We meet the two Nebraska-born besties as they prepare to drop their debut album.
It’s a cold Thursday morning in December and I’m being led to a room on the 4th floor of London’s Ace Hotel. When the door swings open and I step inside, I’m met by two bleary-eyed boys who are tucking into a hearty full English breakfast. “Hi man, I’m Jack” they both say, almost in unison, before reaching out their hands to shake mine. While under different circumstances it might seem like the introduction to a low-budget comedy, this is pretty much the norm in the world of chart-topping pop duo Jack and Jack. They talk in unison, and are prone finish each other’s sentences without even realising it – a testament to the strength of their 17 year friendship.
Meeting on their very first day of kindergarten, Jack Gilinsky and Jack Johnson became friends when their parents sent them to school in matching GAP shirts, and they both opted to write their J’s backwards on their name tags. Seeing the similarities, they approached one another and have basically been glued to each other’s side ever since, navigating the complex landscape of high school before successfully establishing themselves as musical maestros in the making. Fast-forward to now and they’re already internationally recognised hit-makers. Their single “Rise” which they released in collaboration with English DJ and producer Jonas Blue, reached number 3 in the UK charts and made them overnight stars. Just a few months later and they’re gearing up for the release of their first full length album, A Good Friend Is Nice, which they’re hoping will give them the musical validation they’ve been striving for.
Over our early morning meeting, I’m intent on finding out exactly how the duo found themselves to be two of Nebraska’s biggest breakout stars, with talk of bullying, heartbreak and on-the-road fallouts.
At what point did you realise that you were both musically talented?
Jack Johnson: We and Jack used to make videos in 5th and 6th grade. We loved music but we didn’t really have any means to make it, so we always used to mess around on his home computer making these song parodies. You can still find them on YouTube! We would literally write a word-for-word parody of a top 40 song at the time. We would literally dissect it so it rhymed with the actual song, but so it was a totally new song. We did “Stop and Stare” by One Republic but it was called “Fix Your Hair” and the whole song was about your hair being damaged because you were using the wrong conditioner.
Jack Gilinsky: I don’t think we ever thought about ourselves on that kind of level, like musically talented, so I don’t think we realised it until we actually started making music.
JJ: He was always in show choir, like dancing and singing, I know you already loved to do that, even though your sisters forced you to do it, I could tell you were really passionate about it. He was just really scared of being made fun of at first as it wasn’t the cool thing to do in high school.
JG: And then I started to love it! We also had the same music teacher so his piano teacher taught me drums around the same time.
JJ: So I think we knew we had musical gifts but I don’t think we were ever going to act upon them because there wasn’t really a popping music scene in Nebraska and we didn’t really think of it as being possible. I think our fans really helped us gain our confidence. It was really hard to put yourself out there, because you knew these kids were going to make fun of you because there wasn’t really a music scene. They’re going to be like ‘what are you doing? Why are you not focusing on college?’
JG: Even after, once we’d gained a following, people were like ‘why are you not focusing on college’. We had to block all of that out.
JJ: We kept each other on track.
So were people directly making fun of you at school?
JJ: Definitely. There’s been so much growth since our first song and I’ll be the first person to admit that. I’ll listen back and cringe listening to my own self, but I definitely knew there were whispers around the hallway like ‘these kids are trying to make music now’. I felt like I was very judged during that time period.
JG: People would sing it under their breaths when they passed you. It was this song called “Flights” and bigger kids would be passing and singing it to us.
JJ: It was quite sarcastic and they were making jokes, but other schools at basketball games would sing our songs and chant our name just to try and get in our teams’ head. Jack and I never really got phased by that.
JG: We were definitely the laughing stock of the town for a good couple of weeks.
JJ: I think it was a mix of envy and people that actually just hated us!
JG: We’ve been back since then and some of our biggest arch rivals at the time are now our homies because they realise that we made a good and fun decision and that we’ve made money and we didn’t have to go to college to do what we love. They have a lot of respect for us now!
Did you have a similar music taste when you were growing up?
Both: Black Eyes Peas, Lil Wayne.
JJ: I think we did have a similar music taste. If I ever found a new song, I would go and show it to G (Gilinsky) and vice versa.
JG: And that was the thing, even if he showed me a song that I didn’t like, if he liked it, he would play it a lot, and then I would hear it a lot and start liking it.
JJ: Even to this day, all of our favourite artists are still the same!
You have your debut album coming out so tell us a little bit about that. How long have you been working on it?
JG: Unknowingly we have been working on the album for like at least 2 years, I think our oldest song is around 2 years old. We decided we wanted to make an album once “Rise” hit so big in the UK.
JJ: It kind of gave us this mainstream window, so we were like ‘let’s take advantage of this’. We’ve had this project ready, it was just a matter of the right time and the right moment. It’s going to be 12 songs including “Rise” and I’m just so excited for people to hear every aspect of Jack & Jack. Our music is so much more variable than what you hear on the radio. There’s so many different vibes on there. I think our tones hold it all together, it’s the glue of the project. A lot of our influences come out in there. We’re never trying to be one genre kinda kids. There’s going to be something for everyone on there!
