I’m at Tulsa’s BOK Center, where dance group JabbaWockeeZ just finished their well-received 25-minute dance routine. Now, the hyped-up crowd is awaiting the main event, the reunited New Kids on the Block. The last time I saw these guys was also in Tulsa, 19 years ago at Skelly Stadium. I told Danny Wood of NKOTB in our recent phone interview that my first concert experience was that 1990 New Kids show in Tulsa. Here’s the expanded version of my Q&A with Wood; I interviewed him on the phone from his home in Miami:
Q: I must tell you I’m pretty excited about the show in Tulsa, since the first concert I ever went to was a NKOTB show in Tulsa.
A: Oh, that’s awesome.
Q: So I’m pretty pumped up about it because there’s some nice symmetry for me. So how has the touring been going?
A: It’s been awesome. It’s been beyond anything I ever expected or anticipated or even had in my head that this reunion could be. And for it to be now going on the second leg of the U.S. tour and then we’re gonna do a summer leg of the tour, too, it’s just amazing. You know, it’s an incredible experience.
Q: It sounds like you guys have gotten some amazing support from your old fans from back in the day?
A: Yeah, I mean, the core of the fans is probably from 25 to 35 and you know, they’re the ones who grew up listening to us. But also they’re appreciating the new record, “The Block,” and you know they’re also bringing maybe their nieces and nephews and they’re reuniting with old friends. So it’s definitely like a girls’ night out, you know, everyone getting together like a party.
Q: So what are the crowds like at the shows then?
A: You know, It’s the core of the fans, 25 to 35, but then there’s a younger generation of fans. I mean, my daughters are 9 and 10 and they went from being Jonas Brothers fans to New Kids fans. So there’s some younger kids there, there’s parents bringing their kids to the show, you know, to show them what they grew up listening to. Soit’s pretty diverse.
Q: Are they pretty enthusiastic? Lot of feedback from the crowd?
A: Ah, yeah. I mean, that was the kind of shocking thing where they’re probably louder than they were before. The show opens up and it’s just hysteria. But now it’s grown women jumping up and down and screaming instead of teenagers.
Q: You guys are obviously grown men performing: What is like touring now, playing the arenas now and touring now?
How is it different than it was back in the day?
A: Well, back in the day it was like a speeding train. You know, it was moving so fast, so (there) was not much time to enjoy it. And this time, we’re all taking the time to enjoy it and really appreciating it. But it’s a lot easier this time because all of us, we’ve learned from all of our mistakes, and now we’re surrounded by all great people working for us. And we’re in control of everything that goes on.
Q: Is it harder touring now when you have family and other obligations?
A: That’s the only difficult part is being away from my kids. I rely a lot on iChat on the computer. And you know, being in the U.S., they’re able to come out and they’re gonna visit a couple times on the tour.
Q: How many kids do you have?
A: I have 9- and 10-year-old girls and 16- and 17-year-old boys.
Q: So that’s four total?
Q: That’s a great crowd right there. Little bit of space between the two sets?
A: Yeah, yeah, no, they’re awesome. They’re awesome. That’s the best part is being able to share this with them. I never thought they’d be able to see me back onstage doing it.
Q: What did you do in those intervening years besides have four kids?
A: Well, you know, that took up a lot of my time. I was raising them, and I’m also part owner and vice president of a private jet company called Halcyon Jets. So I went into the business side of things, and I also recorded a couple of solo albums.
Q: Did you ever imagine in those intervening years that this would reunion would happen? Did you have in the back of your mind that it would be possible?
A: No. In fact, I had the opposite in my mind, that we would never get back together is what I thought.
Q: Was there some reason you were so sure it wouldn’t happen?
A: It’s just - 15 years. What boy band gets back together after 15 years, you know what I mean? (with a laugh) It just didn’t seem realistic most of the time. But when we started hearing music and really started focusing on making a good record first, then everything started to make sense.
And when we all got back together the first time and everyone looked good: No one was fat, you know, no one let themselves go, that was good, too. Everyone was in shape and looking good and ready to do it.
Q: How has your music changed? Obviously, you released your new album last year, “The Block,” and how has your music changed? And how has your approach to your music changed?
A: On the record, the approach was pretty much the same as before except we were kind of dictating what songs we did, we were dictating who we wanted to work with. But the approach is still the same: You get in the studio, you do the work, you sing your part and you leave.
Q: How do you feel the music has changed? Do you feel like it’s more mature? Do you feel like it’s more modernized?
A: Well, yeah, we definitely set out to make a contemporary record. We weren’t gonna make a retro ‘80s record or something. We wanted to make a contemporary record that would appeal to our fans because they’re listening to current stuff, you know. So we wanted to make a record that, you know, was contemporary.
