Miley Cyrus’ Attempt To "Breakout" From Hannah Montana

Millions of die-hard fans, millions of various mass-produced memorabilia being sold, and millions of dollars – this is the empire that is Miley Cyrus. At only age 15, Cyrus has become more than a household name, but an international superstar as well known as Madonna or The Beatles. As the most profitable cog in the Disney machine, Cyrus’ past year shot her from sitcom star to A-lister. Side effects included being caught up in an infamous Annie Liebowitz shot photo-shoot for Vanity Fair (which was the magazine’s highest selling issue of the year) that parents worldwide boycotted and still complain about. She’s also been a tabloid favorite, with pictures leaking online every few weeks of what seem to be Cyrus in scantily clad or sometimes see-through and wet attire. She’s even been criticized as a horrible role model for the simple fact that she said “Sex And The City” was her favorite television show. And then people wonder why child stars are so messed up.

This Tuesday (July 22nd) saw the release of Cyrus’ new album “Breakout,” a title very fitting as it is her first full length solo release not attached to her Disney character persona, Hannah Montana (the previous “Meet Miley Cyrus” album came as part of a double CD on the second “Hannah Montana” soundtrack). At first listen, you acknowledge the cheesy, fun pop that the record is, but it doesn’t immediately click why parents are paying thousands of dollars for tickets on eBay to see her live. And then it hits you. Despite everything she’s been through, Cyrus is still trying to prove she is just an average 15-year-old girl. With everything that’s happened, she could easily pull a Britney Spears and sing songs complaining about the paparazzi and her unfair representation in the media. Instead, she opts to sing about teenage relationships and just simply growing up, becoming a much more relatable and personable image in the eyes of her core tween audience. When talking to MTV News, she said the album was “for every teenager, or any woman in general. Most of the songs are for girls who hate their current or ex-boyfriends.”

Taking a page from Hilary Duff’s self-titled album, Cyrus’ record creates an edgier, rockier, and rawer sound for the pop star. In place of dance beats, there are now electric guitars, and rather than synthesizers, drums overpower the production of most of the songs (even the final track on the album, the “Rock Mafia” remix of her previous album’s break out single “See You Again,” transforms the song from a club inspired dance floor hit to an infectious pop/rock anthem). Her lyrics, although very cliché and non-complex, show a much broader range of emotions, dealing with heartbreak, anger, excitement, fear, and sorrow.

The album opens with the title track “Breakout,” a song about being young, rebellious, and a heartbreaker who likes to have fun. It’s a curfew defying track that basically defines what it means to be a teenager with a thirst for independence, a.k.a. every parent’s nightmare. The track is followed by the album’s kickoff single, “7 Things,” an early Ashlee Simpson inspired song that practically sums up the entire teen flick “10 Things I Hate About You” in under four minutes. In it, Cyrus rocks out about all the things about her former flame (Joe Jonas perhaps?) that bother her, with the last thing being that she “loves” him. Although it comes off as a bitter breakup song, it’s actually rather sweet as the song concludes with her listing all the reasons why she does love him.

Following soon after is her cover of Cyndi Lauper’s 80’s classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The song blends in nicely with the themes of liberation that Cyrus’ record is trying to convey, but the song itself is hardly mediocre. In her defense, it is extremely risky to cover such a beloved and culturally renowned song, so she deserves credit for trying. That being said, however, there is no fathomable way that the song will do for Cyrus what it did for Lauper. Her way of contemporizing the track is by (surprise!) having it arranged to be a pop/rock number, which almost seems like it’s trying to negate the pure pop perfection of the original. Note to Cyrus: the candy-coated bubblegum aspect of Lauper’s version is what made the song so huge in the first place. There’s a reason it was a Cyndi Lauper and not a Blondie song. Although Cyrus’ version isn’t terrible, it’s not a cover that will by any means outweigh the original. Instead, it will just be grouped with Lindsay Lohan’s version of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge Of Seventeen” as another half-decent attempt to take a classic song and unsuccessfully re-work it for a new generation. Cyrus gets an A for effort, but not for quality.

