American Songwriter November/December Cover Story: Jonas Brothers Behind ‘The Album’—“It Really Has Been Mind-Blowingly Fun”

Happiness Begins marked a shift in course for the Jonas Brothers. A decade prior to working on their fifth album, Nick, Joe, and Kevin Jonas called it quits following the release of Lines, Vines and Trying Times in 2009. Once reunited, the brothers opened their songbook and collaborated with a larger team of co-writers and producers and turned around a No. 1 album and their first chart-topping hit “Sucker.”

Videos by American Songwriter

“I think the beauty of this band is—as Nick says a lot of the time, and I’m gonna quote him here—‘We’re three individual artists in a band together,’” says Kevin Jonas. “The work we did on Happiness Begins, specifically as an album, Joe was in one room working with somebody that he loved to work with, and Nick was in another, and then we’d come together and look at all the music independently. It’s pretty amazing that we can work that way, all the way around, and figure it all out at the same time.”

Working with producer Jon Bellion, whose previous songwriting and production credits have checked off Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, and Halsey, the Jonas Brothers had a particular vision in mind for their follow-up 2023 release, The Album. Animated by explicit homages to the cross-genre of the music that the brothers were exposed to growing up, by their father Kevin Jonas, Sr., the album fuses everything from the Beatles and Eagles to the Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, and Boston.

The Jonas Brothers even expose a touch of Jay Ferguson’s “Thunder Island” yacht rock on their viral hit “Waffle House,” an ode to their brotherly love—Headstrong father and a determined mother / Oh, that’s why some nights we tried to kill each other / But you know it’s always love—and the establishment called Waffle House that once served as their post-show “sanctuary” in the earlier days.

“I think we wanted there to be a cohesive nature to the sound of the record,” says Nick. “We were really leaning into that Laurel Canyon, Americana, Eagles-influenced sound, and also making sure the themes were all things that were relevant to us. A lot of the time was spent with Jon [Bellion], just talking about where we were at that point in our lives, as people, and how we could effectively tell those stories in the music.” 

That early tapestry of music, which they’ve colored in on The Album, helped the brothers define parts of their musicality later on, from their harmonies and tones to different instrumentation or the rhythmic shift from rock and folk to funk guitar.

A majority of the sound on The Album came from bands and artists that were still within them but were rarely revealed, sonically, on previous Jonas albums. “The prospect of leaning into those influences even more than we have in the past was really exciting to us,” says Joe. “It felt like a natural fit given our three-part harmonies, and our natural instincts, musically, so it was really gratifying to put it all together.”

Despite their intention to make something that sounded like an amalgamation of some of the aforementioned influences, there was room to migrate in other directions. “You also have to let the process kind of dictate where the music takes you and be willing to adapt and see something out,” says Nick. “If there are songs that don’t immediately feel like they fit perfectly in the collection of songs you’re building, then maybe take a [break] and just observe the overall vision. You can always change your mind and go down a different path that’s feeling right in that moment.”

Nick adds, “I think that we try to work really hard to do that, like ‘Okay, we said we want to feel like this or sound like this, but what if we just follow this path?’ And it’s been fun to see where that’s taken us.”

When writing now, it all depends on where or when the creativity strikes. “It could be a melody first,” says Kevin. “It could be someone’s ideas or someone’s story. There’s no secret sauce. That is how we do it every single time. I think that’s part of it, that we ebb and flow.”

The album also helped reveal that songwriting is a different encounter for each of the brothers. Writing solo, Nick has released four albums, from his 2005 debut, Nicholas Jonas,through Spaceman in 2021. He also worked on Who I Amwith The Administration, in 2010, featuring members of The New Power Generation and producer John Fields, while Joe ventured off with his side project DNCE, and generated their eponymous 2016 debut. 

“I think that songwriting, for each of us, is a different experience,” shares Nick. “We approach it in very different ways, but collaboration has become a major part of our process. Early in our career in writing, we were pretty insulated in the way that we went about our creative process. We kept it very tight between the three of us or one or two trusted collaborators.”

