Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pop Against the Grain, With Sounds of the ’70s

THEY grow up so fast now. It seems like only last summer that the Jonas Brothers — Nick, Joe and Kevin — were cementing their hold on the teenage hive mind.

But fans grow up, and artists do too: Nick, 17, the most studious and clever of the Jonas Brothers, will release his second solo album, “Who I Am” (Hollywood), this week. (His 2004 solo debut was a Christian-R&B-pop trifle.) Mr. Jonas made this record with a backing band that includes veterans of Prince’s New Power Generation. He’s calling the group Nick Jonas & the Administration.

Mr. Jonas recently spoke with Jon Caramanica about the new album, and the way his personal and professional lives inevitably bleed into one. These are excerpts from the conversation.

Q. How different was making this record than making a Jonas Brothers album?
A. It was much different. We really wanted it to feel like a record from the ’60s or ’70s, using Bill Withers and Stevie [Wonder] as our main influences as far as that goes. So there’s very few overdubs, and the vocals were pretty much all done with the music.

Q. Were there specific albums you were looking to for inspiration?
A. With the Bill Withers influence, we watched this DVD, [the producer] John Fields and I, before we went to Nashville to record. It was of him live, the one with the guitar player in the back in the full white jumpsuit. We watched that, and it kind of gave us some inspiration for “In the End,” one of the more mellow, blue-eyed soul sounding, wallet-on-the-snare-drum songs, that kind of reverbed-out soulful sound.

Q. What other things were you listening to at the time?
A. I was writing while we were shooting the TV show [“Jonas”] for Disney. My dressing room was just white walls, a TV, a couple of seats, so there was nothing more to do than write. Some recent stuff I was listening to was Robert Randolph & the Family Band, “Colorblind,” which I think is an awesome record. The Kings of Leon record was hitting right then. Also, a record called “The Outsiders” [by Needtobreathe], which is similar to Kings of Leon but more Southern rock. Jonny Lang. [John] Mayer of course. Stevie. Then lyrically, Johnny Cash was a big one. And Elvis Costello for his use of metaphors, telling what’s going on in his life without telling it all, which I think is a gift.

Q. Your reference points are pretty firmly in the ’60s and ’70s, and in pop right now there’s something unfashionable about that. Do you ever think, “Am I the only guy doing this right now?”
A. At times. The ’60s-’70s reference that I have can also shift into the Minneapolis funk from the ’80s that are so much a part of this project because the guys in the band are a part of that. But pop music is leaning more towards dance right now, and this isn’t really that. On the last Jonas Brothers a lot of what we did was our take on the ’70s and early ’80s. Jefferson Starship — I know that’s a weird reference, but “Jane” is such a great song, and kind of led to “Poison Ivy” and “Much Better.”

Q. Do you do a lot of writing that’s never meant to go in a song?
A. Yeah, more so with reviews. I like to watch TV shows and review them, listen to records and review them. Also when I know something’s not right for a song, I just sit down with a journal and write it out. It’s easier than trying to say it to somebody. Sometimes you just don’t like hearing yourself talk.

Q. Has that gotten easier over time?
A. Yeah, the people I’m surrounded by understand that’s my way of expressing myself.

Q. Do you use music to communicate in your personal life?
A. With these songs, because I’m a reserved person, if someone were to ask me if I’m upset about a relationship that didn’t go as planned, I might not show it on my face and be totally emotional about it, but I’ll put that into the song and say, “I know it’s strange for me to play you this song, but this is how I feel about it.”

Q. When you sang a duet with [your ex-girlfriend] Miley Cyrus on “Before the Storm,” from the latest Jonas Brothers album, were you worried about people overreading that song?
A. She and I told each other that we needed to be as honest as we’ve ever been in this song, ’cause we don’t really like to talk about it anywhere else. There’s another version no one’s ever heard that’s different verses, it’s more generic, but in that one we tried to be as honest as we could. We’d come to a place where it was time to put up the white flag and give people comfort that we were actually friends. It was a good moment for us to share from the heart about something we usually don’t talk about, and when it’s in your control it’s a lot more comfortable than when it’s not.

Q. Your brother Kevin was married recently, to Danielle Deleasa. Did you ever think of performing at the wedding?
A. I wrote a song that I was thinking about playing. I wrote it with Demi [Lovato]. But when I got there, I felt like the day was about them, about the bride, and I wanted all of it to be about that, so I decided not to play it and just gave a speech. But it would be great for another artist to do, like Celine Dion maybe.

Q. What does the song sound like?
A. More like Michael Bublé, that kind of sound. David Foster would produce it. I played it for them before the ceremony. That was enough.

Q. What about dancing? All the photos of the wedding seem to be of Joe.
A. I’m not really a dancer. I did dance, because you have to at your brother’s wedding. It’s, like, mean if you don’t.

Q. So you weren’t out there doing the “Single Ladies” dance?
A. I was out there, I was clapping.

Q. You were near it.
A. I was near it. I was watching. [Joe] started it, and everyone was freaking out because they know the video, and then Danielle came out and pointed at the ring every time, and they were playing off each other. It was almost like they’d planned it.



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