever is right for him in his life, we'll support that."
BSB is, in fact, in "the very early stages of pre-production" for its next album, according to Dorough. "We've talked about whether to stay in the same vein we did on ('This Is Us') or do we push the envelope? Go harder? Go a little more pop-rock? Right now it's a totally open canvas." He expects the group to start recording in early 2012 and maybe even finish by the time BSB hooks up with New Kids on the Block for an NKOTBSB European tour that starts April 20 in Belfast. "But that's if all the stars align," Dorough says. "It has to happen naturally. If it's meant to be done by then, so be it. If not, we'll take our time. We've never been a group to rush ourselves."
The NKOTBSB European run, meanwhile, wraps May 14 in Norway, and Dorough says there are "a lot of requests to do the States again." But he has other ideas. "Ideally we want to take this tour all around the world first and then come back," he says. "There are talks about going to Australia after Europe, and possibly some southeast Asia dates. There are a lot of factors involved with their schedule, our schedule, recording, all that good stuff. But we love doing those shows so I'm sure we'll keep doing them into the future."