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The Jonas Effect

Cigar lover Nick Jonas is in the midst of a very busy year, with several films, a hit album and a long-awaited reunion tour with his brothers
By David Savona | From Nick Jonas, September/October 2019
The Jonas Effect
Photos/David Needleman

It’s late afternoon on a quiet block in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. A man walks down the street, lifting a Cuban Cohiba to his mouth. This isn’t a 50-something executive enjoying a puff on a warm afternoon, but a much younger man, with a thick head of black hair, an athletic build and a pair of narrowed, brown eyes that just can’t be disguised by the unexpected presence of a cigar.

Two girls, who look to be about 20 years old, are walking by. They can’t believe whom they’ve seen. “That’s not him,” says one, holding on tight to her friend, as if she might fall. “That’s not him.” She hides her head in her shoulder, a huge grin on her face.

Yeah, it’s him.

Nick Jonas is only 27 years old but he’s had this kind of effect on fans since he was a teenager, first as a member of the Jonas Brothers band, then as an acclaimed solo artist. He’s also becoming a familiar sight on television and onscreen, with a prominent role in a film that was one of the biggest hits of 2017, grossing nearly $1 billion at the global box office.

He’s in the middle of a very busy year, featuring a reunion with his brothers that has already delivered a No. 1 hit, one of the year’s best-selling albums and a world tour that will keep him on the road for half a year. He also has a pair of big-budget films coming out in November and December, including the World War II epic Midway, directed by Roland Emmerich. If that’s not enough to keep him busy, he’s also launching a Tequila brand, which debuts this fall.

Jonas

There’s a lot going on for Jonas, who has just left a photo shoot. But now it’s time to smoke a cigar and have a drink. He moves upstairs from the street to a rooftop deck. The heat of the day has ebbed a bit, and he puts flame to the foot of that Cohiba, a Siglo VI. He takes a puff of the cigar, which despite his teen idol background, is a familiar move for him, for he’s been smoking cigars for nearly nine years.

The aroma of a good cigar appealed to him long before he ever smoked one. During his first star turn with the Jonas Brothers, the boy band that sold millions of records and made him famous, some of the people working behind the scenes were cigar smokers, including Sean “Casper” Johnson, a former employee of Tatuaje brand owner Pete Johnson.

“I loved the smell,” he says.

When he was 18, he was in Louisiana, watching playoff football with a group of friends who were cigar smokers, and he decided it was finally time to give one a try. He didn’t dip his toe in with a mild cigar either. He jumped right into the deep end of the cigar pool with a robust Ashton VSG from the Dominican Republic.

“A pretty aggressive first smoke,” he admits, flashing the easy smile that has driven fans crazy for years. “I really enjoyed it. I just loved the taste.”

Student

His appreciation went beyond the flavor—he also enjoyed hearing from the cigar smokers around him about the craftsmanship that went into hand-rolled cigars. And he soaked up that information. “I loved how passionate they were explaining it to me—that it’s really an art and not just something to smoke,” he says. “It’s something I’ve become a real fan of.” Jonas considers himself a student of cigars, absorbing information and trying new brands.

He enjoys Fuentes, L’Ateliers, Aroma de Cubas and My Fathers, Camacho Corojos and a host of Cubans, with a preference for fatter ring gauges. When he’s looking over a selection of smokes, he spies an Oliva Serie V Melanio. “It’s one of my favorites to smoke with a cup of coffee,” he says. For him, cigars are a preferred way to relax.

“Sit down, let the world slow down a little bit,” he says, “and enjoy a delicious cigar.”

With his enduring image as a childhood star—especially known for piety—Jonas is hardly what many think of as a cigar smoker. “One of the things a lot of people say to me is: ‘You’re so young to like cigars.’ It’s a narrative that I’m aware of, and actually something that I love being able to speak to,” he says, after taking another puff.

“I think that cigars as a whole should be something that you share with friends, and there shouldn’t be any barriers around who can enjoy them. I’ve been taught by some people who really know what they’re talking about. They all say the same thing—it’s up to you, how you want to enjoy your cigars. But by all means, just know what you’re smoking, know when to smoke it, take a minute to let life slow down. No matter where you are, what you are doing, it’s the thing that can help you take a breather. And no matter your age—you should be able to enjoy the process.”

