Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with Javier Colon
Javier Colon is starring in Unquowa Repertory’s “Big River” in June
Connecticut-born Javier Colon is an American singer-songwriter and talented musician who made television history in 2011 as the very first winner of NBC’s uber-successful reality series, The Voice, under the expert tutelage of Coach Adam Levine. Reaching only a modicum of success before his television foray, he credits The Voice with propelling him to the next level and he’s currently signed with Concord Music Group. With four albums under his belt, the amiable and charismatic “acoustic soul” singer also has his sights set on the bright lights of Broadway. But as he embarks on his journey to the Great White Way, he’s lending his tremendous talents to Fairfield, CT’s new Unquowa Repertory Theatre as Jim in Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Read Pillow Talking’s engaging and very conversational interview with Javier – then be sure to get your tickets before they’re all long gone down the river!
PT: Thank you for granting us this interview. We are big fans of yours. (Wayne) I remember watching the first [season] of The Voice. It was new and different and people didn’t really know what to make of it. But it became a big hit. And you were the very first winner, forever marked down in history. How does that feel?
JC: It feels good. I remember before even making it to show, thinking about how I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to audition. I didn’t think it was going to be the right thing for me. But I was talked into it by my brother and some friends. And I ended up going and it changed my life. And the show has since become this huge juggernaut of a show – I think it’s the top-rated show on the night that it airs. I never really thought about whether the show was going to be super popular or not. I had no idea. Once I decided I wanted to do it, I just wanted to get on there and do the best that I could. And it worked out. It worked out really well and it changed my life and I’m really grateful.
PT: (Wayne) You killed it for sure. I remember watching it and rooting for you. A lot of people think that was your big break and you were an overnight success, but you were in the business a while before The Voice. We’d love to hear about your background before the show. We think even without The Voice you would have made it because of your talent.
JC: I don’t know that I would have made it without The Voice and I’ll tell you why. When I first got out of college I got a call to be a lead singer in a band called The Derek Trucks Band. Derek Trucks is one of the most amazing guitarists on the planet. He’s been playing and touring since he was eleven years old. So I was on the road with him for the two months after I graduated college. And then I got a solo deal with Capitol Records. I released an album in 2003 and another one in 2006. And then I got dropped. For the next five years I was kind of just floating around trying to do as many gigs as I could – trying to ride the small wave of success with the records. So I spent the next five years trying to find a new deal and a new record company that would give me a chance. But after releasing two records that didn’t live up to record label expectations – nobody wanted to sign me. We went to so many record labels and they just kept passing on me. I thought I was done. And then The Voice came along and I still didn’t want to do it. I was still being stubborn thinking I could get a record deal the old fashioned way and it just wasn’t going to happen.
PT: (Stephanie) And what was that process like [on The Voice]? Especially with it being a brand-new show. What was the experience like and how was it being a part of it?
JC: The first audition that I went to was in New York. I changed my mind at the last minute that I was going to go to this audition. I flew in from another college show I had – flew into Bradley Airport in Hartford [CT}, rented a car and drove straight down to New York and got there just in time for the audition. It was a little nerve racking – there were like ten cameras staring at you in this room with maybe ten people in there that were auditioning everyone. I went in there and sang a couple of songs (laughs). At first I wasn’t sure if they liked it or not. But they kept asking me to sing more songs and current songs. I was drawing a complete blank. So I sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and an original song – which is the last thing you’re supposed to do at an audition like that. And then I sang “Time After Time.” I wasn’t sure if they were into it or not. But they gave me a piece of paper saying that they MAY call me to go to the next phase.
JC: They did call me. The next phase was in LA sequestered in a hotel with a hundred and fifty or sixty other musicians that all had the same dreams as you. It was like being in band camp (laughs). There was a lot of Kumbaya by the fire in the lobby
JC: It was really a good time. Once we got there we had several rounds of auditions in front of producers, executives, and casting folks. They whittled us down to sixty-four people. Those are the people that auditioned for the show in front of the coaches.
