(photography by Easton Schirra
styling by Avo Yermagyan
grooming by Marissa Machado for KEVIN MURPHY at Celestine Agency)
“I’m kind of in the process of deciding what I want to do right now,” Joe Jonas tells me at the Soho House in West Hollywood—a glass-walled rooftop bar from where we can see his house. He’s talking about his next musical project, but he could be talking about his public life as a whole. He has spent the past three years, since the release of his solo album, Fastlife, more or less out of the public eye. Following the big summer tour last year, there was a planned fall tour with the Jonas Brothers in intimate venues, but it was canceled two days before it was to kick off. That was last October.
Anyone might be shaken by a public falling out with their brothers, but he seems, in one word, content. And who wouldn’t be? Joe is your average really handsome, super successful twentysomething—those exist, right?—leading a life of total leisure. At 24, he has lived the equivalent of several lifetimes and presumably made enough money and fans to purchase and populate at least a small island or two. So what gets him out of bed in the morning?
Short answer: He wants, above all else, to reset his public persona: more Joe and less Jonas Brothers.
You might think it would be hard to figure out where one ends and the next begins, but it’s really not. When he’s at the photo shoot playing music and making genial small talk with the photographer about the best places to live in New York City, that’s Joe.
Then a weird thing happens. People post Instagram photos of the shoot, and within hours, there are blog posts, debates and rumors that he has canceled his deejay set at Bardot later that night. The thing is, he never announced the deejay set on any social media and has absolutely no intention of canceling. He’s psyched to be playing. But Jonas is, to a certain type of—let’s be honest—girl, the most famous person in the entire world. He is subject to the whims, rumors and fabrications of the Jungian collective unconscious that we build around any public figure. Before the shoot is over, his fans have adopted photos from the shoot as their Twitter avatars.
Another example: Jonas is at Bardot with his girlfriend, friends and a small retinue of support staff, sitting around and waiting to deejay. The room is dark, all wood and leather, and there’s a band finishing up a set in the room downstairs. People mill about aimlessly—talking, drinking, eyeing Jonas’ crowd in the corner. He’s laughing, smiling, having a good time. Finally, it’s time to go on. He opens with a set of music that he loves: electronic and not necessarily danceable. He seems, for all the world, like any other young deejay playing a set to a small crowd with his (O.K., pretty large) group of friends hanging out. People nod respectfully and pay attention but not as much attention as they pay to their drinks. At a certain point, when the drunkenness of the room reaches its fever pitch—this happens, as always, around 1:15 a.m.—something changes.
The Jonas Brother in him takes over, the music gets faster, and people start dancing. An energetic guy named Tetris jumps up and down and yells, “Woo,” which seems more than appropriate. And then at the very end, as Jonas tells it:
“Some guy I don’t know—maybe jealous, probably wasted—was like, ‘Boo, play some better music, boo.’ Five minutes before that, I saw him dancing like crazy… I don’t think he assumed I would talk back to him. So I said from the deejay stage, ‘If you have something to say, why don’t you come up here and say it? Because I can’t hear you.’ I was kind of smirking. I was picking on him a little bit, and the lights came on in the club, and he was really embarrassed. And it was funny, because the fans started laughing at him. I wasn’t trying to start anything; it was just kind of humorous. The guy got embarrassed and left or whatever. That small thing blew up into [my manager thinking] I got into a fight.”
Jonas seems ready to say goodbye to all that. In the hours I spend in his company, he never once says the words “Jonas Brothers.”
Of his upcoming album, he says: “I’m trying to [make it] something that I really want it to be—do music that I’m really proud of and not let too many cooks in the kitchen.” The album is still in its nascent stages, but so far, he has recorded or written songs with a variety of collaborators, the most notable of which is Albert Hammond, Jr., of the Strokes. The pair wrote and recorded together in Hammond’s upstate New York barn studio. Jonas doesn’t want to hurry the process along.
“I’m really at the baby stages. I’m writing with people I like and admire, but I’m taking my sweet, sweet time with it,” he says. “I feel like if I figured out what I wanted the sound to be like, [I wouldn’t be] too worried about ‘I have to release this from the hype of …’”
Your previous band, I ask?
“There are always stereotypes when people think of a band, any artist, that they’re going to sound like a certain thing,” he replies. “[I hope that] when I hit the reset button and release new music, fresh ears will listen open-minded and not judge.”
He feels that he rushed into the last one. “In a big way,” he says. “I was told I had a year to make a whole side project or solo album and release it. And I was like, ‘All right.’ And that was exciting, because back then a year was like … 10 years.”
That’s Joe pushing back against the Jonas name, wanting to make work that he’s personally proud of after spending years in the Disney teen pop machine.
Still, family remains important to him. Though the Jonas Brothers band broke up, he posted an Instagram with his older brother Kevin’s new baby. Earlier in the week, he hosted his youngest brother for a sleepover and took him to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, which they both loved. That connection with family, he feels, is something that has helped him to adapt to a more normal day-to-day life, unlike others of his pop music generation.
“I’ve had an easier route than most. The youngsters just turning 20, the Biebers of the world, are under a microscope,” Jonas says. “[Bieber] is having a very tough time finding balance. I think we all saw it coming. Your dad is your party animal—that’s going to sum it up pretty quick. There’s an equation for some sort of explosion.”
For all of his side projects and various entanglements, deejaying seems to bring him the most joy. He plays with focus and intensity, and he has been working with a few friends, including DJ Triple XL, on developing his skills on the decks.
Back at Bardot, Jonas has been at it for about an hour and a half. The last song plays, the house lights come on, and a group of adoring, early-twentysomething women throng Jonas as he walks out of the deejay booth. Some of them have a reaction like you might expect to see from people lining up to meet the Beatles—jumping, waving jazz hands and saying unpunctuated things like “Ohmigod” and “Areyouforreal?” Others play it cool.
These are women that, if you do some math, have been following him since they were in their early teens. For some of them, meeting Joe Jonas is a dream hatched when they watched the Jonas Brothers play at their middle school in Connecticut. They never want this moment to end.
But it’s 2 a.m., and the lights are on, and it’s time to go. People leave. Jonas walks out of the club into the undisturbed Hollywood street. He disappears into a waiting Uber, where he is once again, finally, just Joe.