Franklin Jonas Is Ready to Re-Introduce Himself
Franklin Jonas was just a teenager when his dad was being treated for cancer. To cheer him up, he’d sit by his bedside, playing songs for him. “I would make just the worst trap beats for him,” Jonas recalls over Zoom. “And he liked them for some reason.”
Back then, music was a new passion for Jonas, something he had just started exploring. Sure, he’d grown up alongside his famous siblings the Jonas Brothers, but he wanted to carve out his own path and see what he could do. Eventually, he enrolled at Nashville’s Blackbird Academy to study audio engineering and potentially pursue a career behind the scenes.
“I always wanted to do my own stuff, but I just didn’t feel like there was a space, whether it be inside of myself or in the world for me to open up in that way,” he says.
Things have changed for the now 22 year old: The last few years have seen Jonas building up his career and future from scratch. He was well-known before he even hit puberty due to his older brothers’ immense fame. While beginning to explore vulnerability in his music privately, he began showing off more of his personality on TikTok, building a massive base of followers who loved his goofy and often self-deprecating sense of humor.
Last week, however, he finally showed people the music he’s been working on. He released his debut single “Cocaine,” a dreamy, shoegaze-y tune with hints of doo-wop. It also comes with heavy dose of brutal honesty that’s surprising from someone who grew up on the Disney channel alongside his siblings.
“I was thinking about my time in Nashville,” he says of the song’s origins. “While I was there, I was in very dark places. The song is about how even in the darkest moments, we can escape into these moments of bliss. Even that can be a moment that we can go back to and feel peace and feel love and feel happiness. It’s a light that’s surrounded by the tunnel of your own bullshit.”
Jonas credits his journey toward his singer-songwriter debut to his friend Mamie Davis, who introduced him to writers like Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg while he was at Belmont. Then, close to 2018, Jonas started “milling around with experimental ideas,” as he describes. During the early days of the pandemic, he quarantined at the same place as Clint Michigan, a Brooklyn-based musician. Michigan heard one of Jonas’ early demos, for a song called “Grow Up” that heavily featured samples of Dean Martin and Four Horsemen. Soon after, “Cocaine” was written, sending Jonas on a path to finally pursue his musical ambitions.
“Cocaine” kicked off an accidental creative streak for Jonas over the last few years. Since then, he’s created an album’s-worth of material with writer and producer Charlie Brand. The material is heavily inspired by Weezer’s Pinkerton, an album he has long wanted to emulate. He has also pulled from the cities he has lived in over his adult years, like Nashville, San Francisco, and New York (he has since moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend).
Jonas is in no rush to get the project out soon. He wants to wait for the “stars to align”and to make sure it’s done on his own terms.
“I’m a big proponent of getting my 10,000 hours, really practicing and taking the time to develop myself,” he says. “I want to do my Beatles in Hamburg stuff. I want to take the time to fill out this project and feel where I could see it going in the future.”
He also wants to make sure the music he’s making feels true to who he is now. “I’m always trying to be as honest, vulnerable and authentic as possible, and that an be difficult when you grow up in a world where you’re on Disney Channel,” he says. “I’ve been really celebrated for being able to be myself, which has been an incredible experience and so humbling, especially with ‘Cocaine.’ This is the most vulnerable thing I’ve done. Going out into the TikTok world, it was comedy. I just love to make people laugh. That’s something that also brings me joy.”
Moments of that humor still ring true on the new music, like the as-yet-unreleased song “Cherub,” a bright slice of indie-pop that is reminiscent of early outputs by Phoenix and Passion Pit. But the true “lighthouse” of the project is “Hoboken,” a gorgeous and humble love song he wrote as a gift for his girlfriend.
“That song is about being accepted. With the whole project, the idea is that I want people to know that the most intense big emotions that some people can feel are unanimous. It can be relatable and it can be intrinsic to us all.”
As for Jonas’ family, they have all been supportive of him pursuing his dreams. He notes that his brother Nick’s favorite song is “Hoboken.” And their dad, a songwriter in his own right but also an ordained minister, was both a huge inspiration for Jonas’ music but also more supportive of a song called “Cocaine” than he expected.
“Even with some of the content, he is still such a cheerleader,” Jonas says with a smile. A couple days earlier, his dad called him to sing the bridge, his favorite part of the song.
“He even sent me a TikTok of someone saying that they love that same part, and he said ‘See, I told you.’ It’s like, ‘How could I have understood that you would resonate with that?’ It feels like I’m in a dream.”
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