For once, all the rumors are actually true.
“The Right Stuff” really is — at long last — returning to your block. Thankfully, this time, it’s all happening in the right way too.
New Kids On The Block — five now fully-grown men who forever defined what the modern boy band would look and sound like — are back together for the very first time in nearly a decade and a half, and currently hard at work on their first new album since 1994. That still untitled album should be released sometime this summer, preceded by the New Kid’s first new single since the Nineties, and followed in the fall by an already hotly anticipated international concert tour.
On a March afternoon, Jordan Knight, Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood are gathered together, hanging tough all over again in a small Los Angeles studio looking a little older, but still youthful, fit and anxious to not simply celebrate their musical legacy, but also add something new and personally meaningful to it. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, while still teenagers themselves, New Kids on the Block became a phenomenon, selling over 70 million albums – including the back-to-back international number one efforts, 1988’s Hangin’ Tough and 1990’s Step By Step — and a series of crossover smash R&B, pop hits like “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” “Cover Girl,” “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” “Hangin’ Tough,” “I’ll Be Loving You,” “Step By Step” and “Tonight” — as well as countless number of concert tickets, t-shirts and even lunchboxes to primarily female kids around the world. Then under the guidance of producer Maurice Starr who had previously brought the world New Edition, the New Kids made a tremendous impact on the culture very quickly.
“I think history has looked upon us fondly,” say McIntyre. “I wouldn’t say we were important, but people do now see our place in pop history. We’ve read that we `begat the boy bands” like Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. And in a way, those groups have all made us more contemporary. They made us younger in a way by putting us in their generation. But hey, what about New Edition? There would be no New Kids without them. And of course, the Jackson Five begat New Edition. So I guess we were really just the first white boy band.”
These days, four of the five Kids have kids themselves, as well as assorted careers and lives of their own, and so their decision to reunite had been an adult if joyful one that they’ve taken very seriously. That’s why this time around – even with the assistance of a great new team including Interscope Records and the Azoff Management team, it’s the original Kids themselves who have taken charge of their own destiny with new music that they found and funded themselves.
“We’re not kids, we’re just the guys now,” Donnie Wahlberg says with a smile as he takes a break from the recording sessions that started this past winter and have taken on a momentum of its own this spring. Long the hold out from any sort of New Kids On The Block reunion, Wahlberg – who has enjoyed considerable success as a constantly working actor in the intervening years – has long made it clear that he had absolutely no interest in simply cashing in on the Kid’s good name. “We’ve had so many offers from so many people over the years, but I’ve always protected the asset,” he says. “We never sold the New Kids house to anyone. And until we got together in a recording studio in Orlando two months ago, I haven’t even been in the same room with these five guys for fifteen years.”
And this time, it’s the boys – make that, the men – in the group who are in charge.
“We took the initiative instead of going out and asking for help from a label or anyone,” McIntyre explains. “We just started recording because we wanted to and because we were ready. We started doing this from the ground up –just us.”
The brand new New Kids album was really sparked when Wahlberg was in New York for a costume fitting for the upcoming film Righteous Kill that finds him living out another life-long dream by acting in a film alongside two of his greatest heroes, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino as well as 50 Cent. Finding himself around the block, Wahlberg visited the office of his longtime music lawyer who handed him a demo tape of a young singer-songwriter name Nazeree. Since the days of New Kids — and his time producing hits in the early Nineties for his brother Mark as Markey Mark and The Funky Bunch – Wahlberg has been handed a mountain of demos in his time and he took the offering with absolutely no expectations.
Putting the CD on while driving a few days later, Wahlberg heard two songs that spoke to him powerfully. “I got in the car in Boston on my birthday and I popped it in,” he recalls. “ The first song was called `Click, Click, Click’ and from the minute it started, it just grabbed me. I kept waiting for this kid to falter, but he never did. Not only that – I immediately recognized that Joey McIntryre is going to love this record, Jordan Knight is going to love this record and I love this record. The music speaks to all of our sensibilities, but they’re all totally different. It was hip-hop and honest enough for me. It was soulful enough for Jordan and pop and unselfish enough for Joe. It just had it all. I spent the next few hours driving up to girls at red lights and playing them the song. They said, `Is that your song? I said `Not yet.’”
