All Access With Jason Derulo
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“This is my sanctuary — this is my home. This is where I feel most comfortable.” Jason Derulo is seated like a king at the epicenter of a rented studio in Burbank that is encased with a simple, yet modern aesthetic — black leather sofas and muted-colored walls, a switchboard only used by the elite producers, and glass windows dividing the studio from the adjacent sound booth. Dim lighting hovers over us, but Derulo’s demeanor is anything but dark.
“I’m most excited about this new beginning,” he beams. “I’m a new person, you know, so everything has to be fresh and new.”
We like this “new” Jason.
Rewind to early January. The 22-year-old is practicing choreography for his upcoming Future History World Tour when he fell and broke his C2 vertebrae – leaving him in a neck brace for six months and forcing him to cancel his first headlining tour. “I was not able to dance, I couldn’t even really bop my head. It’s the simple things that you take for granted — not being able to perform for that amount of time, and also knowing that it could be gone in an instant.”
Derulo decided to channel all of this creative energy into studio time, recording an astounding 100 to 120 songs. “I wouldn’t change the accident for anything because I’ve grown so much from it,” Jason admits. And now, on this summery July afternoon in downtown L.A., we see Derulo’s career back in high gear, as he promotes a new E! reality show he’s in (which premiered on July 9) and meets with A-List producers to work on his third studio album.
Jason Derulo arrives a fashionable 10 minutes late, swinging around from the back right door of a tinted back compact car, camera-ready in a medley of grey and neutral tones. The collar of his Armani jacket is raised, his jeans strategically folded up to a high-water level, leaving his studded sneakers and belt to do all of the talking. The kid’s got some pearly whites, too, simple, silver-framed shades, and an effervescent energy, to boot. He’s about to appear on ‘Chelsea Lately,’ where he and Pete Wentz will discuss their involvement with ‘Opening Act.’ It’s a brand-new series that puts him behind the scenes, mentoring newbies who will open for A-listers such as Nicki Minaj, Gym Class Heroes, and LMFAO.
“Basically, we’re searching for opening acts for some of today’s biggest artists,” Derulo explains of the artist development team he’s part of, which also includes country star Martina McBride, ‘Idol’ executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, songwriter/producer Antonia Armato and former Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, among others. “That’s how you do it in the real life — you start as an opening act, and those chops, that you build on tour, are long lasting lessons that [you take with you] throughout your career.”
Derulo garnered his touring experience back in 2009 when he was asked to join Lady Gaga‘s memorable Monster Ball Tour, followed by the Black Eyed Peas‘ the E.N.D. World Tour in 2010. “Without those experiences, I definitely wouldn’t be the performer that I am today,” Derulo states. “I mean, you have to be on tour to know what it entails. It’s kind of like being thrown in the pool, because you’re performing for these fans that are not particularly your fans, and it can be kind of rough, but you have to go out there and impress them from the first second. You have to go out with a bang and pray for the best.” [Laughs] So, did he ever have a bad experience as an opening act? “I’m lucky I didn’t get booed — Lady Gaga’s fans were very gracious to me.”
After taking some of Chelsea Handler’s puns in good stride (you’ll have to watch the show to find out what she said exactly), we left the Westside Media Center for Burbank to do a recording session with Nasri alongside the Messengers. Nasri Atweh and Adam Messinger are responsible for some of the bigger tracks off Justin Bieber‘s ‘Believe’ and Chris Brown‘s ‘Fortune,’ among others.
When we walk to the back room of the studio, there’s four guys holding fort – one’s happily strumming on guitar, the other seated beside the switchboard, while the Messengers (aka Nasri and Adam) are casually deliberating and exchanging small talk. “Nasri’s a good friend of mine,” Derulo boasts before the session starts. ”…And so I said, ‘any friends of yours are friends of mine.’” Grinning, he adds, “They play Ping-Pong so I think we’re going to get along pretty well.” But before the brainstorming starts and music is made, we chat with Derulo about his currently untitled third studio release.
“I’ve spent more time on this album than my first or second,” he admits. “It was the only thing I could do from the beginning, and it probably wasn’t the healthiest thing to do — to be in the studio. It probably prolonged my recovery by coming in, [but] I was so anxious to get up and write about what I was feeling.” Despite having over 100 songs already recorded with the help of producers such as the Fliptones and Mike Posner, Derulo still feels like he’s in the beginning stages, trying to find the perfect beats, and matching those beats with existing songs. But the hardest part, he states, will be choosing which songs will make it on the album.
Producers haven’t been his only help over the last six months, however. He’ll be the first to admit that his ladylove, ‘American Idol‘ alumnus Jordin Sparks, really helped him get through the recovery process. “I broke my neck and we had so much time together — and she was just so nurturing, just really took care of me, and a light blinked off and I was just like, ‘Wow, maybe I should settle down.’” Since then, Derulo has recorded quite a few songs with Sparks, which he hopes will appear on his upcoming album.
But, like any other couple, they have their fun too. ”We had a little drink off competition [recently in Vegas] and we just took shots – we had about seven,” Derulo says. “And the first night she beat me horribly, I was dancing on couches and all kinds of craziness, but the next night was her so…” [Laughs]
Jason will finally get to show off his dance moves again… off the couch. He’ll be spending two-and-a half months down under, working on another new reality show called ‘Everybody Dance Now,’ alongside Kelly Rowland.
“I definitely want to be hands on,” Derulo says when talking about his mentoring role. “I want to show [the contestants] dance moves, I want them to show me dance moves. I’m looking forward to this because it’s been a little minute since I’ve really, really danced like that … And Australia is one of my favorite [places] in the world so getting to be there is not bad at all.” [Laughs] Plus, who wouldn’t want to work with the sexy Kelly Rowland? “She seems like a real, nice down-to-earth girl,” Derulo says about Rowland. “You know, I grew up watching her in Destiny’s Child, so it was pretty cool.”
Once the Messengers join us back in the studio, Jason begins fervently working with them on an unnamed song – featuring thumping backbeats and highlighting Derulo’s high falsetto. Derulo volunteers to jump right in the sound booth after only 10 minutes of brainstorming. He’s confident, but in a non-pretentious way. Hey, he’s there to work, not goof off. The producers are quick to offer edits (“Don’t go high there – it sounds too ‘80s”) and suggestions like (sing about a “sexual tension” adding “you’re in a club, talking to a girl…”)
The creative juices were flowing well into the evening, delivering what could perhaps be the 121st song Jason has recorded in the last six months. To us, that’s a good problem to have.
“I look at life in a different way,” Derulo says. “I’m so blessed [that] I found new love, and that I have been able to overcome [the injury] and realize that it was a blessing, and not a curse.”
Yep. Seems like a blessing to us.
* Videographer, Aaron Fradkin; Producer Ryan Simmons