Nick Jonas: When I was a kid I used to love walking with my dad. We lived at this little brick house in Wyckoff, New Jersey, two doors down from the church that my dad was the pastor at. And there was this back pathway through the woods that neighbored a cemetery. The cemetery was kind of frightening to me, but the time spent with my father walking down this back path, talking about life and music and creativity were some of my favorite memories growing up.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time to Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos, and songs that have influenced their lives. When he was only 12, Nick Jonas and his brothers formed a pop band and were signed to a record deal that same year. The Jonas Brothers earned multiple platinum albums and Nick also has several platinum singles as a solo artist. On this walk, the musician and actor reflects on the ups and downs of his early career and how he trusted his own abilities at a time when others had doubts.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Nick Jonas: So, right now, we are in Benedict Canyon. It’s about a 20-minute drive from where I live. And kind of tucked away in the hills are a few different spots you can go to find just some… some beautiful scenery.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about Los Angeles is just the views and the space. It’s so calming.
Right now I’m looking at some trees, which I, I cannot describe or tell you what they are, although my wife has an app that tells you. So I wish she was here to point it at these trees and figure it out.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
When I was 11 years old, I had one of the greatest moments of my life when I was signed to Columbia Records. This guy that was actually a friend of our family chiropractor said that he worked at Sony Records. And he listened to a demo I did of a song I wrote with my father called “Joy to the World (A Christmas Prayer)”.
And that song got into the hands of Bob Bolin who happened to be the Head of International Affairs for all of Sony Music. He called us to his office, which was a corner office with two receptionist desks before you walked in, which to me, at 11 years old, was alarming. I didn’t know you would need two receptionists.
And I sat down with my father and Bob Bolin and another gentleman by the name of David Massey, and David asked me to sing something. He had heard the demo but thought maybe it was studio magic. So I did. I got up and sang a Stevie Wonder tune, “Overjoyed”, one of my favorite songs of all time. And he said, “Nicholas, I would love to sign you to Columbia Records as a solo artist.”
I began, shortly after that, writing music for my solo album, which was set to come out nine months later.
But then something magical happened. My brothers started picking up instruments and singing songs, and I could hear them through the wall of our neighboring bedrooms. And I kept thinking, “Wow, they sound really good.”
And so I knocked on their door to their bedroom and said, “Hey, do you guys want to write a song?” And they said, “Yeah, let’s do it. Why not?” We sat down. We wrote a song called “Please Be Mine”, which was the first time we’d ever written together, first time we’d ever sung together. Even though we grew up in such a musical home, it was all kind of in parts, you know, in different universes under the same roof.
And we weren’t excellent musicians or singers, but there was something that was special about it.
And it was good enough that my dad said, “Why don’t we go and show David Massey this song?” I was kind of fearful at first because I thought maybe, you know, at the tender age of 11 years old, not really able to comprehend a, a bigger worldview than my kind of very selfish, childish view, I thought, “What’s going to happen to my album? If they like the brothers and what we did enough, will it deter my album from coming out? Will they want to make this a group? What’s going to happen?”
And there was a place called the Blue Moon Café. And Blue Moon Café was a, a little Mexican restaurant. But it was a place that our dad would bring us to tell us some bad news.
And on the mile-and-a-half drive from our little red brick house to Blue Moon Café, I was looking out the window and, and thinking to myself this moment was about to be a life-changing moment, and I sensed it when we wrote the song. I sensed it when we played the song for the label, and I kept fighting the inevitable.
And so, when we sat down at the table, our… our usual table, the fourth one on the back left side of the restaurant, he said, “Well, I have some good news. The label loves your song you wrote with your brothers.” And I said, “Well, what’s the bad news?” He says, “They want to make it a group project.” And I said nothing. Remember, I’m 11 years old at this point. So my ability to manage my emotions maybe was not as good as it is now.
So the only thing I knew how to do was to react and, and for me, that was tears in my eyes and disappointment, quite simply. But my father is an amazing man, and he’s incredibly good with us, and he always has been. And his ability to help me see the good in what I thought was the bad was really profound.
And we talked through it, different scenarios and kind of how this would all play out. I was going to get to go on this wild journey with my brothers that would take us places we could never imagine we would go, meet people we never imagined we would meet, and get to write and perform music for a living.
And it all changed when I started thinking about that aspect of it, how rare it is to get to work with the people you love, also how complicated it can be.
He put his hand on my hand and said, “It’s going to be amazing. But if you feel like this isn’t the right thing, we should have that conversation.”
And I said, “No, it is. I knew from the beginning when we wrote that song.”
So things worked out okay, and I’ve still gotten to make solo records. But I’ll tell you, I’ve never had as much fun and felt so fulfilled emotionally, creatively, mentally than the work I do with my brothers.
