If you look at PUBLIC the band’s, Facebook page, you will see listed under their interests “You.” The more you see from PUBLIC, the easier it realize that their interest really is the fans. Seeing the band perform live is electric, full of energy, and even acrobatics, a PUBLIC show becomes a true party.
In an interview with GIGsoup, John Vaughn, the band’s frontman, said this of their high energy act “I think that once people are in that room, we are kind of responsible for showing them a good time, letting them escape for a little bit. We don’t really know any other way…”
PUBLIC consists of three friends John, Ben, and Matt that met in their high school jazz orchestra class. What once was three classmates making music in orchestra or Ben’s childhood basement has transformed into a music career in which they have opened for big names like Twenty One Pilots, AJR, and American Authors.
“The three of us have been through a lot of different things, and all the while, it has been just like the three of us like you said having faith in each other and having faith in our music.” Says John.
People came to learn about this band of three friends from Cincinnati, Ohio, when their song ‘Make You Mine’ became a viral TikTok trend, being featured in over 2.5 million videos. This sudden TikTok fame has seen their streaming numbers for ‘Make You Mine’ grow over six million streams each week. I asked John the most significant thing to come from this sudden TikTok bump, and he told me it is that people are learning and loving their story as friends from high school that have been creating music for years. That’s why people are interested in it beyond just liking the song.
“It’s like wow, this band has a story. This band has been honing their craft for actual years now.” John said, “This band has been opening for a lot of really big artists but haven’t really done their thing yet or had their time.”
Aiming for positivity and being able to connect with people through their art PUBLIC, has a story that is still being told. The band recently signed with Kevin Jonas Sr.’s management group and their “dream record label,” Island Records. These groups are all committed to helping PUBLIC take their act to the heights they have always dreamed of.
I had the chance to talk with PUBLIC lead singer John Vaughn for an interview. We talked about where the band started, going viral on an app they had never heard of, working with a team of people versus self-production and releases, what to expect from PUBLIC in the future, and the song John most wants to cover on a future headlining tour. Read the full interview below.
Hi John, Thank you for taking the time with me today. I’m excited to talk to you. Now PUBLIC is on tour with American Authors and Magic Giant, and I saw you in Salt Lake City, and you guys were electric! Like I’m pretty sure I saw someone doing a flip at one point, and there was so much energy you had on stage. How has this tour been, and is that the energy you have always had on stage as a touring band?
John Vaughn: Yeah! Well, first off, thank you for coming out to the show. We appreciate it. But yeah man, we kind of have like a creed or a code which is just like that we try to give the same show whether it is fifty people or it is twenty thousand people. We try to convey the same type of enthusiasm and energy every time. I don’t know, it’s like the people just show up, and it doesn’t matter how many people show up, those people showed up to see you, they are there to enjoy music, they are there because they love your music, and you need to give them what they came for. I think that once people are in that room, we are kind of responsible for showing them a good time, letting them escape for a little bit. We don’t really know any other way, we get up there, and kind of feed off each other and are full of energy. We’re hyper, and we are musicians, and so energy is just kind of our thing.
I wanted to talk about some of that energy and chemistry PUBLIC has as a band. I read how you met in high school in a jazz orchestra class. If someone would have told you back then that you three would still be creating music together, what would you have told them?
John: We never really had a different plan. Obviously, we have been very realistic, and this is a really hard industry to break into, and we have been, I would say doing this professionally since a little after high school. As in like we have been working with other people and releasing music professionally and stuff. But I don’t know man, it’s like very surprising because we are working with our dream label now (Island Records,) and we’re getting to do the things that we have always seen other “real bands” do, and we are doing that stuff now, and it’s truly surreal. But at the same time like I said, we never really had an alternative plan, and we have always really believed in the music we’ve done. Which is because we have always put everything we have into the songs. For the longest time, we also just wrote, recorded, and produced everything ourselves. It has always been a really DIY project for a very long time, so it is really cool and also very fresh and new for us to be now doing things that involve other people and like this is the first tour that we’ve been on where we actually have a lot of other things happening outside of tour. Like tour is just one of a few different irons of the fire that we have going on, and that is totally totally new for us. I’d like to say it is surprising, but at the same time, I have always believed in what we’re doing.
