There are three McCartneys that I believe can be considered household names, and two of them are related: Paul, Stella, and Jesse. Paul McCartney is, well, Paul McCartney. Sir Paul needs very little introduction. Stella McCartney, his daughter, is an internationally recognized designer. Jesse McCartney might not be a part of the English McCartney legacy, but he has been building his very own right here in America since the early 2000s. It’s hard to believe that this star’s Billboard charting, platinum selling debut solo album, Beautiful Soul, was released almost 15 years ago. It’s even harder to believe that he hasn’t aged a day. The green-eyed heartthrob turned 31 in April, released his stellar new single “Better With You” back in March, and is about to embark on his tenth (!) tour.
The pop singer-songwriter is not just pretty face with an amazing voice. Jesse has almost 70 acting credits to his name, stemming from guest spots on Disney Channel shows to voicing Theodore in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie franchise to playing a murderer on Fear the Walking Dead. This McCartney has seen it all. I got to speak with the kindhearted, talented musician recently and see just what exactly he has been doing and what he has up his sleeve for the rest of 2018.
Your last album, In Technicolor, was this soulful pop album that I, personally, as well as critics, adore. What have you been up to since its release back in 2014?
Well, I took some time off after that album. I took a little bit of time off of music in general and I did a lot of acting projects here and there. I did a lot of guest-starring work on some crime dramas and some apocalyptic zombie shows. You know, sort of taking some strolls down some different creative avenues and trying stuff outside of the music realm.
Also, I just needed to take some time off, period. I had been working for what seemed like… well, it really was like 10 to 12 years without some time off, and so I needed to just clear my head. I took about a year to just travel, my girlfriend and I did a lot of traveling, a lot of cooking, and a lot of exploring. I was doing a hiatus really.
You know, it was about after a year that I got back and had some time to decompress that I decided that I was going to do another record. That only happened after this writing camp experience that I had in Nashville. I had been invited to join this writing camp, but I really had no interest in making my own album or my own EP at the time. I was in the studio for like, two-and-a-half weeks writing nonstop, and it was one of the most creatively liberating experiences I had ever been through. I just remember thinking as soon as I got back to L.A., “Ok, I’m ready to do a new project,” which has brought me to where I am now. It was just a lot of stuff that went on between In Technicolor and this project; a lot of downtime, a lot of just clearing my head, exploring, and just kind of finding new creative avenues that I never had before.
That’s awesome! And Nashville is a great place to be inspired by.
I think so! I mean, it’s Nashville. I had never tried my hand at country writing and I had a couple of friends who were, and are, prolific songwriters in the country world and had been the ones to invite me down to that camp. It’s called NashPop. It was like pop writers from around the country coming down to Nashville to work with country writers, and I think those are two genres that you see colliding quite a bit now. It was just a way to sort of cross pollinate these different songwriters. It was a lot of fun!
Your single, “Better With You,” is absolutely amazing.
You’re welcome! The video for it is practically minutes away from hitting seven million views in three months. That is crazy!
It’s been pretty wild. The reaction has been incredibly positive and I couldn’t be happier with the way that the fans have been responding. I think this song sort of tickles a nostalgic thing for a lot of people and I think it maybe reminds them of like “Beautiful Soul” 2.0. It has sort of the same qualities that I think “Beautiful Soul” had. I am seeing a lot of my fans from the earlier years coming out of the woodwork and they’re like, “Oh my gosh! I have to go see him!” It’s been really nice to sort of reestablish my connection with them. Because, like you said, it has been four years and I didn’t know what that was going to be like or how hard it would be to re-engage with them, but they came out in record numbers. I think it did have to do with the sort of song that it is and its message; especially in this kind of climate, both politically and socially, there is a lot going on. I think it was just timing more than anything and I am really, really excited about it.
I very much agree. I think it’s a beautiful song and a great song for right now. Like you had mentioned, it is sort of like “Beautiful Soul” 2.0. It definitely has a more mature vibe to it, but “Beautiful Soul” in itself had a lot success at its time — just like “Better With You” is having. Did you ever expect “Beautiful Soul” to become what it did? Do you hope for the same for “Better With You” and this new record?
I think no one ever expects anything anymore. I mean, if you have your expectations too high, you’ll almost always be let down. The music industry is not something people can call. If somebody had some magic wand and was like ,“Oh, that one is going to be a hit song!” then that guy would run the world. [Laughs] Or at least the music world! You do your best and you do try to write stuff that is relevant to today’s times and is relevant to the listener.
