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Six years ago, on the back of 17m album sales, the Disney stars split, devastating their fans. Now theyre back with a No 1 single. They talk about family rifts and why it took so long to patch things up

Good to see you, smiles Kevin Jonas, the first of three Jonas brothers to arrive in the back room of an upmarket hotel in Fitzrovia, London. Kevin and I have indeed met before, many years ago, for an interview he has no reason to remember. Between then and today, the Jonas Brothers have split and now re-formed, and for anyone querying just how in sync the newly reunited band are, Joe is the next to join us. Good to see you, he says. A few seconds later, here comes Nick: Good to see you.

It is three months since they announced their reunion, more than half a decade since a split that was blamed on a deep rift within the band. The pandemonium surrounding their getting back together, which has seen Sucker become the bands first US No 1 single, feels like a mirror image of how fans reacted to the brutality and abruptness of the split in 2013, when, having sold 17m albums and achieved widespread international fame, the brothers ditched a half-made fifth album and cancelled a world tour they were in the middle of. Nick instigated the split, it emerged; there were musical differences, along with the deep rift.

I ask them how being back and once again hurling themselves into full days of press, fan meets-and-greets and invite-only concerts is going. Kevin is the first to respond: Well, we havent wanted to break up yet.

The Jonas Brothers began life as a standard teen band. Columbia Records had already released solo music by Nick, who had been performing on Broadway since he was seven. (Today, he describes his seven-year-old self as incredibly driven and focused and not very fun to be around, which prompts a knowing laugh from older brother Kevin.) The preposterously wholesome New Jersey brothers cover of Busteds Year 3000, in which their vision of the future referenced girls with round hair like Star Wars rather than Busteds triple-breasted women, brought modest success. But when their debut album flopped, Columbia dropped the band and around the same time, their father, a pastor whose involvement in the church had a big impact on the family, lost his job. Joe was 17, Kevin was 19; Nick was just 14. Lost in the shuffle of major label stuff, is how Nick puts it now. At the time, emotions ran higher. We felt like our journey had come to an end.

But in the words of another sibling pop band, it had only just begun. In 2007, just weeks after leaving Columbia, the band signed with Disneys record label Hollywood. Disneys pitch to the Jonas Brothers was simple, according to Nick. They called and said: Youve been working with someone who doesnt know how to market to this audience. This is literally what we do. We see an opportunity and we want to help you grow. Disneys power had already become obvious to the band when the Year 3000 video was played on one of its TV channels. I saw our Myspace followers go from 100 to 10,000 in just one day, Joe says.

Only with hindsight is it clear just how effectively the Disney machine made good on its promise. They inserted the Jonas Brothers, albeit not as the Jonas Brothers, into the TV show Hannah Montana, as Miley Cyruss favourite band, in an episode that aired directly after the premiere of High School Musical 2. They gave the siblings their own sitcom, Jonas, in which they played a band (again, not the Jonas Brothers). Then came the movie Camp Rock, in which the Jonas Brothers starred alongside Demi Lovato as the band Connect 3. Once again, not the Jonas Brothers, a strategy Joe now recognises as both genius and confusing, but the audience joined the dots, thanks in part to another series, Living The Dream a fly-on-the-wall show in which the band finally starred as themselves.

Those years involved so many of what Nick describes as pinch-me-Im-a-Jonas-Brother moments, such as performing at the White House as favourites of the Obama administration. Joe recalls playing with Stevie Wonder at the Grammys. The curtains open and theres Paul McCartney and Chris Martin, and theyre the first ones out of their seats. They were applauding, not leaving. Obviously it was for Stevie Wonder, but that felt rewarding.

Jonas Brothers with Miley Cyrus, 2007. Photograph: Startraks/REX/Shutterstock

We thought this was how it always was, Nick says. He pauses. It is not always that way.

Inconveniently, the brothers, being living organisms, got older, and while the Jonas Brothers owe their success to Disney it was inevitable that they would outgrow the channels values. Joe wrote a frank assessment of that time for New York magazine in 2013, saying the band were like frightened little kids when faced with Disneys demands for a clean-cut band. Today, he says simply that Disney was very helpful when we needed it the most.