I love the belief that you have had in yourself and each other as a band. What has been the most rewarding part of creating together for so long?
John: I think it would specifically be that we trust each other, and I think we have all learned how to exist with each other. It’s a lot like a relationship that you might have with somebody. You have to learn how to argue, and how to be honest with each other, and learn how to go through really tough things. I think we have really done that now. The three of us have been through a lot of different things, and all the while, it has been just like the three of us like you said having faith in each other and having faith in our music.
It’s kind of hard to pick one thing but the most rewarding thing, but I would say I had an experience at one of the shows on this tour where this really young girl came up to me and told me that she turns on our music when she feels sad and that it immediately makes her happy. For some reason just that little girl saying that to me because I was just picturing her in her room having a bad day and then turning on a PUBLIC song and she was crying when she said it to me she was crying and like giggling at the same time and sort of couldn’t really control herself, and it actually made me start to cry to and I had to like hide my face while I was finding something.
It was very humbling because you can kind of lose sight of why you’re really doing this when you’re like on the road and it’s tiring, and you’re doing TV, and all this stuff and people try to make you feel like you are cooler than you are. But at the end of the day, some little girl coming up to me and saying that “Your music literally brightens my day.” It’s very humbling and I don’t ever get used to that and like I need to hear that more and more, sometimes you get too wrapped up in like the business side of music business that sometimes you forget how much it impacts someone emotionally. That is one big reward.
That’s a great point. I love that you said that. I think a lot of the way PUBLIC is able to connect with people through your music comes from the connection you have as a band.
I have to ask John, does ‘Make You Mine’ get stuck in your head as easy as it does mine?
John: I think, um maybe. Well, probably not like it does yours because it is our song. But the thing I think that we are experiencing right now is that there is so much content that we are doing right now with the song and so much content that we are seeing online and in different places with the song. It’s kind of like whether we like it or not we are hearing it at least one hundred times a day it feels like. I almost can’t tell if it is in my head or playing off of someone’s phone in our van or something. I follow the hashtag #makeyoumine, and I think I see that song set to like 25 different videos each day just scrolling down my Instagram timeline. It’s an ear-worm. I don’t hate it yet (laughs.) Like people talk about that like “oh, we got tired of our own song!” and we have always been like “Wow, that sounds like a great problem to have.” You know, to us, it’s like that’s our baby out in the world that has all of a sudden become other people’s baby.
So a big part of that content you mention seeing your song everywhere is from ‘Make You Mine’ become a major TikTok trend. How did this whole TikTok thing happen with ‘Make You Mine’?
John: The thing with that is like we didn’t start it, it wasn’t engineered by us or anything. We didn’t even know what TikTok was, and to this day, I don’t think we really know who did the first video that went viral. We talked to some TikTok influencers these days, and they’ve talked to us about like the first time they made one with it. But we don’t really know where it started. We just started to see a really nice spike in our streaming numbers at first, and we were kind of like you know like ‘Make You Mine’ has always been a fan favorite and stuff, but our fanbase just hasn’t been that big… and now people started tagging us in videos and sometimes it was like somebody was posting a TikTok on Instagram, and we would see that and their logo and we started to wonder what that was. Then we saw like a montage of like the characters from your favorite movie like Harry and Hermoine from Harry Potter, and it was set to ‘Make You Mine,’ and we were like “this is so internet, what is this?”
Then obviously after a few months are team started to take notice too because it was just becoming too big for us to not try to do something with it. Long story short, the sound has been used over two million times, and TikTok we started contacting people that worked with TikTok to make sure our name was on the song, which is actually a good point because right when we first started seeing the videos, nobody knew that it was by a band. It is crazy how a song can just exist out there in the world, and no one really cares who wrote and recorded it and performs it. So I think I spent like a whole couple of days one time and compiled a list of videos using the sound and just said, “Hey, this is our song. There are thousands and thousands of videos, and our song name isn’t on any of it. How do we change this?” They were really awesome, and that’s when the dots started to connect, and people were like “Oh, this is by PUBLIC. They are a band that is active and have energy and are out there now releasing music and playing shows.”
