Earlier this year, Joe Jonas almost fell into a life of crime.
On a sunny May afternoon in Los Angeles, the middle Jonas Brother and I are wandering through "Art in the Streets," Jeffrey Deitch's massive street-art extravaganza at the Museum of Contemporary Art. He's telling me about his fascination with the work of Banksy and Mr. Brainwash when we come upon a small piece, nearly hidden over a doorway, by Invader, the French artist known for his tile mosaics depicting characters from the old-school video game, Space Invader.
"Oh, his stuff is great," Jonas says, snapping a picture with his iPhone. Then this Disney Channel superstar tells me about the night a few months ago that he and his friends came this close to stealing an Invader piece from its perch on the side of a Melrose Avenue apartment building. "We didn't take it, though," Jonas adds, "since we figured if we got caught the cops might think we were the ones who put it up."
A brush with vandalism isn't the only sign that Jonas, 21, is growing out of his kiddie-pop past: In September the singer will release his highly anticipated solo debut, Fastlife, on which he leaves behind the Jonas Brothers' freshly scrubbed boy-band sound in favor of a darker, club-ready dance vibe. "I came to shut this thing down," Jonas brags in a hard-thumping tune called "Love Slayer," and what's crazy is that you almost believe him.
"I was surprised he reached out to me," says Nate "Danja" Hills, the frequent Britney Spears collaborator and producer on the album. "There's such a gap between what I do and what the Jonas Brothers are. But that's the excitement -- it left us an opportunity to create something new." Danja isn't afraid of scaring off JoBros fans with this more adult approach. "They've all grown up with Joe, so they'll be able to understand where he's coming from," he says. "And, really, he's a star no matter what he does. If I give him something people can move to on top of his natural charisma, that's like dynamite and gasoline."
Steering a black Audi convertible down Sunset Boulevard on our way to the museum, Jonas says he didn't hit upon Fastlife's style right off the bat. He started out working in a Michael BublÃ© vein, which satisfied the singer in Jonas but not the songwriter. "I don't mean to name-drop," he says, "but about a year-and-a-half ago I met Bono, and he told me to write music that was really honest, to not be afraid to go there." So advised, Jonas gave into his longtime love of electro-beats, as well as his desire to reveal more of himself in his lyrics. "I used to be afraid of letting go of the fragile part of me," he sings in "See No More." That's no longer the case.
"I think it's good that he tried out a few things to see what felt best," says Jonas' younger brother Nick, who last year went solo himself with the soul-bluesy Who I Am. (Older brother Kevin recently got married, but give him time.) "As Joe has grown as a man, it's been really interesting to see how that's influenced his sound. And now he's landed in a real sweet spot. When we all heard the music, right away it was like, 'This is where you need to be.'"
As we pass the Palladium, where Jonas points out with enthusiasm that the reformed Cars are playing tonight, I ask him about Justin Timberlake, whose 2002 solo debut, Justified, makes for an easy (and apt) comparison point for Fastlife. "He's absolutely an inspiration,"Jonas says of the former 'N Sync star. "I look up to Justin so much. He pretty much created his own lane."
A space for himself is exactly what Jonas is after these days, in the professional sense as well as the personal: After sharing homes with his family and with friends, he's currently living alone for the first time, in a Hollywood high-rise near the Jonas organization's corporate headquarters. (In addition to music, these guys are involved in TV, movies, merchandise, you name it.) At MOCA, when we see an installation piece littered with empty Tecate cans, Jonas
laughs knowingly, admitting how relieved he is to finally not have roommates.
Still, he's quick to clarify that the emphasis on Fastlife hasn't resulted in a loosening of family ties. Indeed, the Jonases recently vacationed together in Hawaii, where Nick and Joe somehow ended up having lunch with Mick Fleetwood. "My brothers and I, we're like each other's best friends," Joe says, "and I think it's that foundation that makes me feel like I
can really do this on my own for a second."
Grooming by Johnny Hernandez for Fierro Agency
Photos 1, 2 and 5: Tuexdo, shirt and bow tie by Neil Barrett and vintage bracelet
Photo 3: Jeans by Dolce & Gabbana