What are the key themes of the album?
JJ: Well, the package pays homage to our 17 year friendship.
JG: That’s definitely the overlying theme.
JJ: But none of the songs are really to do with that. It’s kind of telling our story through the artwork. Even if you have no idea of who we are, you can try and get a gage of who we are by just looking at and reading the project cover. A lot of it is about the past four years, coming from Nebraska and moving to LA. There was one particular night when were up on Mulholland that inspired a new song of ours.
JG: That song could never have happened in Nebraska!
JJ: [Some of the songs] are about relationships. [There’s one]which is about this lost club girl out in LA, because we’ve seen so many of these people who are caught in this cycle of going our and partying 6 days a week and they hang out with club promoters and that’s how they get by instead of actually working. Los Angeles is a very dark place if you let it be. Then [another] is about when me and Jack were going through this weird break-up period with our significant others and there was this weird tension in the air.
JG: That was the last one we added to the track list. Just a week ago we decided to swap a song out and add that one in.
JJ: Then there’s one which is about being doubted and having people trying to control you because they don’t truly believe in your vision so they try and make it a vision of their own. It’s just about this lingering dark cloud that is always over you when people are trying to control you. There’s a track which is about falling in love on the road but not having time to see this girl because you’re moving to the next city. That’s a very real thing that will happen sometimes. I don’t think we’ve ever fallen in love on the road but there’s always that thought of “oh this girl was dope, what could that have been if I had more time in this city to get to know her”.
JG: There’s one which is about how, if we both die, it’s OK.
Wow! That sounds quite deep!
JG: It’s quite deep but also at the same time it’s surface level. It’s just like saying that we make each other feel good, and lets just spend time together while we can.
JJ: If then if we crash in flames, then I’ll see you in the sky!
There’s obviously going to be a lot of expectation from your fans. Are you feeling nervous about the release?
JJ: I think about it but it’s never a worrying mind-set!
JG: I want my friends to enjoy it. There’s a chance that, and I don’t know why I feel this way, but there’s a chance that they might not. But there’s no chance that the fans won’t, because they’re waited so long for it.
JJ: Jack and I are really confident about the music. I don’t really care about the whole numbers game. I care about the project and people will see how much substance is there. It might not be in the first week, month or year, but I really do believe that this project is going to change our lives. I don’t want to get too worried about expectations. Expectations set you up for failure so you should never think about that!
Speaking of fans, you have such a huge fan base. Does it ever get overwhelming?
JJ: There’s big markets that we’ve never been to yet. I feel so bad for the people that have been supporting us for so long and we still haven’t got to meet them. That’s the most worrying thing for me, I feel like I’m not giving them enough or visiting the place I should be at times. It’s tough!
JG: We didn’t have show in Spain or Portugal on this last outing, and our Latinx market is huge! We have such amazing die-hard fans in Portugal and Spain so I know our fans are upset. But we don’t organise the tours, so it’s really hard!
Going on tour means a lot of travelling. How do you find it?
JJ: I love being on the road and being in a different city every other day. There’s definitely the times when I’m thinking that the only things I’ve experienced in certain cities in the Green Room and the Venue, so that can get a little tough, but I love being on the road. I love being on the stage and meeting our fans.
Working together and touring together, you must spend so much time together. Do you ever have fallouts?
JG: I would say if anything, it impacts us in a positive way. It brings us closer together!
JJ: It doesn’t work when there’s tension. I guess with Oasis, it worked with them but with us it’s complete positivity. Jack and I never get in any sort of fallouts. Sometimes we will be passive aggressive when things get under our skin.
JG: That’s like a day to day thing and it would never carry over. If we fall asleep, we’re going to wake up and it’ll be a full re-set. It’s not even a thought. We have such similar interests so I know something that will put me in a good mood will put him in a good mood too!
JJ: At this point I know what gets under his skin. He’s a neat freak so sometimes on the bus I’ll be kind of messy and things will be spilling out of my bunk, and I’ll know that this is going to get under his skin, but he knows that this is one of my tendencies. We just have to take a step back and think that we’re on the road with our best friend, getting paid to do what we love.
What are you hoping to achieve with this album?
JG: I hope people understand what it means! That they can see that we’re the same kids as the ones on the cover. I want people to understand our friendship.
JJ: I think this project is going to bring Jack and I a lot of musical validation. I think this will eliminate any stigma. People will listen and be like ‘this is really good. Holy shit! This is next level’.
Finally, anything else you want to share? What do you have coming up?
JJ: To any of our fans reading this, thank you for the support. This journey wouldn’t be possible without every single one of you. We have the European and American tour announced so hopefully we will get back to Australia and go to Asia for the first time.
JG: We have singles that I’m so excited to push, and so much on the album that I’m so excited to push. I want it all to get heard.
JJ: We want everyone in the world to know who Jack and Jack are by the end of 2019, so knock on wood!