Jesse McCartney

by Sean U'Ren

I Never Wanna Hear You Say
(I Want It That Way)
History has a strange way of seeming elastic. First one band is popular, then another band is coming up fast on their heels, then a demo is leaked from a twelve year old from New Zealand with the power to briefly melt your cynicism, and then someone holds up their phone with a song playing, saying 'I guess harbor seals singing trap-ballads is a thing now.' It's a rubbery slippery digital analogue onesie of sound and vision that bunches up right in the middle and doesn't let you sit down.

Performing for the president, though, that's still a big deal, a moment sealed in amber. The leader of one of the most powerful countries in history standing before you, listening, while you do your thing, that's an event you'll put into your memory banks forever and hopefully tell someone about, long after the phones are put away and the batteries go to sleep. In addition to playing a set in the East Wing of the White House, Jesse McCartney has a few things to say about permanence, history, the Backstreet Boys, and tea.

Who motivated you as a kid to begin down the path you're now on?

No question it was my parents. My Mom and Dad were both very musically and theatrically inclined and from the time I was a young child they played me every old show tune, movie, song and TV show that I needed to know. What kid’s favorite singer is James Taylor at the age of five? I was watching reruns of I Love Lucy and The Twilight Zone by seven and had every Elvis song memorized by eight. My parents shared everything they loved about the arts with me at a very early age.

What's an album that you remember listening to more than ten times?

Probably Craig David’s Born to Do It album. I still listen to it. I think its smart, rhythmic pop that still sounds fresh. His style and vocal delivery made a huge impression on me as a young teenager.

How long does it typically take you to write a demo of a song?

It really depends. I’ve written songs in a couple hours and I’ve had songs take two months to get right. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy process, necessarily, but it certainly can be. I think the biggest misconception of what people think when they think of a song demo is that it’s a simple guitar part and a single vocal. I know very few people who sell songs that way anymore. Today, most artists and publishers want to hear as close to a finished product as possible and that means producing a full song.

If you could go back and relive a year of your life, give yourself a reset button, what age would you pick? 

I loved being 16 and moving to LA for the first time. I was a little green but had such an over-eagerness and excitement for being an entertainer. I had fresh eyes on the world.

What’s your secret to maintaining your poise when so many child stars have courted scandal?

Nobody’s perfect, and I know looking back I’ve had some moments too. We all have. It’s a part of growing up. For me though, I think one of the secrets is just always having a team around me that isn’t afraid to tell me “No.”

What were your inspirations in creating your new album?

I wanted to create something that reflected what I grew up listening to as a kid, so I set out to make a retro pop album that had a modern take. I listened to a ton of Michael Jackson, Prince, Cameo, Kool and the Gang, Earth Wind & Fire, etc. to draw inspiration.

You toured with the Backstreet Boys; was it everything you hoped it would be? 

I’ve toured with the guys twice now and they were quite different each time. They were always very friendly, but 10 years ago, when we toured Europe, some of them were still single or had new girlfriends. It was a lot more of a party then. The last tour we did together here in the States was totally different. A lot of them were now married with kids or had serious girlfriends. Rather than partying on the bus, they were now changing diapers on the bus. It was a lot more low key the second time around, but it was amazing each time.

If you were to pick one thing to drink every day for the rest of your life what would you choose? 

Probably tea. I’ve recently become somewhat of an expert on fine teas and I love brewing my own at home.

How does acting inform performing on stage? Vice versa?

Having an acting sensibility helps greatly when performing on stage because it helps you convey what emotion you’re trying to get across. There are a lot of nuanced moments in a performance that are all enhanced by having a bit of an acting background. While they’re made to look seamless on stage, often times some of the staging has been thought out in advance - like an actor would do for his performance. After that I go with the moment so it is honest and fresh.

Photographer: Alvin Nguyen for

Stylist: Monty Jackson for TheOnly.Agency.

Groomer: Paul Blanch for using Chanel.