With “Beautiful Soul,” you know, it was my debut and I was so young. I didn’t have any real expectations for its success. I just wanted to make music and sing and hopefully not have to go get a real job. That was my whole goal: to make music and make a living doing it. So, when “Beautiful Soul” did become successful, it opened up this huge world for me, opened a lot of doors, and I felt that that was my shot and all of sudden I was doing music full time.
Of course, I hope “Better With You” has the same success. It is a lot slower of a build I think at this point, because for one, I am doing it all on my own. You know, I am the artist and the record company and the business and the creative, so it is going to be a lot slower of a momentum build, but from what I have seen, it has been an overwhelmingly positive response. The shows are selling quite well and I think that the people are…well, I think that I may have reignited them in some way, and it is nice to know that I have had fans that have been around this long and are still interested.
Of course! I am one of those fans who have grown up alongside you and your career and it has been a whirlwind.
So on the topic of independent artists, what is your take on that side of the music industry?
Well, it is certainly more work, which I think is the biggest difference for me. Now, I am responsible for not just what goes out musically, but all of the behind the curtain things. You know, like financing and marketing and advertising. It is a world that I never studied, but I have been doing it long enough that I have been able to pick up a lot of tools over the years and figure out, like the school of hard knocks, you kind of have to learn as you go.
On top of that, I do have an amazing team. I have a small team around me that are super knowledgeable in those fields specifically, but all in all it has just become a thing. Like, when I wake in the morning I have conference calls with the team two or three times a week. It is a different thing, since when I was younger I would go to the studio and make a song and then I would go home and not think about it until the next day. I was just strictly in the studio making music. Now, it is the whole business aspect of it and it is just more consuming. Overall, it is definitely worth it and the payoff can be great, both emotionally and financially depending on the way it works out, so it is good! [Laughs]
That makes a lot of sense! So, let’s talk a little bit about the “Better With You” video, being that I am a little bit obsessed with it. How did that video come about? Who thought of the idea for the lovely little storyline that we watch unfold?
The song was written and I came out of the studio and I felt deep down that this song had something special to it; which oftentimes is not the case. I would say 99 percent of the time you walk out of the studio feeling like, “Ok, well today wasn’t a great day.” I mean, most times the song just isn’t great — you can’t write a winner every single time. It had been months since I had felt that way about a song. I came out of the studio that day and called my manager and my team, and I remember telling them that they had to hear this song because I felt like it was something special. Everybody kind of agreed pretty quickly that this was our best and our strongest card to play.
It was the perfect song to release first and reignite my fans, get back to music, and so when it came time to shoot a video, we were at a loss. It seemed that every single idea that came across my desk were from directors who were talented, but just kind of…I don’t know. All of the ideas seemed kind of boring or generic, so nothing was really striking a chord with me. It was a couple months and finally people were like, “You have to shoot a video if you want to do this release.” And I was like, “Nope! We’re pushing back the release,” so we even pushed back the release, because I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted it to look like visually.
People were getting frustrated, as well as myself, and finally I came across this director named Jo Roy. She was a director out of Canada — Toronto I believe, specifically. I saw her reel and I thought she had this beautiful reel of these just amazing shots. She had this amazing eye with the lens and I could tell immediately that she would be able to do something cool, but we still didn’t have an idea. So I was like, let me just start with the director of whom I think can do this. I called her up and I said, “Hey, I don’t know what the idea is yet, but I like you and I like your directing. I think you have an amazing eye, so let’s think of something together: collab on something.”
So, for a couple of weeks we sat down together and started banging out ideas, and finally she was like, “Why don’t we get back to the heart of the song?” Which, originally, was not what I wanted to do. I did not want to do a boy meets girl kind of thing, but she said, “Let’s just shoot a relationship that is extremely authentic and not necessarily the honeymoon phase. Let’s get all of the stuff; the good and the bad that comes with a relationship and makes you who you guys are.” So, I said, “What if we do this butterfly effect where it is all contingent on something incidental happening?” Like the quarter rolling into my shoe — that is kind of how that idea happened, where if it wasn’t for her purse spilling out all of the change, then we never would have met.
Anyway, I’m rambling but it was a collaborative effort between Jo and I. To this day I think this is one of the better videos that I did, because it is the genesis of it that came from both me and the director. Most times I have ever done a video, it was the director pitching the idea, so I am proud of that one.
