As most of you know, JoJo is under contract with Blackground Records, and she has not been able to release her long-awaited third album with the massive dysfunctional label aforementioned. However, through setbacks and “going up and down this dream,” she has not let circumstances chain her down. In fact, she continually busts through the links with her constant recording sessions, her 2010 mixtape Can’t Take That Away From Me, her ever-dope take on Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” and 2012′s stellar effort, AGÁPĒ .
In a very candid and at times random convo-interview, JoJo opens up about how her “label drama” has affected her, if we’ll ever hear Jumping Trains, the elusive “Demonstrate” video, our mutual likeness for “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” (Yes, really) and one day releasing the full version of a fan-favorite.
JoJo: Hi Melissa!
Melissa: Hi! How are you?
JoJo: Good! How are you?
Melissa: I’m good. How was your holiday?
JoJo: It was really nice. I’m glad to be back to reality, though, in LA. How was yours?
M: Mine was pretty good. I got a Kindle Fire, so I’m very happy about that (laughs).
M: What was your favorite gift?
J: I know its sounds corny, but my favorite gift was quality time with the fam and lots and lots of cookin.’ My aunt can cook her ass off.
M: Oh, I hear that! I ate for two days straight. Non-stop.
J: Yeah, it was a non-stop thing for me too.
M: (laughs) Well, I want to start with the fan questions because I have a lot of fan questions for you, and you know your fan base is so loyal and they’re so dope! I wanted to start with that.
M: Do you remember filming “Aquamarine”? What was your favorite part?
J: I do! I was about 13 or 14 when I filmed it and it was amazing. My mom and I were in Australia for three months. We lived in Queensland, and it was unbelievable. I really bonded with the girls; we all lived in the same complex. We would go swimming a lot; we would explore. I remember being very afraid of swimming with the dolphins because they looked so much like sharks to me, and it freaked me out. And everyone was like “Yeah! I wanna ride the dolphins!” And I was just like “Please ride the dolphins for me. I’m way too scared!”
M: (laughs) So you never rode the dolphins?
J: I had to, actually, for the movie and I did, but I was crying. I mean, I was terrified.
M: Will we ever get to hear “Jumping Trains”?
J: Honestly, out of respect for the producers and songwriters I worked with I’m not sure if the music should just be thrown out on the internet. So many songs have already been leaked and, you know, our intellectual property is basically just out there for free. When I’ve collaborated with people on mixtapes, we’ve gone in with the understanding that it’s for free and they know the reasoning for it–they’re down with the movement. I just don’t feel like it’s the right thing to do.You know, I haven’t made money off of my music in years, and there is a certain point where I would like to start doing that (laughs). I think that my focus, musically, is definitely to continue putting out material, but as far as the material from “Jumping Trains,” I’d like to try to sell it to other artists or shop it around or just leave it be.
M: When your are released from your label, will you share some songs with us?
J:It is about coming to a contractual agreement where I can put out music just like every other artist in a recording contract. A label has the responsibility to pay its bills, organize & execute a campaign, & have the means to release music properly.
M: I remember there was a video where you were presenting some songs for some people and there was a snippet of a song called “Bodyguard,” and a lot of fans really loved that song from the 2 seconds that they heard it, so they want to know who produced it and will it ever be released?
J: I love that song too, thank you. My fans are so amazing; I love how passionate they get (laughs). “Bodyguard” was produced by Da Internz. I also did “Lie To Me” with them and some other stuff that isn’t released but that I’m really proud of. Will it be released? I’m not sure; who knows what the future holds. But I don’t necessarily know it’s in the new direction that I’m moving to.
M: There’s an extended version of that “Thinking Out Loud”?
J: Yes. I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I get very self-conscious of my work. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to release it, but I think I’m going to.
M: On Twitter, a lot of fans love that song and they’ve tweeted that they wish it was a full song, so it’s funny that you say that.
J: I’m definitely going to put it out for sure. I might even do a video for it.
M: Oh! Is that your next video?
J: It’s one of my next videos, yes.
M: What’s going to be the first video from AGÁPĒ?
M: That’s exciting! I probably listen to that song the most out of all the songs on the mixtape.
J: Thank you so much, thank you!
M: I love that song because I think it’s really creative. I know that you’re a fan of him (Andre 3000), and you kind of used his essence to make the song. So, that was really cool.