Raised in Wyckoff, New Jersey, in a modest red house that was “full of music,” Jonas grew up two doors down from the Wykcoff Assembly of God, the non-denominational church where his father Kevin Sr. served as pastor. Young Nick sang in church—and just about everywhere else. His first break came at age six when he launched into song at a hair salon while waiting for his mother Denise to get her hair done.

“The perfect moment,” he says. “Someone heard me sing and said ‘You should go see this manager.’ ” Soon, Jonas was performing in such musicals as Les Miserables. “I had to grow up pretty fast in general because I was working in New York City,” says Jonas, who was homeschooled. “My parents would drop me off at the stage door, you go off, and for the three hours at the show, you’re treated as an adult.”

Raised

His commute between Manhattan and Wykcoff was nearly an hour, without traffic, and it was on one of those long car rides that Nick’s dad told him to try writing music. Eventually, with his father’s help, he cut a CD, which ended up in the hands of David Massey, a recording executive who was then with Sony.

“He was the most brilliant, amazing little person,” Massey told Billboard in 2016. “I went down [to the church] when we first met, and there was this tiny boy leading the entire congregation like it was a rock concert. I remember thinking he’s a complete and utter star on every level, and we’ve been connected ever since.”

Massey signed Nick Jonas—age 11—without hesitation. Back home in Wykcoff, Nick’s older brothers Joe (who was 14 at the time) and Kevin (then 15) were interested in joining their little brother in the limelight. They began rehearsing music together, and eventually wrote a song called “Please Be Mine.”

They all met with Massey.“It quickly became a group project,” says Nick, “and suddenly these three pastor’s kids from New Jersey were a band.” It was 2005, and the Jonas Brothers was born. The early days were lean, with the band playing to modest crowds at high schools and malls, with long stretches in a van on the road between gigs. Nick developed an unquenchable thirst.

At first, his brothers found Nick’s frequent demands to stop for giant Diet Cokes (and the subsequent bathroom breaks) simply annoying. Then one day while he changed for a show, they were stunned at how skinny he looked. Something was wrong. Such thirst and sudden weight loss are signs of diabetes, a condition in which the normal breakdown of sugars in the bloodstream by insulin is compromised.

Prompted by the symptoms, doctors tested his blood sugar level, something that normally hovers around 100. A reading of 300 is considered very high, 400 is dangerous. Jonas’ blood sugar was 917.

“I was very close to a coma,” he says. “Like a day away, if I hadn’t gone to the hospital.” Nick was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (once called juvenile onset), a condition in which the pancreas no longer supplies insulin. He was 13 years old, and it meant a lifetime of insulin dependence, either by injection or insulin pump.

Tequila

“I kept asking my parents—am I going to be ok? I was just so concerned that it was going to limit my ability to do all the things I wanted to do. I was scared—it’s a big life change. But I found out very quickly it’s a very manageable disease. As long as you’re really diligent.” (Today, Jonas is on a pump, giving him steady deliveries of insulin to mimic the human pancreas, and he speaks out about being a type 1 diabetic to help others deal with the disease.)

The Jonas Brothers went back on the road, and in 2006 released their debut album, It’s About Time, which sold a disappointing 67,000 copies. Their label dropped them. Around the same time, the Jonas Brothers were getting the wrong kind of attention from their church. While the Jonas Brothers certainly gave off an aura of innocence—they famously wore purity rings, symbols of virginity—they weren’t a Christian band. Their father found himself at odds with the church, and had to resign from the ministry, which meant leaving their home, a parsonage owned by the church.

“That was a strange time,” says Jonas, his hand moving through his hair, a hint at the pain of the memory. “I think the idea of a church as a whole is a place where you feel welcome, you feel like you can feel safe. God should be synonymous with love, in my opinion, and in some cases the church can be synonymous with judgment,” says Jonas.

The entire family moved into a two-bedroom home, including all four children (Nick has a younger brother Frankie, 18, who is not a member of the band), Nick’s parents and even his uncle. The new house was tiny, with a basement cluttered with boxes from the move.

“My escape during that time was just to write music,” says Jonas. The band soon signed with Disney’s Hollywood label, and the brothers found themselves aligned with a company expert at promoting younger acts and with a cable television outlet aimed at the youth culture. “The first time that Disney played our videos, we had never had that kind of exposure.”

