DNCE: EW's 3 rounds
DNCE are living the dream. Fronted and organized world-famous sibling Joe Jonas, the year-old eclectic ensemble has just dropped their self-titled debut album on Nov. 18, having already scored big this year with a huge pop hit in the summer earworm (and sexually metaphorical enigma) ‘Cake By the Ocean.’ Add in the cheeky global hit ‘Toothbrush’ and both songs combined have earned more than 500 million Spotify streams.
EW got inside DNCE’s serotonin-sapping debut album by unwinding with pop-rock’s newest, naughtiest bad boys-and-girl with a night of drinks in Hollywood—not by the ocean, although not too far from it, either.
Beer for Jonas, Lawless, and Lee; bourbon for Whittle
First, some housekeeping: What question are you asked the most?
JOE JONAS, 27: The most asked question, and I think luckily we just got over this hump, was what does your band name mean? And what’s your favorite flavor of cake? And what does ‘Cake by the Ocean’ mean?
So…the answer is…
JACK LAWLESS, 29: Okay, so there’s two very specific interpretations about ‘Cake by the Ocean’: It’s either about having sex on the beach, or literally cake by the ocean. And it depends on who the person is.
COLE WHITTLE, 34: If it’s grandma, the song is about baking on Sunday morning. And if it’s a college girl…
LAWLESS: Maybe that’s why it appeals to so many people.
JONAS: That’s the beauty of the song. It appeals to a lot of people because they don’t feel like they know exactly what it is.
What’s the craziest interpretation of it that you’ve heard?
JONAS: Eating ass was a big one. I’m not trying to be descriptive, but that’s the truth, a lot of people thought that’s what it was. That was not really where we were going with it.
WHITTLE: It actually began with a misunderstanding—someone was trying to say the drink Sex on the Beach, but they were from Sweden and they said ‘cake by the ocean.’ That’s how it all started.
JONAS: Now people have adapted it to their cities. So, like, in Amsterdam [they say] Cake by the Canal.
LAWLESS: Minneapolis—Cake by the Lake.
WHITTLE: Pie by the Sewer. Well, that’s kind of more my style.
Did you feel its potential when you first heard the finished track?
JINJOO LEE, 26: The hair rose on arm and I got a chill all over my body. It was awesome.
WHITTLE: We all believed in ‘Cake’ and made a spiritual agreement to not think too much. ‘No fear’ is kind of our motto. The time so many people spend worrying about acceptance, we try to spend thinking of crazy ideas. We didn’t worry about ‘Cake’ and that’s why it was this kind of beautiful little surfboard that floated out into the ocean and got to every place.
2016 has sucked, and your music is an upbeat antidote to this depressing year. Did you specifically set out to write something happy?
JONAS: Look, we’ve lost a lot of amazing musicians and actors and people this year. Whatever your opinions, we’ve obviously had quite a crazy political race. I think our main priority is to make people happy and try to take them out of all that for a second. We make music because of the love and joy of it and we try to make music to take you to a feel-good place and remind you that maybe there’s a brighter day.
Is happiness easy to write, or surprisingly hard?
JONAS: It comes naturally for us. Every song on that album, I don’t think we wrote in more than two hours. We just felt good and we treated every song like a celebration.
To your earlier point about the artists we’ve lost this year—out of random curiosity, are there Prince or David Bowie influences on this album?
WHITTLE: Prince and Bowie are huge influences on us. Not only because of their music. It’s their whole world. From their fashion to their overall aesthetic to their social placement….they’re two of the most important musicians in human history and to not be influenced by them is kind of a crime if you’re playing funky pop music.
Is there a story to the album? It seems to me like it’s one big text message relationship.
JONAS: We might steal that. That’s a good analogy.
WHITTLE: I think it’s one night of partying. Like, you know the movie Dazed and Confused? It’s one epic day. You get out of school, you’re excited, there are big hopes. There’s moments in the night where you think, ‘Oh no, she doesn’t like me’ or ‘It’s all over!’ And then there’s peaks of the night—‘This is the greatest party I’ll ever go to’ or ‘I’m in love!’ I think the album is all the moments, the ups and downs and all the emotional, heart-pumping excitement of what it is to have fun or want more or be in love.
What is the ideal metaphor for where people should listen to your album?
JONAS: We put on certain music when we’re going to a party, right? You have that playlist of songs that you listen to before you get pumped up to go out. That’s kind of how I feel is our vibe, too. It’s waking up, going to sleep, making love, driving to the beach. Literally it’s all encompassing.
Speaking from experience, you guys do make a pretty good pre-game song.
