Despite being dyed-in-the-wool Bostonians, Danny Wood and Jessie Chris are on complete opposite sides of the city’s musical tracks.
Wood, 49 and a member of the world-famous boy band New Kids On The Block, is known for his trademark pop stylings, snappy choreography and on-stage flare. Chris, on the other hand, is a diminutive, soft-spoken 21-year-old who has just begun turning heads in the country music industry.
Naturally, then, the two did what polar opposites do sometimes in spite of their perceived differences — they teamed up, recording a song, “Bodyguard,” the product of Wood learning of Chris’ 100-school crusade across the country in recent months to speak to kids about bullying.
“I feel like it (the duet) went really well,” Wood said of the collaboration. “I hope people really listen to the song and share it. It might be a useful tool for them.”
While New Kids On The Block have begun ramping things up for a 55-date tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of the multi-platinum “Hangin’ Tough” album, at this moment, Wood said, “Bodyguard” takes priority. The sentiment is shared by Chris, who was named to Billboard Magazine’s Artists to Watch List last year and also recently made her national television debut on the TODAY Show.
“It was an incredible experience, and I hope it inspires kids to just be kinder to one another,” she said.
Wood and Chris took time out from their respective schedules to speak to ListenIowa about the project, their personal experiences with bullying, and using their respective platforms for charitable causes.
LI: What was the initial spark that got this song started?
Danny: I know Jessie’s manager, and he sent me some music and links to some of the speeches she had done at schools against bullying. I got inspired and started writing down some notes, picked up the guitar, and wrote the song in a few days.
LI: Did the subject matter hit close to home at all? Did you experience any bullying when you were growing up?
D: Of course. I think everyone has a story about being bullied. It’s easy to relate to, but it’s just that, for me, it’s further away. I’m going to be turning 50 this year, so even though that’s far away from where I am now, I can definitely relate, having raised three kids on my own, and having to guide them through some of these situations. It was easy to relate to.
LI: Jessie, you’re just a few years removed from high school. Did you, yourself, experience any bullying?
Jessie: Yeah, growing up, I struggled a lot in school with bullying. I’m from the Boston area as well, and I fell in love with country music when I was little and realized that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. That made me really different from the other kids in the school, and made me a target to be bullied. I had to change schools two different times because of it. It was a struggle.
LI: How did the idea to tour and speak to students about bullying come about?
J: I started visiting schools when I was still a senior in high school. It’s just something that I liked to do in my free time to help kids. I didn’t really think I would end up visiting so many. A year ago, I made it a goal to visit 100 schools, and I did that. I still visit schools, but I’m just not keeping count like I did before.
LI: What is your main message when you speak to them?
J: To be yourself and don’t be afraid to be yourself. A lot of kids are bullied because they are different, and then they feel obligated to change because they don’t fit in. They try to hide who they are just to avoid being bullied. I try to encourage kids to not be afraid to be themselves and that different is fun. School would be a better place if kids would be nicer to each other.
LI: Were you familiar with Danny and/or New Kids On The Block prior to getting together with him for the project?
J: Yes, my cousin is one of their biggest fans, so I’ve always known their music and who they are. I was so excited when I got the phone call that I was going to record a duet with Danny.
LI: Did you two actually get together in the studio for the recording, or did you trade files over the Internet?
D: No, we got together in Boston to record it. I wanted to definitely have at least one day in the studio. So we took a day, recorded all our vocals, shot a video while we were recording, and captured that day. It was really easy. Jessie is really talented and very easy to work with. For me, I’ve been recording since I was a kid, so it’s in my blood. It’s always fun to get in the studio and be creative.
LI: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from each other in recording this song together?
J: The biggest thing I’ve learned from working with Danny is that, no matter what is going on, and no matter how successful you are in life, you need to remain humble and down to earth. That’s how Danny is. He’s had a long, successful career, but he’s never let it go to his head. He’s kind to everyone he meets, and that’s really inspiring to me. I want to be like that.
D: The bullying that goes on on social media, for kids, that’s real. It’s just as bad, if not worse, than what they get at school. You get strangers attacking you from behind their phone or their keyboard. She taught me a different perspective of that, and I tell my friends who have young kids to watch their kids’social media; it can get out of control.
LI: At the peak of New Kids On The Block, did you catch a lot of those verbal, sniper attacks?
D: Of course. We were kids, and you either loved us or you hated us. If you were a female you loved us, and if you were a guy, you hated us. But even when we were young, though, it was clear that what it was was jealousy. When someone would yell a comment, I didn’t really care. As long as they weren’t touching me, I didn’t care.
LI: Are you involved in any other charitable causes?
D: All my solo music is done for a foundation called Remember Betty, in honor of mother who passed away in 1999 from breast cancer. The past 10 or 11 years I’ve been raising money for the foundation, and it goes directly to women who are struggling to get through treatment financially. All of my solo music, I don’t take a dime; it all goes to the foundation.
LI: Jessie, is using your platform to raise awareness something you plan to continue to do as well?
J: Absolutely. I like to perform at a lot of events that raise money for cancer, especially for St. Jude, breast cancer and children’s cancer. That means a lot to me.
LI: New Kids On The Block is headed out on tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Hangin’ Tough.” Danny, when you look back on that time, what’s your perspective?
D: It was a great time. The music still stands. We’ve been back for 11 years and have been doing big tours since. The fans still want to hear the music, and we love doing it. I can’t wait to get out on the road in May. It’s a big accomplishment to be able say that “Hangin’ Tough” is 30 years old and we’re actually going to be able to celebrate it.
LI: Did you guys stay in touch at all in the years you weren’t together as New Kids On The Block?
D: I stayed in touch with Donnie. We’ve been friends the longest, but the other guys I really didn’t talk to over the 15 years we were broken up. Then Donnie sent me a song, we all listened to it, we all wanted to record it, everyone was in a good place in their lives, and we just went into a studio and recorded it on our own without a record company, kind of similar to the first time around.
LI: Jessie, you’re now a published author as well.
J: Yes. It wasn’t actually too far off from writing a song. The book is a children’s book called “Dreams,” and it’s a story about me growing up. I wrote the book in about an hour-and-a-half, but it took about a year to get it illustrated and published. But I’m glad that it’s finally out there and kids are reading it at home. It means a lot to me.
LI: And how about the musical side? What do you have going on right now, and what’s in store for 2019?
J: I’m very focused on “Bodyguard” with Danny, but I’ll definitely be in the studio soon, writing and recording new music. We’ll see where it goes.