SXSW 2019 VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Lance Bass & Aaron Kunkel On NSYNC, ‘The Boy Band Con’ & Lou Pearlman
Bass and Kunkel discussed their new film — which premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas this week — exclusively with uInterview at the festival. The movie documents the rise and fall of Lou Pearlman, the late record producer and boy band impresario who in 2006 was accused of running a major Ponzi scheme that resulted in more than $300 million in debts. In 2008, Pearlman was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison and ultimately died in August 2016 at age 62. Among the many boy bands Pearlman helped propel to stardom in the 1990s are NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and O-Town. Kunkel revealed Pearlman’s investment scheme began even before he started working with boy bands. Approximately 1,700 people were involved in Pearlman’s fraudulent plot.
“I met Lou back in October 1995,” said 39-year-old Bass. “He picked me up at the airport in his Rolls-Royce and a limo — I don’t know why he brought two cars — but he and Justin Timberlake met me at baggage claim and I was like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you guys!'”
He continued: “Immediately, I loved them and Lou was this jolly guy that just immediately felt like family. Justin was, you know, the cool one sitting on the baggage belt.”
Bass called his immersion into the world of pop music “fun” and “inviting.”
Kunkel explained that part of what drew him to working on The Boy Band Con was the fact that the story of Pearlman had several “layers” to it. The film features interview with many former pop stars, including Bass and his former NSYNC bandmates JC Chasez and Chris Kirkpatrick.
“The story that Lance wanted to tell was really inspiring because he wanted it to be the first time where the story was actually told the right way, by the people who actually lived it,” Kunkel said. “So we really wanted to get everybody who’d been involved with every part of his life so that we could actually tell the story the way it should be told.”
Kunkel also said he was very intrigued by the prospect of discerning between “truth and lies” to make the documentary.
Bass admitted he knew very little about Pearlman’s backstory before working on the film but had long been curious to learn about it.
“I would hear a lot of stories from Lou about his childhood and they were fascinating stories,” Bass said. “But as we started diving deeper into his real life, we found out it was all bulls—t. He would take stories from his other friends and he would just make them his own, he would build this character.”
Bass added he “felt sorry” for Pearlman because of how many people scorned him ever since he was a child. The former NSYNC member said Pearlman’s resentment over this led to him fabricating stories about himself.
Kunkel stressed that The Boy Band Con is not a “hit piece,” but rather is meant to show Pearlman in a “three-dimensional” way that also reveals the late producer’s more congenial side and the influence he had on the music industry and boy bands in particular.
“We certainly did not want to go into it with any bias,” Kunkel said.
What do the pair hope viewers take away from the film? Lance said that his one major piece of advice to aspiring young singers and other entertainers is to be fully aware of the deals they are signing and to hire good legal representation, as well as to remember that at the end of the day, the music industry is a business.
“I, personally am taking away from this story the idea of making sure we aren’t falling into the trap of confirmation bias in our lives,” Kunkel added. “It’s so easy, when you really want something to be true, to stop looking and stop analyzing and be like, ‘yes, it’s true.'”
The Boy Band Con is presented by YouTube Originals and is a Pilgrim Media Group and Lance Bass Productions film.
Full interview transcript below:
Q: How did you meet Lou Pearlman?
A: Bass: I met Lou back in 1995, it was October 1st 1995, and he picked me up at theairport in his Rolls-Royce and a limo. I don’t know why he brought two cars but him and Justin Timberlake met me at baggage claim I was like “Hi nice to meet you guys.” You know it immediately you know I I loved them I mean Lou was this jolly guy that just you immediately felt was family and then Justin you know was the cool one sitting on the baggage belt. My entry into this whole world was a you know it was fun, it felt very inviting.
Q: What attracted you to this story?