J: Well, thank you. I’m glad you received it that way.
M: What do you feel was your biggest accomplishment in 2012?
J: I feel like it’s more of a personal accomplishment than a professional accomplishment. I feel a lot more centered; I feel a lot healthier in every way than ever before. I’m just more at peace with whatever happens.
M: That’s the end of the fan questions, and now on to my questions: I remember right before you released “Demonstrate” you tweeted you haven’t been this excited since you were 13. What was different with the release of that single from when you released “Disaster”?
J: With “Demonstrate,” we were kind of pushing the envelope and it wasn’t a sound that was heard on the radio very much, and that excited me because I’m not inspired by doing something formulaic or just doing something just because it’s safe. Honestly, I did feel like “Disaster” was a safe choice, and it wasn’t my choice. It’s a song that I love. I love to sing it and it is close to my heart, but I just feel like we were kind of not moving forward; we were just playing it safe. I felt excited to try something different; I was excited because I was nervous. I think it’s a good combination of energy.
M: We’ve seen artists like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd’s mixtapes generate a lot of listeners and in turn their music passes word of mouth until it spreads like wild-fire. Do you feel the pressure of having your latest mixtape, AGÁPĒ, reach that platform?
J: I didn’t feel pressured, no. I didn’t come into it with specific goals or achievements. I just wanted to reach anyone who would listen. I really wanted to, particularly, reach my supporters. One of my favorite things to do is tell stories and to connect with other human beings on this journey. So, I didn’t feel pressured; we put out music and we hope that people respond and if it catches on in a big way then that’s fantastic.
M: Where and when can we expect the tour dates for AGÁPĒ?
J: I’m actually meeting with my agency later this month to figure out the specific routing of it, but we’re definitely hitting the East Coast. I’d really like to go to Canada as well; I love going up there, however, I’m going to express my desire to go everywhere. The thing that’s held me back is that since I haven’t been able to make money from music in the past few years, I try to be very conservative with my funds. Touring is something that can be expensive; especially when you haven’t done it before & don’t have that touring base. Meaning, you have to sell enough tickets and have a history of that so promoters will book you & pay you enough to take care of your production & overhead. So, I’m going to go out on the road and build…basically, doing a lot of proving myself being out on the road–working very hard.
M: I know you’ll probably go to New York, so I hope you come to Florida as well.
J: Absolutely, for sure.
M: Because that’s where I live (laughs)
J: I remember, yup!
M: These days it seems like every popular song sounds the same with the ever-popular infusion of House music with different genres. I mean, even Lil Wayne has a song with David Guetta. Is it hard to NOT place yourself in that box, too, with wanting to reach success?
J: It’s something that use to bother me more than it does now, and I did dabble in it. I love all kinds of music. I just love great music; whatever form it comes in, I don’t discriminate. I love dance music when it’s done well and interesting. As far as something that’s generic, that’s something I can’t really gravitate towards. So, I’m down to do anything as long as it’s authentic and that style of music doesn’t necessarily feel that genuine coming from me. It’s just not my back ground or experience. So, I just want to be authentic in the way I live my life. I think that’s why it’s something I haven’t necessarily dived in to.
M: Do you think one day you would pop out with a House song if it was an organic experience, then?
J: Absolutely, yes! If it made sense.
M: Taking in consideration that any legal action/maneuver shall remain hidden under the sleeve.
What can you say to your fans about what’s going on with the ‘label drama’ that has been following since 2009?
J: It’s been a really trying journey. I felt very lonely in it, although I have an amazing team that is going through it with me. But I felt really upset that I can’t really talk about it and I have this wonderful relationship with my fans; social media is such an incredible platform. It’s also kind of frustrating because I want to be able to shout it from the rooftop about what’s going on, but I also want to conduct myself in a respectable business manner. To speak about legal things that are going on–I just don’t think it’s the best look. So, it’s been a frustrating time and seems like there are easy solutions, but I want to assure people that if it were that easy we would have done it already (laughs).
M: What projects can Team JoJo expect from your recent new YouTube & Tumblr accounts?
