NEW YORK – Love them or hate them, there's no denying Bon Jovi's accomplishments.
The New Jersey rockers roared on the scene two decades ago with power-chord-driven guitars and working-class sensibilities that elevated the group, once considered the quintessential '80s pop-metal band, to multiplatinum status.
But as many of their music counterparts fell by the wayside, Bon Jovi (search) managed to retain its status and audience by sticking to straightforward rock music. Along the way, they racked up one multiplatinum album after another, captured a remarkable number of hit singles and managed to stay together when so many other bands of the era fell apart.
This year, the band — headed up by 42-year-old Jon Bon Jovi (search) — marks two milestones: Their 20-year anniversary and the sale of 100 million albums worldwide.
To celebrate, the band released "100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong," (search) a four-CD box set of 50 songs, including 38 never-before-heard songs the band wrote during its career. It also includes a handful of rarities, such as songs from obscure movie soundtracks, and a DVD featuring band interviews.
AP: Why open up the music vaults now?
Jon Bon Jovi: I've never been very good at celebrating the moments as the 20 years have gone by. I was guilty, especially in my younger years, of running through life with blinders on. Many of the magic moments were lost on me because I was always focused on the next day, the next album, the next move. As I've gotten older and started to enjoy it a lot more for what it is, and I knew this milestone of both the 20 years and 100 million mark were quickly coming upon us, I thought 'Why not?' Why not take the time to accept the pat on the back and congratulate your band mates and the people who have supported you for 20 years and go into those vaults people have always heard about and were never privy to.
AP: But 50 songs?
Bon Jovi: You get value for your money with this band, that's for sure. When I thought of this, and I thought of it quite a while ago, I wanted to make sure there was a reason for it. You know, like the 20th anniversary.
AP: Why is there so much unreleased material?
Bon Jovi: As the record industry changed from the late '80s until now, especially in Asia and Europe, you would have to give people so many B-sides in order to promote singles — to have hit singles and therefore sell your records and therefore sell tickets. We were doing two and three B-sides for every single we put out. And because we were diligent every time we would make a record, we would record a lot of songs to get to the final 12. We were never one of those kind of bands that would record 12 songs for the record. We would write 40 and do detailed demos, which is what you hear in the box set.
AP: So is there a tour in the works for this?
Bon Jovi: No. No. NO. We have a new record coming next year that's already done. This is a mile marker, end of story.
AP: Is there a song or two in the box set that you consider a gem?
Bon Jovi: The ballady one that says "These Arms Are Open All Night," I just think is so cinematic. Any great storyteller from Tom Waits to Billy Joel could perform the hell out of it. There was lyrical content in certain songs that I wish I had been more willing to let go of, and have come out and told what they meant. I was just a little too bruised at the time, and wouldn't put them out because I always wanted to show the sunny side, the optimistic side, the uplifting side.
AP: Can you give an example?
Bon Jovi: There's a song called "Lonely At the Top" after Kurt Cobain died. I didn't run to the press and talk about it or him or the perspective that I had that here is a new dad with a little baby girl and I had one too. Now all these years later, now it's OK to share it. I felt for the guy. I felt what he was going through with celebrity. I had been over that hump and through that. Fortunately for me, we were able to talk to people and get help and, unfortunately for music and for his daughter, he wasn't. It was troubling. So we wrote a song, and I find it a very touching song. I would like to send it to Courtney (Love) and have her play it for her daughter. Hopefully they are not offended by it. I find that those personal moments meant a lot to me.
AP: Go back in time 20 years ago. Is this everything you thought it would be?
Bon Jovi: I couldn't have lied this well 20 years ago. No one would have believed me, even me. My idea of fame was a tour bus, northeast region of the country, three months, theaters of 3,000 people. ... I never had aspirations of being in KISS or Led Zeppelin. It's funny because growing up in the '70s that was the biggest, that was the coolest, that was it. That wasn't where I was reaching toward. It wasn't for me. I wanted to be Bob Dylan.
AP: How much bigger does the ride get?
Bon Jovi: I don't think that it's even on my radar. I'm well over that period. That I know I can tell you. I'm not chasing anybody's idea of what's big anymore.
AP: How do you keep it going at this stage of the game?
Bon Jovi: I enjoy it. I enjoy the writing process first, the recording process second and the touring process last. I think it's been that way with me for a lot of years. But creating the song, unlike the movement from Seattle that took all my peers and put them by the wayside, I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star. I wanted to have people hear my music. If you were 6 or 60 or if you were from America or Africa, I wanted you to have heard of my songs. I've never changed that. I love when somebody says "Boy, I like that song" or "I was influenced by that song" or "It marks a memory for me" because I had those kind of memories too when I was kid.
AP: It doesn't make you feel a little old when people do that?
Bon Jovi: Yeah, definitely. When I look now at what's going on, I feel like I'm 18. But then I look around and go "Oh." Ashlee Simpson was in the studio the other day, and came over to meet us. She was very sweet and very nice and has a very good record out, by the way. But she's 19. Nineteen. NINETEEN. They are signing them so young and they are having enormous success. I did feel a little old. It was funny. I don't feel old on the inside, but I go "Wow, I could be her dad."
AP: So after 20 years, what keeps you going?
Bon Jovi: I've got a new record, and that to me is exciting. This day and age you just have to do different things. It has to be new and exciting or why do it? You have to do things that are going to be noticed, or you're just another one of the 500 guys vying for the 20 spots on radio.