Internally, things were also complex. There is a throwaway comment in one episode of Living the Dream in which the brothers discuss their father, who by that point had taken on the role of the bands co-manager: The problem is, were never sure when hes just being dad. Equally, the band realised the line between brother and bandmate was frequently, inevitably, ill-defined. Sometimes you just want a dad, sometimes you just want a brother, Joe says today. There was confusion when it came to family versus band, and what comes first.

When the band broke up, he balanced both really well, Nick says of their father. Because I had initiated the conversation for the group to break up, he was comforting to me while I spoke my truth. Then when Joe and Kevins reaction was complicated, he was a father to them, and managerial to me.

I ask Joe and Kevin if they can expand on complicated. Sure, Joe says. I was mad as hell.

The split, Joe says, wasnt something he was expecting, even if the signs were all there: The music wasnt as strong as it had been, we werent selling as many tickets. And our relationship was unhealthy. We werent communicating as we should have been. Still, Joe remembers thinking that things would work themselves out. I kind of just assumed wed get through this bad phase and something great would happen again.

Jonas Brothers at the premiere of Camp Rock, 2008. Photograph: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

By 2009, the Jonas Brothers had been releasing an album every summer since 2006 but their fourth album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, sold less than half its predecessor, and less than a third of the bands breakthrough album. After that, Nick and Joe released solo albums, which were poorly received. I ask if the failure of those initial solo outings, followed by the ill-fated retreat to the safety of the band, could have fostered resentment that led to the eventual split. Joe nods. I wanted to at least get that personal win of being able to do something on my own, which I carried for many years, just thinking: I cant do anything without these guys.

After the bands split in 2013, Kevin spent time with his wife, Danielle, raising their two daughters, starting a construction company and investing in a handful of ventures including a food app called Yood and a service for social influencers called The Blu Market. Nick released two albums, resulting in some decent airplay and chart hits such as the 2014 single Jealous. Joe formed a band, DNCE, whose 2015 billion-stream behemoth Cake By the Ocean was No 1 from Ecuador to Israel. Despite movie roles for both (Nick in Goat and Jumanji, Joe as a voice actor in Hotel Transylvania 3), and a slot judging on Australias The Voice for Joe, their projects hit a wall one of the tracks from DNCEs latest EP has broken 7m Spotify streams, while Cake By the Ocean stands at 806m.

Although the brothers were hardly estranged during this period, there was a multi-platinum elephant in the room at family events. In 2017 came the idea of a Jonas Brothers documentary, Chasing Happiness, which is out this week on Amazon. The main aim was closure. We definitely didnt think we were going to get back together, Joe says. During one pivotal moment the band took part in a drinking game (the documentary was not being made by Disney), in which residual issues were pulled out of a hat, and each member rated the other on the honesty of their responses. We all needed to speak our truth, and be able to forgive, Nick says. Its easy. Say the truth, then its behind you. Just say it out loud.

The brothers insist the plan was simply to draw a line under the band, but a full reunion happened anyway. They contacted the songwriter and producer Ryan Tedder, who has worked with everyone from Adele to U2. They knew they needed to update to reflect pops new sound, and what Nick describes as the ever-changing landscape of the way music is released and how people consume it. We were conscious that there would always be a new wave of entertainers you can feel youre in competition with but rather than be frustrated with how quickly things change, weve chosen to lean into it. Tedders early enthusiasm for the project gave the band the confidence to approach other pop overlords such as Greg Kurstin and Max Martin. Before, Joe says, when it was slowing down, we were nervous to reach out to big producers and writers, thinking they would say no to working with us.

Nick Jonas with Priyanka Chopra and Joe Jonas with Sophie Turner, May 2019. Photograph: Robert Kamau/GC Images

The result is an album, Happiness Begins, that is arguably better than anything the band made in their earlier years. Free from the late-00s shackles of over-enthusiastic hair straightening, the Jonas Brothers rather suit being older. They seem happy that their audiences in 2019 will generally have drinks in their hands and much like the fans who have grown up with them, these brothers seem more like individuals, too, from Nick in his designer bomber jacket to Kevin in an unassuming lumberjack shirt.