J: I plan to do a whole bunch of stuff on there. I want to release some behind the scenes footage. Like I did a photo shoot for AGÁPĒ at night on the beach and I had my cousins there, some friends, and we were all just gettin’ loose, playing music, and running around. I also have some footage from when I was recording in the studio for the mixtape. I just want to give people a glimpse into this strange world of mine (laughs).
M:Will fans get to see the “Demonstrate” video?
J: I have no idea what Blackground plans to do with that video; I’m not in control of that. My thought is probably not. I’m pretty sure they owe some people some money on that actually.
M: You did a movie, “G.B.F.” Can you tell me what it’s about and what drew you to that project?
J:I’m so excited about this movie! I loved the cast; I love the director (Darren Stein) ; the writer–everyone involved. It was really fun. It came together kind of randomly. It sounds so “Hollywood” explaining it and I feel so silly (laughs). But I just got a call from my agency and they told me about the project and I said “yes let’s check it out.” I read the script and I loved it. I thought it was just so fun ; it was telling a story that I haven’t heard told before. And it’s just a really good story about friendship and acceptance and the feeling about how you feel like high school is the biggest thing in the world and you come to realize that life does go on.
M: Can you tell a quick summary of the plot?
J: The summary is that there are no gay people at this school that we all attend and I’m the leader of the Gay, Straight Alliance; my character’s name is Soledad. In order to keep funding for my cause I have to prove that there’s a gay person in the school. So, through a series of events this guy gets outed and his best friend is still in the closet. They’re out to each other and some other friends but no one else knows. It’s about how this school handles basically their first “out” kid and how they kind of use that as a popularity tool.
M: Is this more of a comedy or a drama?
J: It’s definitely more of a comedy. It’s kind of one of those fun teen comedies that you can watch over and over again. It also has a lot of heart, and that’s what drew me to it.
M: Having been through all you have been through with label politics for as long as you have, it’s amazing that you continue to strive with such determination, drive and heart. You made a stellar mixtape, you had a sold-out concert at The Roxy and you’re going to tour for the mixtape. You keep going, and you won’t let anything stop you. I have to know, how do you keep going? Where do you find the strength?
J: First of all thank you so much for saying that. I really appreciate it. I think you’re asking really great questions by the way so congratulations on your budding journalist career. It’s definitively impressive.
M: Thank you!
J: Let’s see–I just feel like I don’t have another choice. I don’t feel like giving up is in my DNA. I mean, I come from a small town in Massachusetts and as much as I love it, I don’t really plan on going back and just living and working a 9-5. This is my love; it’s my everything; it’s my release. I just love music so much and I feel it’s what I was put on Earth to do. So, I want to follow in that plan because I don’t think that I’ve deviated from that truth. Certain things get in the way for now but I just have to continue to grow and evolve and that’s all I can do. And I’m also grateful that I’m still very young. I think that that’s something that’s inspired me and have used on my side. I’ve certainly have gotten very, very down and something that has kept me going is my fans. Getting to have that interaction with them through social media . Feeling that encouragement–it just gets me optimistic.
M: I can tell it means a lot to you. It’s amazing. You don’t let all that stuff get to you–the bull crap of Hollywood.
J: I just feel that this struggle is temporary. I’m now looking back at it–I’ve been in a difficult position for the past few years–and I wouldn’t trade it for anything because it’s made me a better–stronger– person.
M: I know you’ve said you were a little nervous about releasing “Marvin’s Room” because it was audacious and you used the “F” for the first time. Did the same kind of feelings occur when referring to drug use on some of your songs on the mixtape?
J: I didn’t really think about it in this mixtape because I knew that it was just going to be an opportunity to present myself in a way that was true to what some kids my age are doing, experiencing and thinking about . I just wanted to paint a true picture, so I wasn’t as nervous as I when I was doing “Marvin’s Room,” and I think that there are still some things that women aren’t “suppose to say,” you know what I mean? So, it’s kind of jarring to hear that. I was more concerned about still being respected as a good woman but still expressing myself like the Bostonian I am.
M: I have to say, “Take The Canyon” is my jam. It’s such a good song. I mean, I can’t relate to it directly but I be jammin’ to that song.
J: Yea!! Thank you, thank you so much!
M: I hope you do a video to that song, because it’s a really sexy song.
J: I would love to do a video for it. Who knows–we might.
M: In one of your songs on Agape, you say it took you 22 years to trust yourself. Has your label been this main entity that’s tried to tell you what and how to sing?
