Today, David Massey is the president and CEO of Island Records. He’s also one of the masterminds behind Safehouse Records, the still-young label owned by its artists — a couple of up-and-comers by the names of Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas (their shared manager, Phil McIntyre, is also a partner). But in 2002, the London-born executive was running a Sony imprint called Daylight when a very serious-looking 10-year-old walked into his office and sang for him. It was Jonas, and Massey would soon meet his brothers, too. The group moved to Columbia Records, but that’s fine — Massey had places to be, like Island (and the Billboard Power 100), and he reunited with Nick just in time to launch the solo career this boy band survivor deserved all along.
In honor of our latest cover featuring Jonas and Lovato, we sat down with Massey to talk about the pop stars and the importance of friendship in an industry that can be rough on its stars.
What do you recall about meeting Nick for the first time? What stood out?
I met Nick as a solo artist, when he was 10. He’d already been on Broadway, in Les Miserables, and came in with his father. He was exactly as he is now — already like a 25-year-old in his soul. He was the most brilliant, amazing little person, so he was signed on the spot as “Nicholas Jonas.” We did a Christian project with him, a song called “Dear God,” then he introduced me to his brothers. There was no plan — I got close to the family socially, and he wanted me to meet them. While they were in my office they were like, “Hey, we wrote this song we want you to hear, called ‘You Will Be Mine.'” It grew from there into Jonas Brothers. It was an extraordinary, organic development that wasn’t intended, but the brother connection was so special.
But it started with Nick. His father was a pastor. He had a church in Wyckoff, N.J. I went down there when we first met, and there was this tiny boy leading the entire congregation like it was a rock concert. I remember thinking he’s a complete and utter star on every level, and we’ve been connected ever since. You know, when the boys separated, Nick and I met the next morning. We had this breakfast and I’ll never forget — he was 21, he’d buzzed his hair and looked like a megastar and he had amazing musical ideas. We hatched out a plan and it’s been beautiful to see it unfold.
Was he as serious when he was 10 as he seems to be now?
He was such a serious little boy — much more then. If you look at the Carpool Karaoke he did with James Corden and Demi, that’s completely Nick now. He’s very career-minded and music-minded, but he’s loosened up so much over the years.
Were you frustrated about losing him as an individual to the group?
No, it was all very natural. Given how young he was and that his voice was starting to change, it felt right for them to be a young band. The Jonas Brothers thing started to happen at Columbia but it developed at Hollywood, and I went to Universal.
You were there practically the minute Nick was a free agent again. What do you think sold him on the idea of teaming up again?
We always kept the connection. He’d play me music and give me a sense of where he was going. I put him with a lot of my artists, like Delta Goodrem, to write, and I think I’ve been something of a mentor for him over the years. There is huge trust between us. I’ve known his manager, Phil McIntyre, since he was 20 and part of the Brothers’ team. There’s a strong relationship there too, which led to the Safehouse label. For Nick, I think it was coming back to a place where there could be real understanding and a shared vision. I think I had an advantage because I knew from way back when just how talented he was — I knew his voice, the soul of it, what he could do. Then we started to get songs like “Chains” and “Jealous,” and it got so exciting really quickly.
Was there a lot of hemming and hawing over how to move him away from the image of the Jonas Brothers and into his own personal space as an artist?
It was completely effortless. He was already looking the way he now looks and then coincidentally — and this was kind of a magical thing — we’d been talking about him having a certain image that was an element of heartthrob but definitely rugged and strong. Literally, the next day he got offered this part in Kingdom where he plays an MMA fighter. So that meant that he was gonna be training and acting and honing his skills, and it fit exactly into the direction. Then we put out our very first video, which was “Chains,” and the soul of that visual defined our statement of intent exactly.
Demi went through the wringer, as many child stars do. Was Nick just immune to it all? He hasn’t had a lot of visible issues transitioning into adulthood.
No, it’s not that he’s immune. It’s just that he was always a serious person. His family background is very strong. He’s got his brothers around him, and he’s felt secure all his life. I think Demi’s journey has been equally vital. Obviously she is much newer in my life than Nick, but it’s incredible to work with both of them because they come from very different places but are equally brilliant and so close as friends.
Had you gotten a chance to get to know Demi much before the Safehouse deal?
I did, and I was so impressed with her. To be honest, I wasn’t clear before on what a brilliant singer she is. I knew she was good, but I didn’t understand the depth of what Demi is capable of. That was transformational to me, and we’re now revealing that to the world. She has always been talented and successful, but I feel like her Grammy and Saturday Night Live appearances established in the public’s and the media’s consciousness that Demi is a very special singer in this young generation.
How would you describe the chemistry that she and Nick have?
To me, it’s a brother and sister thing. Because they’ve never dated — she dated his brother [Joe] — and they’ve known each other since they were 11 or 12. They grew up together, for many years they’ve shared the same management, they both have quite similar goals and take their careers very seriously, and they’re mutually supportive. So Nick will write songs with Demi and they are actual partners in the Safehouse label. The Future Now tour is them together, not one opening for the other. It’s just a unique and very wonderful friendship. They care about each other so much.
When you think about who Nick is as a person, what do you think it is about their personalities that mesh well together, aside from shared experience?
This is just speculation, but a thing that’s really interesting is that Nick comes from one kind of background — he has this sort of wisdom, and clarity, and he’s been an old soul since he was 10. He can be quite detached about situations. Whereas Demi is a true singer with all the emotion that involves and a very different background. I think there’s a big-brotherly element, where he is protective of her, but also she’s got a passion, and I like the duality of that between them.