An Interview With O-TOWN’S JACOB UNDERWOOD on The Band’s Comeback, Favorite Memories, Favorite Musicians and Much More!
Posted On 13 Jul 2015
Tag: ABC, Alex Da Kid, All About The Melody, All Access, All Access Music Group, All Or Nothing, Artist Interview, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Buried Alive, Chasin After You, Clive Davis, Dan Miller, Ed Sheeran, Erik-Michael Estrada, Imagine Dragons, Jacob Underwood, Jesse J, Lines & Circles, Liquid Dreams, Lorde, Lou Pearlman, Making The Band, Max Martin, Michael Jackson, Motown, MTV, O- Town, One Direction, Sam Smith, Skydive, Taylor Swift, Townies, Trevor Penick, We Fit Together, Zane, Zella Day
In 2000 O-Town was created in the first season of the MTV produced show, Making The Band. The current members of the group include Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick, Jacob Underwood and Dan Miller.
They are best known for their hit songs “Liquid Dreams”, “All Or Nothing”, “We Fit Together” and many others. In 2003, O-Town disbanded so they could each focus on their own solo projects and some even went on to release solo albums.
They have finally reunited after a 15-year hiatus and today, they released the video for their single, “Chasin’ After You” in the US. It is on O-Town’s latest album, “Lines & Circles”. It certainly shows a much dancier side of the guys!
Check it out here:
O-Town member, Jacob Underwood took some time to chat with All Access about coming back into the musical spotlight with the band and how he thinks the band will fit in with today’s boy bands. Enjoy!
Do you think that your older videos and songs have a timeless quality to them?
Well, yeah, it’s me, it’s all personal to me. They are autobiographical. I look back and that was me at 18 or 19 years old. It was a fraternity of 5 guys. We look back at what fun we had and the songs we made and how silly it was that 13 year old girls were singing about “liquid dreams” or worse, how parents would allow it. The whole thing, looking back on it was just so fun. Yeah, it seems like it was my youth for sure.
How do you think O-Town has changed and how have the overall band dynamics changed over the years?
Well, in the beginning it was all an education. We were learning from Clive Davis and learning from ABC and MTV on how to shoot a show. We were learning from everything, all the ins and outs. We learned what a program director in radio did and really all the different titles that we needed to know.
This time, it’s all us. I’ve got a Business Degree so I manage the band and Dan got a Masters in Design so he does all our art. We basically are the business heads of this company called O-Town and we handle it like adults that have been doing it for 15 years. Whereas the first time around, we were just all wide-eyed kids trying to figure it all out.
How do you think your sound has changed?
It’s matured because we are better at what we do but it’s still poppy. It’s still pop music but in that same breath, not just us, but I think all of pop music has matured since the first time. Even Max Martin for instance. Max was leading the business at the time and what he was doing was great. When you look back on it, it was really poppy, it was really synth-sounding. And when you listen to what he is doing right now, with Taylor Swift, you can see that even he has grown. All of pop music really.
I think all of pop music is better then it was 10 to 15 years ago. There are some really good pop artists out right now, like Ed Sheeran and Lorde. It’s just amazing to be around again with these kind of artists in pop music.
What do you think you learned from being on Making The Band? Do you think it would do that whole experience all over again?
I would because we are pros at it now. We know what it’s all about, on a business level. What we learned was how to make a TV show, how to make an album, how to make a successful song and how to produce successful songs. It really goes across the board what we learned, but I think overall all of us, when we are asked in interviews, what is the biggest lesson we have learned, we all say it’s humility and really enjoying the moment cause it’s so fleeting, no matter how big you get and no matter what business you are in. Those highlights and those peaks that happen are fleeting and you need to just take a step back and enjoy the moment and not look to the next one so quickly.
What was it like when you finally got back into the studio with the other O-Town members after your long hiatus?
It was weird. It was so weird. (Laughter) Cause you are looking around and most of us have been making music still and worked with so many people since then and put out a few solo records. I think it was about 14 years prior when we first starting recording together, so you are looking around the studio at the same faces and you are dishing out harmony parts and figuring how who is going to sing what solo and it’s weird because you’ve been solo so you’ve been singing the whole song. And now we are back to “Oh yeah, I only get to sing like a verse. So who gets to sing the good verse?” (Laughter)
It was really fun to be in your mid-30’s and re-living your early 20’s with the guys you were with back then. The attitudes are different now because there is no stress. We put this together, we wanted to be in the studio together. We wanted to sing new songs. We chose them and wrote them. It was gratifying to finally get that opportunity to make an album that we wanted to make. We learned all that we needed to learn before and now, we were left alone to make an album together which we never got a chance to do. And I know why, we were too young then. Us four four guys were the big fish in our small ponds put together to be in this group and we learned a lot and it was kind of fun see what we could do once we were left to our own devices.
