Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Jesse McCartney breaks down career, artistry and his latest project with the Daily Collegian

In a roundtable interview, McCartney discusses his music 20 years after his debut
Courtesy of Sam Dameshek

It’s been 20 years since Jesse McCartney’s debut album that launched him into the public spotlight. “Beautiful Soul” marked the beginning of McCartney’s solo music career; its release, along with the album’s title track, made McCartney a fixture in the early 2000s. McCartney’s dedication to improving his artistry challenged critical receptions to his work and led to commercial successes. His songwriting skills were notably highlighted with Leona Lewis’ critically acclaimed “Bleeding Love.” The song, originally written by McCartney, became a global no. 1 hit and was nominated for two Grammys. Lewis’ recording put new emphasis on McCartney’s songwriting talents.

Intermingled with his music career, McCartney pursued acting roles, which would add to the singer’s repertoire. Recently, he was a guest singer on the “Masked Singer.” The experience renewed attention on McCartney’s vocal range and versatility across genres.

In the 20 years since his debut, McCartney is stepping back onto stage — continuing to expand his musicality. His new EP, “All’s Well,” and its accompanying tour, come at a time of celebrating the milestones of his career. In a roundtable interview with the Daily Collegian, Clara Faulkner, a reporter for the Berkeley Beacon and Jeremy Gottschalk, a writer for the Valencia Voice, Jesse McCartney reflects on his career, who he is as an artist and the inspiration that continues to propel his musical creativity.

Like most artists, working with the inspirations passed down to you is on McCartney’s mind as he puts together lyrics. Though marketed as a pop artist, he remarks on how those weren’t the only genre influences present in his childhood. “I grew up listening to soul music and R&B music and pop of course. Naturally, I tended to lean into those sounds when I initially start writing for a new project.”

With this background of influences, McCartney continues to build upon his musical context with various genres he incorporates into his music. The sounds of the ‘70s era were the sonic foundations of “All’s Well.” When working with older eras of music, McCartney sought a balance between the past and contemporary.

The newest EP is five tracks, one song a remix. It’s a range of artistic techniques brought together to form an encapsulating picture of McCartney’s musical talent. From shifting between vocal styles to changing instrumentation to meet new emotive tones, “All’s Well” builds upon the scope of McCartney’s abilities that he’s garnered throughout his career. When answering a question posed by Faulkner, McCartney discussed how the new project relates to his past music. “Sonically the music sounds like some of my earlier stuff. You’ll hear a lot of musician references,” he adds, “Lyrically much different from when I was 16 years old.”

With crafting the sounds of “All’s Well” was a departure from the recording style he had become accustomed to in recent years. “We played everything live in the studio, which is something I have done since those albums [“Beautiful Soul” and “Right Where You Want Me”],” McCartney says when answering Faulkner. Going back to playing live in the studio allowed McCartney to record live horn sections that would be a foundation of the ‘70s sound. These changes come with a consideration of the environment being crafted with a live audience, to which McCartney details after Gottschalk’s question, “I spend a lot of time arranging the songs and making them sound fresh.”

Beyond creating his own work, McCartney has also been involved with writing songs for other artists. He explains that there can be different approaches to songwriting for himself versus another artist. “A lot of times I go in writing for myself, and the songs end up becoming somebody else. I’ve had more success that way than I have going in with the mindset, ‘you’re gonna write for this so-and-so person.’”

The process has guided him in crafting songs that sound “universal” and could be applied to any artist. He chooses to focus on songs that can be adaptable despite who the singer is, or which genre the song may fall into. McCartney emphasizes “Writing songs that I know are gonna be good and could really be universal to many artists is probably the best way to [be] good in terms of placing songs as a writer.”

This approach to songwriting would aid in the success of “Bleeding Love,” which McCartney wrote, but then passed on to Leona Lewis. “I wrote it for myself…and eventually we decided it wasn’t right for my record and Leona Lewis ended up singing it and she made it a huge record.”

At this point in his career, McCartney has reached different points of reflection on what works best for him as an artist, and the major takeaways that continue to guide his career. When it comes to his songwriting process, he acknowledges, “I’m a very slow worker, none of it really comes easily to me.” Taking time to craft his work is rooted in editing and formulating the themes of a song. “Melodies come really easily to me…lyrics take me a little bit longer and I’m a little bit more precious about lyrics and concepts,” McCartney details.

Despite this, when it comes to things that have influenced his process through the years, McCartney humbly attributes the people that have surrounded him throughout his career. He identifies being “receptive to other peoples’ creation, ideas and thought” as points of growth from being a young artist to who he is now. McCartney credits “listening” and being “willing to embrace other people’s ideas” as formative aspects of his artistry.

On “All’s Well,” it’s evident that Jesse McCartney is still seeking to expand himself as a musician. McCartney continues to be inventive in his sound and lyricism by balancing what works for him while challenging what he has done in the past, even 20 years after his debut.

Suzanne Bagia can be reached at [email protected].

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