When Joe Jonas was one-third of the Jonas Brothers, he racked up two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, 15 Billboard Hot 100 hits and was followed by hoards of screaming girls around the world. So when it came time for the brothers to take their own paths, it was almost unfathomable to think that the Jonas Brothers’ success could be matched — but Jonas didn’t care.
Flash-forward to September 2015, when Jonas announced a new venture that didn’t involve any brothers and instead brought his best friends to the forefront in an eclectic pop-rock foursome. And thus, DNCE was born.
While it might have seemed a bit ambitious for Jonas (especially because their first single was the absurdly titled “Cake by the Ocean”), the band quickly proved to be exactly the right fit. In just over a year, DNCE has already managed a top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit (“Cake” peaked at No. 9 in March), an MTV Video Music Award for best new artist, and countless awards show performances — all before even putting out a debut album.
The long wait for a full-length LP from DNCE ended Friday (Nov. 18), when the group released the self-titled DNCE. On the eve of the big release day, Billboard caught up with Jonas to talk about DNCE’s insanely quick success, the vulnerable songwriting process for the album, and moving on from the JoBro days in epic fashion.
You guys seem to just be genuinely having a great time with everything you do, not really worrying about whether people are going to like you. Is that what you’d say DNCE is all about?
Absolutely. I think we always encourage each other, a constant reminder, really not — excuse my language — really not to give a f—, just let loose and have fun and realize that life’s really too short to worry about the small things. And obviously it’s not always easy, but what is best about this band is that we’re in it with each other and we’re each other’s best friends. And we can look at each other and just go wild and crazy — I think the music reflects that.
Did you guys decide you were going to be as wild and unique as you are now when you formed the band?
I think we definitely always wanted to be able to be something different for listeners. We really weren’t sure what direction the album was gonna go when we started making it. It kind of just showed itself. When we made “Cake by the Ocean,” that was the first song on the album that we said “OK, this is the template.” We kind of looked around like, “Are you guys sure?” And it kind of set the tone of like “All right, I guess we can be as wild and crazy as we want. And the sky’s the limit.” If we can go this nuts, then who says we can’t write even wackier or crazier tunes?
Why do you think it’s important for you to be that way as a band?
I feel like the biggest reason would be, because, especially music right now — there’s a lot of serious tunes out there. There’s a lot of stuff that maybe takes itself a little too seriously, and we of course take the music seriously but we also make sure that, when it comes to what we do, we have fun. And especially in the world right now, people I think — it’s been a tough few months I guess you could say. I feel like people need to be able to clear out of the mind set and hopefully put a smile on their face.
We’re not very political people and we don’t get vocal very much about that kind of stuff, but we just kind of hope that this album puts a smile on people’s faces, and we’re hearing already that it’s encouraging. If that gets you through a tough day, then that’s all we want to hear.
What were your inspirations for what you wanted to be as a band overall and with your music?
Our inspirations are all over the map. I think it’s from everyone from Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Bee Gees, James Brown…a lot of funk music. Stuff that we probably grew up listening to. And then stuff that’s more recent like Weezer — Cole [Whittle, the group’s bassist] from the band, he always says we’re kind of “Earth, Wind, and Weezer.” We’ve always been attracted to music all over the map, a lot of like hip-hop stuff too. So we always try to add 808 beats in music and utilize stuff that is coming up and what people are using in this day and age.
When you initially decided to do this and revealed that DNCE was a thing, what were your expectations?
You’d think this would be our second album, in a way, because of the year we’ve had already. So it does feel a little bit unique that we haven’t even released an album. But we wanted to take the time to really kind of evolve as a band and not rush this because it’s easy to just get something out based off of, like, “Let’s just get it out there and we’ll go from there” but I think really genuinely we wanted to take our sweet time with this album and then release it. So we don’t really have a ton of expectations. We just want to get it out to the world, and hopefully the response is something we would like [laughs]. You know, we’re not worried about Top 10/Top 20, that’s not what we’re doing in our life right now. We just want to get the music out there and that’s what it’s about for us – get it in people’s hands.
Has there been a point where you guys looked at each other and you were like “Guys, I think we made it”?
There’s a moment in every day, probably. We’ve had some crazy experiences. For example, today [Nov. 17, the day before the album’s official release], we’re getting reports of the album doing really well in Australia and Japan already and we just kind of like pinch ourselves. We’re like “What the hell?!” We get to do this all over again. We all did it individually, and now we’re doing it again. It’s just a constant reminder that music can be always ever-changing and it’s not that you only get one shot at it.
