Interview: New Kids on the Block's Jonathan Knight
(Interview by Jason Harper; review of last night's NKOTB show by Annie Zaleski here)
Unless you've been in a pop-deprivation chamber for the past couple months, you know that founding-foundling boy band New Kids On the Block has reunited after fourteen years for a new album and a world tour. Heralded by instant hits like the nostalgic (i.e., re-introductory) "Summertime" and the more modern, hip-hoppy "Single" (feat. Ne-Yo), The Block has been burning up the charts like it's 1988. But now, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood and brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight are all pushing 40 as they get on the floor and do the New Kids dance at sold-out venues across the country.
While his brother and his former bandmates have remained active in making music, Jon Knight has been involved in the real estate business. He has, however, fallen into the role of the group's most prolific blogger — read about his post-stardom emu farm and other endeavors here. We caught up with Jon last week to talk about the presidential election, Lou Pearlman and what it's like being an older New Kid. For best authenticity, read all of his answers to yourself in a thick Boston accent, a là Mystic River or Good Will Hunting. NKOTB is at the Scottrade Center tonight!
How's the tour been going?
Awesome. It's been going incredibly well. It's blown my mind. I never expected it could be this large.
What's been the best show so far?
There's been so many of them — it's been different cities, different energies. God, I couldn't say that there's been one really good one. It's just there's something about each city that brings something different to the table.
What's it been like touring before and after the presidential election?
It caused us to be late one night. [Laughs.] We went home to vote, and our bus came to pick us up, and we were trying to watch the speeches and stuff, and we were two hours late getting on to the next city, but it's been awesome. We've all be talking about it. It seems like everybody's been talking about this election this year. It's weird. I was in a taxicab in New York City, and this guy was listening to the news about all the speeches and stuff, and he was from a foreign land — i've been running into a lot of that, just, like, everybody's talking about it.
I read that you supported Obama, right?
Absolutely, yep, yep.
Did you have a show on election night?
No, we actually got to fly home. Everybody flew home so we could vote.
Was that hard to arrange?
No, we planned that right from the beginning, that we would have to have two days off around election time.
What was your first show after the election?
It was in Philadelphia.
Was there a different energy there because of the victory?
No, I didn't notice it. I noticed a lot of kids, a lot of women at the meet 'n greets were saying, "Yeah, your man won." That was the only difference I noticed.
Did it feel good?
Oh, I'm ecstatic.
Is there anything about touring that you hadn't missed?
Um ... no, I knew exactly what I was getting back into. The funny thing is that everybody thinks it's such a glamorous life and stuff, and we're rolling around the country on a bus, going from city to city on a bus, eating catering every day at the venue, which is basically cafeteria food, and it's just a lot of hard work. It takes a lot out of ya.
Now that you and your fans are older, are their reactions to you different?
There's still pandemonium, but it's a controlled pandemonium. Back in the day, the girl's hormones were trying to get at us, and they would do anything to get to us, and they would just throw themselves toward you. Now, the approach is a lot more controlled and subtle.
So you don't have to duck under tables or anything?
No, I mean, it was weird — back in the day we each had our own personal bodyguard. Now we have two security guards with us and it's all controllable. We're all adults now.
Do each of you have a different type of person who's a fan?
There's definitely ... yeah, we have our own little niche, you know. But there's certain fans that cross over from different member to different member.
What are your fans like?
I think they're ... they are different. It's weird. Sometimes when we're doing meet and greets I'll see somebody walk in and think they won't even wanna come over and say hi to me, and then they come over and say hi to me and I'm shocked. It's all different. You never really know what you're gonna get.
How's the dancing going? Did everyone stay in shape in the intermediary years?
Oh, yeah yeah yeah. We've all kept in shape, we've all been keeping up in the gym and stuff like that, and we just work hard on everything. Right now, we're doing a two-hour show, but when we were rehearsing, we were rehearsing like eight hours a day of dancing the whole time. That pretty much whipped us all in shape for the show.
When you reunited, how did you decide what your approach to the performance would be?
It kinda just progressed as we went along, I think that's how we've always worked. You'd like to have a basic outline, but you don't want to have a plan because that limits you to that plan. It's nice to let it grow organically and just see where it takes you. There have been a few things that we've changed since the first show. We just want it to be the best that it can be.
Did anyone suggest, "Let's just sit on stools with an acoustic guitar..."
Oh, absolutely not. I don't think any of us would have done that. That would just be a totally boring, boring show.
About the new album — what person outside the group had the most influence on it?
Nobody, really. That was one of the good things about this time around. We had control over our career before, but this time around we had 100 percent control over it. It was definitely all of us. We wanted to do an album that was a good album and that would appeal to all five of us. When we started the recording process, we weren't even signed to a label. We just said let's go into the studio and start recording some songs and see where it goes. That came out of our pockets, there was no record company, there was basically no management company behind us at that point. So that all grew into what it is today.
Was there a producer or collaborator who brought something new?
We got a lot of the newer, cutting-edge producers. We also had Teddy Riley, who's very old school. We just wanted to bring that nice mix. It was really great to be able to work with New Edition, the Pussycat Dolls and Lady Gaga. It was awesome working with Ne-Yo, he's just an incredible talent, I think anything he does is gold.
Have you been pleased with the reaction to the album?
Yes, oh yeah, of course. It's shocking that after 14 years we'd come back and have a number 1 album in Canada and a number 2 album in the States.
I've been reading your blog on the site, and the first time around for you, there were no blogs, no youtube ...
Yeah, none of that stuff.
So how is it different performing when just about everyone in the world can keep tabs on you and comment on you on their blogs?
