Bon Jovi went to Nashville for 2007's country-tinged Lost Highway album and the result was mega-platinum: the record debuted at number one in the US - a first for the band. But on their upcoming release, The Circle (due out 10 November), the Jersey hitmakers are "back to rocking," says Richie Sambora.
"It was great dipping our toes in different waters," says the guitarist. "Jon [Bon Jovi] and I loved working with all these Nashville cats on Lost Highway, and that music definitely came through us in a natural way. We went down there with a couple of notepads and some guitars and magic just happened.
"But the last thing we want to do is try to Xerox something till it becomes a pale imitation of the original. So when Jon called me up last year and said it was time to start writing, the first thing we asked ourselves was, 'What do we feel like doing? Where are our heads at?' And rocking was the answer."
Fruitful writing sessions
Sambora describes the writing sessions between Bon Jovi and himself as "extremely easy, prolific and probably the most fun we've ever had creatively. I went to Jon's house with nothing and before you knew it we had something like 28 songs. Hey, when you're on a roll, you're on a roll. You don't question it, you just keep going till you're done."
Describing their demoing process, Sambora says bluntly, "We don't. Meaning, we don't do these elaborate sketches of songs with this part and that part. It's a time-waster." Instead, the duo "just grab two acoustic guitars, sit down in front of our old-school cassette record or an iPhone and we play the songs.
"We're of the belief that you can't polish bullshit," he says. "You have to remember, Jon and I have been doing this for 25 years. We know when we have something great and when we have something sub-par.
"To us, when we write a song, we knock it out and then we bring it to the band. When you go into a studio and you press 'Record,' that's a different story. That's when you start sprinkling all the fairy dust on the tracks. But that should come only after you have something that's unbreakable."
Guitars, guitars, guitars!
To record The Circle, Bon Jovi reunited with producer-songwriter John Shanks, who the band worked with on Have A Nice Day and half of Lost Highway. "John's an amazing producer, writer, you name it," Sambora enthuses. "I can't say enough good things about him. And he knows his guitars, too - that always helps."
Sambora admits he can't remember all the guitars he used on the new album, but a few come to mind. "I got a '58 Explorer which sounds excellent. Then I also used a Duesenberg, a Les Paul Jr with P-90s, a '59 and a '68 Les Paul. Plus, there were a couple of my old Teles and some of John Shanks's Strats. All good stuff."
The first single from The Circle, We Weren't Born To Follow, has been blowing up at radio, but Sambora reveals that the version currently being spun will ultimately differ from what fans can expect to hear on the album.
"When I recorded the solo to that song, I played a very melodic, kind of Beatles-esque break. That was the mood I was in. As soon as the song got leaked to radio, people went crazy, sending e-mails and Twittering and everything: 'We love the song, but what's with that solo? We want a rippin', burnin' Richie Sambora solo.
"So I said to Jon, 'Hey, do you want me to change it? We got time. And John was like, 'Sure. Go lay down another solo and we'll drop it in the song on the album.' So that's what I did - I cut it yesterday, in fact. It's a monster."
But does the guitarist mind having fans, in effect, 'produce' part of a song? "Nah!" he says, with a laugh. "When I played sessions, it was all about serving the song. Sometimes you have to test things out and see what works. I'm totally cool about the whole thing. And I guarantee that when people hear the new solo, they'll be stoked. Ask and you shall receive."