Flying high: At 21, Summer Jam headliner McCartney eager to have career soar in new direction

Don’t let his first two albums fool you — although Jesse McCartney has spent most of his career cult

Don’t let his first two albums fool you — although Jesse McCartney has spent most of his career cultivating a squeaky-clean, Disney pop star image, the singer is really all about the R&B.

“I always felt like I was meant to be in the world of R&B, to sing records that were R&B-based and rhythmic,” he said during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, moments before a rehearsal for his current tour. “One of my favorite artists as a kid was Craig David, or people like Daniel Bedingfield, who have an amazing pocket to their singing.”

With last year’s aptly named “Departure,” McCartney made these influences known, bringing in a team of producers led by Sean Garrett. Compared to the more pop-rock-oriented singles off McCartney’s 2004 solo debut, “Beautiful Soul,” and 2006’s “Right Where You Want Me,” “Departed” features a harder-edged, beat-oriented production reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s solo records.

FLY Summer Jam

With: Jesse McCartney, Flo Rida, Kevin Rudolf, Elliot Yamin, Young MC, The White Tie Affair, Thriving Ivory, 3OH!3, Jessie James, Ten Year Vamp

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs

How Much: $49.50, $39.50, $29.50, $15

More Info: 786-6600,,

It’s a bid for maturity — at 21, McCartney is no longer the wide-eyed teenager of earlier hits such as “She’s No You.” And although the album took nearly two years to conceive, according to McCartney it was a natural progression that he hopes to continue to build on with future releases.

“I’m going to stay where I am as far as the lane that I’m in, or push even a little bit more with the R&B,” he said.


Last month, “Departure” received a slight makeover with a re-release subtitled “Recharged,” which contains four new tracks all co-written by McCartney that further the groove-oriented style of the album. It’s out just in time for his next stretch of touring, beginning today in Atlanta and stretching up through the Northeast.

He’ll be headlining FLY 92.3 FM’s FLY Summer Jam festival on Saturday at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Along with McCartney, the bill also features big names and up-and-comers from across the pop radio spectrum, including Flo Rida, Kevin Rudolf, Elliot Yamin, Young MC, The White Tie Affair, Thriving Ivory, 3OH!3 and Jessie James. Local rockers Ten Year Vamp will once again open this year’s festival, which begins at noon.

This will be the second Summer Jam since the festival rebooted last year after a 10-year hiatus from the local music scene. This will be the first year the festival is held at SPAC rather than Altamont Fairgrounds, where it was held last year. The move allowed the station’s DJs to focus on running the station rather than the concert, according to afternoon DJ and program director Terry O’Donnell.

For McCartney, the festival is just one date in a jam-packed schedule for the next month-and-a-half of touring. A quick glance at his Web site,, reveals only a handful of days off in that stretch.

“Touring is definitely — as much fun as it is — there is a lot of hard work,” he said. “There is a grind to it, but overall it’s a lot of fun. You get to be with all your buddies in the band and get up and perform every night.”

Established actor

But being a recording and performing artist is only the tip of the iceberg for McCartney, who got his musical start in boy band Dream Street in 1999. He’s been acting, first on stage, then daytime television and now in movies, since age 11, with past credits including an Emmy-nominated turn on the ABC soap opera “All My Children” from 1998 to 2001, and voice work for the films “Horton Hears a Who” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” Currently, he’s reprising his role as Theodore for “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel,” which also features voice work from Anna Faris and Amy Poehler.

“It’s great, you just show up in your pajamas,” he said of recording his parts.

He’s also set for a part in a film from “Basketball Diaries” that writer Bryan Golubuff titled “The Gonzo Files,” about a high school newspaper editor who gets into trouble after revealing secrets at his school. For McCartney, who cites “Basketball Diaries” as one of his favorite movies, the project has helped inspire his own desires to get into writing and directing films.

“If I ever write a film, it would be something like ‘Basketball Diaries’ or ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ ” he said. “[Golubuff] wrote this great script called ‘Gonzo Files,’ and it’s a big inspiration for me. I got to pick his brain working with him in Canada; I’d love to work with somebody like that.”

In recent years, McCartney’s star has risen in the songwriting world, as well. Leona Lewis’ 2007 hit “Bleeding Love,” co-written by McCartney and OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, was nominated for a Grammy this year. McCartney also co-wrote at least three tracks from “Departure,” and all of the additional tracks on “Recharged.”

“To me, I always base everything I write about something I’ve been through, or something I’ve experienced,” he said. “It’s all about finding a new way to say something and finding that way to connect with your audience — writing a record that is relatable, something fans can tap into, something they maybe have gone through themselves. Those are the songs that work the most and are the most honest, but it’s also fun to write a really fun, quirky record too, that doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything.”

His next single, “Body Language,” off the “Recharged” expansion, is one such song. “It’s kind of a summer 2009, ‘Leavin,’ ’ part two, kind of song,” McCartney said, comparing it to “Departure’s” lead-off single.

Audiences have been going along with McCartney’s new R&B-based sound. He attributes this to the fact that the teenage girls who made up his listeners in the beginning have grown up along with him.

“It’s really fun to watch,” McCartney said. “I’ve noticed that the audience that shows up to the show now are all early-20s college girls.”

“And they’re now bringing their boyfriends, too,” McCartney continued. “I never used to have guys in the crowd. Whether they’re listening to it or not, it’s as much as I can ask for, for now. I’m still working on the guys, but definitely, the audience has grown up with me.”

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply