Jon Bon Jovi is on the move. In a phone interview that starts in a van and ends on a boat, Bon Jovi and his band mates are prepping for night 11 of 12 sellouts at London's O2 arena.
It's the midpoint of Bon Jovi's the Circle tour, the latest blockbuster from a band that's found another gear this decade. With "The Circle" album behind it and a new "Greatest Hits" package coming in November, Bon Jovi has already moved more than 1 million tickets on this tour, a pace that makes the Circle a contender for the top tour of the year. While the travails of the concert business are making headlines, Bon Jovi is in the midst of packing stadiums in North America. But before returning to these shores the charismatic front man took time to weigh in with Billboard on pushing himself, his New Jersey bar band roots, and YouTube videos.
Billboard: What separates the Circle tour from the last few tours Bon Jovi have done?
Jon Bon Jovi: You try to push the boundaries of the production, first and foremost. We always have a lot of great give and take between the whole production team. Then, you're always excited to play new songs. With the visuals that accompany some of the old songs, again we tried to push those boundaries wider, broader, bigger. There's interaction between us and that stage. To me the stage is a living, breathing entity in itself, especially the indoor production. I'm just astounded by it, I think they outdid themselves.
So how do you gear yourself up so that your fans get something different? Case in point, me, Richie [Sambora] and Dave [Bryan] are sitting in the back of a van right now with a keyboard that's on an iPhone trying to hit the 70 song mark just at the O2 alone. So if you're a repeat customer or a tour-to-tour customer, you're going to see us play 70 songs at this stint at the O2. And that's pushing us, as well.
Bon Jovi sells out stadiums in Europe and in the States, but this band has always struck me as an arena-rock band. Is this a preference for you?
We always felt comfortable in that venue. Arenas and stadiums are home to me, not that we can't do it in a club. We can do it anywhere. But the first day of the first tour we were opening for the Scorpions we were always comfortable in arenas.
Speaking of clubs, I saw one of the Madison Square Garden shows on the last tour and, with that production, the show almost had a club feel to it.
You can ask other people that, you have that opinion and I thank you for that, because that's my job. No matter the size of the venue, my job is to make it intimate.
Is the connection this band has with its audience learned or is it something that comes naturally to you?
I think it is engrained in us and certainly in me, I can't speak for other artists. From the time I was a boy, when we were playing in original band bars, places where you play your own stuff, and there were three bands on a night, and you had to reach those people with songs they've never heard. That's how we cut our teeth 30 years ago. I've always known how to do that. I wasn't in cover bands. I quit a cover band when I was 17 years old and I haven't been in one since. I had to get a point across, and I learned how to do it. I just did it from the time I learned how to play the guitar.
Maybe you learn showmanship and the instincts are natural.
It's all little pieces. You learn, you're influenced, you watch, you have experience. It's hard to sum it up into one sound bite. The truth of it is my teeth were cut in Asbury Park, New Jersey, in 1980.
That must have been a tough audience.
You know, when you're that young and dumb and don't know any better, it's not a tough audience. I gotta tell you, it was a time, and I think you know this living in Nashville, there's a great camaraderie amongst players and musicians and songwriters. How many times have you been to a showcase in Nashville where people are actually listening? They are paying attention. There was a camaraderie back in 1980, '81, '82, '83 back in Asbury, [the scene was] perhaps past its prime, but the sheen hadn't exactly worn off yet. There was still this kind of "who's next, who's the next guy to come out of here?" And the support system was there, and the idea that you could still reach that crazy dream of making a record some day was still alive and well. And we were so young. That had something to do with it. Being 18 years old is a big deal, because you don't have the responsibility of a job and a family and all that stuff yet.
Do you ever get stage fright?
Nooooo. Are you crazy? Who would call 70 songs and have fear? If you saw me right now, I'm sitting on a speed boat, we're gonna fly down the river, have Kid Rock meet us to learn a couple songs on the stage [at the 02], and do 'em tonight. That's not fear. There's nothing to be fearful about. They don't shoot you for it.
Each tour for you guys has topped the last, particularly in the past decade. How does the band keep finding another gear?
I don't know. We have been awfully productive this decade, that's for sure. We're aware of that. Some of it has to do with falling in love with music again as a performer, a writer, a member of a band. Part of it has to do with us pushing ourselves, so your audience knows they're going to get something different every night, something new every time. People want satisfaction, they want guarantees that you're going to come through for them again, that you're not letting up.
Do you care about fans having cameras in the audience and your knowing that everything you do could potentially live forever online?
I went to a fan club kind of get together today and I was talking to them, and that's exactly what I said. There's nothing you can say or do without thinking this can be broadcast right now. I'll give you a case in point where it worked against [us]: I was dying to play these people five new songs that Richie and I wrote for "Greatest Hits," but I said "I can't do it." I knew it would be out now, so I couldn't even get their opinions, I had to wait. But my curiosity was killing me. I wanted to see what they thought of them.
Do you look at YouTube videos of your band?
Yeah, I've seen 'em, sure. We had Bob Geldof jump up with us two nights ago and do "I Don't Like Mondays" because it's the 25th anniversary of Live Aid, and I bet you go right now and put in Bon Jovi/Bob Geldof and you'll get it.