DNCE is mak­ing its move

Joe Jonas has hit the heights again after the Jonas Brothers. His new band DNCE will open for Se­lena Gomez in Mi­ami.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MUSIC - By Mikael Wood

In his days as a Jonas Brother, Joe Jonas en­joyed many of the spoils of tween idol­hood. He played arena con­certs packed with shriek­ing fans. He sold un­told num­bers of branded lunch­boxes. He even starred in a Dis­ney Chan­nel se­ries built around the squeaky-clean trio that also in­cluded his sib­lings Nick and Kevin.

For all their suc­cess, though, the Jonas Brothers lacked one ele­ment cru­cial to any grownup ca­reer in pop: an un­avoid­able ra­dio hit. The prob­lem con­tin­ued through Joe Jonas’ coolly re­ceived solo de­but, “Fastlife,” which came out in 2011, then quickly faded from view.

“I just never had that ra­dio love,” the singer says in a re­cent in­ter­view, de­scrib­ing a con­di­tion not un­com­mon among acts with very young fol­low­ings.

He has it now. “Cake by the Ocean,” the first sin­gle by Jonas’ new band, DNCE, made it to No. 9 on Bill­board’s Hot 100, driven largely by fre­quent spins on Top 40 sta­tions. Yet in a re­minder of pop mu­sic’s un­pre­dictabil­ity, “Cake by the Ocean” doesn’t feel like the stream­lined prod­uct of some Hol­ly­wood focus group. In­deed, it might be the strangest song in which Jonas has been in­volved, with a creep­ing funk bass line, chanted gang vo­cals and a cheeky, F-bomb-filled lyric in­spired by its Swedish pro­duc­ers’ mis­un­der­stand­ing of the phrase “sex on the beach.” DNCE will open for Se­lena Gomez June 11 at the Amer­i­canAir­lines Arena in Mi­ami.

“To be hon­est, I thought it would be a pop­u­lar nov­elty and then go away,” John Ivey, pro­gram di­rec­tor of Los An­ge­les’ in­flu­en­tial KIIS-FM, says of the tune, which has racked up nearly 300 mil­lion plays on Spo­tify and YouTube since its re­lease last fall. “But it ac­tu­ally did the op­po­site. It kept build­ing and be­came this mas­sive hit that re­ally es­tab­lished the band, so they can come back and do what they want to do.”

For Jonas, 26, it was im­por­tant to in­tro­duce DNCE with a splash. The singer formed the band last year, after spend­ing time away from mu­sic fol­low­ing the breakup of the Jonas Brothers in 2013. The idea was cre­at­ing some­thing fun and left-field, with lots of color and more of an adult edge.

“Ba­si­cally just a lit­tle off some­how,” Jonas says with a laugh as he sits with his band­mates in a Bur­bank re­hearsal studio. His ac­com­plices came from close at hand: Drum­mer Jack Law­less had toured with the Jonas Brothers, while gui­tarist JinJoo Lee had been a friend for years. And Jonas met Cole Whit­tle, DNCE’s Mo­hawked bassist, through Justin Tran­ter, with whom the front­man had al­ready writ­ten “Cake by the Ocean.”

To­gether, the four re­sem­ble a rather mot­ley crew, which is just how Jonas says he likes it, even if the singer is clearly the driv­ing force in DNCE. Work­ing with Tran­ter and mem­bers of the super-pro­ducer Max Martin’s team, Jonas co-wrote the ma­te­rial on the group’s de­but EP, “Swaay,” and its up­com­ing al­bum, due later this year.

And dur­ing our chat, Law­less, Lee and Whit­tle de­fer to Jonas even on ques­tions re­gard­ing their own back­grounds. More than once, the front­man says, “I,” then cor­rects him­self to say, “we.”

But DNCE is tak­ing pains to present it­self as a real band, in part be­cause that’s the setup in which Jonas says he’s most com­fort­able. (The fail­ure of “Fastlife” would seem to bear that out.) There’s also the matter of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing Jonas from his brother Nick, who over the past few years has scored a num­ber of heavy-breath­ing pop­soul hits, in­clud­ing “Chains” and “Jeal­ous.”

Char­lie Walk, pres­i­dent of DNCE’s la­bel, Repub­lic Records, says he saw an open­ing on Top 40 ra­dio, which is dom­i­nated by solo artists such as Tay­lor Swift and Justin Bieber, for a group with a bold sound and a strong visual iden­tity. The way Walk sees it, Joe Jonas’ stint with the Jonas Brothers was like “pro­fes­sional rock star train­ing.”

To help put across the band vibe, DNCE’s han­dlers are com­ple­ment­ing the four­some’s ra­dio pres­ence with all man­ner of live per­for­mances: fes­ti­vals, awards shows, even a spring-break gig at the At­lantis re­sort in the Ba­hamas, where DNCE was booked to play for 90 min­utes.

“We played ev­ery song we know and did, like, 20 cov­ers,” Jonas re­calls. “Then, they told us we still had 20 more min­utes. I was like, ‘All right, I want two dads up here for a dance bat­tle!’“

One ben­e­fit of this brand­ing ef­fort is that DNCE, un­like some of its Top 40 peers, has be­come a pretty con­vinc­ing live act. In Bur­bank, where the band was re­hears­ing for its open­ing slot on Gomez’s tour, the mu­si­cians pow­ered through “Cake by the Ocean” and sev­eral catchy un­re­leased cuts with sur­pris­ing mus­cle, like an old-school R&B band dis­guised as a shiny pop group.

“They can re­ally play,” says Tran­ter, who adds that it’s the con­nec­tions DNCE is mak­ing in concert (rather than the heavy ra­dio play) that will sus­tain the band over the long run. “The fans that fall in love with you at the show are al­ways the most pas­sion­ate.”

Which doesn’t mean Jonas and his band­mates didn’t think hard about their next sin­gle.

An ef­fer­ves­cent disco jam ti­tled “Tooth­brush,” it shares some DNA with “Cake by the Ocean” in the form of an­other strong bass line and an­other sex­u­ally charged lyric (this time about a woman “stand­ing there in your un­der­wear”). It’s also goofier than it needed to be.

“We could’ve made it about how you left your T-shirt at some­one’s house, or your car keys,” Jonas says with a touch of pride. “But a tooth­brush? That just seemed kind of wacky.”

GETTY IM­AGES FILE

DNCE, with guest vo­cal­ist Hailee Ste­in­feld, per­form last month at the Fon­tainebleau Mi­ami Beach. The group will open for Se­lena Gomez on June 11 at the Amer­i­canAir­lines Arena in Mi­ami.

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