When Jonas Brothers were looking to change up their sound for their recently released studio effort The Album, they turned to Jon Bellion, the Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and producer behind countless pop hits such as Justin Bieber‘s “Ghost” and “Holy,” Miley Cyrus‘ “Midnight Sky” Maroon 5‘s “Memories.”
Bellion quickly realized during their writing sessions that he shared a lot in common with the trio — all fathers who appreciate authenticity in pop music. Their conversations spilled over into the music and resulted in the Jonas Brothers’ most mature work to date, after years of growing through experiences as childhood stars in the spotlight.
Take, for example, The Album‘s second single, “Waffle House” — co-written and co-produced by Bellion — which peaked at No. 57 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song contains a feel-good essence, with a punchy chorus and a yacht rock piano melody, deeming the 24-hour breakfast chain as the group’s personal place of healing after arguments.
Below, Bellion reflects on what it was like to create the trio’s latest hit, opens up on his thought process behind releasing solo music, and more.
Tell me how “Waffle House” came together.
In my own weird world, I was envisioning the Jonas Brothers as these older, final form, evolved Pokémon. I was thinking about what I would love for their maturation, because they are fathers now. We started to envision a little bit of the Bee Gees, a little bit of Hall & Oates — all of these incredibly sound pieces of music that still felt so good, breezy and easy, even though they were super rich. I think that was like a great place to start from.
Have you worked with the Jonas Brothers before?
I haven’t. I was approached by one of my buddies Stefan [Johnson] — we’ve worked on a bunch of records together, and he mentioned that the bros were interested in working with me, but it never really happened. Then one day, I got a phone call from the Jonas Brothers’ A&R and he said, “I really think you guys are supposed to do this album together.” At first I was like, “I’m not perfectly well-versed in the Jonas Brothers’ discography where I could reference B-sides from four albums ago, so maybe I’m not the guy for the job.” He was like, “No, that’s why you’re the guy for the job. They’re looking for a new direction.” They wanted to start being a bit more polarizing and making music that people are talking about while still connecting to their roots and feeling good.
How do you stay confident when helping an artist build a new sound?
They have already built an amazing theme park: millions of people go to it and experience their roller coasters. They put me in charge of revamping or creating a new section of the theme park, and they let me be the foreman of it all.
I loved the fact that they were so open with their personal lives — they wanted to dive into the fact that they’re fathers, or that they have gotten into fights at Waffle Houses on tour when they were younger. They really gave me the keys to explore creatively when I was working on the music. They said to me, “How would you hear a song about us being girl dads? What would your take be on a metaphor or song title?” To get asked those questions by a staple in American culture and an iconic band was an honor.
Do you have any funny memories from the writing sessions?
I got a text message one day at 1:00 a.m. in the group chat between me, Joe, Nick and Kevin. Joe says, “Waffle House. How you feel about it?” And he goes, “A song about us as brothers. We’d go to Waffle House and we get into fights, but it’s where we’d figure stuff out. It was the only place we could go under age because we couldn’t go to bars. What do you think for that as a song?” I thought he was joking, so I wrote “LOL.” He writes back, “I’m dead serious.” Of course, I work for them, so I’m immediately like, “That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Was the reaction to “Waffle House” and The Album what you expected?
I was very frightened that [fans] are set in their ways and can only allow the Jonas Brothers to be one thing. I was expecting this wave of, “Oh my God, what are they doing?” It was amazing once it went No. 1 on the [Top] Album Sales chart and seeing the amount of people who were like, “Wow, I’m a new Jonas Brothers fan.” Their regular fans were like, “I think I’m in love with this album top to bottom.” It became this feel-good playlist all the way through and people started to embrace it. It was such a relief for me and also such a blessing.
That doesn’t happen often for child stars who want to represent their more mature sound.
It’s such a dangerous territory to be in. The bros are such geniuses in a way that they said, “We want to rip the Band-Aid off now. We want our fans to come with us.” We had to make an album that’s going to allow for them to make six more albums, rather than an album that feels like, “OK, we have to stop making our music now because we’re not as young as we were.” We said, “How do we make something that kind of begins their career?” That was the goal.
Do you find that there’s a difference writing songs for other artists versus writing your own solo music?
I try to trick myself when I’m writing songs by telling myself I’m going to put them out. I’m never going to say, “I hate this, but it’s not for me.” It’s all a piece of my artistry and something I’d be happy to put my stamp on. So, I wouldn’t say that there’s a huge difference. I’m so blessed to wake up and do what I do. It’s more of just, “What’s the task in front of me and how can we make the most amazing thing?”
I’m like a shoemaker, and I get to make a shoe every single day. “We’re going to make a great football shoe today or let’s make it the best basketball shoe we possibly can.” I’m constantly tinkering and trying to make the best product possible while still preserving art. I don’t necessarily have a set of rules. I’m just trying to do the best I can.
Do you have any plans to release some more solo material anytime soon?
I’m in no rush. I keep making the songs that I’m thinking about putting out, and then I end up being blessed enough to be connected with an artist that says, “Hey, I’d love to put this out and make it a first single and send it out to the world.” I don’t really plan; I don’t even think I know about tomorrow. I just think, “Man, what do I love to do? What has God put me on this earth to do?” At this point, I’m very positive in my gut that I’m supposed to wake up, have a great schedule, do what I love to do, provide for my family and be blessed enough to make a living from it.
Maybe one day I’ll return — and I do have some songs on the side. I have a bunch of songs that people have tried to cut, but they can’t because they’re just too personal to me. Maybe those will see the light of day and I’ll want to return to that whole lifestyle, but the idea of me ending my day at seven o’clock, seeing my son, playing video games, eating a good meal and waking up and doing it again with no pressure of the touring, press or anything like that — in this moment of my life, it’s just breeding thankfulness. Whether I get the credit or not, as long as the train keeps moving and my ideas are respected and I get to be creative and express myself every day, I think I’ve won already.