Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Jason Derulo will save your relationship

October 12, 2009 |  5:38 pm

JasonDerulo If only we all had a brother like Jason Derulo to pick up the pieces when we made a mess of our love lives. The Miami-raised L.A. transplant's hit "Whatcha Say" -- currently lurking in striking distance of Jay Sean's "Down" at the top of the Hot 100 -- is a shimmering entry into the canon of R&B apology songs, penned after his wayward brother was caught stepping out, and needed a bold intervention to keep his relationship together. To judge from "Whatcha Say," nothing short of a vocoder-heavy Imogen Heap sample and piano-and-808s balladry from producer J.R. Rotem (himself enjoying a second chart wind after helming the rise of Sean Kingston) would be sufficient. Did it work? We asked Derulo about make-up etiquette, being "soul mates" with Rotem and what a lovelorn pop star can learn from Shakespeare.

"Whatcha Say" comes from a long lineage of make-up songs. Did it do the trick?

My brother called me one day to tell me he'd cheated on his girl, but that he felt terrible and really wanted to stay together. I told him, "Tell her this!" That feeling was so real, people go through it every day. So I wrote the song, and he played it for her, and now they've got a beautiful baby.

I guess it worked then. Speaking of interpersonal chemistry, you're doing your debut album entirely with J.R. Rotem. That must take a lot of trust, to work so closely with one producer on your first-impression record. Why him?

Our energy and connection was like nothing I'd ever experienced. We have a chemistry like Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones; we're really like soul mates. We've done something like 300 songs together. I'd always wanted the usual prospects to work on my record, like Timbaland. But I've got so many influences -- rock, country, rap -- that I really needed someone special. I didn't want to come off as an R&B artist just because of the color of my skin. When you hear the rest of the stuff, there's rock guitars, there's live drums, there's even banjos. I've studied classical music and jazz, and ballet and tap dancing and musical theater and Shakespeare, and I wanted all of that in there.

Shakespeare knew a thing or two about the foibles of the human heart. What did he teach you, as far as your songwriting goes?

Every line of his is so perfectly written, every word is placed there for a reason. It's like in musical theater, where you have to be so descriptive in your songs because you're singing a story.

You first gained traction as a songwriter for others like Lil Wayne, Sean Kingston and Pitbull. What are the differences between what you write for others and what you keep for yourself? 

That's always been the hard part. I never wanted to be the pen behind the voice; giving up songs was like giving up a baby. Now it's a bit of a different story -- when I write for others, I can cater to their music and not pull anyone from what they're doing. When I'm writing for myself, I can do whatever I want.

How did growing up in Miami influence how you write, and how you approached your career?

Miami must be the most diverse place in America besides New York. There's so many different kinds of people and I want to cater to every one of them. When you have a pop sensibility, you've really got to see what different people want, and that's always been really important to me.

This is such a singles-heavy time in pop music right now, and though you've already made a big impression on radio, do you get nervous about keeping that momentum up through the release of your album?

A lot of people get nervous about that, but I'm in a wonderful place now. It's all about having songs, and I've been writing and preparing for this my whole life. I've gone to performing arts schools my whole life. It's not like when the lights come on, I'm not gonna show.

-- August Brown

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Music