The Jonas Brothers quickly became hot, with crowds going from the hundreds to the thousands, then a 2007 show in Texas with an audience so thick they needed helicopters to get around the traffic jam.

Tequila

“We couldn’t really believe how rapidly it was changing,” he says.

The Jonas Brothers became a phenomenon. They moved to Los Angeles, and soon found their pop music embraced by a young crowd, with young girls swooning over their look. Their 2007 album, Jonas Brothers, was a hit, as was the 2008 follow up, A Little Bit Longer. In an early appearance on MTV, each brother speaks a line or maybe two before the (nearly) all-female audience shrieks in delight.

“We’re all single,” says Kevin, before getting drowned out by more howls. But the Jonas Brothers’ star was showing some signs of cooling with their 2009 album, which didn’t sell as well as the others, and Nick wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with his brothers. “Unless you push yourself to grow creatively and artistically, and expand to other age groups and demographics, it can be really tough to evolve. But that has to start with the music. We became stifled creatively, because we all wanted to prioritize different things.”

Kevin got married in 2009, which also caused a strain on the band. “We were all just in different places. Joe and I were not emotionally mature enough to understand that when you find your person, and you begin your life with that person, that takes priority over everything. It has to. It should. We started operating in fear a little bit. We were so afraid that—much like the church experience, this gift that we were given—this life that was sort of ours now was going to be taken from us in some way…I think that was the beginning of the end.”

The shows started to get smaller. “The end of the Jonas Brothers, in its first iteration, we put up a tour for venues that were about 400 or 500 seats,” says Jonas. “They weren’t all sold out. So it didn’t end on a high.”

Tequila

Nick initiated the breakup. “I kind of ripped [off] that Band-Aid. At the time, I thought that would have been the best way to do it—which I now know it wasn’t.” After several days of mediated conversations, the brothers Jonas went their separate ways. The band had broken up. “It nearly complicated our relationship as family to an irreversible point. Thankfully, it didn’t.”

Jonas had already been testing the waters as a solo act. He stayed busy with his music, recording two solo albums and having his share of hits, among them “Jealous.” He also moved ahead with his budding acting career, appearing in several seasons of the 2013 reboot of “Hawaii Five-0,” along with four seasons of “Kingdom,” where he played an MMA fighter. In 2017, he joined The Rock, Kevin Hart and Jack Black on the big screen in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which did $962 million worldwide, ensuring a sequel, which came out in December.

The film Midway, about the seminal naval battle of 1942, has a $100 million budget, and sees Jonas as part of an ensemble cast that includes Woody Harrelson and Dennis Quaid. “I love acting because it’s something that I feel keeps me on my toes. I’m never in a spot where I’m totally comfortable, which I like. I get on a set, and there’s so many moving parts. You have to be on your game, but you have to be willing to adapt. I feel like I’m continuing to grow in that world.”

But despite his undeniable solo star power, Jonas began to yearn for a return to the days on stage with his brothers. The trio saw one another at family functions, and Joe and Nick lived together in L.A. for a time, but the three had not really healed as brothers since their breakup. “I was starting to see some people commenting online on how eager they were to see the brothers play again,” Jonas says. “And I still felt like I’m not feeling that magic we had as brothers.” Nick first floated the idea of a reunion with Kevin, who readily agreed. “Joe,” says Nick, “took some convincing.”

Convincing Joe—who had formed a band called DNCE—happened in the perfect place for a cigar aficionado: Cuba. The brothers took a two-night trip to Havana in sultry July 2018, and that’s where the comeback deal was cinched.

“We went on an artist’s visa to go and hear music, speak with some other musicians. Obviously I’ve wanted to go for a long time, being a lover of cigars,” says Jonas. “I didn’t anticipate how inspiring it would be. And not just from the aspect of drinking great rum and smoking great cigars, but the culture, the music the history.”

Cuba is a sauna in the summer, but Jonas didn’t care. For him, it was a dream trip. He and his brothers puffed away on cigars—Joe is an avid cigar smoker, and Kevin likes to smoke on occasion, says Nick—and at the La Casa del Habano at Club Habana, the trio got a lesson in cigarmaking.

“I was terrible,” Jonas says. “I’m going to stick to smoking them.”