The standout track on the record is “Wake Up America.” The song doesn’t pop out because its’ got the catchiest tune, but because of its’ lyrical content. Rather than complying with the broken-hearted and teen angst filled themes of the rest of the album, the song steers directions to talk about the environmental state of the nation. What? Miley Cyrus the environmentalist? I was shocked too. In it, she sings, “everything I read global warming going green, I don’t know what this means but it seems to be saying wake up America, we’re all in this together, it’s our home so let’s take care of it.” Now, I’m not entirely sure what she means by “global warming going green” and admittedly so neither does Cyrus. However, she sounds convincing enough, especially as she continues to sing, “everything you do matters in some way. I know that you don’t want to hear it, especially coming from someone so young, but in the back seat they want to hear it!” It’s a valiant effort, but the song has a lot more potential than it actually delivers. Although, I do applaud Cyrus for using her celebrity status to try and make a difference, even if she doesn’t really understand exactly what it is that she’s singing about.

Like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Hilary Duff before her, Miley Cyrus is a Disney star with a mission to transcend boundaries to become a pop icon. Though she is not one of the most talented singers vocally, there is no question that she knows how to market herself and release an album that compliments her voice. Songs such as “Full Circle” and “Goodbye” for instance, are guaranteed to break the Top 20. There’s no way that she could ever release anything similar to an Aguilera record, but by intelligently redirecting herself down the pop/rock route, Cyrus is a shoe-in to at least be the next Avril Lavigne, if not even bigger than that. The album overall is nothing mind-blowing or original, but it is a fun pop record that will surely have 13-year-olds all over the world singing into their hairbrushes and begging for more. I’m not going to lie, this CD definitely qualifies as a guilty pleasure that I won’t skip over when my iPod plays one of its’ tracks on shuffle.

Not even 16-years-old yet, Miley Cyrus is already performing at stadiums and venues that artists who have been around for decades could never dream of playing at, let alone sell out in a matter of minutes after tickets go on sale. With this new record, Cyrus has solidified herself as a name that will not be off the top of the charts (or the gossip blogs for that manner) for many, many years to come.

*** Check it out!! This story was also published on these two Miley based websites!!

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Exclusive: Interview with Jay Brannan

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Described by many as a “stripped down male version of Alanis Morissette,” New York singer/songwriter Jay Brannan has slowly been making a name for himself with legions of loyal fans as the next big thing on the indie music scene. With only word of mouth, some homemade YouTube videos, and a few concerts as his publicity, his self released debut album premiered at number 25 on the overall iTunes charts, as well as number 2 on the folk charts. Currently on tour promoting the record, Jay took the time out to talk to me about his music, his critics, and what exactly it means to be Jay Brannan.

AN: You are one of the most outspoken, honest, and risky songwriters I’ve ever heard, with your raw lyrics ranging from topics such as relationships, sex, politics, and religion. You’re not afraid of embarrassing yourself or singing about things that many songwriters would find too shocking or controversial to sing about. That being said, is there ever a point where you’re afraid of exposing too much in your music?
JB: I don’t think so. I mean honestly if there was something I really didn’t want exposed I probably would even just subconsciously not really write about it. What I do is my way of having a voice kind of, and getting these thoughts out of my head that have been racing around in there for years and years. It’s my way of venting and sort of just saying all these things. I say them because I want to and I’ve kind of just found that being open and honest about things and not having any secrets is just way easier than walking around sort of being embarrassed about things and keeping things to yourself. It’s that many less things people can discover about you or bring up before you do or throw in your face or whatever. So I just think it’s easier not to keep secrets. I don’t really care if people know about me, you know, so it’s more of about getting to say what I want to say.