I had to learn not to want something so much that I was willing to risk losing something so potentially incredible.
Every moment is potential for a lot of outcomes. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see what happens because you can’t control everything, and especially when you’re 11 years old.
As a person that likes to be in control, I’m definitely a perfectionist. I’m very competitive. It’s hard for me to let go sometimes and realize that I’m not in control. And there’s a real peace about that.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Not a lot of people will remember that things weren’t going so well for The Jonas Brothers in 2010, ‘11, and ‘12. 2008 and 2009 were massive years with just this sort of lightning bolt of, of just all the stars aligning and everything going perfect.
But we were young, and we needed to evolve creatively, and we just… we didn’t. Our relationship started to strain because of that, and that was scary for all of us. Years before, we were in arenas and stadiums, and suddenly we were not able to sell 400 tickets.
And I thought to myself, “Am I going to be a has-been at 20? Did all the best years of my life already pass artistically and in my career?”
I was the one to pull the ripcord and say, “It’s time for us to close this chapter of our journey.” In the moment, I felt like they would understand. I thought they would say, “Yeah, okay, you’re right.” They did not respond that way, and fear set in and humiliation even, on my part, thinking I was… I was so in my own head and own world that they were seeing everything the same way I was, and they certainly were not.
So, after a bunch of really challenging conversations and kind of untangling of everything, business, creativity, family, we got to a place where we were all satisfied with this outcome, which was to say this chapter of our life, our journey together would end, and we would pursue individual paths.
And I became very sad for a while after the brothers split up. I found myself traveling a lot to try and fill some kind of void that was there because I missed them. There was a big chunk of my life that had become a huge part of my identity that was just gone. And I was kind of stuck.
I knew I had music in me and that I wanted to reprioritize acting, but every time I would get a script from my new agent and they would say, “You’re the right age, and this is the perfect role for you. But they don’t want to see a Jonas Brother for this role.” Because the name Jonas Brothers, at this point in time, had become synonymous with cheesy. My resume didn’t look sexy to the people making the decisions.
I had worked so hard for this one thing, this, this career with the brothers and all that we were doing together, and for a while it would’ve gotten me into all these rooms. And suddenly it was the thing keeping me out of all these rooms.
And there was one room, in particular, I really wanted to be in after I read the script for a show that was called “Navy Street” then. There was this amazing role, Nate Kulina, the youngest son in a family of MMA fighters, and of course it was the same response as always, “They don’t want to see a Jonas Brother for this.”
And this was one of those turning points where I either said, “Okay, that’s fine,” and settled into deeper disappointment, or I chose a different path.
And I said, “I just feel like if I can just get in that room, they’ll see that I’m right for this role.” So I wrote a letter to the showrunner where I just said, “I know that you have reservations about me in this role. But I just would love the opportunity to show you how hard I will work and to show you how much I love this material.”
I got a call from my agent the next day, and said, “Well, I think the letter worked. They want you to come in and read.”
So, as I prepped my lines and got into the right emotional space, I got a really horrible phone call from my father and my mother saying that my grandfather, who I was really close with, who had been ill for quite a while, had just passed. And I was overtaken with emotion, naturally, heartbroken, and I thought to myself, “Am I going to go in and do this audition? Can I even emotionally bear it?” But after a long conversation with my dad and my mom, I said, “No, I, I need to do this, and I want to make Papa proud.”
So, two hours after I got that horrible news, I walked into this room full of emotion, ready to burst at the seams, tapping into something I’d never tapped into as an actor, as a performer, because it was just raw. It was there. I can’t even remember most of it. I was in a daze, and I left the audition satisfied just that I was able to get through it. I didn’t expect a followup of any kind. Went to the funeral, said my goodbyes, got back home, and there was an email in my inbox that said, “You got it. They want you to be on the show.” Naturally, I cried.
I did the show for five years, was so fortunate to work with incredible actors who taught me every day I was on set. And I can’t imagine if I hadn’t done that show, if I hadn’t written that email to the showrunner, begging to let me come in and audition. Honestly, I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if the brothers had never broken up because even though that felt like the lowest moment of all of our lives, it ended up being the foundation for a healthy relationship and the start to happiness, true happiness just as a family,
So sometimes it’s good to say, “No, I want to be in that room. I know I need to be in that room. Let me show you.”
And we talk about those moments when those paths are in front of you, and you don’t know which one to pick, you don’t know if you should hang on and, and push through it or just get complacent and say, “Okay, I tried.” My dad used to say this expression. I never understood it, but, “If you know in the pit of your knower that it’s right, follow that instinct.”
I first heard about Priyanka because my brother, Kevin, an avid TV watcher, said, “Hey, there’s this new show, ‘Quantico’, you’ve got to check out. It’s really good, and the girl in it is amazing.”
