Jon Bellion is Way More Than the Next Big Thing
Written By: Marissa Wright
Photographed By: Hunter Cole
The Expert: Jon Bellion
Credentials: Producer, Composer, Songwriter, Singer and Rapper
Jon’s Top 5 Albums
Band of Horses “Cease to Begin”
Death Cab for Cutie “Transatlanticism”
J Dilla “Donuts”
Kanye West “Graduation”
Bon Iver “For Emma Forever Ago”
Part audio revolutionary, part artistic mastermind, he has been quietly taking over the musical world and infusing it with what we didn’t even know we were missing. You might not be familiar with the name Jon Bellion, but there is a good chance you have heard his work and didn’t even know it. While some only know him as the guy who penned Rihanna’s part of an Eminem song, they’re neglecting the majority of what Jon Bellion is really about.
Jon Bellion was born and raised in Long Island, NY and music definitely wasn’t part of the original plan. Dreaming of playing college basketball, Jon had a one-track mind for his early years until he became the captain of his varsity team and earned All-Conference honors. After listening to his brother play the keyboards, he felt this pull towards music and that’s all it took. Before he knew it, he was practicing every day and started re-evaluating what he wanted to do. Recognizing how naturally his talent came to him, Jon ultimately decided to attend a music and performing arts college where he would hone his skills and meet the guys who now make up his touring band. It was in those dorm rooms where Jon discovered that he could actually sing and rap, thus changing the course of his music making future.
Eventually, Jon decided to drop out and pursue music professionally, and you should be glad he did. With the time to focus on his music full-time, Jon put his first mixtape on Facebook when he was 20, and it was just the beginning. While in the studio working with some friends, Jon half sung/half mumbled what would become one of the most recognizable hooks in hip hop today: “I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed / Get along with the voices inside of my head / You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath /And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy.” While everyone present in the studio that day knew they had something special, no one could have predicted that Shady Records would ultimately be the ones picking up their song. Gaining momentum, Jon followed up his first taste of commercial success with “Monster” by going on to produce and co-write a song with Jason Derulo (“Trumpets”). In between working with some of music’s biggest names, Jon managed to pump out 600 songs and three albums in less than three years. Blessed with a creative process that appears effortless to outsiders and the work ethic of an old gun, Jon is a one-man, music-making machine and does everything for his own albums. He is writing the lyrics, composing the music, making the beats, and finally mixing the whole thing. The fruit of his labor are songs that cannot be defined by rigid genre labels and inherently have wide-spreading reach. The only hard thing about listening to Jon Bellion’s music is trying to describe it to anyone who hasn’t experienced it yet.
I sat down Jon at the W Hotel in San Diego where he was staying while performing at the House of Blues before he had to make it to sound check. A self-proclaimed “average dude, ” Jon is refreshingly authentic and absent of the ego that can accompany any genius. Despite the intense touring schedule he’s powered through, he still has a smile on his face and seems genuinely flattered that anyone is listening and buying tickets.
Q: What was the first instrument you learned to play?
Jon Bellion: The piano.
Q: And you play everything, right?
JB: Not enough to say I really play it, but I can dabble on a little bit of everything.
Q: You’ve been making music for a while now, what do you think has changed the most about your music?
JB: Musically, I think the craft. I’m just getting much better at the craft because I’m spending more time on it. Career wise, I’m doing quintuple size venues this year, and they’re all sold out. It’s been crazy to see the amount of fans that it takes to fill the venues. Last year we were doing bars for between 300-400. Now we’re doing 700 and 1, 600 capped rooms, and they’re all filled to the brim. Very crazy.
Q: When you’re making a new song, what comes first the music or the lyrics?
JB: Lately it’s been drums first. Then you kind of put chords to it and write a little something to it … but it always differs. It’s always something different every time.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between making music for your own albums and producing for other artists?
JB: I don’t want to get so artsy with other people’s stuff. Writing and producing for other people is like a nine to five of mine. I knew it would take time to get my organic fan base off the ground, so it was a goal to just make the biggest pop smash that I could possibly make. So any time I write for other people I just want to make the biggest record possible. The biggest most chart-topping-money-making thing. When it’s my own stuff, it’s my baby that I can take my time on and I can be precious with it or whatever.
Q: Is there a downside to being attached to Eminem or Jason Derulo records?
JB: Downside? I think there’s only a downside if you let it be a downside. I don’t see it as my defining moment, my piece de resistance. I just see it as another step forward.
Q: Who has been your favorite collaboration so far?
JB: I did Cee-Lo’s next single. I produced and wrote it with him. I love the song so much I think it’s awesome. We spent a couple days in the studio, so that’s going to be crazy when it drops.
Q: What’s been the hardest adjustment while touring?
JB: Just staying healthy. Like right now I’m super sick, my voice is shot. This is our fourth show in a row in four days in four different places in California. You get one day off and 18-hour drives, 12-hour drives, 11-hour drives … it’s a lot, so just staying healthy is really important.
Q: What would you say is your most diva-like necessity while on tour?
JB: I brought two pairs of clean underwear, socks, and t-shirts for every day on tour. So I brought 80 pairs of each and I throw them out after I’m done. So everything is brand new every day. If I’m done after a show and I’ve sweat into something, I like throwing it out and putting on something brand new from the bag. It’s not very diva-esque.
Q: It’s like low-grade diva. (Laughing)
JB: Yes, but it’s the only thing I need. I’ve had the same car for five years. I still live in my parents’ house. I bought out the bottom half of my parents house and made a studio out of it, so I like staying home because I’m traveling so much there’s no point in me buying a house right now.
Q: Your tour schedule has been super busy, how do you unwind after a show?
JB: I go to sleep. Take a shower, read a little bit, fall asleep in the bunk and try to knock out as long as I can before we get to the next city.
Q: It’s that easy?
Q: How do you avoid feeling homesick on the road?
JB: Technology does a good job of keeping you in touch with people – text messages, FaceTime … you know? My sisters are always hitting me up making sure I’m ok and stuff, so I don’t really get too homesick.
Q: Is your band still made up of your college buddies too?
JB: Oh yeah.
Q: Can you tell us about the proposal that happened at one of your shows?
JB: Yeah, he reached out on Reddit. And I’ve never done Reddit before, so he was just this random guy who said, “I want to propose to my soon-to-be wife at your show, ” and I was like, “Lets do it.” A lot of people were hating — they thought it was fake or set up. When we met up with him in Salt Lake City, he drove like five hours to come. We brought him up on stage, and he brought his girlfriend, she was crying, and then she said yes. The place was going nuts. Yeah, it was a fun night.
Q: Have you had any crazy fan moments yet?
JB: Fan moments … yeah, you get some obsessive fans sleeping outside the bus or sleeping outside the venue at like five in the morning, stuff like that. So, like, easy crazy.
Q: You’re not getting stalked yet or anything?
JB: Hopefully not. Usually, stalkers aren’t going to admit that they’re stalking you.
Q: What’s your plan after this tour finishes in Detroit?
JB: I can’t say the place because my girlfriend might find out if she reads this interview, but we’re going to a surprise place on vacation for 10 days. I’m turning my phone off. I’m leaving the world. And then I’ll finish my new album probably right after I get back from vacation.
Native Knowledge: Jon didn’t even know he could sing or rap until he was 19 and decided just to give it a try.
The W San Diego Hotel
421 W B St
San Diego, CA 92101