The pop heartthrob, whose smash “Honey, I’m Good” has cracked the top 10, talks about busking, Seinfeld, and why he’ll never write a sad song.

How does it feel to see “Honey, I’m Good,” released last August, finally become a top 10 hit on Billboard?

It’s like when you play Mario Bros. and you get the star. We’re hitting that critical mass where it’s now my biggest song to perform live. That just happened. It’s really, really fun.

Did it take long to write?

I wrote 100 songs for this album. I wrote 50 at first, recorded one, and threw the rest away. I was crumbling under the pressure of trying to come up with another hit. So I wrote another 50, and my manager said, “I don’t hear a breakout single.” The day after, I wrote “Honey, I’m Good.” It was number 101, the last one.

You used to busk on the Santa Monica streets. Did you have a backup plan?

No, because it can give you the feeling of being a rock star. You can have a whole day out there where nothing happens and then you play a cover that sparks something and then there’s 15 people, then 100, and then you play your own song and it makes everyone happy. So they buy your CD and you think, “I can pay rent!”

Who are your biggest musical influences?

Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder—people whose songs make you feel good. I remember hearing them and wondering, “How are you singing about these things that would sound cheesy coming from other people, but hearing it from you, it makes my heart want to freak out?”

You seem like such an upbeat guy. Where does that come from?

I love Seinfeld. I remember hearing Jerry answer questions after one show. Someone asked, “Why don’t you curse?” And he’s like, “It doesn’t work for me. Dropping F-bombs doesn’t work.” I don’t really connect with super-sad, somber songs. When people sing about how it’s all going to s—, it’s just not what I believe. If I write a sad song, at the end it’s gotta be like, “Dude, things are looking up!”

This interview originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue 1369, on stands June 19, 2015.