Irish interview w/JBJ The Island Ear
Bon Jovi- Never Say Goodbye
Jon Bon Jovi has the gift of being able to
write a hook and sell it with a smile. As his eponomously-titled band progresses
into its third decade, many people wonder how this foursome (originally five)
are able to continue their journey of platinum albums, hit singles and sold-out
tours. The answer is simple: Jon Bon Jovi. Jon puts his heart and soul into his
writing while still keeping his ear to the ground commercially. This
once-labeled ďhair bandĒ has succeed far beyond superstardom and are on
their way to the Rock ĎNí Roll Hall Of Fame with the release of their new
Ė and best Ė album Crush. The Island Ear recently spoke with Mr. Bon Jovi
about the re-grouping of the band, his growing acting career and recovering from
the success of the past.
The Island Ear: What was the vibe like regrouping again with the band?
Jon Bon Jovi: It was a positive confirmation of everything. We wanted to take time off, and then take our time to get the material right. There was a real feeling of accomplishment coming off the last tour (1995) because it was so successful. We said we were going to take a couple of years off; we didnít know it would be this long, but when it turned out to be this long, we took advantage of the time by writing sixty songs.
When you go on break, do you ever wonder if this might be the end of the band?
No. The first time (after the New Jersey tour ended in 1990) there may have been some trepidation that came into play when the Young Guns II soundtrack (Jonís first solo album) was so successful. People thought, ďHe doesnít need them any more.Ē That was never the case, because as wonderful as my solo success was, and a confidence builder, I had no one to celebrate it with. I knew the sum of the parts was better than any individual.
Is it tough to keep the band together after all these years?
Thereís ups and downs in many bands, and success thrusts you into a whole other environment. The indulgences that come with it all happened. We are fortunate to have learned through the mistakes of others and worked our problems out. The truth is, we are beyond the point of breaking up.
Is it difficult to know where you stand with the public after being gone for five years?
We have no idea where we stand in America. In a way, itís unsettling. Weíre playing two nights at Wembley Stadium in London, which holds 72,000 people. Where are we going to play in America? I donít know. I hope itís the Garden and the Meadowlands, but it ainít Giants Stadium any more. At the end of this record, in a year from now, I donít know, maybe it could be again. I donít know and nor can I worry about it.
One smart element when marketing the band from the beginning is that you guys always toured the whole globe. In fact, you sell more albums and tickets in Europe than you do in the States. Why do you think that is?
Music that became popular in the Ď90s in America, like grunge and hip-hop, didnít get outside the borders here. At the end of New Jersey, when the Ď90s began, we played Giants Stadium; thatís where it got cut off here. We went back to arenas and sheds. The good news is, all our peers stopped making records. We were still able to play three dates at Jones Beach and sell out. We did OK. Nowadays a platinum act plays Roseland, to me thatís like my living room.
What would you say has changed in the band and what has remained?
The personalities have changed, but only for the better. Like in any
marriage, you canít try to change somebody; you have to accept them for who they are. We gotten over a lot of that early success hump. Newfound fame and money make you executives all of a sudden instead of being a group of guys in a bar band. Things change. People stick around for the ride and some donít. Alec (John Such, former Bon Jovi bassist) and Tico (Torres Bon Jovi drummer) both got divorced over it.
You are clearly the leader of the band, but how does the inner politics work? Does everybody get a say?
Everybody has an opinion and the opinions are usually very good. Somebodyís gotta be the quarterback and in this case itís me. Richie (Sambora, Bon Jovi guitarist) has experienced what itís like to be the leader of a band with his own solo work, so he understands my position a little bit better. He realizes that the role of ďconsigliereĒ fits him better. He knows what he can add to the band is bigger than him being the leader of his band. I acknowledge his presence and contributions. This new record is what it is because of him. We co-wrote six songs together on the new record. But, he understands that when I showed up with the first thirty songs written that I was capable of doing it.
Did that make Richie feel inferior?
No, if anything it encouraged him to get on the stick. But, more than anytime since, Slippery When Wet (1986), he stepped up, man.
How did the death of your former producer Bruce Fairbairn affect you guys?
He and Bob Rock were going to co-produce for the first time for the new album. We were going to do it for old timesí sake, for fun and they liked the songs. The day I got back from filming, U-571, literally with my coat still on, I answered the phone and found out that Bruce passed away that morning. I had detailed notes on our songs and the start dates from him. We were ready to go. We had to start over again trying to figure out who was going to do it and how we were going to do it. We were very comfortable with Bruce and Bob. It would have been a different record. It was traumatic. Weíve known his kids since they were babies. It was a drag.
You released a solo album in 1997, Destination Anywhere, which was your lowest selling release. What are your reflections on that project?
I made an arty record in an artsy fashion. I didnít even make videos in the usual ways or tour behind it. It was my art record. It was my way of expanding and trying different things knowing I really wasnít going to support the record. The record label, because of my past success, gave me the opportunity to express myself in different ways. Even though it was my least successful record, it was in the record companyís top ten sales for the year. Thatís with no support. But I will continue my solo career.
How would you describe the Bon Jovi songwriting formula?
The process usually starts with a great title, then you work backwards. The process then leads you to a chord progression, which leads you to a lyric. Thatís the procedure. What makes for a great Bon Jovi song is trying to find something lyrically that a lot of people can relate to regardless of their walk of life. Itís finding universal themes, which is why people care about the music for so many years. When Iím writing, Iím thinking about me. The magic moments are when people care.