AN: So you named your first full-length debut album “Goddamned” after one of the tracks on the record. Why was the album named after this particular song, and given the critical religious themes of this song, have you had to deal with a lot of backlash from religious groups or anything because of it?
JB: Well, I chose this as the title track because it’s one of the newer songs when I went to record the album so it was kind of fresh for me in that way. Also it’s just one of the most meaningful tracks on the album to me. I was raised very kind of religious and conservative in Texas, so the whole sort of, honestly what I see as a plague of religion is very personal to me – it’s affected me in a very personal way and it’s affected millions of people in the same way. It’s pretty much ripped apart our world for thousands of years on very global and political levels. I just kind of like the way it sounds as a title and it could also mean a lot of other different things. I like when there’s a title of a collection of something that could have several different meanings or be open to interpretation. I was just like “goddamned” is the perfect word to describe me too, the way that people have sort of viewed me in my life or the way that I view myself sometimes. It has this sort of tainted, broken connotation to it and so I was just into it. Other people like my management and stuff were like “we just want you to know that if you use that title, you probably won’t get picked up at Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and Circuit City.” And I was just like “well, when have I ever done something keeping in mind that corporate headquarters of whatever commercial Middle-American chains would be into or sign on for what I’m doing?” I’ve never let anyone tell me what to do so why would I start now? Like if that’s what I want to call the album and that’s my instinct, that’s what I’ll fucking call the album. If people want to sell it or buy it or write about it then they can and if they don’t want to then I don’t fucking care, you know? As far as getting shit from people, it’s not a whole lot. I mean I have been reading some of my iTunes reviews and I have gotten a few reviews from people where they’ll give me one star, which is the lowest review. They’ve said like “it’s just not fair that I have to log onto iTunes and read this offensive title every time that I’m shopping.” They’re like reviewing my album when they haven’t even heard it, and they didn’t even listen to the song. I mean that’s so typical of those types of people, they’re so offended by something they haven’t even explored. If you listen to the song, the way that I use the word “goddamned” is so not offensive, you know what I mean? It’s condemning the war and the conflict that’s caused by all of that. That’s the thing about people that subscribe to these sorts of religious and traditional ideals to me. It’s like they’re brainwashed and believing certain things but these beliefs are never really thought through with logical conclusion or fully explored, and that’s the really sad part about it.

AN: Prior to the release of “Goddamned,” all the songs you had released had been completely acoustic – just you and your guitar. Why then did you decide to incorporate instruments such as the piano and violin on your album, as opposed to just sticking to the acoustic material you had done before?
JB: I just felt like I wanted to take it to the next level by just adding a little bit of texture to what I had been doing. Everything I’ve done up until this point just being guitar and vocals, I mean it’s partly just because it’s what I do and what I do is very personal and very intimate. It’s kind of just what I feel like doing in my apartment alone in the middle of the night. I don’t have a budget for a symphony when I’m writing songs and I wouldn’t even know how to address all of those instruments so I just never would bother. But the reason why I do music is because it’s something I can do totally on my own, it’s not like acting where you have to have an agent, a manager, a casting director, and a producer and a director, and all of these studios and other people that have to hire you. You know, I can do music on my own, and for this album I kind of wanted to add a little bit, add some different layers, and I think strings are really great. I wanted to maintain the same feel of just me and the acoustic guitar kind of vibe, but like I said, add a little more texture to it – even for the couple of songs on the album that were only me and guitar, just because I didn’t want to go in a completely different direction. And I’m a minimalist so I wanted to keep it simple anyway. Does that make sense?

AN: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, speaking of acting, you were one of the principle characters in the cult indie film “Shortbus,” as well as the film “Holding Trevor.” Is acting another passion of yours you’d like to pursue or were those just kind of like experimental side-projects for you?
JB: I guess a little bit of both. I mean I’d like to do more acting, I’d like to do more films for sure, and maybe even try TV which I’ve never really done. But in terms of the stuff that I’ve done, that industry hates me. They’ve never been on my side, they’ve never been into me, you know like I ended up quitting after I moved to L.A. to be an actor just because it’s as horrible as everyone says. Living in Hollywood and going on auditions and trying to get an agent is just miserable and as awful as all the legends say (laughs). I was working as a receptionist at a corporate office when “Shortbus” came along and I was interested in the project itself and what the filmmakers wanted to do with it. With “Holding Trevor,” that was a small independent thing that made with like not enough money to make a music video. My best friend wrote the script and we passed it back and forth for two years and I gave him feedback on it and helped him develop it. He wrote it for us to sort of do together, so I did that because of the personal connection to it. So you know, the things that I’ve actually had a chance to do have been sort of side experimental, they just sort of fell across my path kind of things. I definitely would like to do more though. If anyone out there is listening … (laughs).

