Jonas Blue On His “Fast Car” Cover & New Hit “Perfect Strangers”: Interview
Jonas Blue scored a massive international hit earlier this year with a tropical house cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” The infectious track went top 10 in more than a dozen countries and topped the dance chart stateside. It came within a whisker of crossing over to pop radio, peaking at number 98 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Brit has another smash on his hands with “Perfect Strangers” — an original featuring singer/songwriter JP Cooper, which is currently number 1 on UK iTunes.
I recently spoke to the 26-year-old about his breakthrough cover and he revealed the inspiration behind his update of Tracy’s seminal hit. Jonas opened up about Tobtok’s rival version (he only found out after his was released) and the pressure of following up such a huge song. The rising hitmaker also explained his approach to songwriting and the rollout of his next few singles. Get to know him a little better in our Q&A below.
How did you get the idea to update “Fast Car”?
It was my mom’s favorite song when I was younger. She always played it on long car journeys and it was a big song on the radio when I was a kid. It always stuck with me because it’s such a beautiful song and as I got older and became a producer — I never forgot about the song. I worked in some record shops where people tried to remix the original and it never quite worked. I wanted to play it within my DJ set. The original just wouldn’t work, so I always knew I wanted to remake it.
I was scared because it’s such a legendary song. It’s like trying to cover The Beatles. You don’t touch it unless you know you’re gonna do it justice. It took me a long time to build up the courage to do it. Last August, I was out with friends and it just popped into my head. I not only came up with the arrangement I wanted, I came up with all the sounds I wanted to use, which was great because I never experienced that before. It was just in my gut. I remember going into the studio and I pretty much had the instrumental done in one night. The next step was finding the singer.
How did you find Dakota?
My version of “Fast Car” is in the same key as the original. To me that is where all the emotion lies. The problem was finding a singer who can sing as low as Tracy Chapman. I thought about changing the key, but it didn’t work. I put it to the side for a couple of weeks. Anyway, I was at a pub having a beer and I heard this voice from downstairs. It was Dakota, who we’d never met before. She was doing an acoustic set and I just said to my manager that she would be perfect for “Fast Car.” I could hear it in my head. I could hear her on my version.
I went up to her at the end of her set and told her about the song. She was like, “I’m not sure. I’ve never recorded dance music before, I’m not sure how I’d sound on it.” I persuaded her to give it a try and then we went into the studio the very next day. She recorded all the vocals and it was perfect.
Did you think it was going to blow up like it did?
Not at all. This was just something I did for fun and to have in my DJ set. I think that’s the beauty of the song blowing up, it wasn’t something that I forced in terms of pushing it to a record label. It was something I made purely out of love. I wanted to create a new version of it for the younger generation.
What did you think when Tobtok released his version at the same time?
I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me. I didn’t actually know he did a version and he didn’t know I did my version even though they were released so closely together. It was on the release date of mine that a friend tried to search SoundCloud for my version of “Fast Car” and Tobtok’s version popped up. She messaged me saying, “Have you heard this other version?” and I was like, “What? How is it possible that someone would put out another version right now?” I’ve heard many versions over the years. For someone to release one in the same week… it was just like, “Are you serious?”
Did you get any kind of response from Tracy’s camp?
Well, I mean obviously when you publish a song you have to get clearance from the publisher. In my version, I didn’t use anything from her original version, but essentially it is her song. They are her lyrics. So you have to get that clearance and we got that clearance. We went to her management, her publisher and they seemed fine for us to do it.
Is “Fast Car” the first song you released professionally?
Pretty much. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. 11 or 12 years old. I’ve been doing it for a long time, perfecting my craft. I just didn’t want to rush something out until I felt it was right and “Fast Car” was the first time that happened.
“Perfect Strangers” is shaping up to be a huge summer song. Where did that idea come from?
I come from a songwriter background, so essentially with my music, I’m trying to make songs that will last a lifetime and although “Fast Car” was a cover, it reflects what I’m trying to do. I want to make songs that you can play on a guitar and they’re going to sound just as good as the dance version. I actually wrote the chord progression for “Perfect Strangers” soon after I finished producing “Fast Car.” It was just an instrumental for quite a while and we were looking for someone who could sing on it and co-write it as well.
My manager had a meeting at Island Records case and they happened to say, “We’ve got this singer/songwriter, J.P. Cooper. He might be a good fit to work with Jonas.” My manager gave them the instrumental and they sent back a rough version of “Perfect Strangers,” which sounded great. It had so much vibe to it, soul. The direction he was going, the story he was trying to tell sounded great. I came back to London and finished writing it.
Is there a lot of pressure to have another huge hit after the success of “Fast Car”?
Definitely. But I come from a musical background. Music is what I do, day in and day out. “Fast Car” wasn’t supposed to be my first single. It was just something that happened organically. The success it had was unbelievable. Trying to write new music is definitely daunting, but I try not to overthink it. When I finished making “Fast Car,” I got this amazing feeling in my gut. I had butterflies. So now I look out for that feeling every single time I finish a song. I had that feeling with “Perfect Strangers.”
Tell me about that video. Where was it filmed?
That was filmed in South Africa. I wanted so much input on the video. Most dance videos are a little generic and they’re not filmed well enough. With my music, the video needs to tell the story of what the song’s about. I was coming back from my first U.S. tour and I wrote the storyboard for the “Perfect Stranger” video. The director helped put it together with us, and it just turned out amazing.
Do you have an EP on the way or are you going straight into an album?
For the moment I’m just releasing singles. Dance music moves so quickly and albums take a long time. With a single, it’s a lot quicker. I want to release approximately six singles first, including “Fast Car” and “Perfect Strangers.” Just enough for people to know what I’m about and what my songs are about. I want people to know my story and then go into an album. It will probably be out next year.
Will we get another single over the summer or is that being too greedy?
I’d love to release another one this summer, but “Fast Car” took about four or five months to really build and for everyone to know about. It’s the same kind of thing with “Perfect Strangers,” it takes time to get out there and hopefully have the big impact that “Fast Car” had. I’ll definitely have another single out before the end of the year. Definitely.
Is the U.S. a priority or are you concentrating on Europe at the moment?
America is obviously a huge market. I just came back from there and they’re only just starting to get into “Fast Car” now. They’re slightly behind in terms of dance music, in comparison to say Europe and Australia. America is definitely one of the most important markets for me as well as Europe and Australia. I’m focusing on them all equally.