The first-season winner of “The Voice” talks with Pollstar.
Although Javier Colon was a professional artist before Maroon 5’s Adam Levine coached him to victory on “The Voice,” that doesn’t mean life was easy for the singer. While Colon had been a member of The Derek Trucks Band, the singer/songwriter’s own career wasn’t exactly taking off. In fact, if it wasn’t for “The Voice,” the married father of two might have ended up teaching music.
But Colon won over the viewing audience with performances such as his stunning rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Now he’s touring with Gavin DeGraw and Colbie Caillat, a big improvement since just over a year ago when he had only a few shows on the books and nothing on the horizon. That is, until “The Voice.”
An avid racquetball player, Colon spoke with Pollstar from his West Hartford, Conn., home.
What surprises people about you when they first meet you?
I don’t know. I’m as you see me, I guess. One of the great things about “The Voice,” or, at least some of the comments I’ve gotten, is that the person people saw on TV is the person that I am. My friends, who have known me forever, were happy to see that nothing had changed. Producers didn’t change me or the way I’m perceived. I am the guy who was on the show. As far as surprising people? I don’t know. I’m a joker. I might play a joke on you or something like that, but nothing too crazy.
Weren’t you a professional musician before appearing on “The Voice?”
As soon as I got out of college I joined the Derek Trucks Band for a couple of years. Technically I was a professional musician at that point because I didn’t have any other job. That was in 2000. About two years [after starting with Trucks] I ended up getting a solo deal with Capitol Records. So, yes, I’ve had a lot of pro experience.
But that’s not just from the artist side. You’ve had business experience as well.
Yeah, absolutely. The part that is unfortunate is that in order to be a pro, you have to be getting paid. Right before I auditioned for “The Voice,” I had six shows on the books and I didn’t have many opportunities. It was looking really grim. That’s why I ended up going on “The Voice.” It was a last attempt at doing something in the music business before I ended up doing something else. I’ve got a wife and two baby girls that needed me to step up and do what I needed to do for my family.
The music thing, at the beginning of 2011, was not cutting it. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. There was nothing I was working towards other than trying to get a record deal, and every deal I was trying to get, I was getting doors slammed in my face. And that’s where “The Voice” came in.
Going back to when you auditioned for “The Voice,” did you consider it merely as another step in your career or did you think of it as the biggest step?
I was considering it, basically, the last step in my career. If it didn’t work, then I was going to have to do something else. My degree that I got in college is in music education and I was very ready before “The Voice” to start trying to get all my ducks in a row and start looking for jobs in September because I knew I didn’t have enough shows to last me the year and pay the bills. I was hoping it was going to be everything I had dreamed it to be and everything it turned out to be. It was my last shot. It was something that I was hoping would change my career and fortunately it did that.
How do you take care of your voice?
I try to stay out of smoky places. My voice and smoke do not mix well. I will be immediately hoarse and if I have to sing in that condition, it’s not good at all.
I try to stay healthy. In the last couple of years, I’ve completely lost my voice probably four times, having a cold and having to sing on top of that cold. I’ve gotten to know my ears, nose and throat doctor, Dr. Lafreniere, at the UConn Health Center here in Connecticut. He’s seen my throat many times and he tells me to get plenty of rest – rest is key – water, stay hydrated, got to keep everything going smoothly. I can’t do anything if I lose my voice and, unfortunately [it] does happen to me.
Do you have any rituals or pre-set routines on show days?
If I’m not feeling well, I’ll make sure I have a lot of tea. I’ll have tea on the stage with me as well as water. I’ll try not to talk much. A lot of times people don’t realize that the singing part isn’t always the culprit. A lot of times it’s the talking afterwards. If you’re doing a meet-and-greet where you’re meeting 150 people, signing stuff and taking pictures, that stuff is all well and good but it’s the talking to everyone. And I want to [talk to them]. I want to thank people for coming out and their support. It’s hard for me to shut up. That, sometimes, is what will get me in the end, to do a two-hour show and then talk for two hours afterwards.
If the power cuts off during a performance, would your voice still fill the room?
It kind of depends on the song. There are some spots in my show I used to do when I would pull the mic away, turn down my guitar and just play and sing and try to fill the room with just my voice and without any help from the sound system.
And I can do it. I went to school for music and they did a great job teaching us how to project, use your diaphragm, how to make the most of your voice, to make it big in a setting like that. I can be loud when I need to.
When you first started on this journey, did you see yourself as a guitarist first, as a singer first, or as you are now?
I started playing guitar when I was seven. I started playing piano around the same time. … My father was in the radio business and there was always music in the house. I was always mimicking things I heard on the radio. But I never actually sang in front of anyone until sixth grade. Once I did that, playing the guitar and singing started to go hand-in-hand. Seventh grade is really when it clicked with me. I started playing more and writing songs. Right now I’d call myself a singer first, guitarist second. Singing would definitely be my main instrument but I can’t see singing without playing guitar. They go hand-in-hand with me.