AN: You received a huge fan-base online, whether it was people who listened to your music on your MySpace site or people who tuned in to watch your regular YouTube videos of you performing into the camera in your computer. Did the rapid generation of this fan-base add a lot of pressure when it came time to record a full length album?
JB: Um, I never really think about that in terms of what I’m doing creatively or artistically. I just sort of do what I want to do. I can’t really say I do it for other people. There definitely was pressure but the pressure came from the idea that I’ve never recorded before and I’d never done anything with other instruments. I had to learn to play to a quick track, which is really difficult for me because I’ve never been accountable to other people or keeping a certain beat or whatever. Everything I could do could sort of just be very instinctual, and recording turns music a little more into math and science in a way, so that was a challenge. Then the fact that I was spending pretty much all of my savings, there was kind of pressure financially. From the business side of things, I started working with a manager, an agent, and these publicists now, so I do kind of feel accountability to other people. I wouldn’t say that the pressure comes from my MySpace friends or the people that are connecting to my music, that’s where the support comes from.

AN: You released your album on your own record label, Great Depression Records. Were you ever approached with a record deal, and if so why did you opt to self-release the album rather than go with an already pre-existing label?
JB: I talked to some other labels. I wasn’t ever approached with a record deal, but that’s kind of a myth, I really don’t think that happens anymore. Record labels don’t take chances anymore and they don’t try to discover talent and give them free albums in order to make a splash. They sort of hang around and lurk in the backs of shows and talk to you for like a year, and once you’re about to hit anyway, that’s sort of when they offer you a record deal. I feel like at this point record labels always sign acts that can stand on their own. I spoke to some people, but I’m a weird person, I do weird things. I have really strong opinions and beliefs and I say what I want to say and write what I want to write. I don’t censor my lyrics, I don’t think whether or not something can be played on TV or the radio. I do YouTube videos on the toilet with my pants down, and a major label is just going to strangle all those instincts and impulses and basically make me into something that they want me to be, which I wouldn’t be able to live with and probably wouldn’t even be possible anyway. So it just seemed like the natural flow of things just to do it my way because that’s what’s gotten me this far. If people want me to turn my back on that, I don’t think it would work.

AN: As an openly gay singer, why do you think that so many celebrities are afraid of coming out of the closet? Take Lance Bass for instance – he waited until years after NSYNC was over to admit that he was gay. There really are no openly gay young mainstream radio artists out there today, so what about being homosexual do you think causes so many musicians and actors to hide their true identities when they’re in the limelight?
JB: I think it’s a complicated thing. There are different types of stigmas from different groups in terms of being gay or straight. I think the bottom line is that people are obsessed with it. In the past, it’s sort of been nobody wanted to say because then nobody would take you seriously, or heterosexual people would view you differently or wouldn’t accept you or relate to you or whatever. I feel like that’s kind of changing because gay people are being shown more in TV and film, and it’s still a little cliché and a little bit stereotypical, but at least entertainment is helping the world to acknowledge that gay people even exist. But my dilemma is almost the opposite of that. It’s like because I’m not trying to hide it and I’m just a gay person who doesn’t filter that or change the pronouns in his lyrics or something, I’m almost pushed into the gay corner by gay people because they’re so desperate for an openly gay whatever. I always get called the “gay musician” just because they want something to sort of hold onto in that way. It sucks though, it’s like I don’t want to be … I think it’s time that gay people should be able to be who they are and sleep with whoever they want and sing about whoever they want but not necessarily have to be genre-ified, and like pushed into the “gay genre.” We can be real people just like anyone else. I’ve never stopped to say “oh I can’t relate to Regina Spektor’s songs because she’s a woman singing about a man, and I just don’t get it because she keeps saying ‘she’ and ‘he’ and I’m gay.” All people are basically the same at the end of the day. We all go through the same things and we all have the same experiences on a basic human level, and I don’t think pronouns really affect that. I don’t want to play pride parades for the rest of my life. I don’t think about being gay, I just am who I am and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I feel like I’m sort of ten years passed it even being an issue and other people haven’t really caught up yet. My goal is just for it not to be an issue, in a good way or a bad way, I just don’t think it should matter.