What has your acting brought to your role as Bon Joviís frontman?
Nothing. Anything Iíve ever done on stage, whether I was in good voice or bad, if I split my pants or didnít, if I had a good audience or not, was me. But the great thing that I was able to bring from acting to music was a certain humility. And what I brought to acting from music was the youth and exuberance of a 21 year-old kid excited to be there with the wisdom of a 38 year-old man whose had more success and notoriety than most people in the some of the movies Iíve been in.
How important is your acting career to you in comparison to your music career?
Itís right next to it. I want to make a lot of movies.
Many other lead singers of bands have ventured into acting and were totally laughed at. What backlash, if any, did you have to deal with?
I wasnít laughed at, but I was met with a lot of resistance because of a lot of guys that had come before me. People werenít anxious to put a guy whoís a rock singer in a movie; there were too many actors that wanted that job.
Did acting come naturally to you?
No, it didnít. I was incredibly introverted and felt like a one-trick pony. But, the lessons brought out an extrovert that I didnít know existed and somebody was willing to take a risk with me.
Do you still keep in touch with your old bassist Alec John Such, who you parted ways with in the mid 90ís? What happened with him?
No one has seen Al in a few years, I have to admit. Itís disappointing. I think about him often. Last I heard he was selling all his worldly possessions and living a nomadic life, driviní around on a tour bus. Al was cool with who he was and just didnít care anymore. He wanted to do his own thing. We grew apart both creatively and socially. He didnít play much anymore. We all became much better players with time and he didnít contribute much to the band. He even said he didnít want to play on the records. We couldnít have a part time situation when Alec was happy to have his house, cars and toys and didnít care about the work the rest of us were putting into the band.
Hugh McDonald has been playing bass for the band for some time. Is he now an official member?
He is playing bass for us, but is not an official member. Al will always be the bass player in Bon Jovi. Hugh is paid handsomely for it and obviously heíd like to be a member, but itís just a little psychological problem that the other four of us have. As much as I love him, adore him and would never play with anyone else, itís difficult to enter that circle. Iím sorry, itís a psychological problem that I have. Those guys who jumped in the garage with me in 1982 and had the faith in me are rewarded. No one else can get into that circle.
Since you guys have sold millions of albums, when releasing a new one, is there a certain pressure to reach a high position on the sales chart?
It would obviously be nice to sell 10 million copies of Crush. We would all enjoy it again. But, to be honest, if it sold three million like Destination, I wouldnít lose my record deal. Itís not gonna change my livelihood.
You guys often refer to the Slippery When Wet album in the press saying your new album is ďthe best record since SlipperyĒ or youíre returning to the ďSlippery vibe.Ē What makes that album so special to you?
That was our phenomenon. It was our Thriller, Born To Run or Like A Virgin. Itís still one of the biggest selling rock records of all time. Thatís the milestone record that changed our lives. Some magic happened at that time. For some reason it touched a nerve. We were never able to duplicate that. Thatís the benchmark.
Do you think youíll ever shake that ďhair bandĒ image?
Longevity gives you that. Look, we were the poster boys in the Ď80s; thereís no doubt about it. But the whole Ď90s have gone by and weíre still here putting out, what I think is the best record we ever made. Longevity will get us over any kind of hump we might face. Thereís going to be a lot of trepidation going into this record. Iím gonna have to get over that. Thatís the truth, thereís no denying that.
You often sight Bruce Springsteen, Little Steven Van Zandt and Southside Johnny and some of your musical heroes. What qualities about these guys do you most admire?
There was a camaraderie amongst them that was similar to the era of Motown or at least in my romantic notion of it. They were singing about places that I knew. They were from the neighborhood. They were very benevolent, all three of them, towards me and everything I ever did. They made the unbelievable very obtainable. They made it all seem a lot more real.
You often have a lot of cowboy references in your early work. How do you identify with cowboys?
In our early days, we were up and moving like the circus or like cowboys. Never knowing whose bed you were sleepiní in tonight or what was going to happen tomorrow. Everyday was an adventure. We felt like it was us against the world. Ride into town, steal the money, take the woman, drink the booze and leave. Itís not like that any more, but that was the ultimate rock-n-roll lifestyle and we were liviní it.
In addition to your music and movies, youíre also famous for your hair. Currently, itís trimmed to a short shag. What are your thoughts on your famous locks?
Iím 38 years-old. Iím not gonna grow my hair down to my ass anymore. Itís not who I am today. When I was in my early 20ís, thatís who I was and what I did. I didnít do it to be popular, it was just how I was feeliní. But, I donít have any regrets about any of that because it was a part of the process. Itís just that my baby pictures were public. Believe it or not, every kid in the mall looked like that in Ď86. By Ď97, my hair was shorter than ever and I was makiní movies.
Did your good looks hurt or help your career?
It did both, early on. I was really excited to be on the cover of Rolling Stone then you read the article and it says, ďheís got a nice haircut and isnít he cute.Ē And youíre like, ďOh, f--k!Ē
Youíre closing in on 40, how long do you forsee Bon Jovi lasting?
Thirty was a great birthday and facing forty, I feel another growth period coming on as of late. I certainly donít feel like an old man, thatís for sure. As far as the band goes, it can go on as long as we want it to. Letís use the Stones as the gauge. When they quit, weíll know thatís as long as youíre supposed to go.