A: Kunkel: Yeah so our producer Matthew Ducey has been really fascinated by this story for a really long time and he brought it to me and I just found it to be this really interesting story that they seemed like there were a lot of other layers too. And then we talked to Lance and the story that Lance wanted to tell was really inspiring because he wanted to be the first time where the story was
actually told the right way and by the people who actually lived it and so we really wanted to get everybody who’d been involved with every part of his life so that we could actually tell the story the way it should be told. And I think then beyond that just the idea of this is a story that is so much wrought with truth and lies and there’s so many webs of trying to figure out whether something’s fact or fiction and I think that’s such a that’s such a present topic in our world right now and it was
something that I really wanted to analyze like what makes you believe a lie what makes you believe the truth, you know that kind of thing.
Q: How did you get access to so many of the players?
A: Kunkel: I think it, well, a lot of it just starts with Lance like it was a lot about this is a story that you would want to be involved with and you need a level of trust. And that’s what Lance brought to it and that’s how we got so many people that nobody’s nobody’s talked to before because they knew that Lance was going to be the one that was going to tell this story the right way and get the right story out there. So it was it was really fascinating in that sense to hear everything that was happening and from all steps of his life all the way back to his childhood through the boy band years and then after
the fact you know the financial victims and everybody involved with that and I think on there and today in terms of casting a lot of people were pretty apprehensive about it but others were were genuinely interested in — excited is the wrong word — but they were really happy that someone was finally telling their side of the story also because they were affected in Lou in a lot of the same ways that the guys from the bands were.
Q: What was Lou’s backstory
A: Bass: To me, you know that was the part of the story I didn’t know much about was how he started what was his childhood I would hear a lot of stories from Lou about his childhood and they were fascinating stories, but then as we started diving deeper into his real life and these actual stories we found out it was all bulls—t. He would take stories of his other friends you know and he would just make them his own and he just started building this kind of this character and in a way you know looking back at it. I feel sorry for that that little kid Lou Pearlman, because he felt he was so hated no one liked him that he had to create this whole new persona so that people would actually like him. We wanted to make sure we told a story about Lou as a hree-dimensional person also that this isn’t a hit piece or somebody who’s just like, ‘oh it was purely a monster and that was it because when you actually talked to the people in his life that wasn’t their perception like he was a complicated guy he was jovial and fun and happy and you know he made you feel really good when you’re around him he did a ton for music and for everybody’s careers but you know on the other side there were a lot of dark qualities to him and ultimately we just wanted to make sure we display that he was this
Q: How did you try to present a balance story?
A: I think that we’re in a place now where people are being allowed to speak their truths to the world I think that that’s really important and that’s something we wanted to focus on this wasn’t something that we certainly didn’t want to go in with any kind of bias there’s been the story’s been told in a lot of different ways and what we wanted to do is just allow people to speak to their experiences and not present anything that we was just rumor-mongering or uncorroborated or anything like [that.]
Q: What ultimately brought down Lou?
A: It’s really interesting that he actually started an investment scheme pre the bands used
that money to help fund the bands and then use the bands as a carrot to get more people to invest and eventually he was brought down both for bank fraud and investment fraud totaling up to half a
billion dollars. And I think it was around 1,700 people who had invested with him a lot of them just retirees from Florida so that was one of the really heartbreaking parts of making the documentary was going through Florida and it was really wonderful that these that these retirees were generous
enough to give us their stories, but you know is also very sad at the same time that they had lost their entire retirements and a lot of times had no idea what they were going to do in order to survive for the rest of their lives.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from the film?
A: There’s a few things that you know we want people to take away from this and one for me
as an entertainer, a cautionary tale for any entertainer out there especially young entertainer and their families to really watch what you’re signing and and make sure you have a really great entertainment lawyer and protect yourself because in the end it is a business yeah we love music and I’d be happy singing at a coffee shop down the street but when you enter this business
you got to realize it’s a business you have to treat it that way. I even personally am taking away from
this story the idea of making sure we aren’t falling into the trap of confirmation bias basically in our lives because it’s something that I have to or feedback loops where you hear something and you want it to be true so you don’t look into it and you just start believing it and I think that’s something that I know I constantly falling prey to and I have to keep checking myself because I think it’s so easy when you really want something to be true to just stop looking stop analyzing and just be like yes it’s true and I think we have to make sure that we’re not doing that in our lives.