Jacob Kasher on 'Quitting' Music, Then Crafting Hits for Maroon 5 and Charlie Puth
At a certain point, Jacob Kasher (professionally known by his moniker J Kash) was done pursuing a career in music.
“You can probably scour the internet for some awful audio of myself rapping,” says Kasher with a laugh from his West Hollywood studio of his former dream. “I wasn’t living the movie 8 Mile or anything; I used to just rap for fun and try to make beats. I was 25 but never made any money or had a job [or was] looking at music as a way to make a living, just wandering about in the pursuit of happiness.”
Fortunately for Kasher, he’s since improved on those early days in Virginia. Lately, the writer-producer has found a home on the radio, crafting some of the biggest pop tracks in the country, from Maroon 5’s recent rising singles “Don’t Wanna Know" and “Cold” (he’s credited as an executive producer on their newest album, Red Pill Blues) to cuts for Zara Larsson (“So Good”) and Liam Payne (“Bedroom Floor”). However, it’s his partnership with another major pop act that altered both the trajectory of his life and career.
The first time Kasher met Charlie Puth, the two were introduced by another pop star. “I was in the studio with Jason Derulo and Charlie walked in the room to say hello,” remembers Kasher. “Afterwards, Jason wanted to take me out on tour [to work on music] and said, ‘You really need to work with this guy.’ He thought we’d make a great team.’” After spending two weeks on a studio tour bus, Kasher and Puth became close collaborative partners, with the two joining forces on a string of Puth hits, from his Selena Gomez duet “We Don’t Talk Anymore” to current smashes “How Long” and “Attention,” the first two singles from Puth’s upcoming sophomore album. Voicenotes. “Charlie’s on all together another level than anyone,” explains Kasher. “He’s a special guy and has a real gift, so for me to sit here and say, ‘I wrote this song with Charlie’ is awesome.”
For Kasher, the collaboration with Puth scratches a creative itch that he found elusive for much of his career. After giving up on his hip-hop dreams in Virginia, Kasher decamped for Miami with a friend, soon befriending the producer Kevin Rudolf. (Both Kasher and Rudolf would hang out at the local mall in the same store.) Before long, the two struck up a friendship with Kasher, subsequently helping Rudolf craft his entire debut album, 2008’s In the City. “He was producing and I was more co-writing songs,” says Kasher of the collaboration. “I’d be a part of the conversations about the vision and what shit was going to sound like, but it was very much his thing I was a part of.” When Rudolf became a star when his debut single, the thumping “Let It Rock,” hit No. 5 on the Hot 100, Kasher’s fate was sealed. “I felt like I hit the lottery -- not in a financial way, but I never thought I’d have opportunities in music that would be beneficial for my life,” Kasher remembers.
With a song on the charts, he then made another move, this time trading Florida’s sun for Los Angeles. “When I first got to California, I learned as I went and started to get lucky.” Kasher’s lucky breaks during his early days in L.A. included a handful of chart-toppers (Kesha’s “We R Who We R,” Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad”) as well as a bevy of sessions that never went anywhere.
Says Kasher: “Some of the stuff was cool, and some of the stuff…” he pauses. “I would basically say ‘Yes’ to anything. I didn’t give a fuck. Anytime someone would have me in a studio and they had a food budget, I was there.” That included a disastrous session with Lindsay Lohan, then at the height of her tabloid heyday. “We had a song for her and I remember when she came in, we played it [and] she just left.” However, Kasher readily admits his memory is fogged of the session, as well as much of his early days navigating the industry in California, since he was in the midst of battling addiction. “I was popping a lot of pills then, doing Xanax and taking painkillers,” he explains, noting he’s been sober for the past four years. “Anything that happened before then is a blur.”
Fresh from his drug-induced blur, Kasher met Puth, courtesy of Derulo, and the two launched a fruitful creative partnership, the first hit of which found the two co-writing Trey Songz' “Slow Motion,” first released in January 2015. It was only a few months later that Puth, then a struggling songwriter himself, would be launched from behind-the-scenes obscurity to mainstream success when his Fast and Furious tribute to Paul Walker, the wrenching “See You Again,” became one of the biggest hits of the year. From there, Puth became a star and subsequently relied on Kasher for help with his own artist project. “One of the [first hits] I worked on for Charlie was ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore,’” says Kasher of the 2016 duet with Selena Gomez. “I remember him sending me a bunch of melodies mapped out with a lot of mumbo jumbo lyrics, and I used the many bits he said to make a story around it. But if you ever heard the actual first demo compared to the one I wrote, they’re very similar. The concept was already there.”
For Puth, the collaboration with Kasher fills in whatever gaps, however small or large, he may have, a gig he calls “a dream job.” Explains Kasher: “Charlie calls me when he has something that’s already a smash. He comes with the track, melody, concept and most of the the time even a title already there. My job is relatively easy, because I just get to throw down dope shit on something that's already masterful.” That doesn’t mean Kasher doesn’t call Puth out. “Sometimes I’ll say to him, ‘Man, I don’t know about this part. It doesn’t sound on-brand.’ And he’ll be either, ‘All right, let’s change it,' or ‘Fuck you, we’re keeping it,’ and I’ll say ‘Okay.’ We have a pretty easy, friendly way of not getting caught up if we don’t agree on stuff. He doesn’t necessary need me to work with him, but we’re so close we speak the same language.”
It’s that same process that’s dictating Voicenotes, set to drop January 19th and named after the iPhone application the singer and Kasher frequently record slapdash demos and musical ideas on. That includes an early blueprint for first single “Attention” as well as the album’s second single “How Long.” “He brought ‘How Long’ to me with the melodies and beat pretty much done the way you hear it on the radio,” says Kasher. “Charlie explained to me his vision of the song and said, ‘Do you like this? Do you want to write it?’”
For Voicenotes, the two made sure to leave their respective studios to get their creative juices flowing. “We did eight songs in the car,” Kasher explains. “He’ll come over to my house or I’ll pick him up and we’ll drive down the Pacific Coast Highway or down to the Valley and we’ll do the lyrics and sing into Voicenotes.” From there, Puth would head back to his home studio solo. “The next morning he’ll hit me back with the whole fucking thing done.”
Lately, Kasher’s name has been a fixture on the charts. Along with the aforementioned hits for Puth, his songs with Maroon 5 have become ubiquitous parts of the radio landscape, including the Kendrick Lamar-featured “Don’t Wanna Know,” a track that Kasher and co-writers John Ryan and Ammar Malik concocted on whim. “We put that down and I said, ‘I gotta send this to Adam [Levine],’” says Kasher of the subsequent hit. “He loved it, then we did ‘Cold’ and a few more. Before we knew it, we had half an album done.” As a result of his inmate work on Red Pill Blues, Kasher was awarded an executive producer credit. “It was a great experience putting together songs I didn’t write and championing singles. I was building the record from a different side and wearing a different hat.”
For Kasher, the current chapter of his career is a vindicating moment after years of stops and starts. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I don’t think much further than that,” he says. “I’ve been getting lucky with a few years in a row and I’m obviously seeing everything more clearly and taking care of it differently than I was before I was sober.” Kasher credits his wife Jamie and nine-month-old daughter for keeping him clean. As for Puth, Kasher says working with the singer is akin to winning the lottery. “Everyone wants to take credit, but I’ll text Charlie -- ‘Dude, thank you.’ Anything you ever need from me, it’s done. Him giving me the opportunity to work this closely with him and have this much of a stake in his life and career… I couldn't ask for anything more.”