It’s one thing to sell out stadiums and have your albums debut at No. 1 when you’re The Next Big Thing. It’s quite another when your band is going on 30 years.
On Saturday, Bon Jovi, the hard-rocking band from New Jersey, is bringing its “Because We Can: The Tour” to the Tacoma Dome.
The band just returned to North America this week after a successful tour through South America. Founding members Jon Bon Jovi and keyboardist David Bryan will be in Tacoma, but guitarist Richie Sambora left the band earlier in the year because of “personal issues,” and drummer Tico Torres is recovering from surgery. Phil “X” Xenidis is filling in for Sambora, and fellow Jersey boy Rich Scannella has been sitting in for Torres.
Bryan called The News Tribune from Vancouver, B.C., and related how Bon Jovi stays current.
Q: When I think of America, I think apple pie, baseball and Bon Jovi. Do you see yourselves that way?
A: We’re a bunch of guys from Jersey. You can’t get any more American than that. We’ve been to 50 countries. We’re bringing that American sound around the world.
Q: You were just in South America. Do the fans respond to you as an American band or a rock band?
A: Both. There’s not a lot of bands that come from somewhere else and take over the world. Rock and roll is an American institution. It started in Memphis — which I have a place in my heart for — and then it went over to England with the Stones and the Beatles. In their own words, all they did was take African-American blues and sell it back to the white kids in America.
Q: Why is the band called “Bon Jovi” and not “The David Bryan Quartet” or “The Boys From Jersey” or ...
A: It’s a funny period there (in 1983). When we were starting out, we were searching for names. At some point, it became Bon Jovi — it wasn’t even the right spelling of Jon’s name (Bongiovi). We were like, “OK, that’ll work.”
Q: So you just liked the sound of it?
Q: “What About Now” has had tremendous success. Given your 30 years in the business, does that make it even sweeter or are you too jaded to care?
A: Never jaded. It’s been a conscious effort to being current. We’ve never wanted to rest on yesterday. We’ve always cared about creating something new. Respect what you did, but try to move the ball. We always want to put a new record out and then go tour. Play the new songs and the songs you know and love.
Q: What is it about your shows that sell out stadiums?
A: Since Day One, we’ve tried 120 percent. Work as hard as you can. Jon is a great frontman for involving the audience and bringing them in. It’s escapism for everybody. For us included. For the couple of hours on stage, you can forget about the world and its problems and have a good time. People need that.
Q: Lots of celebrities lend their names to charities, but your band is well known for going way beyond that, particularly with homelessness. Why do you feel so compelled to give back?
A: If you’ve been fortunate enough in the world to have what we’ve got, you have to turn around and give back. It helped us when we were younger. People helped us out, and we turn around and help other people out.
Q: You won several Tonys for your musical “Memphis.” Does success like that make you think it’s time to give up the rock-and-roll life for a full-time career as a Broadway composer?
A: No. I got my three Tonys sitting on my mantel in my office, and I look at those so proudly it’s unbelievable. It’s work that helps me in every way, shape and form. What I do in the band helps me outside of the band, and what I do outside of the band helps me in the band.
Q: In what way?
A: I can look at these actors (in “Memphis”) and they have to sing in this thing eight times a week. I know exactly what that’s like. I know how to get a crowd in a frenzy. I understand the emotional part of it.
Q: Do they understand you?
A: When we (Bon Jovi) played Giants (MetLife) Stadium in July, a bunch of my actors from New York came out and saw me, and some had never seen us. They look up and they’re like, “Oh, this is what you do.” It’s like 65,000 people. The Shubert Theater (where “Memphis” was playing) is a 1,500-seater. For us, 1,500 is a special secret event. In Broadway, that’s the biggest you can get. But they see the energy output and what it takes to be a maniac in the moment. When I go back to work in that world, they go, “O* * * * *
, you do the same thing.” Most composers don’t.
Q: Keyboards/synthesizers have changed so much since you first started. Do you miss the older, more simplistic electronics?
A: As a keyboard player, technology is my friend. I do everything on a laptop. I can have a 7-foot grand piano and play it on stage, but not be a real piano. That never happened until this year.
Q: Did you start out on a piano when you were a kid?
A: Yes, I studied classical when I was 7. I studied for 15 years.
Q: Do you think kids should start out on a real piano or go straight to electronics?
A: Electronics don’t give you the range of what an acoustic instrument can give you if you’re a piano player. You can always go from piano to organ or piano to synth but not the other way around. You just don’t have the depth of tools in your hands. I have a Steinway 9-foot concert grand, which is like the Formula One Ferrari greatest-thing-on-the-planet piano, and it probably has a million variations in touch and the electronic versions of it have 127 versions.
Q: Finally, let’s settle the age-old question: Who deserves more fan adoration, the keyboardist or the drummer?
A: Well, we’re both in the same family. We’re both percussion instruments. We hit things to make them sound better.
Q: So it’s a draw?
A: It’s a draw.