A few years ago, singer Joe Jonas and drummer Jack Lawless, both of whom played together in the pop/rock boy band the Jonas Brothers, talked about forming a side project that would focus more on funk and dance music than pop.
Both were too busy, however, to pursue the concept.
But when the Jonas Brothers split up in 2013, they revisited the idea and put together DNCE
with bassist and keyboardist Cole Whittle and guitarist JinJoo.
“We had the idea for this project for a while,” says Jonas in a recent phone interview as the band drove from Denver to San Antonio. DNCE performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2, at House of Blues. “He was in the band and with the traveling and touring, we couldn’t do it. Once that changed, we really wanted to get the show on road. It was good that he was really into it.”
Initially, the band began by playing a few secret shows in New York. Jonas says they provided a good opportunity for the band to hone its musical chops.
“They were awesome,” he says. “They were pop-up gigs. We didn’t know what to expect. We were supposed to do two or three, but we did six or seven gigs in these small clubs. It was so awesome to see so many people come out and support us.”
Released in 2015, the band’s debut EP, Swaay
, signified a shift for Jonas, who had previously embraced pop and rock with both the Jonas Brothers and with his short-lived solo career that yielded the 2011 album Fastlife
. The band has since followed up the EP with last year’s self-titled full-length. It includes three of the EP’s four songs.
“Making the EP, we were just trying to get something out because we wanted to hit the road and had an opportunity to tour,” says Jonas. “Doing that was educational. It made me realize I wanted to be in a band. I wanted to play with people that I really appreciate and like on stage. At this point, I also feel like I’ve been able to understand my voice better. So far I can find a good balance for the set list and have learned to make sure it doesn’t get too much or difficult to sing live.”
’s infectious first single, “Cake by the Ocean” features jittery guitars and funky bass riffs. With its falsetto lyrics and nonsensical lyrics, the song recalls the Talking Heads side project Tom Tom Club.
“When we started writing it, it was kind of a joke song,” says Jonas when asked about the track. “It was a misunderstanding of the drink Sex on the Beach. I thought it was hilarious, and I needed to write a song about it. Quickly, it formulated into a full-length song, and I knew we had something special with it.”
Last year, the band played on Grease: Live,
a live production of the Broadway musical Grease
that aired on TV. The band performed as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers during a high school dance scene, delivering "Cake by the Ocean" and a cover of the Crickets' "Maybe Baby" alongside the Grease songs "Born to Hand Jive" and "Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay." Jonas says performing live on TV was a nerve-wracking experience.
“It was really special,” says Jonas. “It was scary at first because we walked into the studio, and we were something like three months behind everyone because they had been rehearsing before we came into the picture. We were overwhelmed and didn’t think we could get it done in time. I’m happy it turned out the way it did. It had so much life. It was a challenge. I don’t know if we’ll run back to do anything like that soon, but musical theater is something I really love, and I’d like to do more of it down the road. I don’t know if that will happen anytime soon.”
Another highlight on DNCE, “Blown,” emphasizes its call-and-reponse vocals and a hip-hop segment featuring rapper Kent Jones.
“As simple as it may be, it’s kind of a party tune,” he says of "Blown." “There are different levels to it. You can go the sexual route or it could be about your mind is blown by someone in your life. Cole raps the rap part live, and it works out really well.”
While Jonas Brothers might have petered to an end after an unremarkable tour, Jonas has successfully built some momentum for DNCE.
“I would love to see more of the same for the band,” he says. “As the group grows and grows and the venues get bigger, we enjoy every day and every minute. Our fanbase, Team DNCE, grows by the minute, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
DNCE, 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $29.50-$39.50, houseofblues.com.