LAWLESS: We were doing a gig in the Bahamas and a frat bro came up and was like, ‘Cake by the Ocean—pre-game song of the year!’ And we were like, perfect. We made it.
Tequila for Jonas, beer for Lawless, water for Lee, bourbon for Whittle
Jack, you met Joe in 2006 playing drums for the Jonas Brothers. How did DNCE come out of that?
LAWLESS: Want to know something? It’s actually been exactly ten years since I met him.
JONAS: Thanksgiving afternoon! 2006!
LAWLESS: I walked onto [the Jonas Brothers’] tour bus, and I was just like, ‘Hey, I think I’m your new drummer.’
JONAS: And he had it easy too, by the way, because we had never had a tour bus. He showed up and we’re like, ‘This f–ker gets a tour bus on his first tour!?’
LAWLESS: I came in when things got easy.
WHITTLE: What a diva!
LAWLESS: So when the [Jonas Brothers] broke up, I went to play with a couple other bands and Joe did his own thing, but I feel like every six months Joe would call me and be like, ‘Hey, we’re doing this, right?’
JONAS: I wanted to make sure. There have been multiple people that have tried to poach Jack from me, including—and I like to name-drop this one—Garth Brooks. He tried to get him to go on tour. But Jack and I probably had 50 conversations over the years about doing this. I guess one day, he knew in my voice when it was actually happening.
LAWLESS: He demo-ed out ‘Cake’ and sent it to me and was like, “What are you doing for the rest of your life?”
Enlisting JinJoo as the third member seems like it marked the first real step towards formation. JinJoo?
LEE: I was playing for Jordin Sparks when she opened for JoBros in 2009 and honestly, I didn’t know any culture, I didn’t know the language, I was shy. I literally came to America from Korea. Couldn’t speak any English. And Joe said hi to me, and all I could say at the time was hi. I toured back and forth for a while, playing for his solo project, and then Joe called me up out of the blue last year and just said, “I want to do this band thing and I want you to be part of it. Are you down?”
JONAS: It was just so funny, and so casual, as if it was like, ‘Hey, you want to come to dinner tonight?’ And she was down. JinJoo has always been someone that I’ve been impressed with. She’s one of a few amazing female musicians out there in the world that are killing it, and she’s not just somebody that should be playing in the background, you know? She’s a badass lead guitar player. If it wasn’t our band, it was going to be someone else’s.
And what blank did Cole fill in?
JONAS: When we met Cole we knew immediately he was supposed to be with us for eternity. It was literally like, we met, we hung out, we were like holy sh-t, why haven’t we known you for this long? It was definitely the universe putting us together in a room. Cole is the constant reminder to, excuse my language, to not really give a f–k. To have that mentality of wear whatever you want, be whoever you want to be, on and offstage. This is who I am. And for all of us, it’s just a good feeling to know you have someone like him around all the time.
WHITTLE: That’s the best thing anyone could say about me. There are two categories of people who look at me: People who run away because they’re scared of things they don’t know about, and people that are curious and empowered [and say] ‘If that guy’s running around, I don’t have to worry about what anybody thinks about me.’ So when I met Joe, he got me immediately, and that’s very rare. I think we were brothers in another life or something because it was so immediate. I felt like we’d been friends all our lives—and that was without music!
Tell me about the first time all four of you got together in a room for a rehearsal.
LEE: It was actually in front of people. We were in the basement of a bar in New York and we set up our gear, and people started to walk in before we played a song.
Your first rehearsal was a gig?
WHITTLE: Essentially, yeah. We were supposed to rehearse and then all of a sudden, all these radio people were walking in, and friends of friends. We jammed ‘Cake’ and then some covers, and we were literally just like 12-year-olds in a garage, but in front of powerful people in the music industry, and our spirit and movement and energies all lined up. We’ve all been in bands our entire lives—I’ve been in a million bands—but this was f–king real.
Since you do all come from music backgrounds, what does it mean to be a pop band in 2016?
WHITTLE: There is no ‘band’ in 2016. It’s like Napoleon Dynamite. You kick your foot in the door to the mainstream but you’re still maybe something that doesn’t belong there. There aren’t a lot of bands these days and I think ‘Cake’ helped us kick in some sort of weird door, and now we can just focus on being ourselves and something different.
Tequila for Jonas, beer for Lawless and Lee, bourbon for Whittle.
If you had to drop the A in any other English word, what would it be?
LAWLESS: Instead of Velveeta—Velveet.
WHITTLE: He’s right.
JONAS: Maybe the A in Donald Trump. Or just get rid of that altogether.
What are your parents’ favorite things about other band members?
JONAS: My mom loves Cole’s wardrobe and he’s stolen and has been gifted many aprons from her.