When you were a child singing songs you heard played on the radio, did you try to sing them exactly as the recording artists did?
I always tried to imitate [the singers]. Every inflection, I wanted it to sound good when I was singing with them. This was before you could go on iTunes and download the karaoke version. I learned how they sang. When I was learning the guitar parts, I was learning the solos, trying to get them exact.
Were there some artists that you could mimic better than others?
Yeah. My sister was into a lot of the hair-metal bands of the ’80s and ’90s – Whitesnake, Poison, Def Leppard. A lot of the rock stuff. I also got into it. For example one of the first songs I sang for anyone at school was “Heaven” by Warrant. And I tried to sing the best that I could like Jani Lane. Then there was Skid Row and Sebastian Bach. [But] you just have to be born with that type of voice. He just has an amazing gift, and amazing instrument … that he can sing the way he does, as high as he does and with such power and control.
When you appeared on ‘The Voice” you had all four mentors vying for you. What made you go with Adam Levine?
I wanted to go into it with an open mind. I knew that it was a competition and there was more to it than picking your favorite artist. These people are the ones who will keep you in the competition or they’re going to send you home. At least in the first half of the competition before people start voting. You got to really believe these people want you on their team.
I had an idea that I might want to go with Adam. I was even thinking of going with Blake [Shelton]. I just wanted to feel it out.
First of all, they had to turn around. I didn’t know if anyone turned around. If multiple coaches turned around, then I was going to see what happened. I wanted to get a vibe from folks and Adam was definitely the most talkative and was adamant about what he saw me do on stage and made it very clear that he wanted me on his team. … That struck a chord with me. I felt that vibe from him. He said, “I want to win this, and I need you on my team.” And he made good on those words.
Your performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” was praised as being very soulful. Can any song be transformed into a soul or R&B tune?
I think there’s a way. I think there’s a way to make a song your own. I don’t necessarily make every song into a soul or R&B song, but do have a soulful way of singing. I get where that comes from. You take a Coldplay song, like “Fix You,” for example. I tried to keep that one pretty straight as far as not doing any crazy R&B riffs. I tried to keep it pretty true to the original but sing it the way I would sing it. Not trying to sound like Chris Martin, but to sound like myself. I wasn’t trying to fill every line with a bunch a notes and soulafy it, if that makes sense.
I think you can take a song and put your own spin on it. Sometimes during my shows I’ll do Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and I keep it pretty true to what she does. But I sing it with my own voice and my own way. I try to make it my own.
How did your Fourth Of July gig in Washington, D.C. go?
It was the west lawn right in front of the Capital. One of the most amazing things I had ever been a part of. I think they said there were probably 500,000 people out there and I got to sing a song, “Stand By Me,” to pay tribute and salute our soldiers who have given so much to protect us. I was honored to be able to do that. I got to shake hands with a few of them that were in attendance. It was very moving for me.
Do you think you’ll stay in Connecticut or will you move to more of music business city such as Nashville or Los Angeles?
I won’t be moving anytime soon. I’ve always said the only way we would move out west is if it was a bi-coastal situation, if we had a place there and a place here. But I’m not ready to do that. I love Connecticut. I was born and raised here and my wife’s family lives in Massachusetts.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
My dad has always told me to try to be a good father and a good husband. My family is everything to me, so I take that [advice] very seriously.
As far as the music business, I was told very early on not to trust anyone. That is something that has served me well, so far.
But in respects to the business, one of my first lawyers told me that I should always know every aspect of what I’m getting into. The contracts I’m signing, I should know what they’re saying and I should know everything about the business. I shouldn’t let people just kind of handle things for me. I should be hands on and do everything myself, at least be part of all decisions being made.
That was back in 2002 and I’m still doing it. It’s a business and you’ve got to be sure you’re on top of everything. That was a great bit of advice.
What do you see for the future, say in two to five years?
I hope that it’s going to be filled with a lot of touring, in the states as well as abroad. I definitely want to reach the people that were able to see season one of “The Voice” in other countries. I’ve got a lot of fans out there in Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, it will take me a while to do it, and that is what I’d like to do in the coming years as well as continue to release new music, to build the fan base. “The Voice” gave me a great start to build the fan base and now the goal is to keep it moving in the right direction, keep building.
Javier Colon’s upcoming shows with Gavin DeGraw and Colbie Caillat include Boston’s Bank of America Pavilion July 25; Kettering, Ohio, at Fraze Pavilion For The Performing Arts July 30; Grand Rapids, Mich., at Frederik Meijer Gardens’ Sculpture Park Aug. 3; and Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium Aug. 7. Colon will also appear in Stamford, Conn., as part of the “Alive At Five” concert series in Columbus Park July 26. For more information, please visit JavierColon.com.