Q: Was it important when you’re working on a new record to not come across as some sort of novelty but to make music that would sort of fit in with what the Top 40 stations are playing at the time?
A: We never have plans like that in our heads. We listen to music. We would listen to songs being submitted to us, and if we liked them, we did them and if we didn’t, we didn’t. You know what I’m saying? We never thought, ‘Who’s gonna play it? What audience are we gonna target?’ You first want to make record that you’d listen to, that as a collective unit we would all listen to. So, that’s goal No. 1.
Q: It definitely came across as something that was more mature and definitely it seemed to have more of a kind of hip-hop sound on some of the tracks than some of your older songs. So that wasn’t something that was deliberate, that’s just what you guys liked?
A: Yeah, well, we grew up on hip-hop, and you know, hip-hop now is pop music. So, it’s kind of hard to go into a middle zone for pop music and you know, we just started hearing songs, and that’s the stuff we all wanted to do.
Q: I thought it was interesting and good that you guys had updated that way, because hip-hop has become pop. They have merged a lot more since you guys weren’t making records?
Q: Did you guys keep in touch during those intervening years?
A: I’ve always kept in touch with Donnie; me and him have been friends since first grade. But the rest of the guys: I saw Jordan a couple of times over the years. I saw Joe I think once or twice in that whole 15 years, and I think I saw Jon once.
Q: So is it great for you guys to be back together because obviously you were a big part of each other’s lives?
A: Yeah, it’s great. Yeah, it’s like being brothers, you know what I mean? It’s like rekindling old friendships, you know. It’s been easier to work together this time around because we’re all mature. We all got families, it’s all real lives we have that are a lot more important than being up on stage. So it’s been a lot easier this time around.
Q: It sounds like you’re just more grounded than you were when you were kids?
A: Nah, we were grounded then. We had good families, and you know, it’s pretty obvious we were pretty grounded back in the day because none of us got into any crazy trouble like you see some of these teenage stars get into.
That didn’t happen to us. But we were pretty grounded then, it’s just we were on a ride that was going really, really fast.
Q: Yeah, it always did kind of amaze me that you guys never did anything to make people embarrassed that they’d been your fans. You never did anything crazy like that. As crazy as your ride was, it always kind of amazed me that none of you ever went wacky like a lot of young stars do. So I always thought that was good.
A: Yeah, that was our upbringing with our parents and also growing up in Boston. It’s the kind of city that builds character.
Q: Was it essential to you guys that all five members come back together to have a reunion?
A: Yeah, yeah. We wouldn’t have done it any other way. The fans, you know to this day, they all still have their ‘favorite favorites.’ There’s a reason why we were so successful and part of the reason is the five different personalities, the five different guys. It wouldn’t have been the same if it would’ve been four of us or four guys and add a new guy or something crazy like that. It just wouldn’t have worked for us.
Q: And musically, did you think it wouldn’t be good either, because you sang together so well?
A: Yeah, I mean, it translated into all sides of it, the stage, the studio, even some of the business things. You know, we needed all five guys.
Q: Are you happy that you guys are back together? It sounds like it’s working out better than you even imagined Are you looking to continuing to tour and make music for the foreseeable future?
A: I am beyond happy. This has gone beyond anything I ever imagined would happen. And we’re getting ready to start this next part of the tour, and I’m planning for my kids to come out, you know, a week into the tour and to visit for four or five days. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that. And, you know, our hope is that we finish out touring into the fall and then take some time off and then get back together in 2010 and maybe make another record or do another tour or do something - but definitely to keep this going.
Q: At the show, can people expect to hear new and old music?
A: Oh, of course. We do all the old hits. It’s not the kind of show where you go see some self-absorbed artist and they do their whole new album and do a couple old songs. We do all the old songs and then we sprinkle in the news songs.
Q: So it sounds like you’ve got the balance there with the new and old songs?
A: Well, we had to with people waiting 15 years. You had to give them what they want.
Q: So it sounds like your kids are gonna spend their spring break visiting you on the tour?
A: Absolutely. And the summer too. You know, when we’re on tour in the summer, they’re gonna be along for the ride.
Q: I imagine that’s an awesome family experience for you guys?
A: It doesn’t get any better.
Q: Is there anything you want to say to your core fan base that has come back some strong in support of you?
A: The same thing we’ve been saying all along is thank you. They’re the best fans in the world. They’ve been so amazing. They’re so loyal, they’re so supportive, and we try to return the favor by putting on a great show. So I want everyone to come down and enjoy the show.