WHITTLE: My dad has such a crush on JinJoo. When I talk to him, he’s like, ‘I don’t care what’s going on with you. How’s JinJoo?’
JONAS: My parents literally think that these are their kids as well. They’ve spent holidays and many other days at my parents’ home.
WHITTLE: And we Skype with JinJoo’s mom probably three times a week. And Jack’s mom hangs out with us quite a bit.
LAWLESS: My mom was in London when we happened to be in London.
WHITTLE: We went to a pub and got smashed. There’s a big family presence in DNCE!
You just announced a 2017 tour. What kind of show are you building?
JONAS: We wanted to do a smaller run for a really big summer tour. We thought we’d go to markets that maybe are not the norm—instead of New York City, we’re playing New Jersey—just to get the super fans to come out so we can show them love in a small venue, have a cut-down production, and just go wild.
Whose notebook is the messiest?
JONAS: The messiest, mentally, is mine. I’ll give you some exclusive information: DNCE has a quote sheet which I keep on my phone. Since we’ve started, we’ve probably accumulated 300 to 400 quotes. A lot of them are rated R but most of them are pretty hilarious. You don’t even really need to know the situation. Our goal this year is to give out little coffee table books to certain people who know about the quote sheet.
WHITTLE: All I request from the book is that all the names of who said them are anonymous.
LAWLESS: If you know who said it, you know.
JONAS: I’m going through right now and…okay, perfect example. Doesn’t make sense, but whatever. At some point, I said [reads from his phone] ‘Whoa, I went to college with you? And I didn’t even go to college.’
LAWLESS: The best is, after a while you forget the context of it, so it’s even weirder.
Joe, this is the first album of yours where you’ve written on every single song. Was that important to you?
JONAS: I didn’t even realize that, but yeah. Wow. I guess it’s probably just coincidence. Before we even made the band, I was just writing music. I didn’t know what was going to happen with it. And then once I finally got Jack and JinJoo and Cole, we started to learn how DNCE works. Not a comparison, but with my brothers, for years, it was just a different way to work together. Nick is an amazing songwriter, and he sometimes just writes music on his own and it makes it on the album. This was one of those situations where, to kind of forefront what was going to happen, I was kind of leading the charge, I guess.
WHITTLE: I feel the need to jump in, only because I think it’s very important to recognize that DNCE is literally Joe’s personality in the form of music. And I think that’s why people love it. Because he’s such a funny, down to Earth, amazing spirit. Unjaded. Considering everything he’s seen in the world, the fact that he is completely not jaded is why people love DNCE, because his personality is at the forefront. That statistic—that he wrote on every song—is not a coincidence.
To quote your song ‘Good Day,’ who among you is the most likely to depend on the answer from a fortune cookie to tell them whether or not they were having a good day?
WHITTLE: I’d say JinJoo.
JONAS: It’s beautiful—she’ll find signs in certain things in life. In a fortune cookie, she’d probably be like [gasp] “You need to go to sleep right now! This fortune cookie said you need to get a good night’s rest!” She’d follow that.
JinJoo, what relationship do you have with each of these guys?
LEE: I found what they are: They are three puppies that I get to hang with and take care of.
JONAS: It came true on Halloween. We were dalmatians and she was Cruella de Vil. And it’s true, we’re just three little emotional puppies trying to get through life.
LEE: I can be that. I can be just a little kid who loves puppies. I can be everything—I love my puppies.
Who is the most likely to surprise everyone by actually impulsively adopting a puppy?
JONAS: Cole. He would surprise us by just showing up with a dog, but also—we wouldn’t be surprised.
Who has the strangest hobby that they’re trying to force everyone else into?
LEE: I try to get them to watch Korean dramas.
WHITTLE: They’re too sad!
LEE: I cry all the time. And they hate me when I cry watching drama.
JONAS: Well, she doesn’t use headphones.
Does the group have a collective guilty pleasure?
WHITTLE: Questionable ‘90s rock and roll. Nickelback, Smash Mouth, Korn.
LAWLESS: I don’t know if we should feel guilty about it. It’s not guilty, it’s just a pleasure.
WHITTLE: Die Antwoord or Rihanna walked by our dressing room and we had Nickelback playing. We just have to be like loud and proud about it.
What would you do if you could no longer DNCE?
WHITTLE: We have other interests, but we don’t have other things that we would literally die for besides music.
LAWLESS: I think we all had a moment where we thought, man, am I about to go try and find a real job? And thank God we didn’t.
JONAS: We tried it. We all had that little period, that limbo of what’s next? But nothing has that fire we feel when we’re onstage.
WHITTLE: Destiny is destiny.