So I did my quick research online about the show and about her, and I was certainly interested, probably in her even more than the show.
So I went on Twitter and realized that she followed me. I was very surprised, but I direct messaged her. And we went back and forth a few times, eventually switched over to texting, and this went on for nearly a year.
So, when we finally met in person, in New York City, at this little bar on the Upper East Side around the corner from where she lived at the time, I was immediately surprised at how much I enjoyed spending time with her.
And, as fate would have it, we were both going to the Met Gala, this big, kind of swanky dinner where different clothing designers get different tables and pair different groups of people together in their clothing. And we found out, oh, we’re going to the Met Gala in the same designer. And they said, “Why don’t you guys walk the red carpet together? You guys are friends, and it’s a unique opportunity to do something different.” And we spent most of the night together.
She was leaving the following morning to go on one of the incredible trips she does with UNICEF. And I was so impressed at her heart for others, and it was inspiring to me. And so we didn’t speak for a few weeks, and then I wrote her after I’d seen the pictures from her trip and just said, “I’m so blown away at who you are and just would love another chance to… to see you in person at some point.” And she said, “Well, I’m actually coming to L.A.”
So I called up a friend of mine and his wife and said, “Would you guys be up to go to the Hollywood Bowl to watch the live version of “Beauty & the Beast” with the movie?”
Priyanka showed up, and there was nerves on both ends, I think. But when she walked in the room, I felt this sudden sense of peace. I just kind of knew in that moment that that was it. This would be the person that I get to share all the amazing moments of life with and all of the challenging moments of life.
And following that night, we spent every day together the rest of the week. And then a few months later, I proposed, and a few months after that, we were married.
And my life as a creative person, as a performer, as a writer, everything has been so enriched because, much like the foundation being set to just be family with the brothers, I suddenly focused on being a good partner. And I feel like I’m, I’m more creative than ever. I’m more fulfilled artistically, and it’s a good thing.
And it was so nice when we settled into just life. And life is the simple things. You know, it’s, it’s watching a movie at the end of the day, ordering takeout. It’s walking the dogs. We have three now. It’s getting to know each other each day and learning something new. And there’s a simplicity about that that I think is so reassuring and comforting.
Sometimes you have to slow down to kick it into high gear again. And, you know, she’s taught me a lot about going with the flow and taking it easy, something I’m still wrestling with every day. But it’s definitely a better way to live life. Of all the lessons I’ve learned so far, I think that’s the most important, is just to take some time out whether it’s a walk or a movie, whatever it is for you. Just take a step back for a minute.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
So I’m approaching some palm trees that make me feel like a giant. They’re not too tall, which is, is kind of a nice thing, a little bit shorter than me. And that’s not saying much.
But I love palm trees. It reminds me of when I first came to L.A. and kind of the wonder in my eyes about it all. We came from really humble beginnings, and, so being around something that was inspiring like that and reassuring of the journey we were on, that we were in the right place, was a nice thing.
One thing that remains true over and over and over again, to me at least, is that somehow when I play a song, when I’m performing or writing a song, I slip into the zone. And it’s taken over my… my whole being. And that’s what music is to me. It always has been. I think I was singing before I could talk because that was the way my brain worked.
When I was a kid, I was… I was doing Broadway shows and was so into musical theater and shows like “Les Mis” and “A Christmas Carol”, “Annie Get Your Gun”. I just lived and breathed that music. But then my dad gave me all his music to listen to and kind of gave me an education. And the first artist I really did a deep dive on was Stevie Wonder, who I’ve been fortunate enough now to, to perform with a few times, to spend some time with. And this song became incredibly important to me in my early life and discovery of music. It’s called “Overjoyed”.
[MUSIC - “OVERJOYED” BY STEVIE WONDER]
Troye Sivan is one of my favorite artists at the moment. He’s such a, a great storyteller, really descriptive in his lyrics. And he collaborated with a friend of mine, actually, on this song, “My My My!”. And I remember when I heard this song for the first time, I was really jealous of it…
[MUSIC FADES IN]
… which is, I think, the highest compliment you can give a fellow artist, is to say that you wish you wrote it.
[MUSIC - “MY MY MY!” BY TROYE SIVAN]
I wanted to share this with you because it’s something I’m really proud of and something that I think is something that really connects all of us in this bigger feeling of isolation and being apart from the ones we love.
It’s called “Don’t Give Up on Us”, and it’s quite simply about saying, “This thing is worth fighting for. This love is worth fighting for, and even if it has its moments, you know, don’t give up on us.” It also has a kick-a** beat.
[MUSIC - “DON’T GIVE UP ON US” BY NICK JONAS]
I am not the most talkative of people, although I’ve contradicted myself on this walk, But I’m really appreciative that you listened, and I’ll probably not say another word the rest of the day, talked out now. But this has been a really nice time. Thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.