After reuniting in 2008, boy band luminaries New Kids On The Block became a touring force over the decade that followed, leading up to the start of the pandemic. Donnie Wahlberg, Jordan Knight, Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre and Danny Wood have kept busy with individual projects since the world locked down in 2020, but later this year, New Kids will embark on their second Mixtape Tour, a jaunt that kicks off at Cincinnati’s Heritage Bank Center on May 10 and will see them rack up more than 50 more shows through July.
Back in the fold for The Mixtape Tour 2022 are the New Kids’ previous road mates, “Push It” hitmakers Salt-N-Pepa. The two acts will be joined this time by girl group powerhouse En Vogue, whose 1993 collaboration with Salt-N-Pepa, “Whatta Man,” landed at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rounding out the roster is UK crooner Rick Astley, whose meme-mainstay “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Together Forever” both reached No. 1 in 1988 – just a few months before New Kids themselves skyrocketed into the pop echelon across the globe.
To capitalize on fans’ anticipation for the upcoming tour, all four acts recorded “Bring Back The Time,” a nostalgic pop confection that Wahlberg, who co-wrote the song with frequent New Kids collaborator Lars Jensen, feels captures the spirit of the era when his band and their fans all came of age. To cement the ‘80s vibe, the song’s accompanying John Asher-directed video features the artists recreating scenes from some of the decade’s most iconic music videos, such as Journey’s “Separate Ways,” Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” and A Flock Of Seagull’s “I Ran.”
NKOTB are set to make the performance debut of “Bring Back The Time” this morning on Good Morning America. In a conversation with Billboard, Wahlberg explains how New Kids On The Block, Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue and Astley brought “Bring Back The Time” to life ahead of the Mixtape Tour.
Let’s start with logistics. How difficult was it to coordinate the schedules of not just your four other bandmates, but also those of three other acts, to pull “Bring Back The Time” together?
Donnie Wahlberg: Of course it’s very complicated to coordinate so many artists of this magnitude, who all have careers and lives and families, including just in my own band. But it’s easy to overcome those complications when you’re so inspired. Every single artist was so excited to jump in and be a part of this song. It’s an anthem. It’s uplifting. It’s fun and it’s exactly what we could all use right now. And that excitement from everyone motivated me to figure this out. Same for the music video. I wasn’t going to stop at a few scheduling roadblocks, especially when everyone was so willing. It makes me incredibly excited for the tour, too.
How did this song come to be?
I was driving from Boston to New York [last] summer after New Kids had played Fenway Park. My songwriting partner, Lars Jensen, called me and was like, “I have this track.” I was literally sitting in the car on the way to New York and was like, “Okay, man – I’m really tired. Maybe we’ll work on it later.” But then I listened to it once and just felt something about it. So I was like, “You know what? I’ve got three hours – let’s do it right now.”
So in the car we went back and forth, and by the end I was like, “We have to get cheerleaders! Do you have anyone who can do the cheerleader part?” I was literally just getting so much inspiration and sort of homaging that [Paul Davis] song “‘65 Love Affair.” Lars was like, “What?” “Cheerleaders, man. Cheerleaders!” This was all on the drive from Boston to New York, and by the time I got there, the song was written.
Last October, New Kids announced the Mixtape Tour 2022 with Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue and Rick Astley. What happened next?
With each tour or every few years with New Kids, we get a little antsy and want to make new music. We like having new music for our fans and they appreciate it. So I didn’t know if [“Bring Back The Time”] would be a New Kids song or an entire tour song, but when we all got together to announce the tour we kept getting questions. “Do you have a song? Is there going to be a song for everyone?”
I knew we were going to do an album or an EP for New Kids very much in the vein of this song. So when I heard that question, I said, “I have it!” Of course, New Kids recorded first and laid out the song how I thought it should go, who should sing where. I literally also came up with the treatment for the video the night we wrote the song. I was going through my phone last night looking for a picture, and I saw in early August I have all these screen captures of all these ‘80s videos.
You brought it up. What’s the news on another New Kids On The Block EP or album?
We definitely have new music coming. At this point we have five songs recorded, all just really fun extensions of “Bring Back The Time” – but much more moody, very ‘80s. I had a conversation with my son Elijah, who has a band, Pink Laces – their album comes out Friday and he has a single out called “Can We Rise.” Just a side note! But he was like, “Hey, Dad – your next album, I wanna executive produce it and it’s gonna be very ‘80s-inspired.” Because he’s a synth maniac. He’s got all the coolest old synths. So I literally took that inspiration.
What’s happening is we just keep nudging each other a little further. So I reached out to Lars and said, “We have an inspiration for a track.” Then we start writing to it. Then he said, “I have an inspiration for a ballad, it’s a very ‘80s ballad,” and he sent it to me and was like, “Do you think Jordan would sing it?” I said, “Why don’t you ask him? But we need a full-on electric guitar solo in it.” And [Lars] was like, “Okay, great.” So within three days from now, we might have eight songs done. And at that point we’re just gonna go for an album.
