Bon Jovi are back with studio album number 14. This House Is Not For Sale is the signal of intent from a band that have sold over 130 million albums, weathered the storms of an unstable industry, and who continue to make music with the same sense of vitality that was established on their self-titled debut album in 1984.
The album is a reiteration of the mission statement from the band who feel like they have nothing left to prove, that after so much success in the commercial sphere they can simply return to their true selves and produce music that matters only if they love the process involved in its creation.
Ahead of album release, and preparing to take the band out on nationwide tour drummer Tico Torres joined ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann to discuss the momentum of the band, the process of capturing the spirit that never succumbs, and the magic of returning to the recording room where it all began.
Christopher Friedmann: This House Is Not For Sale is your 14th studio album with Bon Jovi – over a 30-something year career with the band. Can you tell us something about the feeling you have now – ahead of an album release – by comparison to the release of that self-titled debut album back in ‘84?
Tico: It’s a big difference. I mean you’re younger. It’s an entirely different time, getting out there to the public, the wonderful thing is we’ve always been able to not only write positive songs, but stuff, every time we get together we try to write something that’s innovative for us sound-wise, as well as has something to say. Of course, doing our record this time, we did it old school, all in the studio writing it, working it out face to face, which makes a big difference. It’s actually the way we used to do it in the 80s as well. I guess we are blessed to have 30 years under our belt as a band, so your creativity cycle becomes second nature to a degree
CF: You recorded much of this album in the same studio as that debut – can you tell us something about how that felt? Does the place still smell the same as you remember?
T: It does smell the same. It still looks the same. The picture are in the same place, and it wasn’t even planned, which is kind of weird, but it’s still a state of the art studio under a different name. We were actually in the room when we realized we were here and put two and two together. It wasn’t preplanned. But there is a certain magic in the room and the sound.
CF: What makes that room so special to you both as a studio and to you guys as a band?
T: Well the fact that we worked there first as a young band. Good studios are hard to find anymore, and the ones that stand the test of time are the ones that still sound great. You grab a room, we call it a room because of the acoustics and what the drums sound like, especially pertaining to me it’s important to me to have a big room like Little Mountain for instance when we recorded there, they had a great garage bay next door we would open the doors and put microphones in there and that had its own unique sound, and that’s sort of what gave Slippery When Wet it’s tone. So each studio has its own personality.
CF: You worked with John Shanks in the producer’s seat on this album – he’s worked with you on stage as a touring guitarist – but what does he offer in terms of making those production tweaks? And is he kind to you as a drummer?
T: Yeah John is great. You know, I think the key is to let people create and not stifle, and he’s very good at that. Taking him out of the producer’s chair and putting him the guitar player’s chair was a different aspect of creating together because now it’s a different animal, you put on a different hat. It’s a creative process, which you formulate together at the same time.
CF: Can you name one day or experience in the studio when the band felt that the essence of the album was set – and that you were on the right trajectory?
T: It’s interesting, we did a lot of songs. John walked in with the concept that based on This House Is Not For Sale from that picture. He was thumbing through and found a picture and then started his writing in that direction, so it sort of had an outline. But when you start playing together there’s certain things that work, certain things that don’t, but the wonderful thing we do in the studio is never say no. So you kind of try every idea and exhaust every idea, and some songs come across very easy, and some songs need a little more massaging, but they all started formulating as part of a… you could tell they all belonged together.
CF: Jon (Bon Jovi) said that this album was about the band’s integrity and at this point in your career you have nothing left to prove. How did that sense of freedom translate to the atmosphere in the studio?
T: You’re right, you just sort of hit it on the head, it is a sense of freedom. You have nothing to prove, you just have to, as musicians, as individuals we prove to ourselves, and our level of excellence to ourselves is important, so we do the best possible record we can do together. No holds barred. We just kind of let it be free and at the end of the day I think we treat every record that way. I think without even saying the words we have nothing to prove, it was just a feeling anyway in the studio.
CF: “This House” can stand as a metaphor for any relationship, but as an album opener it does strike the listener as being about the band. Many bands don’t stand the test of time as well as Bon Jovi. Can you talk a little about how the band dynamic has changed through the years, and what keeps you at the same address?
T: I think it’s just individually we care about each other. We’ve become a family. You spend that many years together, it’s pretty easy to know what the other person is feeling, and I think the motive since the beginning has always been to have fun and enjoy, and in those journeys you can lose your footing with the trappings of, for lack of any other word let’s call it stardom, money. There’s a lot of stuff that goes through people and you gotta go walk through those things and you do it together. Ultimately, as long as you don’t forget that we were 16 – and I use that as a metaphor because we weren’t 16 when we did it – but point being, you want to have that same feeling when you do a record or you play live. As long as it’s fun we’ll keep doing it. When it stops, we’ll hang it up. I think that’s the key.
CF: You’ve sold over 130 Million albums, worldwide, since the start of your career – commercially that must have been an unimaginable degree of success. How do you envisage success these days?
T: Honestly, I don’t really give it much thought. I think the fact that we are just able to get together and create a record that we are happy with, it’s success in itself. Again, there’s nothing to prove. All those things as a child you went for, accomplish so much, and I the keys is to keep as fresh as possible, keep creating, and keep trying to know what’s going on in your life in the present, and we live learned something with age, being in the present and not only playing but enjoying our surroundings and our life adds to the spice of people and to having to grow up and to how they enjoy the rest of their time on this earth.
CF: Donald Trump is listed as one of your close friends – who attended your second wedding – do you remain in touch – and if so – have you been offering any advice to the presidential candidate as we get closer to polling day?
T: Honestly I’m not very political, but we were friends years ago, many years ago, over 20 some odd years ago, and really have lost touch since then. So it’s not like we hang together. I was a judge on a Miss America contest, which is kind of fun. Those are the kind of things you go, “Yeah, I can do that” (Laughs).
CF: Given the longevity or your career and the spectrum of rock and roll experiences you must have had, can you share something about the most grounding moment you’ve had in your career?
T: I think I see that every day. You have to look at the world, and you realize that there is a lot of love in the world, and people who have nothing, what they have is conversation and love for each other. I did a short trip to Cuba to reunite and celebrate with my family, I hadn’t seen since ‘58. And I got to spend a little time with my only living uncle. He’s an artist, a sculptor.
What I noticed about actually all of Cuba is how they were into art, how they were into music, conversation, television, media is very very limited, but they had each other. And I find that to be important values. I’ve seen that many times in my life. I think it comes to life it’s tough to look at it without love or happiness. I guess being a family guy,being with family and friends and that keeps you grounded. I remember growing up that my mother always taught me those values, treat everybody like you would your mother, with respect, and you will go far. I’ve always kept those.
CF: Just to continue on that Cuba note, you were saying that there’s not much media there, and it made me wonder if with the new influx of tourism and the opening of borders, are you worried that it will lose some of its own cultural essence?
T: You have to think that’s five generations of heritage there as a state, it’ll grow. You have to look at the history of Cuba, the music, how it filtered into New Orleans and how it affected so many types of music around the world. The wonderful thing is that you’ll see and hear more of that. The country is rich with those resources, creativity. So I think they’ll just be able to share it with the United States, as well as the rest of the world. Everything is going to change and everything does. I think hopefully the people will stay as happy as they are now.
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