As far as debut singles go, reaching number two in the UK charts, number one in Australia, within the top ten all across Europe and number one on iTunes isn’t half bad. Perhaps even more impressive when your debut single is a house version of a beloved classic. But that is how well Jonas Blue’s cover of Fast Car by Tracy Chapman has fared. In fact, the London born producer and DJ’s version of the song has had more commercial success than when Chapman’s original was released back in 1988.
“It was the song of my childhood,” Jonas tells me. We’re sat in the regal Langham Hotel just off Oxford Street in central London, and he is dressed casually in a pink shirt and white trainers, not seeming at all flustered by his very recent and sudden breakthrough.
“It’s my Mum’s favourite song,” he continues. “I’m a late '80s baby, and I remember on long car journeys it would always come on the radio. It just stuck with me as such a beautiful song; I remember thinking it was quite different to everything else that was out at that time.”
Jonas knew for a long time that he wanted to somehow include Fast Car in his DJ sets when he was starting out, but when push came to shove, he felt a certain amount of trepidation.
“When I realised I wanted to make a new version, it took a long time to build up the courage to get in the studio. And a lot of people say to me, ‘you’ve just remixed it'. I don’t class it as a remix, I class it as a reimagination. What I was trying to do was carry on where Tracy left off and bring it to a whole new generation.”
Jonas does make a key point here – it’s easy to call a house version of an existing song a remix, but Jonas started completely from scratch with his reimagining and didn’t ‘remix’ any of the parts from the Chapman original. By definition, it is a cover.
“That’s why I don’t use any of the guitar or anything from her version,” Jonas explains. “I wanted to put a new twist on it. I deliberately didn’t listen to the song at all when I was in the studio; I wanted to take myself away from it, and change the way people feel about the song.”
I’m dying to know if he ever imagined his take on the song taking off the way it has.
“It’s absolutely so surreal,” Jonas says. “We had a gathering at the record label last night and they presented me with the plaque. And it says on it: ‘Over four million sales, and over 500 million streams'. And even then I would just remember sitting in the studio making it. To be at this point now... I couldn’t have expected it. Because normally putting a song together takes me a long time, but with this one it all just came to me one night, the whole arrangement.”
Perhaps surprising for someone embedded in the house genre, Jonas made his first steps in music taking up the flute when he was younger. While many producers are self-taught and are totally beat and bass driven, Jonas is very grateful for having a more traditional grounding in music, and the affinity for melody it has given him.
“I started out playing jazz,” he says. “It gave me a great understanding of music theory and having that base.” He lists soul and R&B as being two of the most influential sounds for shaping his music. Many producers, be they dance, hip hop or otherwise, have told me they always start a song with either the beat or the bass. “I always start with the melody, melody is the key for me.”
With EDM now famously fading away, I’m interested to get Jonas’ view on the future of dance music.
“It will just go into another type of dance music,” he says, succinctly. “People need dance music! That’s the evolution of pop culture and dance music, it moves. That’s why I particularly admire Calvin Harris and Max Martin – they’ve managed to move throughout the years and stay current. Still with their own sound, though. The EDM bubble has definitely burst, but it will just be reincarnated as something else.”
Jonas is a self professed 'gear head', and I see a glint in his eye when I ask about his set up and equipment he uses.
“I’m loving the Dave Smith Oberheim at the moment,” he says, enthusiastically. “It’s got really lush pads and stabs. And I believe Dave Smith builds it all himself in San Francisco; it’s a great product. Speaker wise, I also use a Prism Sound Orpheus; that’s my interface, and I love it; it’s got crystal clear sound."
As we conclude our conversation, Jonas and his team are shooting off to Twitter Headquarters in London for an event, and then he’s joining David Guetta on a European tour as support. As you do.
“Between touring and making music, there isn’t time for much else,” Jonas confesses. And what does he hope to achieve in his career? “First and foremost, making great music that will last a lifetime. I want people to be able to take my songs, play them on guitar and sound just as good in 30 or 40 years time. Secondly, I want to be able to move through the times and stay current. Similar to what my idols Calvin Harris and Max Martin have done. And then to just keep touring!”
With this deft blend of business sense and hunger for artistry, Headliner can safely assert that Fast Car will not be the only success this young man sees.
Words Adam Protz