AN: You’re currently on a headlining tour that’s spanning from all over the U.S.,to places such as Norway, Canada, and the U.K. You’ve also played shows in locations such as Israel, South Africa, Brazil, and France. What would you say is your favorite place to perform?
JB: Haha, oh god. I can’t really say that I have a favorite honestly. Every show is different and every show is the same too, you know what I mean? Every crowd is a little bit different but I’ve been really lucky to have pretty supportive crowds that are attentive and into it. It’s a little more nerve-wracking to play in front of crowds that aren’t native English speakers because I rely a little bit on audience-performer interactions to sort of ease my nerves and make other people kind of do some of the work to keep the show flowing (laughs). When I played in France, they were silent for the entire show, partially because I think they’re self conscious about practicing their English and yelling it in front of a big crowd in a performance situation. But also, they were telling me that’s their culture too and are just really polite during performances. I thought everyone was really bored but then at the end they stood there applauding forever, and there was no backstage so I didn’t have anywhere to go and it was kind of awkward because I didn’t want to leave but I was like “Oh god, what do I do now?” You know, so they were really responsive but just in a different way. Every show is different but I’ve been really lucky to have pretty good crowds.

AN: So given all the changes in your life and now that you’ve released your debut album and are playing shows at larger, more prestigious venues, where do you hope to see yourself a year from now and what can we expect from Jay Brannan in the future?
JB: I’d like to definitely, like I said, do more film. I want to keep doing the music thing. Honestly, I try not to think that far ahead because I feel like I can’t really control the future, I can only sort of do what I’m doing now and take one step at a time. I don’t even know if I’m going to want to be doing this in a year or if anybody else is going to want me to be doing it in a year. I think it’s too much pressure to look that far in the future so I kind of do what I’m doing now and I’ll sort of ride it as far as it goes and we’ll see what happens really.

AN: Alright, well thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me, I really appreciate it.
JB: Yeah! Thank you!

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Exclusive: Interview with Jon McLaughlin

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Fresh on the heels of his show stopping performance at this year’s Academy Awards, singer/songwriter Jon McLaughlin is ready to burst onto the scene as the next musical American heartthrob. Having his music featured on countless television shows and movie soundtracks, McLaughlin is gearing up for the release of his sophomore album and his takeover of the charts. Right before his packed headlining show at the renowned Bowery Ballroom venue in New York City on July 14th, he took some time out to talk to me about touring, the new record, tabloids, and yes, his bulge.

AN: You have toured alongside some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Kelly Clarkson, Sara Bareilles, OneRepublic, Duffy, Paolo Nutini, and Colbie Caillat. How different is it for you this time around that you’re headlining?

JM: It’s a lot different actually. A headlining tour as opposed to opening up is for me … there are many pros and cons. When you’re opening up, the pros and cons of opening a show are, the good thing is that you don’t have to be responsible for everything. You know like everything is not on your shoulders, like if the show tanks, the promoter’s not coming after you. So you get to, or at least I’ve got to tour and open up with some really great artists who pull in a lot of people so you don’t have to worry about a crowd being there. I love the aspect of, or the idea of getting up on stage as an opening band and having no expectation. Like most of the people out there don’t even know who you are, they have no expectation of you, if anything they’re expecting to probably not listen to you or like you. And I love getting up on a stage and trying to win them over because it’s just fun, everything is light, they don’t have any expectation of you, you don’t really have any expectation of them, you just do your thing. You either love it or you hate it, it’s like you’re just putting it out there, you know? And on a headlining tour there are pros and cons as well because it’s, it’s … the greatest thing about a headlining tour is, like the other night we were in Philadelphia, you know you can play a song and you can kind of just step away from the microphone, keep playing and the crowd sings your song. Which is really the ultimate goal in this whole thing, like that right there – being in a room playing a song that you’ve written and having this room full of people you’ve never met in your life singing these thoughts you’ve written down. I mean you can get a bigger room and more people, but that’s it, that’s the end game of this whole deal. You get that when you’re headlining and you don’t necessarily get that when you’re opening up. It’s fun though, you get to play longer, you get to jam a little more, you don’t have to watch the clock. I definitely would take a headlining tour over an opening tour but whenever I go out on an opening slot, I’m just kind of like stress free, nothing can bother me in the world.