It’s becoming very organic. I never thought one song would be it. In fact, we did another song before “Bring Back The Time,” which I thought would be [for] the collection of artists for the tour. But “Bring Back The Time” I think surpassed it and became the song for everybody.
Ralph McDaniels, the longtime host of New York City’s Video Music Box, intros the visual for “Bring Back The Time.” How did you wrangle him in?
One of my closest friends is [former Video Music Box host] Tuffy Questell. I was talking to him about doing a cameo in the video and we were watching [documentary, You’re Watching Video Music Box]. We kept thinking about what would be the best opening for the video, and as Tuffy and I were watching the documentary that Nas produced, there’s a clip of Ralph from I guess probably ‘88 or ‘89, and he’s sitting in a park under a tree and he introduced New Kids. He’s like, “I screwed up. Do it again.” And it just cuts. I was like, that right there is really in the spirit of this – Ralph’s love of music and his celebration of music, certainly in that era. That was a spirit that fit what we’re trying to do. It may be a regional thing, where a lot of people outside of New York might say, “You coulda got someone from MTV, a veejay from the past!” But just the simplicity of [Ralph’s] introduction that I saw in the doc inspired me.
Your wife Jenny McCarthy’s ex-husband John Asher directed this video. What’s your working relationship with him like?
I know John really well. I’m stepdad to his son. So we have a great relationship and I reached out to him about [the video for 2019 New Kids On The Block single] “Boys In The Band” and we just started going back and forth about ideas. He was visiting his son at my house and we sat down for an hour and wrote out the treatment. On [“Bring Back The Time”], I wrote out the treatment and I was like, you know, I can direct it. But I didn’t want to do that because I wanted to just enjoy it from the band perspective. And I thought John could just deliver.
We were talking about opening it with Weird Science, Bill & Ted’s, all this crazy stuff. We sort of backed off of that because it would have been too much. We only had a limited amount of time, and all that time needed to be spent during the music. And then of course the Ralph epiphany happened. That was the only opening I would have been willing to do, otherwise it would have just started with the music.
A lot of great 1980s videos by artists such as Michael Jackson, Billy Idol, Duran Duran and Talking Heads are referenced in “Bring Back The Time.” Were there any particular classics you wanted to send up that didn’t make the cut?
We talked about doing “Walk This Way,” the Run-D.M.C. [version]. We were thinking it might be Salt-N-Pepa on one side in a split room and we would be Aerosmith on the other side. Of course, we shot in different locations, so we would have to split the two scenes in half and create a fake wall. I don’t know if Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith did that or not? But I think Salt-N- Pepa were more into the glam vibe, which honestly I think worked better. They look so good in the video. It’s such a great turn in the video. I’d say they lean that way, and they made the right choice. I still sometimes can’t believe [Salt-N-Pepa and New Kids On The Block] work together as much as we do.
When you said, “How hard is it to get everyone together,” there are moments where I’m looking at the video and I forget that I’m involved in the creative process and the logistical process. I’m like, “Okay – that’s Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue, and they’re literally singing a lyric and a melody that I wrote.” And Rick Astley! There are times it’s overwhelming. Those are little magic moments where I just go, all right, let me get back to focus.
Before this upcoming tour and “Bring Back The Time,” had New Kids and En Vogue or Rick Astley ever crossed paths before, back in the day?
Rick did an episode of Wahlburgers. I wasn’t in the episode with him. My brother Paul was. But I got to speak to him while he was shooting. I met him years ago in Europe. Then right after he did Wahlburgers, we were doing an iHeartRadio show in San Jose, New Kids and Rick, and we all linked up there. Cut to a couple years later when we were putting the lineup together for this. My manager and I brought up Rick and it just kind of felt right. I knew his energy from doing the Wahlburgers episode and seeing him at that show that he was game to have fun. He’s delivered in every way.
He became famous for [“Never Gonna Give You Up”] and this look. And Rickrolled – it could be something bothersome to him. But he rolls with it, to coin a phrase, and that’s awesome. That’s sort of how we are. We took all the hits in the old days and it’s like, okay – so what?. Whatever. I was just on FaceTime with my wife and she had a stuffed Donnie doll, because she had used them on an interview for Nick Cannon’s talk show, and she was like, “I showed Nick all the dolls I have of you.” You know, we just roll with it. I think there’s something about artists from that era, maybe it’s because we’re older and we’ve been in the business so long. We just roll with the punches and keep charging forward. To be doing this for this long, you have to have a certain belief in yourself and a certain faith in what you do, and a certain ability to take it seriously, but not take yourself seriously.
This video, as fun and as silly as it is, it really is a celebration of the music and the look and the videos of that era. For us and our fans, that’s when we met. That’s when we would count the stars in the sky. We made a promise for life back then, that we would always be their band and they would always be our fans and we would always have this relationship. It sounds sappy, but it’s really true. I think the fact that we still have that relationship [with the fans], it’s so fun to celebrate all our years together.