J: Coming in to the industry as a teenager, it’s not like I had a clear vision and a plan of execution for the artist that I wanted to be. I just knew that I liked to sing. So, of course there’s going to be some guidance and some people that have their opinions and I was fine with that up to a certain point and, of course, there were compromises. But I started to feel like in the past few years, nobody was really asking me who I was or getting to know me–at all–as far as with the record company. And I’ve been doing this a long time; I’ve really been studying and working on my craft. I feel like I wanted to explore who I am.
M: What’s the one song on your iPod or the radio that’s a guilty pleasure?
J: I don’t really feel guilty about listening to anything (laughs) so I don’t know.
M: Mine is that song “Bandz A Make Her Dance.”
J: Hell yeah! **starts singing the song** Bandz a make her dance! Yes, but you see, I don’t feel guilty about it. How bout Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything”?
M: I haven’t heard that one.
J: What ?!
M: You know what it is? I never listen to the radio so that’s why I don’t know that many “popular” songs (laughs).
J: I get most of my music on the internet but you should check him out. Just YouTube it. You are going to flip out!
M: (laughs) I’ll make sure I look it up. Here at TYF, were all avid fans of the arts, so we ask you what’s been your been favorite (of 2012 or 2013 )
J: Favorite TV show is Scandal
M: I love that show
J: Yes! Favorite movie is Lincoln. Album is Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio. And for book, it’s a book by Steve Martin called an Object of Beauty.
M: Creating a song is a fascinating process to me. How is the recording and writing process for you. Do you write a song first and see which track fits it? Or is it the opposite where you hear a track and it inspires the words out of you? How do you pick which producers to work with?
J: It totally depends on the moment. I just go with the flow; there’s no particular formula for how it goes. With “Thinking Out Loud,” for example, I just had a melody in my head and I had these words and I put them together. So, I was over Austin’s house one day (Austin Brown co-wrote the song and other songs on the mixtape as well as produced it) and I was like “Hey can I read you these words?” and then he got sat at the piano and he came up with the chords changes and stuff and that’s how it happens sometimes. With “Andre,” Steve Franks played me a track and I loved it; I had this word written and it was André with the accent mark because I love French names. I think men with French names are super sexy; I just think it’s freakin’ dope! (laughs).
M: (laughs) I agree.
J: I heard something in the track that made me feel like singing about a unique guy and that’s how that happened.
M: With that last question, I want to open up a quick, fun session where you tell us what each song is about.
J: It’s about driving around Foxborough in my mom’s Toyota Echo with the dents on the side of it and just getting in touch with my roots. Who I am; where I came from. I’m talking about some of those dark times where I’ve drank until I’ve gone to asleep and woken up and feeling like “ok, everything else is in the past. Today I start forward and start fresh.
M: We Get By
J: It’s kind of about me moving from South Boston to Los Angeles and my decision to do that. Feeling like I needed a place to explore and grow.
M: Take The Canyon
J: “Take The Canyon” is about cheating, and it’s about only having a window of time to be with that lover and needing to get there as soon as possible for this illicit rendezvous (laughs.) And it’s about taking the canyon–Beverly Glen or Laurel Canyon or whatever it may be.
J: I wrote “Billions” about a lover but it became about my family. As much as I can see in the world, there’s nothing more important to me than that foundation of family, friendship and real love.
M: Thinking Out Loud
J:It’s about hooking up with an ex. And it’s about how your heart hasn’t really mended from the way that things ended. You realize that it hurts even more, even though you guys don’t have a title; it hurts even more being with that person knowing that they don’t feel the way that you do.
M: White Girl in Paris
J: Joni Mitchell is a Goddess to me. I love her and that was just me paying tribute to the queen.
J: It’s about a very special, unique man. And it’s about how love can change your entire life.
M: Can’t Handle The Truth
J: That’s about cheating as well and basically blaming it on the guy. Saying like “You are responsible for my infidelity because you made me this way and you can’t handle it because you’re such a fucking idiot.”
M: (laughs) Damn! I love it though! The melody; the lyrics; the beat is hot. I love that song.
J: Thank you. I’m really happy that Boi1da let me use it on the mixtape because we recorded it for an album, and I’m really grateful for Elijah Blake who I co-wrote that with.