They still look like the Bon Jovi of old — their leather jackets and jeans. And they still act like the boys from New Jersey, proud of their musical brotherhood that spawned numerous hit albums and No. 1 singles.
But still, there is something different, something unexpected from one of the biggest rock bands of the past few decades. At first listen, it’s their sound. It’s well ... different. And perhaps even more surprising, it’s intentional, they say.
Fresh off their crossover success with a country remake of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, which earned them the sole Grammy of their 25-year career, Bon Jovi is releasing the country-influenced album “Lost Highway” on Tuesday. And nobody in the band seems sure what the reception will be — from their fans to the country music industry.
“Who knows? This record might be over in three weeks. Or it might have 10 singles on it,” Jon Bon Jovi said during a recent interview.
“I just found myself listening to this kind of music, and finding that they were telling stories. That’s something we’ve been doing our whole career,” he said. “So it was very much a fit for us.”
But while the albums of Bon Jovi’s career have tended in the past decade to be more socially or politically influenced (“Bounce” was inspired by 9/11, “Have A Nice Day” followed the presidential election), this album appears to be personal, filled with stories inspired by the band members lives, loves and losses. And for a group that has made every effort to avoid tabloid headlines and VH1-style “Behind The Music” stories, the band has had more than enough of those moments to go around in the past few years.
It was the inspiration behind the album, which despite its lukewarm reception from critics has already received a fair amount of airplay for its first single “(You Want To) Make A Memory.”
“Richie (Sambora) and David (Bryan) suffered a lot in the last year, a lot of pain. In what had been a very peaceful decade and a half, suddenly there was a lot of pain in the organization,” Bon Jovi said. “I think it was cathartic for Richie to express with me or through me the hell he has been dealing with: losing his dad, losing the wife. And David, it’s the same thing. So it was an easy record to write.”
Bryan, who broke up with his wife recently, said Bon Jovi is always looking for musical subject matter. “There’s some personal turmoils that showed up on this record. It’s a cleansing process, I think.”
In what Sambora told The AP was one of his first sit-down interviews in two years, following the breakup with his wife Heather Locklear and his romance with her friend Denise Richards (the two have since split), said the songs reflect the heartache.
“It’s interesting, the changes I’ve gone through in my life. I think I’ve brought a lot of the dramatics here within the lyric in a bunch of different places — just from the stuff that’s been going on with me. I think even the songs I didn’t write with Jon, I think he used me as his muse.”
Sambora said the band closed ranks around him during the recent death of his father, who died of lung cancer, to help him get through it.
“They were unbelievable. We’re a tight group. Everybody goes through their own stuff, and everybody supports each other while they go through it no matter what it is.”
During the interview, he was joined by drummer Tico Torres.
“It’s all part of a relationship. You get through it, together,” he said, looking over at Sambora. (Short time after the interview, Sambora entered a Los Angeles-area rehabilitation center for an undisclosed condition. The band has said he will be joining them this month for a scheduled performance).
It’s perhaps this relationship between band mates that is laid open in the song “A Whole Lot Of Leaving,” a song that clearly invites the country music influence onto the album.
Bon Jovi said he knows the success of country remake of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” laid a welcome mat of sorts for them in Nashville. But he added: “I’m not a carpetbagger.”
He quickly pointed out that he and Sambora have been making trips to Nashville for years to meet with artists, producers or to find inspiration for their musical storytelling.
And he dismissed the “Bon Jovi goes country” label.
“Listen to it. I don’t think it’s that different than a Bon Jovi record. It’s not a Bon Jovi does country record,” he said. “I think I was at fault for trying to explain myself, for misrepresenting us, for saying we’re going to Nashville to make a country record.”
Country music, he said, is the music of Alan Jackson and Vince Gill. He said “Lost Highway” is much more in tune with country-to-rock crossover artists, such as Sugarland and Big & Rich, who also make an appearance on the album’s rocking “We Got It Going On” number.
As the band readies to release its new album, the irony of a rock band winning it’s only Grammy in a country music category for a remake is not lost on Bon Jovi.
“We were a nine-time Grammy loser. Nine times,” Sambora said. “The juxtaposition is really crazy.”