I, personally, I hate it. It seems like the world nowadays, everybody's got to know something that moment. I remember our first show, the next day it was already posted all over YouTube, and to me that just seemed kind of unfair for other people out there who haven't seen it that all of a sudden it's out there. But you know, if people don't wanna see it, they won't go looking' for it. ... I think the only good think about the Internet is that we can have instant communication with our fans. It's an easier way to keep them connected.
Are you tired of being asked about being the "quiet one?"
[Laughs] No, 'cause that's definitely who I am. When this whole thing started back in the day, it's weird, 'cause it was basically like an after-school thing that we did, you know, we got together, we did talent shows and stuff like that. And I enjoyed doing that, and then it blew up into this, and I had never been comfortable doing interviews or being in front of the camera and stuff like that, so, when it blew up, I really had no choice. It is what it is, if that makes sense.
Has the social dynamic changed now that you've all grown up?
No, no absolutely not. That's one of the best things about this. This whole thing, just being back with the rest of the guys, has been so great, you know, because the dynamic of who we all are together as a group worked back then and it's still working today. I think the only thing that's changed now is that as adults we can express to each other when we're irritated at each other. Our relationship is more grown up. We can understand where each other's coming from now.
What do you think it would be like if you were a teenager becoming a famous pop star right now?
I definitely wouldn't wanna be one in this day and age. I think that has a lot to do with the Internet and things like Perez Hilton and TMZ. The kids nowadays, they're watched for every move they make, you know?
That goes back to what we were talking about, how people have immediate access ... it can get pretty merciless.
Yeah, and it's just like you can do some stupid thing walking out of the airport and it ends up on TMZ and it gets picked up on the Internet, and some stupid thing you did in the L.A. airport becomes international news.
Do you think your age and your maturity insulates you from that happening now?
Um ... good question. No, because there's still little things that come up here and there. But, yeah, I think also the younger — yeah, I definitely think it does now — because the younger you are, the more the little petty stuff is entertaining. Because as an adult, I really could care less what Britney Spears did with her kids last week or stuff like that. The younger you are, the more you're involved in that whole searching out stuff and gossiping about who did what and where. I mean, that happens in high school and middle school with kids walking down the hall. Now, it's like everybody can do it all over the place now.
If you could go back and confront yourself in 1984, what would you say?
I don't know [laughs], I guess I'd just be like, "Hang on, it's about to be a crazy ride." It's just like 14 years ago when this ended. If I had ever known that I'd be at the Borgata Casino tonight playing a sold out show, I never would've expected that.
So when you broke up in '94 you never expected to get back together?
No, I mean, I was actually the one that left. I was like, "I did this, I had a good time, it was a blast." There was other things I wanted to do in life. The time was just right. We rode the wave and it was a pretty big wave. The past 14 years have been incredible for me. I've gotten to do the things I've wanted to do. It's actually a blessing to be able to come back and do this, 'cause I never thought we'd be back here.
In '94 when you stopped, you had created the model for the boy band, and then there was a resurgence, and you were watching Backstreet Boys and NSYNC — what did you think about all of that?
I thought it was great, you know, we did our thing, and for other kids to have the opportunity to do what we did, I thought it was great. Back in the day, we knew Lou Pearlman — the crazy guy that's now in jail for being a child molester. I had a house in Florida, so I was around that whole camp. I knew people that worked for him, so I was around those kids when they were first getting started, and they would ask me questions, and I was just like, "Be yourself and have a good time."
How did you react to the Lou Pearlman incident?
I think it's disgusting, personally. You know, I liked the guy when I knew him ... but it's just, he definitely got what he deserves. I think it's awful. I could go on and on about that guy. He's a scumbag. Just to take advantage of kids like that, it's just ugh. And it's sad, because he is a smart, smart, smart, smart guy. He's just stupid [laughs]. Greed got the best of him.
DId you make enough money with NKOTB the first time to basically be set for life?
Absolutely. I think it's a good thing that as a young adult I had the guidance and that the people around me knew the value of a dollar and taught us what to do with it, not run out and buy something flashy that's gonna make you happy. You go out and buy a $5,000 leather jacket, it's gonna make you happy for the first month that you own it, and then it's just gonna be sitting in the corner of a closet doing nothing for you.
So as a group, New Kids had guidance from management?
We all had the same manager, who was Bob Wolf from Boston; he was a very famous, famous guy in Boston, a sports agent who did Larry Bird and stuff like that. He came on right in the beginning and was just awesome. I remember I wanted to take a vacation to go to Hawaii, and I was trying to book a first-class ticket, and he was like, "Do you wanna spend this much money on a first-class ticket and stay in a cheap hotel for a week, or do you wanna spend this much money on a ticket and have a little bit more luxury on vacation?" He's like, "You're only on the plane for six hours, and you're gonna be in the hotel for 12 days. You make the choice."
And how old were you?
What music do you listen to that people wouldn't expect you to be into?
Oh goodness ... I think that all of us, our music, what we listen to is so varied. Like last night, me and my brother had Luther Vandross on. Today in the dressing room we could have some crazy hip-hop. Another day, we could be listening to orchestra music. It's so varied. And I think being in the music industry, you have to have an appreciation of all types of music. It just makes you more diverse as an artist.
Is there any talk of a followup album?
Um ... [laughs] um ... there's talk of it. If it happens, you know, we'll see. We've all just had such a great time doing this, and the response has been so great. I think if we do do another album, it won't be right away, it'll be, you know, maybe another five years down the line.
In Obama's second term, hopefully.
NKOTB plays tonight in St. Louis at Scottrade Arena.