Allow this ’90s child to say: Few things can cut straight to the heart like a good boy-band hook. Whether you prefer *NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys, and whether or not you buy into the idealistic romance those bands espoused, putting their records on is like sinking into the world’s comfiest couch. With a Gilmore Girls marathon and ice cream.
Such is the beauty of good pop music, and it’s one that 26-year-old Joe Jacobs is trying to tap into.
Jacobs grew up in Lakeville, Minn., studying music from age three on. He started with drums, later moving into guitar and vocals; now he plays four instruments, sings, and produces music.
His debut pop album, The Beginning, dropped in 2014. The seven-track collection bubbles with drum-pushed beats, layered vocals, and goofy, Prince-esque naming conventions (“Take Care-a U”). What really stands out is the production, with its subtle AutoTune (“I go into each note and physically cut and bend it until it’s natural,” says Jacobs) and remarkably smooth sound. The album took him about five months to make.
Jacobs’s journey has crossed into various music worlds several times — he played in indie-rock bands as a teenager, and he’s produced genres as disparate as heavy metal, rock, and folk. In fact, rising singer/songwriter Austin Plaine brought him on to produce his first EP.
But Jacobs is drawn to pop. After all, he says, it’s concise. It’s a challenge to craft sticky hooks and connect with your audience. “If you want the ability to influence the most people, pop is really the best place for it,” says Jacobs. “I like the broad appeal.”
What’s more, pop has a special power (and purpose) in today’s postmodern context. “I think people are asking for some sort of balance and foundation,” Jacobs says, brows furrowed. “It seems like the whole world is spinning in a sink. Like, ‘What’s going to stay the same? We can’t trust anybody, and we’re always in danger.'” He hopes to answer the calls for respite.
“A lot of people will describe my music as ‘authentic,'” Jacobs says. They might not be able to pin down why (in fact, he describes authenticity as an X-factor). But he attributes that sense to his musicianship and indie roots. He describes his musical spirit as “very real,” and he hopes listeners sense that “this was written by a musician, versus somebody at a hit factory.”
Certainly, Jacobs has enviable industry connections. He’s spoken with Usher and Jan Smith (Justin Bieber’s vocal coach, who complimented Jacobs’s falsetto). Radio program directors around the country have given him feedback. The Voice brought him to callbacks a few seasons ago, and back in 2014, he toured with Aaron Carter (who, by the way, played a few recent shows in Minn.).
The biggest obstacle Jacobs has faced is the demand for online presence. Amid today’s tidal wave of YouTubers and Vine stars, he’s struggled to build the social media empire that so many labels covet, saying, “Twitter and all the social media stuff is definitely an effort.” However, he’s now redoubling his efforts (Facebook; Twitter), doing his best to connect with fans online.
It’s been a couple of years since his last studio album, but Jacobs seems poised to do something big. When he’s not at his day job, he’s writing, performing, and submitting songs to music/TV catalogs, hoping that they’ll help get his music placed onscreen. He’s working on his live shows, starting with an open mic performance at the Coffee Shop NE this Sunday (a featured slot there is in the works). Most of all, he’s scheming about how to reach more fans. Watch out for his big break.