Life and love and loss and freedom. That's how Jon Bon Jovi describes the themes of his band's new album, Lost Highway, due June 19.
The band will perform a new single, (You Want to) Make a Memory, on American Idol Wednesday, May 2, following performances of its songs by contestants on the previous night's show.
"If you would ever have told me I would have a record in the fourth quarter of last year, having just completed a world tour," Bon Jovi says, "I would have said you can bet all the tea in China, it's just not going to happen.
"But because of the circumstances around our lives, they were very fruitful, and a lot of the inspiration was watching what was happening in Richie's life (bandmate Sambora split with wife Heather Locklear and is dating Denise Richards), compounded by all the good things that were happening in all our collective lives."
Bon Jovi says Lost Highway isn't a conscious attempt to capitalize on the crossover success of Who Says, which won a Grammy and became the first song by a rock band to hit No. 1 on the country charts.
"But the feeling came, and when it does, you have to know to go with it," he says. "And we went to Nashville in September, and by December, 10 of the 12 songs were written and recorded and ready for mixing. It was just in the last couple of months that, because I always do this, I pulled the record back and wrote five more, two of which made the record."
Bon Jovi thinks the crossover appeal of Who Says and the new album is the result of country radio getting closer to the band's sound, not the other way around. Two of the songs feature Big & Rich and LeAnn Rimes, and Bon Jovi says his country influences are new artists as much as the "real gods," including Johnny Cash.
"Different people, different reasons," he says. "It's all a big soup. Everybody adds a little ingredient, and that's what makes the next generation go on. You can't be a rip-off of one guy. You don't find an influence; you find your influence's influence. You take a little piece of that and a little piece of this and a little piece of the other thing, and then that's what makes you and how you get to be here for 25 years."
Today, longevity in the music industry also requires embracing multimedia opportunities to connect with audiences, such as American Idol, which Bon Jovi just recently watched for the first time.
"It's not that I didn't want to; I just didn't," he says. "I've had a lot of guys cover our songs on it, and then giving them songs subsequently for their records, but (had) never seen it. That's 30 million that watch TV, so these days, being on American Idol certainly isn't a bad thing.
"You got to get music out there however you can," Bon Jovi continues. "Radio is getting smaller and smaller; the record business is getting smaller and smaller. There are things that are fantastic, like the Internet, (but) it's tough because it's created something none of us knew 10 years ago, and you have to learn to roll with those punches. But it's not the way it used to be; it's not the record business that I grew up in."
American Idol is among just a handful of TV shows and odd performance dates in support of the album until the world tour next year. Yet Bon Jovi is busier than ever.
"Sort of like Levis, man, we're everywhere," he says, laughing.