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When Jon Bellion was a kid growing up on Long Island his mom ruled the car stereo. As moms in possession of the car keys do. Luckily, Mama Bellion had a taste for classic radio and young Jon grew up absorbing the sounds of Elton John, Paul Simon, Hall & Oates, and Billy Joel — engaging melody makers whose literate songwriting spoke to the concerns and uncertainties of their generation. Later on in high school, Bellion discovered his own cast of melody-minded singer-songwriters, particularly Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Mumford & Sons’ Marcus Mumford, and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell — thoughtful, next gen troubadours with a knack for turning complicated emotions into indelible tunes.
Bellion’s love for pop melody and thoughtful lyricism is palpable on the songs he has meticulously written, recorded, and self-produced for his debut album The Human Condition, due from Capitol Records later this year. The album also reflects Bellion’s love for hip-hop, especially innovative artist-musician-producers like J Dilla, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Timbaland. When Bellion was 10, his older brother brought home a Triton keyboard. Fascinated, Bellion began making beats and transferring them to cassettes that he sold to his classmates, using the proceeds to pay for better equipment.
That kid grew up to be a relentless perfectionist who ensures that every lyric and melody he writes and every beat he makes are deliberate. You can hear the obsession with his craft on The Human Condition, which is also the work of a remarkably versatile artist who can offer up everything from shimmering synth-pop on “All Time Low,” to funk-ified dance-R&B on “Guillotine,” to epic, EDM-meets-acoustic balladry on “Maybe IDK,” to driving, old-school hip hop on “New York Soul (Part ii)” (which finds Bellion showing off his skillful rapping). The music is a mash-up of styles and impossible to categorize, but it all converges in a grandiosely ambitious sound that also manages to be highly accessible — an effect Bellion likens to a Pixar movie.
“When I want to get inspired, I’ll put a Pixar movie on silent and listen to Nas,” Bellion says. “So I’ll have ‘New York State of Mind’ blaring over these beautiful images from Finding Nemo. I feel like that’s my sound, in a way. Or like if J Dilla scored a Pixar movie. The music has a relatable message delivered in an accessible package, but it’s sonically complex and artistically driven. I think that’s what Pixar’s movies do and that’s what my heroes have done.”
An excitably passionate person who describes himself as strong in his faith, Bellion has chosen to get his message out through music and letting others see his vulnerability. “Sometimes I feel drawn to writing about my shortcomings because I’m chock full of them,” he says. “We live in an age where a lot of things are fake. We’re not as happy as our Instagrams and Twitters make us out to be. So I feel like it’s my job to let people know that it’s okay to mess up and be human — that’s why I’m calling the album The Human Condition. If I can show people how vulnerable and how flawed I am, maybe others will relate.”
Music has always served as an emotional outlet for Bellion. After falling in love with singer-songwriters as a kid, and learning how to craft his own beats, he took classes in audio engineering and music business at Five Towns College on Long Island, which is where he developed his love for hip-hop. “That’s when my style kind of really got its burst,” he says. “It was this mixture of being raised on Death Cab but then also being heavily influenced by Dilla and Neptunes and all that.” Already adept as a singer and producer, Bellion first tried rapping in college — “because everyone was always battling and free-styling” — and by the time he quit school he was able to experiment with many different styles. Eventually he got a phone call from songwriter/music publisher Kara DioGuardi, who had heard a mixtape Bellion had made with another Five Towns alum and wanted to sign him. DioGuardi asked Bellion if he wanted to be an artist or do a publishing deal. “I decided to do a publishing deal so I could get better at songwriting and she put me in rooms with incredible songwriters,” Bellion says.
Those sessions yielded two major commercial hits, Eminem’s Grammy Award-winning track “The Monster” (featuring Rihanna) and Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets,” which Bellion also produced. With those tracks as a stepping stone, Bellion has built a sizeable grassroots fan base as an artist all on his own over the past few years, releasing three albums of original songs free on the Internet, including 2014’s The Definition, and completing two sold-out national headlining tours of the U.S. “All Time Low” led Bellion to be named Spotify’s Emerge artist of 2014 and the song topped Billboard‘s Emerging Artists chart. Recently, Bellion was featured on Zedd’s “Beautiful Now” and B.o.B’s “Violence.”
Now Bellion is gearing up for the release of The Human Condition, which he hopes will lead even more fans of well-crafted, genre-defying music to his message. “I want to inspire people to just go create,” he says. “If someone hears my album or sees the cover and is impressed by the amount of time and creativity that went into it, maybe it will motivate them to go change the world. I might not change the world, but maybe I can influence someone who is going to one day. I just want to be a piece of the puzzle. Maybe I can be a catalyst for something positive.”