AN: Did you know that both you and Kelly (Clarkson) had songs titled “Beautiful Disaster” when you embarked on the tour with her or was that just a weird coincidence?
JM: I did know that. I knew that she had a song “Beautiful Disaster,” after I wrote it though. I heard it somewhere – I heard like an acoustic version of it and I really liked it actually. And I think that I had heard her studio band version, but I just didn’t pick up on it being the same name. It is kind of funny though, but I don’t think she ever played it on that tour, so it was okay (laughs).

AN: This past year has been pretty big for you, a lot of it attributing to the fact that you were featured in the hit Disney film “Enchanted.” The song you sang in the movie, “So Close,” went on to be nominated for an Oscar and you actually got to perform it at the Academy Awards this year. In fact, sales of your first album increased by 1,514% overnight after that performance. What was it like singing on that stage in front of practically every big name in Hollywood?
JM: It was ridiculous. In a way it was like a nice break, a nice vacation. Obviously it’s a crazy, not normal event and it’s amazing to be a part of something like that. Just to be able to go was amazing. It was cool, we went in for a whole week, we got to do rehearsals everyday, which I loved because I loved being in that theater and being around everybody. I wanted to do rehearsals everyday. That part of it was a little, as compared to what I do normally, was a lot less stressful because we don’t have any gear, I just show up and sing and that’s it. You either like it or you don’t. But actually going to the Academy Awards was like going to the senior prom times a million, going to your senior prom with like Penelope Cruz and George Clooney. It’s just crazy, there’s no way to explain it. Hopefully I’ll get to go again.

AN: Your new album “OK Now” is being released on October 7th, and on your website, you say you went into the recording studio with the “intent on undergoing both a musical and stylistic transformation.” What can we expect to be different on this album from your first record “Indiana”?
JM: Um, It’s not going to be as “Jon sits down on the piano for 12 songs” kind of thing. I get away from the piano a little bit. It’s kind of just a little more extreme. I feel as a whole, as far as a piano player I just pick my shots a little more, or a little better. There are some songs that are definitely piano based and a little more piano solo type things, but there are some songs I didn’t even play piano on. Most of the record I didn’t even write on piano, I wrote on guitar and I think that comes across in the production as well. We kind of did more 80’s vibe, synthesizer, guitar stuff and didn’t stick to the same thing. Like the last record that I did, I wanted every song to be piano, bass, drums, guitar, organ, and that’s it, nothing else. Maybe some strings and that’s it. And on this one, for whatever reason, I was just down with doing some different stuff, like maybe I won’t play piano on this, maybe this song doesn’t have to start out with solo piano and then the band comes in. I just kind of got tired of that and wanted to switch it up a little bit and use some synthesizer, use some different sounds and make it a little bigger. It’s definitely more pop and it’s a direction I didn’t see myself going in at all two years ago, it’s almost the opposite direction, but it works and it was necessary I think.

AN: So were you worried about your fans’ reactions to this change in sound, as opposed to just releasing an “Indiana” part two?
JM: Um, a little bit. We’ve already gotten a little bit of feedback from fans saying “where’s the piano?” The first single, even though it does technically start out with a piano, it’s not piano based. And I knew that was inevitable, but that happens with every record. Every record that a band does, I would say like 95% on the next record are like “where’s the last record?” And they’re like “we’re still selling it, this is just a new record.” Which is just a tendency, people want “Indiana” again – different songs but “Indiana.” They’re just like stay there, we don’t want anymore, we got it, we got who you are just do it again. And it’s fine. It’s just growing pains. I’m not worried about the fans once they get the full record, loving the record because I would not put it out if it weren’t ready, if it weren’t up to what I feel like is a standard where I’m not wasting people’s time and money. I just wouldn’t put it out, what’s the point?