They dined at La Guarida, stayed at a private home and smoked cigars everywhere. “Nothing beats smoking a Cuban cigar in Cuba,” he says. “Everywhere we went, they would just bring out a tray of incredible cigars. It was special.”

The three ended up in the home of Cuban musician Roberto Carlos, where they listened to music, and joined in. “One of the most amazing jazz musicians I had ever seen,” says Jonas. “We went to his home, through one of those tiny, narrow streets. He has this keyboard set up, and this guy playing bass with him, and a couple of congas. He let us get on the congas and play with him. It was an incredible experience.”

After, in a courtyard, the brothers began playing some of their old songs in the open air, and that was the moment they all agreed to get back together. They began recording a new album: Happiness Begins, which went on sale in June and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The comeback showcased a different Jonas Brothers: older, more mature, and definitely un-single.

The onetime teen-agers are now in their 20s and 30s, their purity rings replaced by wedding rings. Nick married Priyanka Chopra in 2018; the 37-year-old actress and singer is one of the biggest celebrities in her native India, and she has even more followers on Instagram than her husband (43 million vs. his 26 million, the most of any Jonas Brother).

Joe married “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner in May, in a Las Vegas ceremony officiated by an Elvis impersonator, and Kevin has been married to his wife Danielle for nearly a decade. The wives are now a part of the Jonas story, and they feature heavily in the video for “Sucker,” the breakout hit of the new Jonas Brothers album.

The video, with over-the-top costumes and performances by all three couples, syncs perfectly with the catchy tune. “We knew that context needed to be given about where we are now. And I think the biggest piece of that puzzle is those three incredible women who stand by our side,” says Jonas. “And they stole the show in our video.”

It has been nominated for MTV’s Video of the Year. “We’ve been saying if we win the video of the year, the ladies have to go up and accept it on our behalf, because they absolutely stole the show.”

Tequila

He takes a sip of Tequila from a rocks glass with a slice of orange, sparking conversation of yet another passion that’s keeping him busy. While he eagerly enjoyed the rums of Cuba when he was in Havana, Jonas is an avowed Tequila drinker, and he’s making that passion his business. He’s partnered with clothing designer John Varvatos to create Villa One Tequila, which is coming out this fall from the Stoli Group.

He and Varvatos had met at a dinner party. “We connected immediately. We talked for a couple of hours that first night, then I was working in a studio about four blocks from here, and I called him in to hear some music.”

The two started drinking Tequila together, then designed a cologne John Varvatos JVxNJ. A member of Jonas’ management team connected with Stoli, and from the discussions the idea for a Tequila emerged. After a trip to Mexico, where Jonas harvested agave and saw the distillery, he was all in.

“I always want to be a sponge, whether it’s Tequila, or cigars, I want to be a student and learn as much as I can. We started to build a blend we liked….John and I speaking two or three times a week to get it right.”

With all these projects, it’s hard to imagine Jonas has time for anything else. But aside from playing golf and smoking cigars, he’s not one to indulge in downtime. “Even now, I have to force myself to take time off and take a deep breath. I really enjoy what I do. I feel very fortunate. I think there are really a lot of very talented people in the world who haven’t been given the same opportunity that I’ve been given. So I think if I’m sitting at home watching Netflix, I’m not doing my best.”

He’s even started to write his own plays and screenplays. No matter what’s keeping him busy, the cigars are there to help him relax. “When I’m working [I smoke them] maybe twice a week,” he says. “If I’m on a holiday, on vacation, I’ll smoke pretty often. And I enjoy taking that time to smoke. And luckily my voice doesn’t get affected in any way.”

Jonas has cigars that he saves for special occasions, and the ones he knows that work for the golf course. He doesn’t expect everybody to appreciate them the way he does—but he celebrates his right to enjoy them as he pleases.

“I know it’s not for everybody,” he says. The sun begins to slip behind the buildings along the west side of Manhattan. The Cohiba, once big, has shrunk to nearly the nub, slowly, ash by ash. “I’m passionate about it,” Jonas says after another puff, savoring the last of the smoke. “I love to sit down with friends, talk about life, light up a beautiful cigar and kind of have this as a constant among us. And luckily I’ve found a lot of friends who are also passionate about it.”

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