Collectively, all three are credited as writers and co-writers on a majority of their catalog from their 2006 debut, It’s About Time, through The Album. Throughout their 17-year career, the brothers have written songs with Diplo, Miley Cyrus, Common, and John Legend, along with a number of other co-writers and producers, including Ryan Tedder, Justin Tranter, and Greg Kurstin on Happiness Begins. 

The Albumand Happiness Begins saw the brothers open up to more collaborations, whereas their earlier releases were slightly more insular. “Now I think we take a lot of inspiration out of working with other people and seeing what their point of view and perspective is—not only with what to do with the song, but in life,” shares Nick. “Having those different points of view really gives you a well-rounded song or album at the end of the day.”

Another twist on The Album was Bellion’s participation on the orchestral-synth closer “Walls.” The producer, who has released two albums of his own since 2016, along with his Top 20 hit “All Time Low,” also sings on a track, which Joe reveals took the longest of all the songs to finish. “We changed some lyrics to help better tell that story for us,” he says, “but it’s fun to see songs go on a journey like that, and where you end up at the end of the road.”

On tour through summer of 2024 on their Five Albums, One Night Tour, the brothers have been dipping more into older songs from their entire catalog for a give-or-take 35-song set, pulled from their debut through Happiness Begins and a peppering of tracks from The Album

“It really has been mind-blowingly fun,” says Kevin. “We worked really hard to build an incredible setlist that really encapsulated everything to bring people on this journey, whether you’re an OG fan or someone that’s brand new to the music and getting your [Jonas Brothers] education on this tour. I think we’ve done a really great balance of making people feel connected all the way through it.”

Working around a well-oiled machine, on the stage front, from the pyrotechnics to their core setlist, they’ve left some room to medley in a deeper cut or strip something back acoustically. “At our core, we love to perform the songs we wrote in our little basement in Little Falls, New Jersey,” says Joe. “And some of those songs we don’t even play live, so we’ll occasionally pick up the acoustics and sing some extra songs for the audience or songs that we’ve done in film and TV that aren’t highlighted [on the setlist].”

Joe adds, “Sometimes we’ll change up a solo song—Nick solo or DNCE, which I guess is quote-unquote solo. Obviously, this is a long run. We’re not even near the halfway mark in the U.S., but we intend to grow with this show. It seems like a big undertaking to go to something like this, if you don’t know every single word to every single song, but we made sure it’s digestible for those who might be on the fence, and will continue to evolve this show.”

The tour also marks the first time the Jonas Brothers are playing in Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, and Norway. “We always say we get in the studio so we can get back on tour,” says Kevin. “Of course, there’s so many things that we need to do to write, and get the emotions off our back—whatever it is to tell our stories. I think being on tour allows us to showcase those songs and see how those songs affect people in their own lives. You can see the stories and how they may take them home.”

Photo by Pamela Littky

Revisiting older tracks on the tour, Joe insists that each one still reveals something different in the Jonas’ story. “I really can’t pick one,” Joe says. “Even the Lines, Vines, and Trying Times album (2009), as a whole, was one that was a learning curve for us as artists. I think some of my favorite musicians have had albums where they’re going on experimental journeys musically, and figuratively, and discovering what the next phase of their musicality is. For us, that was definitely Lines, Vines, and Trying Times.”

Nearly 15 years since the release of their fourth album, Joe says fans still have a “special connection” to Lines, Vines, and Trying Times. “It may be some obscure songs and a few different genres where we were just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, but it’s those moments that really stand out for me, personally,” he says, “when I can see that the underdog albums or songs are the ones highlighted as fan favorites.”