AN: You recruited help from many new people on this album including Grammy winners Tricky and The-Dream who helmed Rihanna’s 2007 anthem “Umbrella” and John Fields, who has produced hits for bands such as Lifehouse and The Jonas Brothers. In the future if there was anyone you could work with on a third album, who would it be?
JM: Ohh, I don’t know. There are so many. That’s almost a thing that’s a real question because even though I won’t make another record for a few years I should probably start thinking about it now because there are so many great people out there. I worked with John Fields on this record on all but one song, and I worked with him because I heard this band named Rooney, I heard the record they just did with him and after I heard that record, I was like “he has to be the guy to make this record.” And because of that, every time you hear a great record you’re like, who produced it? What a genius! There are all kinds of guys out there. So, if I had to pick an artist to collaborate in the studio with, I feel like I would want to get together with the band The Raconteurs and I would want to record the record as them being the band and them as the producers, and we all just get in the studio, all 5 of us, for a month and see what happens.

AN: Based on the tracks that I’ve heard so far from “Ok Now”, I find it extremely interesting because it’s so clearly a modern pop/rock record, but there’s still something very vintage about it in the sense that it throws me back and makes me think if The BeeGees or Billy Joel were still making music today, this is what it would sound like. That being said, who would you cite as your biggest influences in making this album?
JM: Well the song that you’re referring to, I’m sure, is “You Can Never Go Back,” and I wrote that with the sole intent of writing a Billy Joel song. 1978 – what would Billy Joel write? And it turned out to be that and the verse of the chorus brings a little old feel, but the whole thing is a definite throwback to a 70’s/80’s kind of thing. And I think that’s where Fields came in. I think that the writing as a song, lyrically especially, it’s a throwback, and then Fields came in with his sound that somehow in the end, we managed to have something that gets the point across of where we wanted to go but doesn’t feel like it’s not relevant or that we’re trying too hard to go back there.
AN: Yeah, definitely. Even when I heard the first single, “Beating My Heart,” I thought it sounded kind of like a very new wave U2 meets Coldplay.
JM: Yeah! You know that’s the other thing I can accredit Fields to because I did not go into the studio thinking U2 at all, and it just ended up with U2 all over the record. There are a lot of influences for sure that came into play. Whereas I came into the studio with “Indiana” first off thinking Ben Folds, Billy Joel, and Elton John – no one else will influence this record. Then on this one, I just walked in kind of open to whatever and you get all kinds of artists in mind.

AN: I read that one track on your record, “You Are The One I Love,” was inspired by the tabloid coverage of fellow singer Amy Winehouse’s troubled relationship with her husband Blake. What about their relationship and the way the media handles it inspired you to write this song?
JM: Well I wrote that song with a guy named Jason Reeves who I met in L.A. one day to write. I don’t know why but I think we just got online, he just opened his computer. We hadn’t written anything yet and his default page was CNN or something like that, and there was a picture of her on the cover. It was back in December when they got into that big fight and there were all those pictures of her and bloody feet, just like weird disturbing stuff. We just read it for fun and were like “haha this is so crazy,” and then we read some of the quotes she said about Blake and how she had cancelled her tour because he’s in jail and she can’t live without the guy. We kind of were like “wow, this is a really crazy and messed up passionate love affair”, which was kind of cool. The song that we wrote is not exactly what you would expect if someone were to tell you this was a song written inspired by the tabloids, written about Amy and Blake. We focused more on that they really love each other, and there’s kind of a cool love story there in the midst of bloody shoes (laughs).

