Kevin, Joseph and Nicholas Jonas of US chart makers the JONAS BROTHERS talked to Mike Rimmer.
Clearly America never did succumb to the winsome talents of Busted because a new trio of siblings have managed to take their song "Year 3000" into the pop charts Stateside and find themselves the darlings of Disney radio. This latest collection of pop stars are The Jonas Brothers and they're Christians. Through one of those contractual anomalies, The Jonas Brothers' debut album 'It's About Time' hasn't gained a release in the UK but that hasn't stopped a track from the Daylight/Columbia album, the infectious "Time For Me To Fly" making it onto the Cross Rhythms playlist.
So who are the Jonas Brothers? The group is Kevin, Joseph and Nicholas Jonas and originally they used the name Sons Of Jonas and even The Jonas Trio before settling for Jonas Brothers. Kevin explains simply, "We just wanted everybody to know that we are brothers. That we are the Jonases." Nicholas continues, "We thought of many different names for the band and the label were thinking of Jonas 3 at the time, and we didn't like that at all. So during the first show we did, we got on stage and said, 'Hey! We're the Jonas Brothers.' That's just who we were, you know? And that was our name from then on because that's how people knew us." I observe that the name Jonas 3 sounds too much like Jump5! There is a shout of agreement, "YEAH!" before Kevin says, "We're good friends with them but we're much different. We're definitely not like a pop boyband. We play our instruments and write our own songs."
Although the band are resident in New Jersey, Nicholas was born in Dallas, Joe was born in Arizona and only Kevin was born in their home state. Nicholas explains, "We're all born in different places because our parents run a sign language ministry. They were travelling around." I wonder whether that was difficult since the moving would entail changing schools and neighbourhoods and losing friends. Kevin remembers, "I only really had one big transition and that was in Third Grade. I went from Dallas to New Jersey. Other than that I only switched schools after middle school and going to high school. So it was never really that big of a deal to me."
Looking at the band's MySpace page, their live schedule is relentless. Perhaps all the moving was simply a good preparation for life on the road. "Totally," agrees Joe, "because our life is about being flexible. So it's good. We're all home-schooled now. We work on the road. We do things while we're at home. We experience things while we're on the road. It's a lot of fun."
The band are experiencing their first mainstream success so I'd imagine that doing school work on tour is not really much fun. Joe laughs, "It gets a little tough. The first few tours were a little tough for us just because we weren't used to it. We were going, 'Well we can do school while we're on tour.' You don't get as much free time as you think! We're on a radio tour right now. Mainly all the mainstream radio stations and going to the pop stations. It's been really good. But it's been much easier to do school. But when you're on a tour bus you have to take some time to yourself to really get the work done."
So what time of day is best to do school work? "In the morning, definitely," affirms Nicholas, "because at night you're drained or in the middle of the day it's just like, you want to be able to focus and then that way you can do something fun. That's always good. We have hired tutors at home but on the road, my work is like self-taught so I can teach it mostly to myself through the booklets. So it's really easy."
When it comes to a home life, the brothers' father is a minister as Nicholas explains, "They started a sign language ministry and they travel around the US. They started that in 1990 I think. They went all over the world. It was pretty amazing. They stopped when I was born, which was 13 years ago. Then my dad became the senior pastor at the church in Wyckoff, New Jersey when we moved there. It was just amazing how the Lord planned it all. We moved to New Jersey and right there is where everything happens in the music industry and it kind of all came into place. It was really cool."
Living in New Jersey was very handy when it came to interacting with the music business since New York is very close by. New York has the headquarters for Columbia/Sony BMG, which was where they originally signed on the dotted line. New York also gave Nicholas and Joseph the opportunity to perform on Broadway. Joe remembers, "That was pretty amazing. It was a great experience. I think it was really preparing me for what I'm doing today. You know, discipline and all that stuff that's needed for what you're doing in the music industry. I loved the experience. I learned a lot. But this is what I love to do and this is probably what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. I think it really set us up to what we're doing now."
I wondered what they had decided they were trying to achieve through their music. "We are just trying to be a light," Kevin explains. "With our music we're trying to be successful. It's definitely a pop record. It's a pop/rock record for the mainstream. But our whole thing is to play mainstream music but to be a light in a dark world and to tell people that we are Christians when they ask, 'What's so different about you?' We're like, 'Well, we're Christians and we love the Lord.' That's our opportunity to witness to people. We just feel like this is where we belong - 'This is who we are and let's just go for it!'"
