Jon Bon Jovi was in South Africa this spring when he happened to see a video from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” featuring a man at a gas station singing “Livin’ on a Prayer,” very exuberantly, for a bit on the show. The clip became a YouTube hit, garnering more than 17 million views.
“Wasn’t that great?” the New Jersey rocker asks on the phone from Manchester, England. “Talk about viral. That’s one of those moments in time where you go ‘How does that get that big?’”
Bon Jovi knows from big. Over the course of his namesake band’s 30-year existence, the group has sold more than 100 million records, notched mammoth hits like the karaoke staple “Prayer,” and mounted record-breaking tours. Thanks to the band’s current “Because We Can” jaunt, which hits Gillette Stadium Saturday, Bon Jovi was just named the No. 1 worldwide touring act of 2013 in the mid-year report by the concert industry publication Pollstar Magazine.
We recently chatted with Bon Jovi about the reflective tone of the group’s latest release, “Because We Can”; touring without guitarist Richie Sambora, who left the band for personal reasons in April; and playing the field of his favorite football team.
‘It’s actually because of my wonderful relationships [with the team] that I get to go in the equipment room every year. . . . I’m officially a Patriot, much to the chagrin of my New York football Giants.’
Q. Like Kid Rock and some others, you are offering a $20 price point for tickets this summer. What inspired that?
A. We’ve always been very aware of what you call dynamic pricing. So we have $20 tickets that are not nosebleed seats, but there’s $600 tickets to our shows, too. Whether it’s the dynamic pricing in Boston for some seats or playing for free in Spain this time for a good reason or supporting [Hurricane] Sandy relief stuff in New Jersey and giving away a lot of money, it’s part of what we’ve done and do. It’s all fine. First and foremost I’ve been blessed and we’ll be back again, so you just do the right thing.
Q. I saw you in Nashville in March. At what point in the tour are you now? In the groove? Getting in a rut? Shaking up the set list to keep it fresh?
A. Oh, sure. I looked at [the] Nashville [set list] yesterday, that was a good night. The set list doesn’t resemble that at all, not even remotely. It evolves constantly. Now I’m at the point where once we get to encore land I’ll just look out as far as my eyes allow me to see and I see the banners that are song requests. We play a long time, so we can do a lot of things. This poor man Phil X [Xenidis] who’s playing guitar for us now, helping [fill in for Sambora], is like, “I don’t know that one.” And I say, “Ah, go take a break, we know it don’t worry about it.” [Laughs] So we’re in a groove.
Q. Phil X has filled in with you all before, correct? How did you find him?
A. Yeah, we’ve run into this before, and he was a friend of a friend. He learned the stuff and filled in for 15 shows, and then this year when the circumstance became what it is, he was in Los Angeles and I said, “Can you come?” And he said, “Yeah, I remember everything.” So for the time being he’s doing us a great favor.
Q. Is there any timetable for Richie rejoining the band? I know you’ve said that the door is open.
A. The door is wide open, there’s a seat on the plane. Love him to death, but until he gets through his personal issues we have to go on, not only for us but for the crew and the fans and the commitment to the record and everything else. Time waits for no one, right? So I can’t not do what we do.
Q. There are four tracks on the new album — ”Amen,” “What About Now,” “The Fighter,’’ and “I’m With You” — where you seem to be taking a more nuanced approach vocally. Was that deliberate?
A. Well, you’re writing in more appropriate keys sometimes for the intimacy of the song. I probably wouldn’t have been able to write a song like “The Fighter” 20 years ago. But thank you for that. I hope that my voice is still OK. Every real singer that you see over a long period of time, at the 25-, 30-year mark, their voices evolve. Whether it’s Bono or Bruce [Springsteen] or Steve Tyler [of Aerosmith] — his voice sounds very different than it did in 1973 — you evolve physically, things are going to change.
Q. Could you even do that high part on “Runaway” now?
A. I don’t think so.
Q. I’m guessing you probably don’t want to.
A. I’d like to know that physically I could, but it doesn’t mean I’d want to. But in retrospect those are some high notes. [Laughs]
Q. I’m curious about the inspiration for “The Fighter.” It feels almost like a lullaby.
A. My kids were the inspiration, and in that case, I was asked, really, “Who are you? Are you just that guy that everyone tells us about? Are you the guy that goes to that place and we see you in front of all those people? Are you that guy that we just see working all the time? Who are you at the core of all of this?” It was a very interesting question, because my daughter is now turning 20 and these are things that she wanted to know. And I never thought about “Who am I to them?” And so I sat down and I started to write it. So I sit down and humbly say, I am not a writer, I am the fighter. So that story is mine.
Q. Although there appear to be several themes on “Because We Can,” one of them is solidarity . . .
A. I think social consciousness is one aspect of the record that’s prevalent. “I’m With You,” “What’s Left of Me,” “What About Now,” even “Because We Can” address what was going on in the post-first term Obama America, coming out of the economic downturn, the consolidation of corporate America, our moving forward as a nation. Were people going to get involved in the reelection or move on to somebody else? That was the period in which this record was written, so between September of ’11 and June of ’12, that’s what was going on in the world around me. Reading the paper, watching the news, living the life that I live, and watching the people who are working to make ends meet around me.
Q. It’s never been an either/or proposition, in that you’ve always written about a variety of topics, but I wonder, did the guy who wrote “In and Out of Love” think that one day he’d be writing “What About Now”? I would imagine that maybe that was something you aspired to but didn’t necessarily expect.
A. Correct. In 1985 that wasn’t the priority. Priorities at 21 and 22 years old were still the cliché of being in a rock band and finding girls. It really was a pretty narrow scope, and I wasn’t as prolific as, say, Bob Dylan was at that age, that’s for sure. But hopefully with time, age, and experience I’ve separated myself from the rest of the pack that I came up in.
Q. One aspect of that viral video is that it shows the durability of the songs. On one level I’m sure it’s gratifying, but you’ve probably also had to sit through a lot of bad covers.
A. Oh, I don’t mind. It’s humbling. Had I not been able to say, “Yes, I co-wrote that song,” it would be miserable because it would be “Damn it, someone else did!” It’s gratifying because, yes, it did pay off, but it’s humbling because you look at it and go, “Wow, this has touched two generations, going on three now.” I know the impact of some of these songs, I get it. That’s the kind of thing when you look at the Paul Simons and you say, yeah, that’s what those songs did for me. There are songs in the patchwork of the American pop culture that have my name on them as a writer or a co-writer.
Q. I feel like in every candid shot I see of you, you’re wearing a Patriots T-shirt.
A. It’s the only clothes I own.
Q. Bob Kraft makes sure of it?
A. It’s actually because of my wonderful relationships [with the team] that I get to go in the equipment room every year. Because anyone that knows me knows that I come to camp every year, so usually at the end of it, I’ll go in and get this year’s fashions. God knows I need some new ones, I’ve worn these down to the nub. I’m officially a Patriot, much to the chagrin of my New York football Giants. I don’t root against them, but I’m a Patriot.