I was quite nervous when I got word that Donell Jones agreed to my interview request. I’ve been a fan of his music for years, and have even had the pleasure of seeing him performance live years ago at Madison Square Garden, but he’s always struck me as the heady, serious type. But I was determined to meet and master the challenge, and I made it my personal mission to try to make Mr. Jones smile. I shared my intent with Jones via Twitter the night before the interview, and found myself giddy with glee when he flipped the script on me with the following @reply.
I learned a lot about Jones during our half-hour chat, by the end of which my old perception was replaced with newfound appreciation and insight. I found out that for his new album, Jones wrote all of the songs (save one) and played all of the instruments (except for the guitar), in addition to producing all of the tracks. This information impressed me, but I was also intrigued to learn that with his latest project, Jones says he just had fun with the album and got back to the essence of what making music is about. And I was inspired to learn why life is so great these days for the 40-year-old father and family man, how’s he’s pushing the boundaries of his music with a tribute record to Michael Jackson and his first-ever rock ‘n’ roll song, and the legacy he wants to leave behind with his music.
VH1: When did you know for sure that you wanted to be a singer?
DJ: I think I had to be about 16, going to high school, and all the girls used to ask me to sing—”Sing this song by Bobby Brown“—and I tried to sound just like him. And I would hit it on the head! Every person’s song they asked me to sing, I would try to sing it just like them and they were like ‘Man, you sound just like that person.’ I was always able to change my voice to make it sound like somebody else’s. So then I started to develop my own sound and from then I just claimed it, I was like ‘This is what I want to do,’ and I just went for it. I was working at McDonald’s when I was like 16, and the manager was putting together a group. He sang, and he was like ‘Man, I want you to try out for my group,’ because he heard me singing making burgers and everything. He was like man you sound like you got a voice, so I tried out for the group, I got into the group, and it all started from there.
Fast forward to 2013, and your seventh album. How is it an evolution of your music? What about it is signature Donell, and what about it gives fans something they’ve not gotten from the Donell Jones experience yet?
I would say my signature sound would be “Sorry I Hurt You” and “Closer I Get To You.” And I think what’s gonna jump out is “I’m So Gone.” It’s my first time doing a rock ‘n’ roll record in my life, and what it’s talking about is some serious stuff. When you listen to the lyrics it takes you to another dimension, you know? That’s one of them records that I think people will be like ‘OK, he stepped out of the box on this one.’