Mark Dagostino
March 21, 2008 04:00 PM

Taking a long-awaited side trip, A.J. McLean says his first solo project will let fans know “who I am outside of the Backstreet Boys.”

“It feels good, man. It’s really been 15 years in the making,” McLean, 30, tells PEOPLE.

While he’s not leaving the group, and will soon be heading out on a European tour with his band-mates, McLean is stepping out on his own for two concert appearances this Sunday and Monday in California, performing songs from his album that comes out later this year (Get a sneak peek of the music on his Web site.)

“Once I got sober things really kind of kicked into gear for me,” says McLean, a recovering alcoholic now six years sober. “Everything I was feeling, I started just putting it down with pen on paper and applying music to it.”

Audiences who catch his solo shows (including shows at small venues throughout Europe after the Backstreet tour ends May 15) won’t get a boy-band show.

“There are no dancers, no big flashing lights – it’s just about the music and about me.” he says. ” I can speak my mind, say whatever I want to say, and not feel like I have to be censored. It’s me being myself and I’m not a kid anymore. If I want to say the S-word on stage I can do that. I’m 30 years old. I can talk about what I want to talk about.”

How do the other Backstreet Boys feel about it? “The group is very supportive of him,” says a source close to the band. In fact, the source adds, “You will most likely see the group members at the shows in Los Angeles and London.”

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