(Questions in RED answers in BLUE)

'N Sync: No Strings Attached ... Except to a Zillion Hearts

With the release of "No Strings Attached," their second album of all-new material and a certain multi-platinum contender, 'N Sync is back in the high life again. In the following interview, the band members talk about new music and old business (specifically the protracted legal dispute with BMG, their former record label), about their ideal collaborators and their "rivals" the Backstreet Boys, about their mothers and even their fave cartoon shows. Clearly, these 'N Sync guys don't just sing their hearts -- they speak their minds as well.

What kind of pressure did you feel making your second album, especially after the first one was so successful?

Chris Kirkpatrick: Well, I think there's pressure because your first album's the one that people get to know you with, but the second album's the one that definitely establishes you. We did do a Christmas album after the first one, but that's not really considered a full album of new material. So this one is real important for us.

How would you compare it to the first album?

Lance Bass: We felt like we had way more control over this album. We had to do half of it totally independently -- we had no record label. Also, I think that because we got to write half of it, it's actually the music that we like to listen to. And the music that we like to listen to is basically what our fans are going to like to listen to as well, because half of them are our age.

You've referred to the style of the new music as "dirty pop." What's that about?

JC Chasez: You know, pop is always labeled as being cheesy, bubble gum, sugar and spice and everything nice ... People forget that it's a very broad sound. We wanted to bring something to the table that wasn't polished. We wanted to do something that was heavier -- a little more in your face. Like the sound is very raw, for 'N Sync. So when you turn it up in a club, the whole place shakes.

What are some of the songs on the album that you're most proud of?

JC: Probably "Space Cowboy," because it's...it's just a great song! And it's not just another love song. It's a concept song, which is good. Plus, we got (TLC's) Left Eye to be on it with us.

Justin Timberlake: I like "Bye Bye Bye." It was cool to have a dance song for us guys, you know, because (TLC's) "No Scrubs" had come out, and it disses guys a little bit. So when we heard "Bye Bye Bye," it was a throw-back at that. It was nothing personal -- it was just cool to have a message like that in a dance song.

What do you think you learned in the past year that made you better in the studio, not to mention any life lessons that made the going more smooth?

Chris: I think we learned a lot about the business in general. I mean with the lawsuit and everything that happened to us, we definitely learned the business end of the music business. I think we've always been in tune with the music part.

You didn't have a lot to say about all the legal machinations that were going on between albums. Why did you want to change labels, and how rough was it for you to through all of that?

JC: We didn't talk about it a lot because we didn't really think people needed to worry about it. We don't like to show our dirty laundry. We're artists and musicians; people don't go buy our albums because we're businessmen. But it was a sticky situation. We tried to renegotiate our record deal, but nobody wanted to bend on the points that we wanted. So it was either stay there and be in a deal you're unhappy with, or take a chance and make a change. Luckily, it worked out the way it did.

What sort of artists were you listening to before you recorded the new album?

Justin: Well, it's been two years since the first album, so we've listened to so many different types of music in that time -- country, rock, rap, everything. Lenny Kravitz came out with a great album. And so many good dance records came out. All of those kind of influenced us. We wanted to bring all those new elements to our sound, and then put our main style, which is vocal harmonies, on top of that.

You just performed on the Oscar telecast with Gloria Estefan. How did your collaboration with her come about?

Lance: What happened was, "Music of the Heart" was coming out, and Gloria was in the movie. She was looking for someone to do the duet theme song with, so she gave us a call. It was a great opportunity, because we knew that if we did something with a legend like Gloria Estefan, it would show people in the Latin market and, you know, the older audience, what we can do. I think we got a lot more respect from that song.

You also worked with Alabama. Is there anyone else you'd like to collaborate with?

Chris: As Justin said, we really like Lenny Kravitz. So that would be great.

JC: I would say either Michael Jackson or Janet Jackson, just because I think the performance would be absolutely amazing.

Lance: I always thought Lauryn Hill would be a great collaboration for 'N Sync.

And if you could be a fly on someone's wall, where would it be?

Lance: Oh, man. I don't know, maybe Jennifer Lopez's bedroom.

JC: I'd like to be a fly on the wall in a writing session with Sting.

Some fans have been drawing comparisons between you and the Beatles, in that they started out as a pop phenomenon with 13-year-old girls screaming at them, but then they evolved and became more of a studio band. Do you see yourselves ever going that route?

Justin: It's definitely cool to be compared to someone like the Beatles. But I don't think we're going to take the touring aspect out of our music. We do enjoy producing and writing, and if it ends up that we produce other artists, as JC has done, then that would be cool, too.

Do you find being role models for young people a pressure, a privilege, or both?

Lance: It's more of a privilege. I enjoy getting to share my views with people. And I'm glad we could come in and be that kind of uplifting spirit. It makes us feel great when we get a letter saying our music brought someone closer to their parents or their best friend, stories like that.

How have your relationships with your own families, especially your moms, changed as you've become more and more successful?

Lance: I think it brought me closer to my mom. I was 16 when I joined the group, and she wasn't very happy when I moved out of the house at such a young age. So she actually moved to Florida for at least a year just to be close to me.

JC: I think I learned not to take my family for granted. When you're living at home, you don't notice how much your parents do for you. But the older I get, the more I take what my parents say to heart. Because they've been there; they've felt the same things you've felt.

One hears the term "boy band" tossed around a lot. Is that a label you're comfortable with?

Chris: No, we're not comfortable with it. We got a real bad taste in our mouths overseas when we started over there a couple of years ago. We had no idea about boy bands or anything, but then, of course, a whole bunch of them started popping up. Basically, the whole integrity of the vocal harmonies was lost because people were just trying to sell t- shirts and put the next big boy band out there. So they started labeling us as that too. We were hoping we could get rid of it when we came over here to the States, because we don't like the stigma, all the baggage that comes with the name.

Justin: Call us what you like. If you want to call us a boy band, I guess that's what you're going to do. Just don't disrespect the fact that we're musicians.

What about the various things that have been said and written about your relationships with other groups, particularly the Backstreet Boys?

Lance: It's all hype done by the press, because they want a story. We are so focused on what we do that we can't look at other groups and be, like, What are they doing? There's room for everybody. We're just having fun at what we're doing and trying to be ahead of the game.

Final question. What's your favorite cartoon show?

Chris: I like "South Park." Cartman and Stan and the others are funny.

Lance: I like Taz a lot. He's stupid and crazy.

JC: I'm very fond of "The Simpsons." It's really well written.