I would definitely be proud of it, as well. It’s a great video and it came out amazing! All of the work that went into it and all of the buildup was definitely worth it.
Thanks! Yeah, I’m really excited about it.
So, besides blessing everyone’s ears with your vocals, you have lent your talents to film and television, as you were mentioning. Your movie, Keith, is one of my favorite movies of all time. I think it is severely underrated, like very, very under appreciated.
No way! Thank you!
Do you prefer singing or acting? Did you find your experience doing Keith and Greek and all of your other acting roles to be much different? What is the atmosphere like for you when it comes to music, as well as film and television?
You know, I started in theaters, so for me, it was both. For forever I thought I would be an actor and a singer. I never really saw myself walking down this pop singer lane. I truly never thought that I was going to be a pop singer full-time or that it was going to be my introduction to the world and my debut as an artist. Becoming a household name through pop music was never my intention. I always wanted to do theater, or really, act. That was truly my first love, then music kind of took over and I just ran with it, because… well, just because.
When I think back, I don’t regret anything. I love all of the choices that I have made, but there is definitely a part of me that when I am doing music that yearns for the acting stuff, too. I definitely want to get back to it as soon as I can, but what I have always done is balance the two careers the best that I can. I have had a lot of cool, juicy roles over the last few years. I got to play an apocalyptic pirate on Fear the Walking Dead. I got to play a murderer on Major Crimes. I got to play some really fun, dramatic, juicy roles, and I think that is just part of entertaining. I don’t like to stay with one thing for too long. I kind of like to jump around and keep it interesting, you know?
Right, absolutely! You are going on tour tomorrow, which is quite exhilarating. I saw on your Twitter that you were taking fan’s opinions and requests for songs to be added to the setlist. So, what can be expect on this tour?
Well, without giving away too much, I do know that I will be playing a lot of the songs that I know the fans want to hear. I never deprive my fans of playing the classics, so I am going to give them all of the songs from my early years. Then, in the entire set I will be playing four or five new songs. I think the entire set is about 22 songs, so actually I would say that 75 percent of the show is some of the older stuff mixed in with a couple of new songs. A few of which they have never heard at all. So Friday in Atlanta will be the first day that people will be hearing songs that have never even been released yet, so it is exciting!
What I am most excited about is that my show has a very modern look. I have scaled down my band quite a bit. I have my drummer David “Dae-dae” Haddon, who I have been playing with for years and is one of the best drummer in the industry. And my guitar player Jaco Caraco — yes, that is his real name — and he is actually Miley Cyrus’ guitar player, but he has played for everyone. He is a beast on the guitar. Anyway, it is the two of them elevated on this riser that is completely surrounded by this jumbo LED screen. On the LED…well, actually a lot of my rehearsals for my show were for programming this LED screen to fit with the music. So it is not only audibly stimulating, but it is going to be a very visual show with incredible lighting and awesome LED screens that will sort of complement the music on stage.
It is really cool production! There are only three of us on stage but it sort of has this huge arena feel that I am really excited about and have never done before. I think the fans are going to totally dig it. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little nervous. I always feel a little nervous before I go out there and I ask myself, “Are we ready? Have we rehearsed enough? Are we going to be ok?” And we usually are, but I am anxious to get the first show out of the way so that I can decompress and breathe a little bit.
I more than understand that, but it genuinely does sound like it will be an amazing concert to be at! Are these (two or more) new songs that will performed going to be on the upcoming album?
I am not exactly sure if it is going to be a full album per se, but in the very least it will be an EP. We are going to be releasing the second song, “Wasted”, later this summer. So that is one of the songs that I have played live, but they haven’t heard the recorded version of it and I know a lot of people are anxious to hear that.
The EP will be out later this year and that will have two or three more songs on it, as well. Those songs I will be performing on the tour, but a lot of them — besides “Better With You” — have not had any recorded versions out yet. It is one of those things where I am taking it a day or a week or a month at a time and am seeing how fans react before I release more tunes. There are kind of no more rules in the music industry, and especially not with independent artists, so I am kind of just doing what I feel. If it is time to release a new one then I will. If it is doing well and gaining traction then I will wait a little bit, but my fans should expect to hear a ton of new music from me by the end of this year.
Catch Jesse McCartney performing June 28 at Irving Plaza in New York, June 29 at Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia, and June 30 at iPlay America in Freehold, NJ.