Jason Evigan Talks Stepping Away From Pop Music to Get His Hit-Making Groove Back
"Any song that actually becomes a hit, a song that millions and millions of people can relate to... there's some kind of magic behind it that you really can't explain. You can write a song and think 'This is the one' but then for some reason the world doesn't gravitate towards it. Then you write one where you're like, 'Seems like a cool song, I guess' and it somehow taps into the collective consciousness."
Pop writer and producer Jason Evigan is musing about the success of his latest hit with Maroon 5, the bouncy, Cardi B-assisted "Girls Like You." Peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on Radio Songs chart, the smash track, perfectly timed to the #MeToo movement and accompanied by an all-star video, became the veteran band's 14th top 10 hit. It also marks Cardi B's sixth top 10 single, an astounding feat in a hit-making career that's barely a year old. Co-produced with Cirkut and co-written with the songwriter Starrah, the historic track was born out of a routine session and initially didn't even have the Adam Levine-fronted band in mind.
"I remember Starrah was in the booth finishing another idea when I was thinking of doing a really summery song," remembers Evigan of the song's origin. "I went into the other room and came up with that guitar riff, showed it to her and was waiting for her to say she wasn't feeling it." Instead, Starah (whose past tracks include "Feels" for Calvin Harris and Katy Perry's "Swish Swish") took to the future earworm. "Within minutes she said she had something and starting spitting out different ideas." From there, Evigan, Starrah and Cirkut (himself a veteran hitmaker) hammered out the structure of the track's hooky 'Yeah-yeah-yeahs' and the melody of the verses. (Evigan's engineer Gian Stone was credited as a writer for later re-working the bridge with Levine.) A demo was then sent to J Kash, the executive producer of the band's album Red Pill Blues, who instantly recognized its potential. "He was like, 'Oh my God, Adam's going to cut this tomorrow.'"
It wasn't long ago that Evigan thought his time as a hitmaker had come and gone. After fronting successful band projects, including Dillusion (which he founded when was 14) and Warped Tour darlings After Midnight Project, his musical prowess took a sudden turn as he transitioned to pop as mainstream tastes began to change. The fledgling writer fostered a distinct voice by employing the energy of the frenetic sound of punk and rock to a bubblegum mindset, whether working solo or with frequent partner Mitch Allan (the two collectively known as The Supsex). Early hits came with Jason Derulo ("Talk Dirty"), Fifth Harmony ("Miss Movin' On") and Demi Lovato ("Heart Attack"). Suddenly, Evigan went from not listening to pop radio at all to concocting many of the songs the medium was playing. It was a hat-trick he credits to being fully present and remaining a unique talent in a sea of mimics.
"The reason why it's so important to be present is because you're fully in tune with your human self, you are actually tapping into the realest thing that everyone in the world has inside of them," Evigan explains of his mindfulness, well-known to anyone who's had a brush the music maker. "When you get to that point, you're hitting something that's in everyone who listens to music, whether metal or rap. They don't know why they like it, but it's tapping into that realness. That's what it's important to be true, because your true self the only real currency you actually have."
After using that currency to concoct a wild streak of radio smashes, (including his first hit with Maroon 5 in the form of 2014's "It Was Always You" written for his wife, Victoria, a hair and makeup artist), Evigan explains he had a stretch of time when the ubiquitous hits he was accustomed to churning out stopped materializing. "I was starting to think that maybe I had my moment," he says of roughly a two-year period where his name was absent from the upper reaches of the Hot 100. "This business is so crazy because even two years feels like such a long time." Evigan even remembers that despite his impressive pedigree, he heard secondhand that a prominent A&R in a meeting said his career had gone cold. "Everything moves so fast. Even with artists, people will say 'Where have they been?' when they haven't had a hit in a year. It's like, give people a break. We need to have a little more grace."
It was around this time Evigan started a husband-wife artist project with Victoria dubbed Elephant Heart which deals with themes of their own relationship and broader ideas of spirituality. Originally launched on a lark, the experience helped give Evigan a fresh perspective on creativity. "It was really cool for me to step away from making pop music in a minute and work with someone who's never written a song before," he says of Victoria's mindset which was gloriously free of the laws of songwriting, real or imagined. "I'd tell her, 'You can't really do that' and she'd be like, 'Why?' And I'm like, 'Uh, I don't know. I heard that Max Martin said it's a rule?' It's was really cool freeing experience for me and re-inspired me."
Simultaneously to Elephant Heart's creative growth, Maroon 5 was putting together Red Pill Blues, the band's sixth studio album. Early in the process, the newly-inspired Evigan sent over a demo that he had worked on with the aforementioned Starrah. "Before she came in, I had this funky little bass line and she went into the booth." The song they were concocting, which would later become Red Pill Blues single "What Lovers Do," originally featured the current pre-chorus ("Tell me, tell me, if you love me or not") as the song's main chorus. "I was like, I really feel like we need to have a big chorus and sang 'Whoo-hoo, hoo, hoo, hoooo...'" The resulting double-chorused demo was submitted and subsequently became a hot commodity. "The song floated around for a year. A lot of people wanted it and Justin Bieber was going to do it." However, the track eventually found its way back to Maroon 5 who recruited the R&B star SZA, the pairing of which landed Evigan back on the charts.
Now, Evigan is juggling writing and producing (he's been in the studio with Rüfüs Du Sol and Ellie Goulding), as well as the surprise success of Elephant Heart (the project's Eastern-influenced song "HIYA" is quickly approaching the half-million listen mark Spotify since its June release). He's quick to note each endeavor complements and informs the other. "My wife is really my grounding force in all of this," he explains of Victoria. "She helps me remember why I'm making music and what the purpose of this life is really about. It's not about having hits, what number you are on the charts, or how much money you make. It's about family, joy, and community."
The hits can be nice, too, though.