Conversation: Jesse McCartney

*This feature was published in Zooey's Fall 2013 issue.

How does one begin to describe the musical talents of Jesse McCartney? As he walked onto set, Jesse was neither flashy nor loud—he had a quiet confidence about him—a rare quality to have in young artists these days. In the spotlight since he was seven years old, Jesse was born to perform, and has been turning heads with his talent ever since.  In 2004, when Jesse released his first solo album, Beautiful Soul, it went platinum, selling over 1.8 million copies.  His natural inclination towards writing also helped him co-write the lyrics to “Bleeding Love” for singer Leona Lewis, which was a #1 hit in 34 countries. From boy band to acoustic soul, Jesse has progressed into a well-respected artist. Along with being a musician, Jesse has also become a skillful actor, appearing on shows such as Summerland, Greek, and most recently Army Wives.  His accomplishments speak for themselves, which is perhaps why I find it so difficult to describe Jesse. And while the inner 15-year-old in me was screaming with excitement to meet him, the more socially controlled part of my mind took over to ask Jesse a few questions about his career, and what he has in store for the future.  

You’re set to tour with The Backstreet Boys on their 20th anniversary tour at the end of this summer; tell us what it’s been like preparing for such an amazing tour?  Are The Backstreet Boys a group that you admire as an artist?

I’m in the rehearsal studio with my band right now and putting the show together.  It’s been a while since I’ve been on tour so it makes it that much more exciting.  All the musicians that are touring with me have been out with me before so it’s great to reunite with them. I couldn’t be more excited. It’s great that they’re still together and have stood the test of time. There aren’t a lot of pop artists that achieve that kind of longevity.

Being such a successful lyricist, where do you draw your greatest inspiration from?

Of course, I draw inspiration from my own life, but I also write songs where I put myself in other people’s shoes.  For instance, I wrote a song with Hot Chelle Rae in the first person, but my inspiration was actually my best friend, who was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. I gave the demo to them as an engagement gift!

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote, and if so tell us about the experience?

I’m not ashamed to say the first song I ever wrote was pretty bad. It’s a craft that takes years to learn, so I don’t feel bad about it. At the time, I thought it was an awesome song of course.

Tell us about your upcoming album? For the listeners out there, is there a story your album tells, or maybe a specific vibe you are going for? 

I plan on releasing an EP before an album, just because it’s been a long time since the fans have had any new music from me.  Now that I’m an independent artist, I can release anything whenever I want.  The musical vibe is kind of a throwback.  I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration from early Motown, disco, Michael Jackson and Prince. This vibe comes quite naturally to me.  I grew up with it.

You also have an extensive background in acting! How do you balance both acting and a music career?

I tend to focus on one at a time.  It’s not always easy to try and keep a balance of both, but I think I’m in a really good place right now. I just finished a season of Army Wives and went straight into the studio to record this EP. Now that I’m finished with the EP, I’m going on the road, so I’m keeping the ball rolling. It’s cool when it works out and dovetails nicely from one thing into the other.

What do you see more of in your future, acting or singing, or a consistent balance of both?

Definitely a combination of both. The question I get the most is, "Which do you like more, acting or singing?" The honest answer is both. I never want to stop doing either.

You compose lyrics, you sing, you act…any other special talents we should know about?! 

Yes, but I can’t talk about it in a public forum.

What would you say drives your passions?  

I love to play sports, and I think that same competitive spirit applies to acting and singing. Also, I love doing the work.

And finally, when you first started out in the entertainment industry, did you ever imagine you would end up where you are today, and was it everything you hoped for?  

When you start young and enjoy the work, you don’t think too much about where it will “end up,” you just forge ahead and do what you do.  It was always enjoyable for me - sometimes stressful when there was too much going on at one time, but I think it has been everything I ever hoped for.  If you are working, enjoying the process, growing as an artist and are allowed some versatility, what more could you ask for?  Since I’ve been allowed to work in both music and acting fairly equally it’s shaken out pretty great actually.  I have agents and managers who have shared the vision and hung in with me on this dual journey for quite some time. I’m very grateful for the ride so far. 

Photography by Heather Hixon

Styling by Woo & James

Grooming by Jeanne San Diego

Story by Pauline Aguayo 

Video by Christopher Orrett