The march of age Nick is 27, Joe, 29, and Kevin, 31 also means the brothers are no longer synonymous with the purity rings they once wore as a display of abstinence, which quickly became the target of a rather odd media obsession. Nick has since said that the purity rings ended up shaping his view of sex. They did, he restates today. How? The values behind the idea of understanding what sex is, and what it means, are incredibly important. When I have children, Ill make sure they understand the importance of sex, and consent, and all the things that are important. Whats discouraging about that chapter of our life is that at 13 or 14 my sex life was being discussed. It was very tough to digest it in real time, trying to understand what it was going to mean to me, and what I wanted my choices to be, while having the media speaking about a 13-year-olds sex life. I dont know if it would fly in this day and age. Very strange.

In any case, the band are all now married. Kevin got hitched to Danielle a decade ago while Nicks wife is the actor Priyanka Chopra, and Joe married Sophie Turner, Game of Thrones Sansa Stark, in a Las Vegas ceremony last month. All three significant others feature in the video for Sucker. Sophie was pretty adamant that she play the love interest in every music video we do from now on, Joe notes. I told her I didnt think that was possible, but wed give her the first one. I ask him if theres been a strange atmosphere, with one major chapter ending for Turner just as a new one begins for Joe. Weve definitely spoken about that. Its difficult to say goodbye to one But its amazing timing that we could be starting our life together right now.

The couples refreshing approach to dealing with paparazzi in New York, where they live staring them out, giving them the finger often sees them go viral. Early on, we were trying to be secretive about our relationship, Joe explains. The problem? We like to sit outside. Pulling faces at the paparazzi is sometimes the best way to handle the situation and then I see myself on the top of Reddit. He suddenly becomes rather animated. I love Reddit! I got so excited when I saw that. I went: We made it! She wasnt as excited. (He adds that he mainly visits Reddit for Gifs, memes and pictures of any cute animal.)

I ask Nick how he and Priyanka, who has experienced a similar level of a different type of fame, manage their public lives. Shes coming up on 20 years in the business, and weirdly, so am I, he begins. But she wasnt really familiar with us, or me, when we first started dating. One of their first steps, within their first few weeks together, was a show-and-tell session. We actually sat down and educated each other, playing videos we were both embarrassed and proud of. It was a helpful way to get to know each other. (Nick adds, ominously, that Chopra did a little digging of her own and found out some things about my past.)

The bands not exactly hermit-like private lives have undoubtedly boosted their comeback, but, along with Sucker being a nailed-on hit, they have also benefited from a curious type of nostalgia. Their return does transport the mind to a time when their music seemed to soundtrack things slowly getting better, rather than rapidly descending into what Nick describes today as an incredibly negative time across the whole globe, and what the rest of us might term an international dumpster fire.

That should be our album title, Joe decides. Before The Dumpster Fire. Six years ago was a lot different everywhere, but we like the idea that we can take people out of it and smile and bring some joy to 2019.

This feels like as appropriate a time as any to bring up the internet theory that Kevins appearance on the US version of Celebrity Apprentice was directly responsible for Trumps presidency. The Jonas Brothers arent known for their political views but the theory goes like this: Kevins presence gave the ailing show an early ratings boost, but after Kevin attempted to outfox Trump in the boardroom and got himself fired, the rest of the seasons ratings were poor, and now here we are. You can do the math on it, and it lines up, Kevin accepts. Its plausible, I guess, that the need for attention could have led from bad ratings to the presidency. I hope thats not the case. Would he like to apologise to the world? No. I do not take credit for it.

I ask Nick if, as he has previously stated, he would still like to run for president himself one day. Politics is a very tricky thing, he diplomatically responds. Its a very different time to when I first mentioned my desire to be president.

Hes practising, Kevin laughs.

Well take what we can get, Joe mutters.

With that, its time for the band to clear off and perform for fans in Kingston, London. Before they go I ask what Connect 3, the band they portrayed in Camp Rock, are doing now. I think, Nick says, theyre just really jealous that the Jonas Brothers are back.

Jonas Brothers new album, Happiness Begins, is out on 7 June on Polydor/Republic Records

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jun/03/we-needed-to-speak-our-truth-and-forgive-jonas-brothers-on-music-marriage-and-making-up