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Aging New Kids on the Block set for Toronto relaunch
During New Kids on the Block's 14-year hiatus, Donnie Wahlberg was the primary holdout.
The iconic Boston-bred boy band had sold more than 70 million albums and realized No. 1 hits "Hangin' Tough," "Step By Step" and "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," but Wahlberg had since eked out a respectable acting career and refused to revisit it.
"I never took part in anything to do with the New Kids: (documentary series) True Hollywood Story, interviews, you name it," said Wahlberg in a phone interview from London where the group – which included brothers Jordon and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre and Danny Wood – was promoting its new album, The Block, and the world tour that kicks off in Toronto on Thursday.
"I knew as long as I didn't participate that the group being intact was still protected.
"If we just started showing up at every little request for the group, then there's no magic in the group being together."
Fortunately, when Wahlberg, inspired by a demo track by an unknown Canadian songwriter, lobbed the reunion card, there was little resistance from his erstwhile bandmates.
"Maybe the fact that it was me was like `Sh--! if he's doing it, it's a good time to do it, because he's probably the one who would least do it,'" he surmised.
Wahlberg, 39, put his money and his talents where his mouth was, funding The Block and much to his own surprise, co-writing most of its songs.
"I was one of the three main vocalists the first time around and I didn't anticipate taking that role on again," he explained. "I was just financing the album. I really wasn't going to sing that much at all.
"But once I sang my first part, that was kind of it: I just wanted to do it a lot. It became a lot of fun. Same with writing: I hadn't really expected to write much and then I wrote a song, wrote another song and next thing you know, I just was writing with everyone."
On the strength of lead singles "Single" and "Summertime," The Block entered Billboard's decisive album chart at No. 2 last week.
Wahlberg says his film career sharpened his musical skills.
"My approach in the (vocal) booth was different. I approached it more with the things I learned as an actor: to be more prepared, but also to not be so rigid."
Outside of the shower, Wahlberg said he hadn't sung much since the quintet's 1994 split but didn't find slipping back into form difficult.
"On tour we'll see what happens. I don't know how my voice is going to hold up, but I'm singing now, I'm singing live and I'm having a great time doing it.
"We were one of many groups that were accused in the early '90s and the late '80s of not singing live in our shows, which is not true. We sang live in most of our shows. I think in our first two tours we probably used backing tapes and stuff, but after that we went completely live and we will this tour."
Despite appearances, Wahlberg said it would be a mistake to regard him as the ensemble's commander.
"I would never say I'm the leader, or I have most responsibility, or the most say-so. The group knows that if I take the forefront in something my best interest will always be in the group's best interest. ...
"A lot of stuff with the album may have come from me, but I am smart enough to know that without all five guys there's no New Kids. I may be special in my own right and individuals may be special in their own right, but collectively is what makes us really special."
The band members are all pushing 40, most are fathers, but the L.A. rehearsals have been rigorous and Wahlberg said tour attendees can expect the same energy and exactness that has characterized NKOTB since it was founded by producer Maurice Starr in 1984.
"We will do a lot of choreography, we will have great lighting, great special effects and some great moments, but we're showmen first of all ... so we will rely on ourselves more than any gimmicks."