What got you back in the studio together? What was the pull that got you all there?
Finding the right deal. We got signed to an indie label called All About The Melody in the UK and it’s two guys that just love music. They gave us the funds to make an album that we wanted to make. They supported us the whole way. But to be honest, it was supposed to be a single that they offered us and a chance to tour the UK this summer. We all thought that sounded like a fun summer and we thought, why not. So we did the single and the states freaked out more about it then the UK and they wanted an album. So we did an album and it just snowballed! We never saw it going this far and this quickly. We never thought we would get this kind of a response because we were the first band everybody wanted to hate on in the past. But yeah, it’s been all open arms. It’s been a real “welcome back”.
I think the new songs we put together are the best work we’ve ever done. I think the fans continually asking and then the label coming up with the means to do it and the next thing you know, a year later, we are touring again.
What did you do during your hiatus?
Well, I had moved to Nashville and did the whole Nashville scene for 5 years and learned what I didn’t know about music. I learned the Nashville number charts and all the different things you should know as a professional. It felt like I had finally been in the cream of the crock for 5 years and as I was there, I finished my business degree.
I was 8 months away from my Masters Degree and I was getting offers from Motown and it just sort of kicked in that we have this brand that people have spent tens of millions of dollars making a name that people recognize and if anybody can pick this name up and make it something again, it’s us. It was very business-minded. We had the offer and I went to Dan and I told him that he could do graphic design for somebody else or you can do it for O-Town and we can do something together that has a name that might mean something. It really started that way, that humbly and small, as something that we could do with the skills that we had from the past and the history that we had together and do something fun and we thought, let’s do a single. We never really had big aspirations of grandness. It fell from a single to an album and now we are getting to do this all over again with our friends from 15 years ago.
Was “Skydive” the single you are referring to?
It was in the UK. We never released it here in the states because it was the first thing that we recorded and we were headed to tour the UK and Germany. So we put it out and then in the meantime, I had written “Chasin After You” which is the new single and as we are doing the album, that song got created. We told the label that we wanted to release something different for the US. And we’ve always done ballads, we’ve never done a dance song, we’ve never had a chance to dance and do what we do. So this was the first opportunity and now it’s the first single we are releasing here in the states and the video came out TODAY! We are stoked!
I read that “Buried Alive” is your first acoustic track. How did that happen?
Well, we got so many songs pitched to us right away when we said that O-Town was doing an album. I was going through like 50 to 100 songs a week from songwriters. The thing was that everyone sent us ballads because that’s how people know us. And we only ended up keeping 3 songs that we didn’t write on the album. They were 3 ballads because we honestly thought they were so beautiful, we cannot not sing them.
“Buried Alive” was one of them and I thought, if I have the opportunity to sing it, I want this to be my song and I really lobbied hard for it. I told the guys that we could do it live and I’ll play acoustic guitar and we’ll sing it in 4 parts. It will be the first song we’ll ever do like this. When we did it, they reproduced it with the full band and I said “Noooo!” The special thing about the song was that there was just one acoustic guitar and the 4-part harmony. So I asked them to strip it down and they allowed us to do it and it’s now a highlight of our show.
What musicians have consistently inspired you and the rest of the band?
It is across the board. That is the best part about our band. Dan would never go up and sing a rock song but I can. I could never go up and do what Dan does or Eric does. We get to do across the board everything.
The ones that inspire us mutually would definitely be Ed Sheeran. And Zella Day, who is a young artist that I’ve been friends with for awhile. She’s keeping up with the kids now and we aren’t the kids anymore so that’s fun. I love that. Imagine Dragons too and their producer, Alex da Kid. He is a top notch UK producer. There are just certain producers and certain artists that just keep doing it. Oh and Sam Smith! We actually came across him when we were overseas and we put one of his songs into our set because everyone in the UK would know it and we knew that we would have to change it when we come back to the states because no one would know who he was. But within like 4 months, within us coming back to the states with the song, he won like 6 Grammys so we kept the Sam Smith song in our set because everybody knows who he is. Yeah, these young kids are just blowing my mind!