Obviously you personally had a ton of success with the Jonas Brothers, but what has it been like having your own project take off? Were you nervous your Jonas Brothers roots would overshadow what you were trying to do?
You know, I feel like, yeah, at first I was a little bit hesitant to really even start writing. For a lot of people, there’s that pre-mind-set of what I’m gonna come out with or what I’m supposed to do musically but I had a really good conversation with my manager, Phil, and he was really encouraging to be fearless and treat this like a completely new project. And this is not anything to do with my Jonas Brothers stuff — that’s a path that I’m really proud of, but this is something completely new and I can create something that would be fresh and now I’m doing it with my friends. Like I said, I’m proud of the work I did but this is the newest journey for me.
How did you approach DNCE and building a new fan base?
I think I got in the studio and I tried to just write music that was me as a person — which is just wild, funny, crazy, quirky, and a little weird — and the world seems to like it. And that just encourages you more. Like, if I can write a song called “Cake by the Ocean” that literally means almost nothing, and people are into it, I can literally write about anything I want.
You were a writer on every one of the songs, but only two of those featured writing from other band members (Whittle contributed to “Unsweet” and “Almost”). Was there a reason for that?
It was a unique situation of how things were written in this project. Originally I was just working on music by myself, and I didn’t really know if it was going to be a band. It just kind of happened naturally. I also wanted to be a little bit selfish when I was writing this album because this was the first time I’d ever done something on my own and I had this kind of idea and direction for what DNCE would be. And also, I feel like the band really trusted me walking into this first album. So that way, this was what we really and truly would sound like as a whole. And since I was there from the start of it, they trusted me in that. The next album, they’ll definitely be more involved and contribute with the writing as well.
What is the songwriting/production process like for you guys? Is there a goal, or is it just kind of organic?
There was a different situation each time — I would play them the songs quite a bit, and some I would keep to myself. Some I just tried to put in the corner and not really share too much with anyone because I was wanting it to really reflect where I was mentally, or also you don’t really want to hear a lot of opinions. It was always really fun. The studio vibes were always really good and if it was ever uptight I’d be like “Whoa, whoa, whoa, we need a drink. We need to change the vibe, we need to remember what this is.” Or there’d be days where I’m like, “Guys, let’s not force it. Let’s just come back tomorrow.” I never wanted it to feel heavy in the studio. I mean, there’s one or two songs on the album that are a little bit heavier but that was just the moment in time that I was going through.
But it’s probably a good thing to have some more vulnerable songs on a record that also has such fun party songs on it. It almost makes it seem like you’re fully establishing yourselves, if that makes any sense.
Yeah, that was kind of the vibe as well. When I wrote “Almost” and “Truthfully,” I was really going through those feelings. And “Truthfully” being a song about an honest conversation with yourself that maybe you don’t give somebody what they needed and maybe that there’s a place that you need to just kind of take a step back and say, “Okay, maybe I loved them more than they loved me and life goes on.” And then with “Almost,” it was a similar thing where you were pretty close to almost having something really great, and it just didn’t really work out. And that’s just another kind of place that – those two are very relatable for people and a vulnerable place for me because I’m telling real stuff that went on in my life.
Do you have any good stories from writing and putting together any of the songs?
There’s a good story with “Good Day.” That song is kind of hilarious because we were actually hungover in the studio that day. I think everybody was – the producers, the songwriters – and we were just all kind of hurting because we had a big night out the night before. So I was like, “Guys, let’s just write a song about how we feel right now.” And we didn’t think it’d make the album, we just wrote this song about, “you know what, we’re gonna have a fun day, who cares, s–t happens, let’s just see where it takes us.”
Which songs are you most excited to perform?
“Almost” and “Unsweet” are two that I can’t wait for people to hear live. Really all these slower songs, we’re going to really make a moment out of that and try to do a medley of our acoustic set.
What made you want to do a self-titled full-length album when you had a rather funny, random EP title with SWAAY?
I feel like the biggest reason would be that it’s our first album out and we want to introduce ourselves to the world – make it easy to find [laughs]. We want people to not have to search too much around what the album name is, just say, “Hey, this is us, we are DNCE, welcome to our life.”
What do you hope that fans get out of the album and where DNCE is headed next?
I hope this album gives fans a new fan, and a sense of happiness, joy, and kind of sends you into this party atmosphere and I hope you enjoy it. We’re gonna keep releasing more and more music quickly so stay tuned.
Take a listen to DNCE below.