PT: (Wayne) And the rest is history. (Stephanie) Sounds like an incredibly nerve racking process.
JC: The entire thing was nerve racking. You have to get up there and sing in front of folks that in their minds they are saying, ok you have to prove to me you’ve got something worth turning around for. And it’s really scary. I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s hard to not value their opinion and not value whether they turn around or not (laughs). I was wrestling with, What if they don’t turn around? Does this mean that everything I’ve done was for nothing? The people that quote unquote should matter – they don’t think it’s worth anything. So there was a lot of inner turmoil with me about how I was supposed to react if it didn’t go well.
JC: Fortunately it went well and I got a four-chair turn. And it was amazing.
PT: (Wayne) I remember it so well. My wife and I got the privilege of seeing you in a very intimate concert for [Unquowa Repertory’s June production of] Big River, which we will talk more about, but one of the songs that really touched me was the one about how not going to bed mad at each other is not always possible. My dad used to say we should never go to bed mad with one another. But you know what? I just gave up. Because my wife needs time to process stuff and in the morning things are great.
PT: (Stephanie) That’s not to say we always go to bed mad – because we don’t (laughs).
JC: Of course not. But if you’ve ever been in a relationship, that’s part of the deal. You are not going to agree on everything and that’s part of sharing your life with someone else. I think we all go through it. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to write about it because its’s very common to anyone who has been in a relationship. I’m glad you were able to take something from it. I take something from it as well on the days that I’m singing it. Sometimes it’s best to just walk away and get your space and come back to a discussion when it is [then] a discussion and not an argument and you take the emotion out of it and get down to what Don Henley said is the heart of the matter.
PT: (Wayne) Well, I haven’t learned the lesson completely yet (laughs). (Stephanie) No, he hasn’t learned the lesson at all (laughs). He is non-stop – but we don’t need marital counseling – we’re doing pretty well (laughs).
PT: Speaking of your songwriting, we have a lot of followers who are actors and musicians and they always want to know about process or technique. What is your process if you get an idea for a song?
JC: It happens different ways for me. Sometimes I’ll be sitting somewhere and talking to someone and there’s just something that comes out of my mouth that sounds like the title of a song. Or something that someone says – Hey, that would be a cool title to the song! For example, the last thing I came up with – I may have put notes in my phone with ideas – and there is one that I wrote down here that is an example – I can’t stop thinking about last night. That could mean a lot of different things. I like that. I like to weave stories out of this one main theme or this one main lyric that could mean different things to different people. I’ve done that with a song called “My Little Girl” and “Ok, Here’s the Truth” – that’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It tells a story from beginning to end. And I like when the same words can mean something completely different in the third chorus than the first or second. I think I fell in love with that style of writing when I heard Collin Raye’s “Love, Me.” That song just gutted me when I heard it for the first time in high school. And I thought, That was just the most amazing song that I have ever heard. And I said, Wow, when I sit down and write songs I want to do that, to take people on a journey to tell a story and every time the chorus comes you are saying the same words but they mean something completely different. Sometimes when I write the lyrics down, a melody will pop into my head that will go along with the lyrics. Sometimes a melody will pop into my head and I have to do it in reverse – I have to find some lyrics that will go with that melody. Between my notes and voice recorder on my iPhone – they are full of all these song ideas. And when it’s time for me to sit down and start working on an album, I just open up the notes and I start going through all of these ideas that I’ve had over the last year or two and I pick my favorites and start working on them. Sometimes I start working on them with other collaborators, with other friends – singers and songwriters who help me finish some of these ideas. That’s pretty much how I do it.
PT: (Stephanie) Have you always known that you wanted to be a singer?
JC: When we [all] are kids we want to be firemen and policemen. But by the end of seventh grade I knew that I wanted to sing. I didn’t know that I really could sing until seventh grade. Before that point, the only person who told me that she really thought my voice was nice was my mom.