Who would you love to work with in the future?
Alex Da Kid would definitely be on that list. And Eric had met Bruno Mars early on and actually when we first got in the studio, we were going to record a Bruno Mars and Britney song but it didn’t make it in with the timing and everything but him and his writing team are one of the best.
With us, there are 4 soloists so it’s always hard to say when are we going to work with a singer. I do think Jesse J has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. So that would be cool.
Do you hope to balance your solo projects along with O-Town or is that on the back burner now?
No, only because I write way too many songs that I ever get to record. So I always think, Ok this one could be for me or this one could be for O-Town or this one could be for my country artists. I am constantly writing for whatever hits me at the moment. It’s not always a solo thing. I think I absolutely always will be putting out solo albums together with the stuff that I think is more autobiographical then the band material.
You talked about this a little already but how do you think the music industry has changed and really the boy band scene changed since you guys were in your prime? Where is your place in it now?
Well, there are a lot of things in that question. Right now, I think the boy bands have gotten really lazy and I can say that with humor because they don’t even dance anymore. I think of how many singers we came across when we were doing our auditions on the show that could have made it because they sang better but they couldn’t dance or they couldn’t do a performance. It’s funny how lazy they’ve gotten.
On another note, it’s crazy how big they’ve gotten. These stadium tours are incredible. The fact that that guy from One Direction quit is crazy but that’s a whole other conversation. Overall, I’m really proud of what’s happening. Lou Pearlman said and I had to quote him because he’s such nasty person but he always said that “boy bands will never go away because God won’t stop making little girls”. So it’s been true, it’s always going to be true. It’s cool to see that it’s gotten as big as it is but I think they should start dancing. I think they should work a little harder for it.
That’s where you guys come in, right?
That’s exactly right! Even at 35 years old, we are still moving!
Will you still do the same dance moves? Are you updating them?
Well, we do a little bit of both. We keep some of the memorable moves from the videos where our fans literally dance them with us because they remember them. We have to keep those moves and then we change some too. We don’t dance as much and we don’t take ourselves that seriously. Now we do all our dancing with a smile. When somebody misses it, we point at them and laugh. (Laughter) It’s just fun for us and fun for our fans to not take it seriously. We make it a party for the night.
Speaking of your fans, you have some really devoted fans, what has been one of the craziest memories with a fan?
The Townies go hard, that’s for sure! You know, now that we have reunited, it’s not just about us, it’s about those fans. It was kind of a shock for us to fly over to UK and see some of the same fans that were there to welcome us the first time 14 years ago when we were there. And we were re-making the pictures we took with them the first time!
It really hit home when this one girl from London comes up to our dressing room with her mom and some other people and she told us that she had met us before, and took a picture with us. We told her that we had to re-make it and she pulls out the photo and she is like 2 years old in the picture! The whole band is like holding her in the picture. And now, here she is 17 or whatever! It was fun but it made us feel old and that’s not cool! (Laughter)
That’s kind of the same story as we travel. We are seeing the same fans that are now adults meeting us in the lobby with tears and glitter on their face. They now want to buy us beers and hang so we are getting to have a different relationship with them now. It’s very cool!
And now, you’ll get a whole new crop of fans with this new music you are putting out!
Yeah, definitely! If I was in high school and had a prom or a dance party, I know I would be requesting our new single, “Chasin After You”. It’s got some of my favorite beats from old Michael Jackson with a simple falsetto melody and it’s fun to dance to. I see us fitting right in with everything that I love from childhood up to now as an adult. I really do.
Where do you see O-Town in the next 10 or even 20 years?
Oh man, I see more gray hair! (Laughter) These guys stress me out! No honestly, I really hope that we keep making music. The fans have been dedicated and if they keep coming out, we’ll keep making records. It’s been more fun for us then it was in the past. We have to balance family life with the tour and that’s always the struggle but I feel like we’ll always be out there if there are people willing to see us because it’s just too much fun!
Where do you perform next?
We are doing a radio show in Florida but we haven’t announced it yet so I think we have a few East Coast dates lines up. We’ve been really trying to get a West Coast tour together but again, it’s always the family juggle so you can check out the website-www.otownofficial.com or the different Twitter handles are all O-Town official. Those are the best way to keep up with us. That’s where we’ll let the fans know!
Listen to the full interview on All Access writer, Leah’s Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/leah-adams-23/o-town-interview-jacob-underwood