AN: Speaking of tabloids, since your introduction into the limelight at the Oscars and being named one of Us Weekly’s “10 Hot Guys Of Summer,” have you had to deal with much of the dreaded Hollywood paparazzi or negative press on gossip blogs and such?
JM: Well, you know there’s been some stuff. There was some tabloid stuff after the Oscars. There was some stuff dealing with … I’m going to blush when I say this … dealing with a website, I can’t remember what it’s called, something like or something like that. Someone sent some picture in making reference to my bulge. Someone took a picture of a rehearsal that we did, and I swear the picture is … is a little … like I think they got into Photoshop a little bit and pulled some stuff out. But that was the only blog thing. One of my friends found it and I was a little more concerned that they found it then it was actually there because what are you doing on (laughs).

AN: That’s so odd, haha. So as someone who grew up in a conservative Midwestern home, has the transition from Indiana to the L.A. scene affected your music at all?
JM: Yeah, actually. I think a lot of the music I’ve written in the past three years has been influenced by that change. On the last record, the song “Indiana” is actually a song about the music industry. It comes off as a song about a girl but the girl in its’ true meaning is the music industry and being accepted and being loved by the music industry. On this record, the song that is kind of the “Indiana” of this record is a song called “The Middle” which basically is my song of me just wanting to go home sometimes, just wanting to go back to the Midwest and kind of just chill out a little bit. Everyone’s just kind of a little more chill, it’s like everybody’s cool with just going to the bowling alley Wednesday night and going to there 9-5’s and having barbeques on Saturdays, you know whatever. It’s like the whole middle of this country is suburban and obviously that’s home to me.

AN: You also recently recorded a song with Jason Mraz for Randy Jacksons’ first production album. What was it like working with such industry heavy-hitters and how were you approached to lay down this track?
JM: It was completely, like, what’s the word? As half-hazard as it could get. I was doing an interview with Randy on his radio show and literally I just stopped in, drove over to his studio, I’d go in we did the interview, I can’t remember if we were done or we were still on the air and Randy was like “So you’re in LA, so what are you doing tonight?” and I was like “nothing” and he was like “You want to come by my studio and record a song?” and I said “sure” and that was it. So I was like “what time” and he’s like “why don’t you come by around, whatever, 9?” So I went by, he was there eating cereal I think, we were there for like an hour, recorded the song. I had never heard the song before, I just came in, listened the song, recorded it and left, and that was it. It was kind of crazy. It was one of those things where you wake up the next day and you’re not sure if it actually happened.

AN: On this tour, should we be expecting to hear more songs from “Ok Now,” “Indiana,” or is it half and half?
JM: Um, it’s not quite half and half. It’s a little … it’s almost half and half, maybe it is half and half. As much as I would want to play the entire record of “Ok Now” I realize it’s not out yet. That’s like the hardest thing in the world because you just want to play the new stuff. Yeah, we’re doing about half and half. I’m only playing the ones from “Indiana” that are our staple live songs.

AN: So are you going to do another headlining tour after the record comes out?
JM: Probably, yeah. We didn’t hit as many markets on this tour as we could have, so that leaves us a lot of room to hit those markets in the fall. I’m not exactly sure what the fall is going to be like, we’re kind of weighing our options right now but I think that it would be important for me to go out and do another nationwide headlining tour afterwards.

AN: So then for my final question, what song from the new record are you most excited about having your fans hear?
JM: (Pauses) I think that you’re trying to ask me what my favorite is in a way that where you’re not asking my favorite, because you probably always get “oh no I don’t have any favorites, they’re like my kids, I can’t choose a favorite.” I’m not sure if that’s true, I think you can choose a favorite.
AN: Well in terms of playing live, for example?
JM: You know I don’t know because it really changes. We could be really excited about one song at first and then on another song maybe we change something up the slightest bit and now that’s my new favorite song. As far as right now, on the record there’s a song called “We All Need Saving,” that’s probably the one I’m most excited to get feedback on and for my fans to hear because it sticks out on the record as an acapella kind of thing, and definitely the kind of calm song on the record.

AN: Alright, well thanks so much for your time, I’m really looking forward to hearing the new album!
JM: Yeah, thanks a lot man, I appreciate it!

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