JC: When I got into seventh grade my choir teacher, Ms. Spadaccino heard me singing in the first day of choir class and she asked me to stay after and then she asked me if I sang at home; and I said, “I do. I play the guitar, and the piano, and I sing.” And she said, “Can you bring in your guitar tomorrow so I can hear you sing something?” And I said, “Sure.” So the second day of school I bring my guitar in and before homeroom started I went straight to her and played her a song – I think it was “Heaven” by Warrant (laughs). This was a long time ago. She said, “Oh, my God, that was wonderful. I’m going to give you a pass out of class and you can come here for the last period of the day and play that song for the eighth grade girls’ choir class.”
JC: (Laughs) I just about died because there’s nothing you fear most as a seventh grade boy than an eighth grade girl. I was like, there’s no way – I tried to play sick. It almost worked. The nurse called my mom and told her to come pick me up, but my teacher, Ms. Spadaccino, caught wind of it and came in shortly after the call was made and before my mom left [to get me]. She called my mom and said, “Don’t you come to pick him up. He’s trying to get out of something I want him to do and he’s not going to.”
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) Oh, my God, so funny! (Wayne) That’s a great, great story!
JC: (Laughs) Yeah. She made me do it. I sang for the girls and they loved it. That was my first time singing in front of my peers. They liked it and they left class and told other people about it. The next day I came to school and people were talking about how I was the singing guy.
PT: When did you start playing the guitar?
JC: I started playing guitar and piano when I was seven. My mom and dad put me in lessons. I had like an on-and-off relationship with my guitar. I would take guitar lessons for a year and then I wouldn’t want to practice so my mom would take me out of lessons. And then I would want to take lessons again and she would say, “Okay, if you’re going to practice.” And then I would slack on my practice because I wanted to play baseball or whatever outside—
JC: And then she’d take me out. So that happened a couple of times. By the time I turned 14 my mom said, “You’re not going to have lessons anymore” (laughs). But by then I had all the basics and I knew all my chords for the most part and I was okay from just winging it from there.
JC: And that’s what I did at that point. I just started listening to the radio and started playing what everybody else was playing and what was popular. And that’s how I learned the rest of my basics.
JC: That’s correct. We are actually going to release a new single from Gravity in the next month or so and it’s called “Clear the Air.” We did a remix of it with a good friend of mine who is an amazing saxophonist – Dave Koz. He played a version of this song with me and that’s the version we are going to release. I absolutely love it. He’s not only an amazing artist, but he’s an amazing guy and such a good friend. He is on this song as a featured guest and he absolutely kills it.
PT: (Wayne) When we saw you in the “living room” concert for Big River, you did some show songs like “Maria” and I have to tell you I had chills.
JC: Thank you.
PT: You absolutely killed the Broadway show songs. We know you are expanding your career and will be starring in Big River.
JC: It has been a love of mine really since I got to seventh grade. When I got introduced to Broadway music by Ms. Spaduccino, the first show I ever saw – we went as a class – was Cats and that was the beginning of my love for musical theatre and I did it all through high school. I actually played Jim in Big River in a high school production in Fairfield even though I went to school in Stratford (laughs). I was kind of pulled over from Stratford to Fairfield to play this role. And it’s one of my favorite roles that I’ve ever done. I’m so excited for having the chance to do it again. The Broadway stuff has always been in my heart for so long. I’ve always had two dreams. The first dream was to become a recording artist and be able to write songs and play them for people around the world and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to do that. And now my other dream was to be on Broadway and to be able to fulfill that dream is something that I’m very excited to attempt and to do at some point.
PT: How did this new [production of] Big River come about and how do you feel about playing the same part you did when you were in high school?
