A decade later, Jaron is on his own and—surprise!—the Georgia-born former pop star has found his inner cowboy, successfully: His single “Pray for You,” as Jaron and the Long Road to Love, has become a top-twenty Billboard Country hit, and helped land him a spot on Toby Keith’s American Ride tour this summer. He’s no longer performing with brother Evan, and he doesn’t consider himself a fit for mainstream radio today. He still, however, has excellent, shiny teeth.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Jaron, I was looking through our archives and I found this interview from 2001, with you and your brother…
JARON: It was really smart-assy, right? I’m 36 now, but it’s sort of funny–if you read the answers when I was 26, there’s no exuse, I was still acting 14. There’s no defense.
We’ve seen a lot of pop stars successfully–and not so successfully–cross over to country music: Hootie, who of course now is just known as Darius Rucker, Jewel, Jessica Simpson…
Bon Jovi and Kid Rock have done really well too, and even Uncle Kracker’s got a top ten country song. It’s not what you think. I think people are still confused by what’s happening, but the reality is that if you ask Kid Rock or Darius Rucker, you ask any of these guys, they’ll tell you the same thing: country went pop, we didn’t go country. I don’t think Jewel wakes up in the morning and just goes “I want to make a country record.” We set out to make music and find an audience, we just need an audience that appreciates us and connects with us. All those Vertical Horizons, Lisa Loebs and Semisonics, when pop radio became rhythmic and hip-hop they had nowhere to go, and country was the closest thing. If you listen to a Keith Urban or Lady Antebellum song, those are straight-up pop songs. There’s that whole wink-wink “I’ll throw a banjo or a mandolin in” thing, but it’s pop.
So you’re country by default?
The long-rooted country tradition is lyrics, storytelling. So lyrically, that puts me in country music. What does my album sound more like, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift or Lady Antebellum, or Jay-Z or whoever? I think there was a redistricting, a rezoning of genres, and country said “Hey, we’ll take all those listeners.” Country just expanded. They still have traditional, but they have new country too.
I watched that series Life on Discovery, that one hosted by Oprah, and when she talks about every species, it’s “evolution for survival, evolution for survival.” That’s what this is. Like Shania Twain, they didn’t want to let her in; “Undo It,” by Carrie Underwood, that could be a Lady Gaga song! And I like it. Michael Buble? He’s jazz? Who cares, I love him, I don’t care what genre he’s supposed to be. People don’t care anymore what it’s called, they care about engagement. A few don’t, but unfortunately we have to evolve for survival and we leave those 10% behind.
You sound like you have this pretty well thought-out…
I’m fan-led, and the reason we’ve had so much success [with The Long Road] is there’s no guessing, we follow what the fans want. When you’re in the prediction business you’re often wrong, but when you’re in the watching and observing business, it goes a lot easier. I try to remove all ego and “this is how it’s done”… I often say, in these meetings with executives and whoever, that the opinion that matters the least is my own. The audience matters. You can’t make songs by bringing “data” into the studio.
I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I have to ask: You were pretty outspoken about your Jewish faith ten years ago, and now your hit song has prominent lyrics about praying and speaking to your preacher. Is that a disconnect for you, or is it just like playing a character?
I have a lot of pride in who I am and my background. Here’s the thing: first of all, my joking answer is, “Oh because Billy Crystal played a therapist [in the movies], is he a therapist?”
But the real true answer is I write the story as it happens or as I see the song going, and then sometimes you gotta make adjustments. But in the end, it’s not really relatable to the 2% of the population [that’s Jewish], and how many of them are country listeners? I’m trying to go to my audience. And at the end of the day it doesn’t hurt the integrity of the song to say church instead of synagogue, preacher instead of rabbi. If the song really happened I might feel different. Also, I co-wrote it with a buddy of mine whose dad is a Baptist preacher. The idea was to make it more relatable. And of course I also joke that it was hard to find a word that rhymes with synagogue. [Laughs] But if I want to share and connect with people, I write from a really personal and honest place and I try not to change anything that will mess with the song and I don’t think that did.
Do you still consider yourself Jewish? That was sort of a big part of your whole media thing, back with Evan and Jaron…
I was someone who was an observant Jew who didn’t play on Friday nights, and now that’s not so much me anymore and some of my Jewish fans are mad, but to me right now that’s not authentic to me. I’m a “never say never” guy, but right now that’s not who I am. But I’m not jettisoning my religion—I’m a prideful Jew, I love my heritage. Honestly the twin thing felt like more of a gimmick than anything.
Speaking of twins, what is Evan up to?
My brother is behind the scenes. We took a year off in 2003, which turned into six, and I came to him last year and said “I want to make music.” He said, “I just don’t have a story to tell.” For years, we were spending most of our time behind the scenes—he owns a couple companies and is involved, basically as an executive. He’s married with three kids; I’m single. He loves his kids, he loves his family, I think he’s content with being a star in the home and being Super Dad, and I think that turns him on more than entertaining does, the way. Which is not to say you won’t see an Evan and Jaron album five years down the road.
(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)
More from EW.com’s Music Mix: