New Kids On the Block's Donnie Wahlberg

New Kids On the Block's Donnie Wahlberg
Oh, sure, it'd be easy to write this one off. But there's more than meets the eye here: after all, when a teen boy band get back together after a 15-year hiatus and are playing arenas, something big is up. Armageddon? A comeback disc, The Block, full of songs written to such a degree of catchiness it sounds as if machines have constructed and performed them? A music industry in flux and an economy in crises combining to leave people wanting to have fun, comforting music? I have no fucking idea, but Donnie Wahlberg, taking a bit of a break from his acting career to hit the road with New Kids On the Block, is reaping the benefits. Yup, this boy band from decades past is back, and, somehow, they've made it work.

What are you up to?
Just getting ready to do the daily routine: soundcheck, meet about 300 fans, stretch out, get dressed, get ready, go on stage. Sounds easy to meet 300 fans in a day, and while it is joyous, most times it takes a toll on your lower back leaning to hug 300 people in a day.

But, no complaints, right?
No, I'd rather get swept back from hugging people than getting kicked in the balls [laughs].

Right. So why did you decide to reunite now?
[Pauses] I don't know. I guess it's hard to say. First and foremost, music was a big part of the inspiration. I think everyone in the group, deep down inside, knew there was a chance one day we may do it. But I don't think anybody was giving it much consideration. The only thing I ever thought serious about was not giving into any of these quick flash-in-the-pan reunions, for a "bands reunited" TV show or anything like that. I refuse to take part in that, even a True Hollywood Story, I would never participate. Much like when we younger, it was other people trying to force their agenda on us and telling the story, really, to service themselves and not to consider us and who we are first. I initially heard a song, when I was shooting a movie with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino...

Which must have been great...
Yeah, I'm sort of at this zenith in my acting career, working with two of the greats - ever - and holding my own and having a great time. Most people would think that being at the bottom and being down and out is when a reunion would be a great time. For me, I think it's the opposite. I always thought the better I was doing, the more appropriate it would be to get back together with the guys.

Do you feel like you guys got too much bad press in your first run?
I certainly don't think we're the best band in the history of the world but I certainly don't think we were the worst. We were certainly over-praised a lot, in many instances, but I think we were under-appreciated equally as much.

You mentioned when you guys were younger, people pushing their agendas on you. Do you look back and feel that you were taken advantage of because you were younger? Well, I wouldn't say taken advantage of. Obviously we were put in a position to do really spectacular things. I can't give you a woe story, like we were robbed by everyone and swindled and stuff like that. That's not really what happened. So many people just threw another idea at us and another idea and they all throw it with the mindset that this doesn't last forever. It's not an incorrect thing to say, either. "This won't last forever, guys, get all the money you can while you can." It's just that we didn't always feel that way. You know, we're on a plane flying to Tokyo and they need T-shirts in Kmart in the next two minutes, somebody's gotta approve it. If we're not there to do it, someone's gonna do it... so many things were just overlooked. We thought, if the group runs its course and we're just a teen band that never does anything else, so be it. We'll make a few less million bucks and try to maintain some dignity. But it was hard to do that throughout the course of the group. It was hard to stay on top of that stuff.

Do you feel you did end it with dignity the first time around?
I do. We went out on our terms; we made possibly our best album, in '94, Face the Music. We felt great about it. We were performing at a high level just to smaller crowds, but we felt we were really at our best. That, at the end of the day, was a beautiful thing to experience. We always preached that it's not about the success and how many records you sell; it's about being good to your fans and giving it your all. We always preached that, but it's easy to preach that when you're playing to 70,000 people in one night. But to be playing for 1,000 people and giving it your all after being that successful, I really felt proud of the group at that point. And had that not happened, I probably would not have ever gotten back together with the group.

Do you want more musical credibility? Is that something as a band you wish you had more of?
Well, you know, credibility, what is it? The more time passes, the less credibility matters in the world. We judge people's credibility on TMZ.com these days. What I've found is the more you look for credibility, the less you recognize the people who do appreciate you. Our most well-received album from the critics was our smallest-selling album; that's not to say that it's a disappointment. Look, sure, everybody wants to be respected and appreciated but I've learned it's really about self-respect. When I get off the stage every night, I know I left it all out there for the fans; I gave them everything I've got. One thousand miles away from my kids, my personal career is on hold to do this, to make music and perform again, to really try to put a final chapter on this the way we want to do it.

Who are your fans now? Is it 15-year-old girls like it used to be, or is it the same girls it was before, 15 years later?
Certainly for the most part it's the old fans grown up. I thought 30-to-40-year-old fans we'd have locked up, that would be our audience. What I didn't realize was there were so many fans who were five or six years old who loved us when we came out the first time. Those fans are 25, 26, 27, 28 years old now. They are a huge portion of the crowd.

So can fans expect more albums and tours?
We'll see. We'll go out in the summer and after that we'll have to figure it out. I know that... [pause] Well, we'll see. I really can't say right now, I have no idea.

What about your acting career, you kind of have that on hold right now while you're on the road?
Well, I executive produced and starred in a pilot for an American network, TNT, and I'm going to go shoot that series after the summer touring. So I'm still doing all my other stuff, just managing it around the New Kids. I guess I've got a hell of a part-time job with the New Kids.