Whether there’s still a deep personal or other connection, or not, the Jonas’ won’t downplay any songs from their past. There’s mutual respect for their journey, from their teens through adulthood. “I don’t think that there are songs that we don’t connect with at all,” shares Joe. “Even if some of the themes or lyrics are not where you’re at in this moment, you did go on that experience. There are certain lyrics that reference technology and other things that are now outdated. It’s funny talking about ‘IM,’ or Instant Messenger (2007 single “S.O.S.”), but it’s a journey we went on, and we’re grateful for it.”

Perhaps it’s unfathomable to think that at this point in their career, the Jonas Brothers have enough material for such a career-spanning show, but the years have flitted by since their debut 18 years ago, the same year the three were already touring with The Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson, Aly & AJ, The Cheetah Girls, and more when Kevin was 17 and Nick was 12-going-on-13. “You’re aging us now,” quips Joe, who was 15 at the time.

The Jonas’ audience has also grown alongside them with three to four generations represented at their shows. “The fans that were in their teens when we were in our teens are now in their 30s, and they’re bringing their own kids, if they have kids,” says Nick. “Then there are the parents who used to bring their teenage kids that still want to come. You get the grandparents as well, so it really covers a pretty wide range of people.” He adds, “It’s kind of incredible to be in a spot where the music has touched so many different people’s lives and age groups and to see that it’s also something shared amongst family. We obviously spend a lot of time together, us as a family, and care deeply about each other, and our shared experiences, so to be a part of creating that for somebody else is really special for us.”

Even while touring in the middle of America, if time allows, the brothers will jump into the studio. “It’s all about finding time,” says Joe. “There’s definitely inspiration. I think even just performing on stage, there’s inspiration all around us. There’s a quote that I love, ‘There are flowers everywhere if you’re willing to look,’ [19th and early 20th century French artist Henri Matisse said ‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them’]. There’s inspiration just performing on stage every night.”

Remembering a concert a few nights earlier, Joe says there was a fan who beat cancer and wanted to celebrate with her friends at a Jonas Brothers concert. “These kinds of moments make you want to go from pen to paper, paper to lyrics, and lyrics to songs,” says Joe, “so it all just happens naturally.”

On the road, Joe tries to write down whatever song ideas come, so they aren’t lost. “Some days are more diligent than others,” he says, “It’s therapeutic in a way. We have a lot of random notes on our phone with one word or phrase, or something that we saw or heard in a movie and feel like that could inspire something else.”

Nick adds “We’re pretty much open books, for better or worse, and I think that’s been a helpful tool for us to process things in our lives. But we’re totally open to someone else’s thoughts and ideas and the ability to draw inspiration not just from our experiences, but just life around us, in general. It’s good to stay open in that sense.”

Looking ahead, the brothers revealed that they’ve collaborated and recorded with a few new artists and DJs. “We’ve been busy building our songwriting craft,” says Kevin, “and looking to what’s the next evolution of the brothers.”

At this point in their career, the Jonas Brothers have had three No. 1 albums, sold more than 20 million albums and generated more than 13.5 billion streams. “I’m so incredibly grateful that we have music, and we have writing,” says Joe. “We have these amazing tools. For us as songwriters, we didn’t have to go to university. Obviously, school is very important, and I encourage everyone who can go to college to go, but if it doesn’t work out for some reason, it does feel so good to be able to know that you’ll be accepted, and the songs you’ve written when you were a teenager still carry over as an adult when you’re in your 30s. They impact lives in positive ways and emotional ways. I think this tour has shown us that more than previous tours.”

Joe adds, “We’ve gone out there and played the singles and the familiar Top 10 Spotify songs, but when you play b-sides or the songs that were a bonus track on a Walmart CD back in 2009, to perform some of those songs and the reception that we get back from the audience, that’s just what it’s all about. That is the beauty of being an artist and being able to write your own music and have your stories become their stories.”

Photos by Pamela Littky

Leave a Reply

Niall Horan Makes a Steal as Mara Justine and Claudia B. Battle it Out with “Son of a Preacher Man” on ‘The Voice’