Inside the Documentary That Spurred the Jonas Brothers' Reconciliation
It's a Wednesday afternoon in London and Kevin, Nick and Joe Jonas are hustling around the city in the midst of a promo tour that's also doubling as a victory lap. When their first single in six years, "Sucker," was released in March, it shot to the top of the charts and became the act's first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 ever, successfully rocketing them to greater heights than they enjoyed during their late '00s heyday. Tagging along on their U.K. trip, and for the trajectory of their careers as performers, has been John Lloyd Taylor.
"I've been working with them intimately on pretty much everything day to day," explains Taylor from London, where the guys just gave a morning radio interview and performed a sold-out show. Working closely alongside Jonas Brothers manager Phil McIntyre (the founder and CEO of his own management company PhilyMack), Taylor (president of PhilyMack) was originally hired to work with the trio fresh out of the Berklee School of Music and first served time as the Brothers' music director and guitarist. Now collaborating with the act on everything from branding deals to the creative direction of their tour, Taylor's background with Joe, Nick and Kevin runs deep. Back when the pre-Disney act was signed to Columbia Records (marketed as a gritty garage band from New Jersey), Taylor helped the brothers tune and restring their instruments and grew close to them.
"We were a small family on the road, spending thousands of hours together in close quarters," says Taylor, who also taught a 12-year-old Nick his first songs on the guitar. "It was the kind of thing where we'd show up with a van and a trailer, load in, perform, load out and go to the next stop. That was the first two years of Jonas Brothers and it was a real rock n' roll scenario."
Present for the band's high highs, including their teeny bopper Disney days (the Brothers even shout him out by name on their 2008 hit "Lovebug"), Taylor was also there for the act's messy dissolution in 2013. It was a well-documented period that saw the act not only professionally fall out, but personally as well. "There was one point when these guys didn't really talk to each other," says Taylor, noting the awkwardness of not wanting to align too strongly with one Jonas over another. "The breakup was a real thing. It was tough, it was weird and it was hard." As such, it stands to reason that Taylor would also be there for their subsequent reconciliation; an improbable series of events initially spurred by the decision to produce a documentary looking back on their rise.
"It really began in January of 2018 when we had a little retreat in Mammoth, California." Initially meant as an excuse for him, the brothers and McIntyre to simply spend quality time together in the mountain community west of San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada range, it turned into a memorable getaway. "At the time, Nick was having these swirling feelings of missing the brotherhood. He was having all of this success in music and was doing films, but it didn't feel right to him. Something was off, so it was more of a chance for all of us reminisce." It was during this trip to the mountains when the previously cloudy dynamics began to shift. "We realized that what went wrong, and why the band split up, was an inability to communicate, really be honest and operate freely," says Taylor. "I think that's what was learned in the time apart, so we felt a need to tell the real story for the first time ever."
From there, the idea to produce a documentary was planted. Who could be better to direct it than Taylor himself? "It just felt natural to me to be the guy asking them questions," Taylor explains, who -- despite never directing anything previously -- helmed the project with relative ease considering his intimate knowledge of his subjects. "Who was going to get the truth out of them? Who was going to hold them accountable in their answers? I knew all the questions to ask because I know their story and know who they are. I also knew what buttons to push and what would make them squirm and feel uncomfortable, and also where they'd want to unfold and open up."
Thanks to an open and honest environment Taylor helped cultivate, he began to notice something peculiar as the trio began to reflect. "What was unfolding in front of me in real time was that these guys were starting to learn to love each other again," he remembers of witnessing their respective personal metamorphoses, all while the cameras were rolling. "At first, Joe was resistant and hesitant to open up. I remember talking to him concerning if he was resentful of Nick when they were living together, for example. There were some pretty fascinating psychological conversations taking place." The frank conversation and emotional digging had positive, yet unintended, results. "Suddenly they started talking about making music and doing shows again, and a movie within a movie emerged. A bigger story was developing, and I got really excited."
According to Taylor, the resulting documentary dubbed Chasing Happiness (now streaming on Amazon Prime) is "much less a film about a band and much more a film about family, brotherhood and the importance of that bond and what being there for one another means." Adding another layer of poignancy is the rich irony of helming a documentary meant to chronicle the blazing rise and stark end of the band, only to have them reunite as a result. "To challenge them to get to the root of what was going on, and then to have them get back together is beyond my wildest dreams," he explains. "I'm just thrilled, and I still pinch myself thinking about it."
It's a victory made sweeter considering the Brothers are currently riding high on both their aforementioned smash comeback single, "Sucker" and follow-up, "Cool," both released ahead of their album Happiness Begins (out June 7). "Even if (the comeback) was only well-received by the core fanbase, it would have felt like a really big win," says Taylor. "But the fact that the fanbase is bigger than ever and is more successful than anything in the past is phenomenal." The strong commercial performance is also an opportunity to revel in the group's personal growth. "The last go-around, there was a lot of pressure and worry. They had ups and downs and there were a lot of eyeballs on them to behave and handle themselves in a certain way," he explains. " A promise we made to each other was that we were going to celebrate the wins more this time, no matter how big or how small."