Entertainment & Arts

DNCE: Putting the colour back into pop

DNCE Image copyright Republic Records
Image caption DNCE (L-R): JinJoo Lee, Cole Whittle, Joe Jonas, Jack Lawless

Dance-pop act DNCE have scored a global hit with their debut single Cake By The Ocean. They tell the BBC about writing the song, touring with Lady Gaga and taking inspiration from Andy Warhol.

"We want to bring some fun and energy to the crowds out there," says Joe Jonas, former teen heartthrob and frontman of freshly-minted pop band DNCE.

He's on a mission to put quirkiness and positivity back into the top 40, as exemplified by the springy funk-pop of his group's new single Cake By The Ocean.

Intended as a soft launch for the quartet, the song spread by word of mouth until it reached the top 10 around the world. In the UK, it has been the most-played song on the radio for the last three weeks.

"It's been insane to see the reaction," Jonas marvels. "It's been on the radio in the States for seven months!"

Success has swept the band off their feet. Their debut album was delayed as they booked awards shows and music festivals. As they land in the UK for three days of promotion - Radio 1, Good Morning Britain and the Graham Norton Show are all on the schedule - guitarist JinJoo Lee is laid low with the flu.

She soldiers through the beginning of our interview until a rasping cough defeats her. Her bandmates look concerned as she excuses herself from the room, but she waves off their worries and they get down to business.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The band aren't afraid of a splash of colour

Cake By The Ocean has really taken the world by storm. What's the story behind the song?

Cole Whittle (bass guitar): We were in the studio hanging out with these Swedish producers and they were trying to talk about the cocktail Sex On The Beach but they kept calling it Cake By The Ocean. And that image birthed this party anthem.

The "ay-ya-ya" hook has been going round my head relentlessly for weeks. Where did that come from?

Joe Jonas: That little section gave me writer's block for a week. We couldn't fine-tune what it was. But finally, when we cracked it, we wrote the song in 15 minutes.

A lot of professional songwriters like to use nonsense words in the hook - because they work in any language. Was that a factor?

Joe: There is definitely a bit of songwriting math that Matt[ias Larsson, producer] and his team do very well. There's been a few songs where they've been like 'hey, maybe we could change this little melody' and it takes the song from here (indicates the floor) to there (the ceiling). It's so awesome to watch. They're great at using quirky lyrics or putting a twist on them.

Why do people who've graduated from teen pop bands always write songs about how much sex they're having?

Cole: Maybe we're just saying we've had a lot of pastries...

Joe: It's interesting. There are two routes you can take. You can go down the whole "bad boy" route. I did that when I was younger - whether through personal actions or my music, but I think I've had enough time to write music that felt natural and wasn't too opinionated.

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Media captionDNCE perform Cake By The Ocean in Radio 1's Live Lounge

It's interesting that you're back in a band after leaving the Jonas Brothers. Did going solo not feel right?

Joe: I did a bit of a solo run but I felt unfulfilled. I feel comfortable in a band. Touring with my brothers for years, there's a good feeling looking left or right and knowing you're up there with your buddies. So it's a big comfort for me.

Where did the name DNCE come from?

Joe: It's funny. We were drunk texting one night, talking about what the band name should be and someone mis-spelt the word "dance".

Or dunce…

Cole: Oh, it could have been dunce!

Joe: But it just looked right. There were four letters and there's four of us. You could just imagine it written on a marquee. So it stuck.

You launched the group with a series of house parties in New York. How did those come about?

Cole: We were in LA one day and all of a sudden we all got calls saying "we're going to fly to New York tonight, we're going to move into a bar, in a basement, and we're going to throw three shows every night". And it turned into five shows every night. It was honestly like condensing a whole year of what it means to start a band, playing these dingy little rooms, into six days.

It has a certain Andy Warhol vibe to it.

Cole: The nature of it was very like The Factory.

Jack Lawless (drums): People would hang out all night.

Do you want to keep playing those shows?

Joe: At our core we all love playing little venues like that. It still thrills us and it's inspiring. But at the end of the day, those arenas feel pretty good, too.

Jack: But it'd be really cool to go back to the basement for a week.

Image copyright Republic Records
Image caption The band were only formed last year, although Jonas (second right) had worked with Lee (left) and Lawless (second left) on previous projects

Your image is very colourful and playful. What's the inspiration?

Joe: For all of us, there were times in our career where we felt boxed in, creatively. Now we've got the opportunity to be free and expressive. And sometimes that means we'll go crazy and wild.

Cole: We're like four friends hanging out in your mum's basement, having fun and saying every cool idea that comes in your head.

Such as?

Joe: We went on tour last fall [autumn] and the first radio station we stopped in had a life-size Lady Gaga cardboard cut-out. We were like "we've got to take this" and the radio station gave it to us. After that, we'd steal a cut-out at every station and we put them on stage with us.

So you effectively had an all-Gaga backing band?

Cole: It was all different celebrities. It started as a joke, but then kids started bringing cut-outs to the show. Then we'd put them on stage and destroy them or throw them out to the audience. So that's the essence of our band, we don't think too much but when we have an idea, we don't wait around for people to tell us it's OK. We just do it.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption DNCE are already winning a reputation for their high-octane live shows

Cole, your previous band (Semi-Precious Weapons) toured with Lady Gaga. What did you learn from her?

Cole: Watching how hard she worked was inspiring. She would literally do promo all day, soundcheck with her band, play the show - which was two-and-a-half hours - and then write and record her album in the dressing room until they kicked her out of the arena. Every night. That's what it takes.

Your album has been delayed because of the success of Cake By The Ocean. What stage is it at now?

Joe: I'd say we're about 95% there. We've just got to finish writing two songs. We're projecting to release it at the end of August.

So the deadline is looming?

Joe: It's better that way. If there isn't a date on the calendar you get lazy!

DNCE's single Cake By The Ocean from their EP Swaay is out now.

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