It's been 25 years since New Jersey hopefuls Bon Jovi released their self-titled debut album. In those days their Southside Johnny-influenced take on 80s melodic hard rock appealed to just a niche audience. But the explosive success of third album Slippery When Wet in '86 propelled them into the mainstream, which is where they've been ever since. The band - more particularly Jon Bon Jovi himself - have been accused of forgetting about their rock roots, and pandering to a fan base that would be equally at ease listening to Kylie or Take That. In some ways that’s true. But, as they prepare to release The Circle (their eleventh studio album), Bon Jovi remain genuine global stadium rockers, and seemingly comfortable with the beast they’ve become. Classic Rock caught up with JBJ in New York City.
We were led to believe that 2009 would be the year you’d release a ‘greatest hits’ album out and take things slowly.
That was the plan. A year ago we’d just gotten off the road, I spent the summer months at the shore and the intention was to only do two or three songs for a greatest hits. So last October we started writing songs, and even told John Shanks, our producer: “Book all you want, go do other projects, we are absolutely not working. We’ve been on the road too much, we’ve had four studio records in this decade, it’s time to go away.”
And then October came, and the economies of the world changed and the new President was elected in November, and there was a lot of subject matter. So from the first couple of songs that were written for the record – one was a rehab kind of song, one was a boy/ girl song – I thought, yikes, this isn’t shaping up into much of anything. And then when all these other big events happened in the world, we started writing up a firestorm. And before we knew it, not only did we have the songs for the greatest hits, we also had a heck of an album. And there you go: I’m a liar.
Is the album a return to rock?
Well it’s a rock record, that’s for sure. We’ve finished 16 tracks, only 11 or 12 can make the record. I don’t know the running order of the record right at this minute, because I’m still going back and forth and fighting with myself over it. But it is meant to be a return to a rock record, so that’s helping me make those decisions. That’s one of the reasons why it’s called The Circle.
The album comes with a documentary film When We Were Beautiful. In it there’s lots of talk about the circles of friends you need to have, the more the better. Therefore Bon Jovi, the band, is just one of them?
Yeah. I mean, it’s impossible to get in, and it’s even harder to get out. That is the bond that we have – for good or bad, even though thank goodness it’s good. I’ve lived more of my life with these guys than I did my life prior, you know.
Is that a scary thought?
No, it’s actually quite a good feeling of accomplishment, faith and the trust that we had in each other, in our music. And, you know, if you’re going to sit and do interviews for 26 years, saying, “Listen, we believe in faith and hope and trust and loyalty,” and then you change band members every two years, or change wives every two years or record companies every two years, [then] I’d be a liar. You’ve got to travel the world, see different places, meet different people and be exposed to different cultures.
Well, that’s for sure. God, only 10 percent of Americans have a passport. Fortunately for us we’ve toured the world to as many places as we could go over the past 26 years. Some we can’t go to any longer, because of what’s happened in politics, which is a shame. Because you’re out there really as an ambassador of American pop culture. One of the reasons why we’ve been popular for so long is because people gravitated towards that. You could be in Africa or Asia and Australia and anywhere across Europe, or when the wall was still up in the Eastern side, or in the Soviet Union, and you just went representing pop culture. People gravitated to that. They wanted to feel a part of it. There was no politics involved, it was just people, you know? One of the interesting life lessons that our President was able to teach America was that he’s made up of patchwork – a Christian, Muslim, black, white… you know, he’s really just a mutt. And he was open-minded and open-hearted to reaching out to so many people because of it, trying to bring people together.
Would you ever consider entering politics yourself?
Are you kidding me? I have too thin a skin. I feel I can get so much more done philanthropically and on specific causes that I care about than to generally get into that. It’d be awful.
Have you retired the actor in you, too?
Yeah, I’m done. There weren’t any good opportunities. It just wasn’t worth the time anymore. I got other things to focus on. I admire the craft too much to disrespect it and, you know, make teeny movies that no one’s gonna see. Or be a part of some crap movie that’s not gonna make you proud. So as long as the music keeps coming out like this there’s no need to do anything else.
You’re planning on touring in 2010.
Yeah, February. I know we start in Hawaii and then it goes from there. We’ll be out for quite a long time by our standards – 15, 16 months. I know we’re doing the new Giants’ Stadium [in New York]. So that’ll be a big deal for us. That opens at the end of May next year. I know we’re going to do a big run at the [London] O2.
Many of your contemporaries seem to have lost a bit of hair over the years, but you haven’t. Is there a special treatment you use? Do you get scalp massages or whatever?
I’m lucky, man. Trust me. I keep bitching about everything else, but at least I still got it. I know at our age it’s not easy, but it’s all mine; nothing there, no help from no friends. It’s getting grey, but that’s about the size of it.
FIVE LESSER KNOWN FACTS ABOUT BON JOVI
Jon Bon Jovi joined Scandal briefly as a rhythm guitarist in 1983. This was before they had a big hit with The Warrior.
Dave ‘Snake’ Sabo, now of Skid Row, was Bon Jovi’s lead guitarist prior to Richie Sambora.
Tico Torres was the drummer on the 1980 album Face Facts, from glam band T. Roth And Another Pretty Face.
David Bryan co-wrote the musical The Toxic Avenger, which premiered in 2009.
The original recording of Runaway was done in 1982 by Jon Bon Jovi with guitarist Tim Pierce, keyboard player Roy Bittan, bassist Hugh McDonald and drummer Frankie LaRocka.