After years of blocking any reunion, Wahlberg was suddenly energized and drove to Jordan Knight’s house that night and played him the songs, “I told him. `Jordan, this could be the moment right here.’ Jordan heard `Click, Click, Click’ and he loved it. Then I emailed them to Joe and the same reaction — and more importantly his wife cried. So I pulled out my checkbook and we started going.”
What had started was more like a mission than a comeback.
“See what I discovered is that the self-respect I have as an actor was hard to have in music,” Wahlberg explains. “Parts of what we went through were kind of prefabricated – though the whole New Kids machine only started once we got the ball rolling. It was grass roots before that. Maurice Starr was the guy behind our success, but we were in it from day one. So over the years, I’ve often thought I’d like to experience the group with that feeling of self-respect — instead of just the fame and hysteria, so it’s not about just getting something back, but about really doing something.”
In the months that followed, Wahlberg and the other Kids would collaborate closely with Nazaree, who turned out to be a New Kids fan since childhood, as well as other gifted producers and writers including Bryan-Michael Cox, Emanuel Kiriakou, RedOne and Fernando on an new album that blends the melodic soul of vintage New Kids with a decidedly contemporary, hip hop feel.
“Donnie was right,” McIntyre explains. “The new music we’re making reignited this whole thing so it’s not just cashing in on pure nostalgia for the old days.”
Of the group’s demise back in the mid-Nineties, McIntyre explains, “We were just fried. What happened to us in the span of a couple years was mind-blowing, and no one really knew what it was. We were learning as it went. A lot of groups today know the mold and plan accordingly. We didn’t start out with the idea that in two years we’d be playing stadiums. So by the end of our touring obligations in like 1992, we just want to go home. We had moved on and then music had totally moved on. Grunge happened. Rock and roll came back. We never slammed the door shut – we just sort of walked away. And at that point, we weren’t exactly going to hold a press conference because no one really cared.”
“It’s the thing about being in a boy band,” Wahlberg says. “In some ways we were much more in control than people could ever imagine back then. But in some ways, you can’t control anything.”
In the studio today, all five seem to be getting along and contributing something to the whole.
“I think the thing with us is that we always hung onto the fact that we were buddies first,” Joey McIntyre explains. “This wasn’t a cattle call or a reality show. The point is this wasn’t a business first. It’s wasn’t even a business second. This was a business last. And in the end, we stayed friends and didn’t judge each other two much, which could get frustrating. But the pay off for that is that almost 20 years later, we can get together, hang out and have fun. It’s different now, it’s a little more planned out and professional, but we’re still a bunch of guys who love doing this and want every show to be our best.”
Now that the five Kids are standing together and planning to hit the road with a new show, simply reviving the old hits isn’t enough. “No, I want this to be redemption — but not for us,” Wahlberg explains. “I want it to be redemption for the fans. I want them to feel entertained, to feel treated to something special. And I want them to be so satisfied by what they get that they’ll realize they weren’t crazy all those years ago — that they put their heart into the right place back then and that it was worth the wait to come back again.”
Make no mistake; the New Kids intend to play all the familiar hits – along with some brand new ones too. “Our old songs aren’t necessarily standards — they were pretty sweet — but it’s going to be fun in a live show. People come to hear that music, so we’re going to sing it with basically the same sound. We’re not doing a reggae version of our three biggest hits because when I see that, it pisses me off. Even I’m like `Spare me.’ We have something like ten top ten hits, which is amazing. So if we do those and five new songs, we’ll have a hell of a show. We will give the people what they want to hear.
So what will a New Kids On The Block concert look like in 2008?
“ We’re still young, we’re still hot,” McIntryre answers with a laugh. “Our fans are between 25 and 35 now because they were really young then. They’re still very attractive — and very legal. So it’s going to be a girls night out. I know my wife’s going to be there every step of the way, but it’s still going to be fun.”
Yes, the wait has been a long one, but it won’t be much longer now.
“The snowball is getting pretty big,” McIntrye adds as he and his four old friends get back to work. “And it’s heading down the mountain now.”