The Hip-Pop Takeover: Jesse McCartney

A couple of months before Jesse McCartney’s 21st birthday, a new video hit the web for his new single “Leavin’” written by The-Dream and Tricky. The track’s clear R&B arrangement and video surprised some, even getting a famous Liberace-inspired blogger to rave about McCartney’s grown-up image. Jesse McCartney is one of those former Disney tween […]

A couple of months before Jesse McCartney’s 21st birthday, a new video hit the web for his new single “Leavin’” written by The-Dream and Tricky. The track’s clear R&B arrangement and video surprised some, even getting a famous Liberace-inspired blogger to rave about McCartney’s grown-up image. Jesse McCartney is one of those former Disney tween pop-stars that grew up in front of an audience, beginning with a role on the daytime soap opera All My Children. Everything from his bleached haired character role on the WB’s Summerland to his bubble-gum debut single “Beautiful Soul” evoked a wholesome teen persona – the kind of persona that Miley Cyrus is fighting tooth and nail to hold onto. Let’s add to the bubble gum bowl: Jesse was a part of a platinum-selling boy-band called Dream Street. In all of those details lies the world where Jesse grew up as a working child and a teenager in a fishbowl.Jesse brings us an urban-affair record, appropriately titled Departure, written and produced by the likes of Sean Garrett, The-Dream and Tricky, The Clutch, Kwame Holland, Eric Hudson, MadScientist and others. The puzzling, yet unpredictable altering of his pop/rock sound seems to be working, as “Leavin’” is his highest charting single to date, reaching the Billboard Top 10 (Jesse’s first Top 10 hit). Of course that’s without counting Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love,” co-written by Jesse himself.After his gym session on a sunny road in Los Angeles, Jesse briefly falls victim to his cell phone signal before giving us a candid look into growing up in Hollywood and his departure into urban territory – the place where all boys become men…just ask that Timberlake Alternatives: Do you remember the exact moment when you woke up and were like, “You know I want to do this”?Jesse McCartney: Well, it certainly didn’t happen in a dream. I didn’t wake up out of a deep sleep and say, “I got it!” It definitely took a couple of years before I knew I wanted the album to be a little more R&B influenced or I wanted there to be more soul in it, a more blue-eyed soul sounding record. I just started making a shopping list of like all these different writers and producers that I would hope to work with and Tricky and The-Dream were two of those people. It was great ‘cause they responded positively, they were down and they sent me the track “Leavin.” [The demo] was the worst thing you ever heard in your life. The demo singer…I couldn’t even stomach what was going on in the track. Tricky [then sent] me an instrumental of the record and I listened to it a few times and really fell in love with it. It was just about changing my direction a little bit and shocking the fans a little bit.AHHA: Sean Garrett, how was it working with a producer who’s an artist at the same time? Did he teach you a couple of things?Jesse McCartney: Sean Garrett’s a trip, man. He’s amazing, and he’s one of the most incredible quick witted guys I’ve ever met. It was funny ‘cause he was actually recording his record while I was doing mine, so I’d walk in the studio and he was finishing up his own session. It was kind of cool. Our records grew together. Sean has become a mentor for me. Watching his work ethic and watching his style of writing – it was inspiring. I certainly told him time and time again that I definitely would love to work with him again. I’d love for him to produce a whole album for me at some point. He’s just…the guy’s had nine or ten number ones in the past three years, he’s just on fire. Sean’s been on fire. He knows how to infiltrate the minds of America – the youthful minds. He’s just good at it. It was a real pleasure working with him. AHHA: You co-wrote “Bleeding Love” for Leona Lewis. Have you co-written for other people before?Jesse McCartney: It’s funny, because after that song started blowing up in the UK, I was getting calls left and right. It certainly opened up a lot of doors. It’s funny because right now I’m working with my band getting ready to go out on tour, and I’m trying to lock down studio sessions and start writing for other artists. Paula DeAnda, I’m going to be working with her. I actually just did some stuff with Baby Bash. I’ve already placed a few songs and “Bleeding Love” was just the gate key. It opened the door to all those opportunities, so it was cool.AHHA: Was the song intended for yourself?Jesse McCartney: Initially. I mean, I was writing with Ryan Tedder right before “Apologize” hit or right before One Republic hit the map. We started writing together. At that time I was just writing, writing, writing