Joe Jonas has seen more highs and lows in the music industry than most musicians twice his age. In 2006, just before he turned 17, his band with brothers Nick and Kevin, the Jonas Brothers, released their debut album. From then until 2013, the sibling act was a Disney-bred phenomenon, selling out stadiums, starring in movies and TV shows, and selling 17 million albums worldwide.
Before the group’s 2013 breakup, Joe attempted to launch his solo career, though compared to the Jonas Brothers juggernaut, the response to 2011’s Fastlife was tepid. After two years of re-focusing and exploring new styles, with the help of Swedish producers Mattman & Robin and Semi Precious Weapons’ Justin Tranter, Jonas has pulled off a funky reinvention and found the perfect band to explore it with: DNCE.
“It’s tough for artists to get second chances in the music industry these days, and the fact that I get to do it with these guys who love music and are passionate and have a great time onstage is a dream come true,” Jonas says of his new funk-pop group. “Getting a chance to come at it like a new artist and a new band is incredible.”
Along with Jonas, DNCE includes drummer Jack Lawless, guitarist JinJoo and bassist Cole Whittle. Lawless met Jonas when he was 19, having left college to go on tour with the Jonas Brothers. He played live with the trio until 2013 and had gone on to be Joe’s roommate. “We always thought about how it would be rad to [be in a band together] and had all these names like Tic Jack Joe,” says Jonas.
Korea-born JinJoo moved to L.A. at 19, going to music school in Hollywood and eventually auditioning to become Jordin Sparks’ lead guitarist. “That’s how I got started in the music industry in Hollywood,” she recalls. “The first tour was Jonas Brothers’ world tour, and that’s how I met Joe. We’ve been friends since then.”
Whittle, a classically trained pianist and former circus carny, is much newer to Jonas’ sphere, having been introduced to the band through his former Semi Precious Weapons bandmate Tranter. “Justin and I were writing a lot of the songs for the EP together,” Jonas explains. “We were stuck on finding the fourth member and amazing bass god. When we were all introduced to Cole, it was electric.”
DNCE made their debut with the groovy, semi-ridiculous “Cake by the Ocean.” The infectiously upbeat tune has become a viral success, aided by a video directed by Jonas’ supermodel girlfriend, Gigi Hadid, and starring social-media-star-turned-male-model the Fat Jew. “Cake” is a perfect preview of the band’s debut EP, SWAAY, out today, which features equally catchy, quirky songs like “Pay My Rent” and “Toothbrush.”
“I think the band was born in Joe’s personality,” says Whittle of DNCE’s sound. “Whether he’s just walking down the street or just talking to someone, it’s always fun, and he’s always kind of boogie-ing. He brought the three of us into this world because we’re kind of similar in that way, and we’re all funky people aesthetically and personally and musically. I think the funk is just kind of a thread that goes through all of us as people and as musicians.”
The funkiness of the quartet carries over into their message as well. While the name DNCE technically was born from a lyric Jonas had written about being too drunk to spell the word “dance,” it’s grown to mean something larger. “DNCE is ‘dance’ without an ‘a,’ which is obviously not a perfect word, but you don’t have to be always perfect to dance or to do anything,” JinJoo explains. “Life is never perfect, but you can always enjoy.”
Even Whittle’s notable and eclectic attire extends the meaning of DNCE. “I’m obsessed with aesthetic in every way,” he says. “I don’t think much about it, but things just come to me. Like I’ll wake up and be like, OK, I wanna feel like a samurai who teaches you how to fly a UFO in Japan today. Or, I want to look like a farmer who moved to the Bronx in 1985 and became a B-boy. When I walk around, I want people to look at me and not have any self-conscious thought they might have or shyness or reservation about how other people are seeing them. I like bringing that lightness to that world, whether you laugh at me or appreciate it or you’re just like, ‘That guy’s weird.’ I like that it takes people out of their comfort zone enough to broaden what is normal to them.”
Following a residency in NYC that doubled as a rehearsal for their even larger debut at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, where Jonas’ younger brother Nick also played, DNCE have announced a string of tour dates — The Greatest Tour Ever, Tour with supporting act Powers kicks off in November — and are already planning a full-length LP, set to be released in February or March. “It’s nice to get out there and showcase this music that we’re really proud of,” says Jonas. “We really enjoy the opportunity to fight for a crowd and get their attention.”
For all four, DNCE has become their own revival. Coming off band breakups, hiatuses and other people’s tours, Jonas, Whittle, Lawless and JinJoo see this new endeavor as a chance for a reintroduction. “It’s crazy because all of our paths are so similar, obviously in different magnitudes, but we all gave our lives to something, and it reached the end of a chapter,” Whittle offers. “We all picked up the pieces, soul-searched and questioned what the story was for us. The answer ended up being DNCE as our new life. We’re all in, all the time, with Joe at the captain’s wheel.”