When Christians hit the mainstream, there almost seems to be an unwritten rule that it isn't cool to admit that you're a Christian. Sometimes it seems that it's uncool to be a Christian. Does the band think that there is a danger that talking about being Christians is going to put them in a position of people not liking them because of their faith? "Well of course," agrees Kevin."That's with anyone saying that they're a Christian because there's people that don't believe in what we believe in. So it's a risk of course but it's a risk we're willing to take. We're not preaching at anybody. We're not stuffing down anyone's throat. But if they ask us we're willing to share it. They ask us, 'What's different about your music?' And we're like, 'Well we believe it's something greater.'"
So does the trio have any role models out there whose approach they would like to emulate? Joseph immediately cites Switchfoot. "We love Switchfoot. We really look up to them big time. We all have different influences in music. I like Underoath and the little more hardcore stuff. Nick is more the soulful stuff. Like Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5. And Kevin likes the John Mayer stuff. So we just put all our influences together and came up with this. It's who we are. We're not trying to be anyone else or trying to be the next somebody. We're just being the Jonas Brothers."
What about the challenges of pop stardom? How do they cope with the attention? Joe observes, "We do have fanatic fans. And the coolest feeling was, we debuted our video on TRL. We went to TRL and going up to that window and seeing 400 screaming girls.fans I mean!" He laughs, "Seeing 400 screaming fans, it's pretty awesome. It was awesome. It was a cool feeling." Nick agrees, "Yeah, for sure. Now that we're being noticed places and people know who we are it's really cool. It's like a reassurance that everything we've been doing is actually working. It's really cool."
Fame and stardom comes with its own pressures and comes at a price. Have the brothers discussed these issues? "Yeah of course," says Kevin. "It's what you ask for. But you know what? This is the thing we know we want to do. It's the thing that God has blessed us to do. So we really can't wait for it to happen. If you're gonna get huge, you're gonna have to deal with it. And that's okay. There's consequences with everything, if you can call it a consequence, you know what I mean? We just met Billie Joe from Green Day. He's a really awesome down-to-earth guy. You've got to stay like that. He's sold however many records he's ever sold. A huge band. And he's just, 'Cool! Hey, nice to meet you!' Shakes your hand, smiles, talks to you. He's a good guy."
It may be easy to stay grounded yourself but as their fame grows, the brothers will be faced with the fact that everybody else treats them differently. "That's why we keep it a very tight-knit group. Our father's our co-manager. Our road manager is our uncle. They're both pastors and they can both minister to us on the road. It's really a great thing to know that we have a tight and close group of people with us."
So what happens when they become so recognisable that they can't walk on the streets because they'll get recognised? Nick gets excited, "That's when we like it!" he laughs, "We totally want it! We definitely want big success for us. We're very excited to see what the future holds."
It's easy to dismiss such enthusiasm as naiveté, especially when you read interviews with celebrities who complain because they're getting chased down the street by paparazzi who are photographing them when they're on the beach or in the garden. Surely it's going to be hard rather than fun. Kevin responds, "I think because we have our faith it's not going to be like that for us. We're gonna keep a level head at all times and we're going to think of it as a blessing each time someone's taking a picture of us. I'm going to take it as a compliment. It's not like: 'Oh this is so terrible!' I think we'll be cool about it. You talk to us in five years and then we'll see how we're doing!"
I actually suspect that if things continue the way they are going with The Jonas Brothers that I won't be able to get anywhere near them in five years time to get a chance to chat because they'll be surrounded by publicists and minders. Kevin laughs, "We'll make a promise that in five years we'll do another interview. That's if you WANT to do another interview." Joe adds, "It seems so far away!" Nick jumps in excitedly, "I'll be 18. I'll be an adult! Kevin will be 23 and Joe will be 21!"
I suggest that when that time comes they might well be embarrassed with the pop-light sounds of their debut album. "I really hope not," says Kevin. "This album, we are SO happy with. We got to make the album that we wanted to make and the songs that we really liked as well." Nicholas adds, "A real punk-rock record. That's what we modelled it after because that's our sound." Joe jumps in, "Yeah, like The Ramones."
Well, I guess, for the Ramones they're from the right area of the country since the famous punk band conquered the world from New York. But somehow, for now, these brothers don't quite have the same street cred. That could change as a new album is in the pipeline for Hollywood Records and who knows how fame will treat them or where God will take the Jonas Brothers in the future. Time will tell.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.