January 23, 2010 / 2:46 AM / 9 years ago

Nick Jonas steps out solo to show "Who I Am"

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - When Nick Jonas, the youngest member of the Jonas Brothers, announced his solo side project, the Brothers went on the offensive to ensure their fans that the trio is not breaking up, posting that fact in all caps on their MySpace page. What more evidence does a teen girl need?

Nick Jonas & the Administration’s “Who I Am” (Hollywood Records), which hits shelves February 2, isn’t a teenybopper project, but rather one that combines Jonas’ youthful appeal and the experience of rock-solid industry veterans. The Administration comprises John Fields — the Jonas Brothers’ longtime producer — on bass and former New Power Generation members Sonny Thompson, Michael Bland and Tommy Barbarella.

The album was recorded in two weeks at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios, although the 17-year-old Jonas says he was stowing away solo song ideas — ones with a rougher edge than those he writes with his brothers — for the better part of two years. The first single, “Who I Am,” debuted on the December 2 telecast of CBS’ Grammy Awards nominations concert. It holds at No. 8 with a bullet on Billboard’s Heatseekers Songs chart and has sold 120,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The band is on a 14-stop club tour to promote the album, including dates in New York at the Beacon Theater and in Los Angeles at the Wiltern. During a practice session for the Grammy nominations show in Burbank, Calif., Jonas sat down with Billboard and talked about the new album, what’s next for the Jonas Brothers and why his first stop after he’s elected president of the United States will be Roswell, New Mexico.

Billboard: Why did you decide to record a side project?

Nick Jonas: This all came about around two years ago when I started writing some songs that stylistically weren’t right for the Jonas Brothers. I was finding inspiration from Elvis Costello, Prince, Stevie Wonder — all these guys that I’ve really admired. After writing about eight or nine songs, I thought, “It would be great to go record this some day.” The timing worked out — we had two weeks off from some touring and recording that my brothers and I were doing — and so I went to Nashville with the Administration and I made this record.

Billboard: Two weeks is a tight deadline to record an entire album.

Jonas: Nashville was intense, and going into it I was excited, but a little nervous. But once I got there and sat down with the musicians for 10 minutes I knew it would be possible. It was really less than two weeks — it was about eight days — and then the mixing went on for another four. I left with a CD and was really proud and happy about it.

I just think that it’s all about learning from each other. When we got there it was me sharing an idea for a song, and if it wasn’t completely finished, then we’d work together to make sure it was done. It was recorded like a record from the ‘60s or the ‘70s, in the sense that we’re all in individual isolation booths and we’re recording simultaneously as opposed to what you do in a lot of pop music these days, which is record one thing and go to the next, (with) a lot of overdubs. We decided to make it kind of raw and real, and there are very minimal overdubs. It felt like a real recording of a band and it made for a good vibe in the studio, too.

Billboard: Was it difficult adjusting to this new style of recording?

Jonas: Going into the whole recording process, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d met some of the musicians before — Michael Bland and John Fields — but Tommy Barbarella and David Ryan Harris (who played guitar on the album; Sonny Thompson is the guitarist for the tour) were new. I sat down with them and talked about how I saw it going down. It was a learning process in a lot of ways. It was the best class I could ever be a part of.

Prince plays a big part in this whole project because a lot of the guys are from the New Power Generation, so a lot of the time I was like, “I really think we could do it like this Prince song!” — kind of forgetting for a minute that these were the guys who played it and they were all right there with me.

Billboard: Talk about “Who I Am,” the single and the album.

Jonas: Of all of the songs (on the album) it’s probably the most personal in the sense that it tells a story about me. This one is just about wanting to find someone who loves you for who you are. It’s kind of a hopeful song. It’s actually the second song we recorded for the record and so it was early in the process, but still one of my favorites.

Some of the other tracks that are standouts for me are things like “Rose Garden” — that was the first song I wrote for the record. It’s a story about a young girl who finds her safe place in the rose garden — wherever it is in life where you feel most comfortable, where you can be yourself, where you can find love or just be alone if you need to.

Some of the other fun ones are “Last Time Around” — the Stevie Wonder influence is definitely on that one — and then there’s “Olive & an Arrow.” That ties in the concept of the presidency and it has one of my favorite lines in the record: “We’ve never been into honesty/But promise me/You’ll let me know/When you’re lying.”

Billboard: With the song titles and the band name, it’s obvious you’re quite taken with the office of the president. Why?

Jonas: I’ve always been fascinated with it, and partially because I hope to be the president one day — I hope to run. Another (reason is) I think that it really reflects a lot of things about who we are in this country and the culture. It’s amazing how you can tie stuff in with it — conspiracy theories, state of emergency, olive and an arrow, rose garden — all of these things you think just relate to one thing can really expand. You can find a whole song about it.

Billboard: You really want to run for president?

Jonas: I’ve said it in the past as kind of a joke, because a lot of people have said, “You’re a leader, you seem like you could run for president one day,” and I said, “That’s cool.”

But another reason is I really want to know if there are aliens. That’s the real reason. If there’s a way to figure that out without having to run for president, maybe that would be good.

Billboard: You have to get to Area 51 somehow.

Jonas: Exactly.

Billboard: In the short term, though, you’re just going on tour with the Administration.

Jonas: This record is meant to be played live. The recording is basically live, and so when we got together and started rehearsing, it felt like there were going to be so many opportunities to expand them for the live versions — make up new things if we want to, change them — just so many possibilities.

I know it’s going to be an emotional experience singing these songs, trying to pour as much of my heart into them as I can and knowing that the tour itself is going to be that kind of intimate vibe. I want people to really hear the music, so I want seated venues like theaters where you can really hear the music.

Billboard: How involved are you in the marketing efforts for the Administration?

Jonas: I had a meeting with the management side and I told them I’d love to be a part of every detail of this. I’m copied on every e-mail that comes in. I’m heavily involved. It really is a passion project for me, and being involved in every step is important to me. At times it’s overwhelming, because there’s a lot that comes in, but we have a good time and it comes all together.

Billboard: What have you learned from your Jonas Brothers experience that applies to going solo?

Jonas: Obviously, I’m so thankful for them giving me the time to do this project. But I think the biggest change is when people say, “What’s it like having your brothers onstage with you?” and the answer is usually, “Oh, it’s great because you feel secure because you have them with you and they’re your brothers and there’s this bond.” Not having them is going to be a little different, but I think that they’re always going to be there because that’s where I learned how to be who I am onstage and with music.

Billboard: What’s next for the Jonas Brothers?

Jonas: We’re going to shoot the second season of our TV show, “JONAS,” and “Camp Rock 2” is coming out, and there’s another world tour. There’s a lot of things coming up that will keep us very busy.

Also, the reality show with the Disney Channel, “Living the Dream,” got picked up. They were with us all this past month. The first one we did with them was an introduction to our world — but this one will show the real side of what it’s like to be on the road and far away from home.

Billboard: Are you interested in pursuing acting?

Jonas: I’m not really sure. Joe’s really passionate about that. Kevin has some dreams of going behind the camera, but for me personally, I don’t know — I think music comes first, always. But if the right role came up and it was something I was really passionate about, I might go and try to do that. But I really enjoy where we’ve been able to tie the music in with the acting.

Billboard: How will you balance your work with the Administration and with the Jonas Brothers?

Jonas: It’s going to be a year of learning for me, for our team and for my brothers — just learning how to balance everything out. We have an idea of how it will all work, and a hope and a dream of how it will all work, but it’s going to be a year of learning.

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