JC: This show came about because of a good friend of mine – Christine Brown. I met Christine when she came to the original Big River I did when I was in high school. She invited me to come and do some charity concert that they were putting on every year for the Kennedy Center. So I would do these cabaret shows with her every year and it was amazing and she has become a very dear friend. She partnered up with Bev and Kirby Ward to start this new amazing repertory theatre company called Unquowa Repertory Theatre. They wanted me to be involved in some way. At first I was a board member and [still] am a board member (laughs) but then they said, “Hey, we might be doing Big River.” And I said, “STOP IT!” Because it is still my favorite show that I’ve ever been a part of, my favorite role. And lo and behold they chose Big River and I said, “I’ve got to play this. This is amazing!” Yeah, the stars kind of aligned and I get to do this show that is amazing.
PT: Big River is coming soon and we all are excited about it. You’ve told us your process about songwriting. Do you have one in terms of acting? Have you thought about how you’re going to approach Big River?
JC: It’s weird having to go back in and relearn my lines. I knew them all at one point. It’s so funny how I’m so different now than I was then. I’m just so much more socially aware of the world. I have children now which really changes everything. I remember just last week reading a part of the script that I hadn’t gotten to yet as far as trying to re-memorize my lines – it’s the part where Jim is talking about that he misses his family – his wife and his children were sold into slavery like he was. All he wanted to do was to get out of slavery so that he could work and make enough money to buy his wife and then they would both work so they could make enough money to buy their children out of slavery and that’s something I can’t even fathom.
JC: Yes, it’s a fictional story but it hits home. I’m sure this is what life was like at some point for so many people. There are parts where I’m reading the script and I have tears streaming down my face – which didn’t happen for me in high school. I hadn’t lived enough. I hadn’t experienced enough. But now I look at it in a whole new way. There’s another part where Jim talks about his daughter had gotten scarlet fever and she became deaf from it. He didn’t realize it. He was yelling at her and she didn’t acknowledge him because she didn’t hear him and he didn’t understand. In the play he is talking about his four-year-old daughter. I currently have a four-year-old son. In reading that, I just lost it. Wow, that’s going to be difficult – but an easy one – to pull my emotions from. I see it in a whole new way and my life experience now helps me get into the role so much better than I was able to before,
PT: (Stephanie) When we were at the concert, one of the things that comes out in your singing – even in between songs – you are a storyteller. You were talking about that before. I can’t wait until I see you tell this story. There are [just plain] actors and there are singers but when you put passion and emotion behind it, it just makes it a very different kind of experience. So we are really looking forward to this.
JC: As am I. I can’t wait to get started, to get going, get into rehearsals and meet everybody. I know we are going to have an amazing cast of some seriously talented individuals that I look forward to meeting and working with. I look forward to working with Bev and Kirby. It’s going to be awesome.
PT: We have one last question that we ask all of our interviewees. Some think it’s the toughest question ever and others are quick on their feet. If you were to sum up your life and career to-date in one word, what would it be?
JC: Hmmm…my life and career? In one word? Blessed. I’ve been extremely, extremely blessed. I have the most amazing family, the most amazing wife, and my children are such a supportive foundation. Without my wife none of this would be possible. So very blessed to have the family that I have and I love them dearly. I am very blessed to have experienced all the things I’ve been able to do in my career to date. I was thinking about it today. I’ve been so fortunate to travel around the world and see all fifty states in this country which is awesome. I’ve been able to sing for so many people, whether on TV or opportunities like when I got to sing during the PBS A Capitol Fourth [of July] event that they do from Washington – to be able to stand there on the lawn of the Capitol and sing for 500,000 people. That’s an experience I’ll never forget. Going on tour with Maroon 5 in South America and singing for thirty-five thousand screaming fans in San Paolo, Brazil. These are things I look back and I pinch myself – this really happened. I’m so grateful for those memories and opportunities. I get to do what I wanted to do as a kid for a living.
PT: Well, that’s a great answer. We will tell you that we [have heard] a couple of “blessed” in our past by other interviewees, but I think that was so elegantly stated.
JC: Thank you!
PT: We look forward to Big River and thank you for Pillow Talking with us.
JC: My pleasure. I look forward to seeing you guys there.