just for my record [and] gathering songs. At the time [I was] still establishing this new sound, trying to find my place. That was one of the songs we had written, and it kind of got pushed aside for awhile. I was on the grind just working everyday with different writers writing non-stop. At the end of this record, my catalogue of songs [was] probably 60 plus songs. Simon Cowell heard it from his right hand guy and they brought it to Clive Davis. He wanted it for Leona and I wasn’t about to tell Clive no. [laughs]AHHA: That would have been an interesting conversation.Jesse McCartney: Yeah, “Listen, Clive I know how long you’ve been doing this, but…”AHHA: On a tabloid topic – it was about two years ago there was a picture of you with a beer. Were you thinking there were a couple of things worse than underage drinking?Jesse McCartney: I mean of course, there are so many other things that are worse than underage drinking. It is a little bit of hypocrisy. I mean, if you wanted to bust down teen drinking what you would do as a reporter is you would go to maybe every college frat house in the United States of America, okay. Yeah, I was drinking a beer. Yeah, I was 18. I was having a beer with some friends. It was my buddy’s birthday. To not be rude, not to be disrespectful, I showed up and said “You know what? I’ll have a beer with you to celebrate.” That happened to be the night that they snap a picture. You kind of take on this responsibility when you are the face of a certain image or you become this household name and become an influence on people your age. It can be tough to maintain, but at the same time I’m human and make mistakes. I am who I am. I’m not going to be this machine.AHHA: On your last album you wrote a song about a friend of yours who had died from drinking and driving. Have you taken a part of any organizations against drunk driving?Jesse McCartney: I did some stuff with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). I remember my buddy, I remember his family, [and] how distraught they were when it all went down. I can’t imagine what my mom would do or how she’d feel if she lost one of her kids to drinking and driving. It’s just the worst.It’s got to be the worst feeling for a mother so I did some stuff with MADD. I’ve had a lot of people in my life come and go from drugs and alcohol, and I’ve watched it all go down. He was just an idiot. I loved him to death, but he was just an idiot and on the edge all the time. It got the best of him. I’ll say this: that song was incredible. It took me months to write.AHHA: What are three things you’d like to accomplish within a year after the release of Departure?Jesse: Well, I would certainly like for the whole world to hear this record and take to it. I’d love for them to take to it. There are parts of the world I haven’t been to like South America and Africa. Places that haven’t, maybe, heard my music. I’d love for them to listen to it [and] grab a hold of it, so that would be one big feat for me to accomplish. I think there’s a lot less that I have to offer to do in terms of the acting world that I plan on doing at the end of this year and ’09. At some point I want to take some time off and go to Ethiopia or do something really charitable – something that doesn’t involve music; something that’s just way off base. I’ve talked to friends about going to Africa or Ethiopia or Ecuador to build houses and get on my knees and do some dirty work and get my hands dirty.AHHA: A couple of people will listen to the record or look at the video and say, “Did this guy just say ‘trippin’?” What’s your response to that?Jesse McCartney: [laughs] I don’t know, I certainly know this…when I’m with my buddies, people that I love, [or] my boys there’s no vernacular or language being used in any of my songs I wouldn’t use on a regular basis. If it was too far to the left and you know how far The-Dream can push lyrics [and] with the crazy s**t that he talks about, and he certainly tried but I had to pull the reigns a little bit and say, “There’s no way I’m getting away with saying stuff like that.” I think anytime you see a white boy in this world – R&B or urban music – there’s a little bit of a barrier for a minute and people have to adjust. It happened with Robin Thicke [and] with Justin when he left N’Sync. I’m not really worried about it ‘cause I know at the end of the day it’s where I’m most comfortable musically.AHHA: So, as much as people are going to say this is not who you are, you’re saying this album is who you are?Jesse McCartney: Without a doubt in my mind. At the end of the day, once they start really paying attention, once they give it an extra couple of minutes to get used to, because there certainly is some shock value there, it definitely makes you take a second look. I think everyone’s going to jump on board. I think everyone will see how comfortable I am and realize, “Okay, this is a whole new chapter for this guy.”