So I interviewed someone that won the TV show The Voice. I tweeted out the article, and he retweeted it and all of a sudden before I knew it I had a bunch of follows and retweets from a bunch of older fans of the voice that were on Twitter. So there was this bump from The Voice, and you’ve talked about seeing this increase in streaming numbers. But just how crazy has this TikTok bump been for streaming, for your shows, and for PUBLIC?
John: It’s been crazy specifically because that story that we are a band out of Cincinnati, Ohio that has been independent for a really long time and hasn’t really broken per se, and the story that we are a band that has been doing that and all of a sudden had a song that has exploded on TikTok which is a new app, and that is really why it has been crazy. That’s why people are interested in it beyond just liking the song. It’s like wow, this band has a story. This band has been honing their craft for actual years now. This band has been opening for a lot of really big artists but haven’t really done their thing yet or had their time. So people like Kelly and Ryan, getting us to play was like our first national TV debut. It was really the story that they loved was us as high school friends that started a band, and now our song is everywhere because of this crazy app that is also everywhere. So that is really the gem of it right now. It is just kind of this interesting path for a band to go on.
It really is an interesting story. You talked about your story is also still being written now and is focused on how to evolve next. PUBLIC has been self-releasing things for a long time, what has it been like working with a team like Kevin Jonas Sr. and like you mentioned earlier your dream record label with Island Records. What has it been like working with them compared to on your own?
John: I mean, just first and foremost, they crush it. Like Island, their team is incredible, and that’s really why we went with Island Records. We had immediate chemistry, and we liked from our first conversation with them they were talking about vision and where we want to go with the band rather than like “you guys are having this little flash in the pan moment right now, and we want to capitalize on it” it was very much like you guys have put in the work and you guys have been around we want to help take you guys for the long run. So obviously that has been radio promo and marketing help, and I’d say marketing has kind of been our weakest thing just because we’ve never had a team around us. Having people getting us TV spots, and doing interviews now, or podcasts, and we’ve never touched anything like that before. So they have crushed it there, and it is also like this co-laboring thing, you know? They want to come in and like take what we are doing and expand it. They want to blow it up, while also like providing us with anything that we need to make that happen. Which does include guidance strategically a lot of the time, too, which is cool and very new.
Then obviously Kevin Jonas Sr. is a very connected man, but back to the brass tax with him too from our first conversation, we liked Kevin because he is a good guy. We have met a lot of people in this industry, and a lot of people that have not seemed trustworthy to be honest with you and I think it is an industry that can really bring the worst out of people because there is a lot of potential money involved and you really have to be careful. From the get-go though with Kevin, we could sense his passion for music. Music excited him, his eyes lit up when he talked about songwriting or singing, and just obviously the stuff he did with his sons too. Back when they were first starting out, I loved that threshold they were at and it was just great chemistry. All the while, it has been very new though, because we have been so self-sustaining for the longest time. We’re not just learning how this works. We are also learning how to let other people come in and like help us. We just haven’t had that before. We haven’t really known how to let other people do that for us.
Again, I love your story and just how you got in contact with Kevin Jonas Sr. and I won’t make you retell the story, but basically, your dad randomly sat by someone at a conference that knew him and was telling him about your band, and a connection was made. What is next, and what are you excited for in this amazing story?
John: PUBLIC’s story I think because ‘Make You Mine’ isn’t that new of a song (laugh) the app just kind of breathed new life into it. At the same time, it’s interesting because we have been pushing a song and have more current things that are unreleased. I would say for PUBLIC’s story. I would say that I am excited to like we are kind of thinking about maybe putting together a whole new body of work, which is a whole new process with like a record label involved. I’m really excited for us to put our next foot forward. Some of the music that we’ve written recently we’ve been finding times to write on the road and we are beyond excited about it and it’s so fresh and so new feeling. At the same time, we feel like this new audience that we are receiving is really going to love it, and that is really really freaking exciting.
For me, I am working on navigating the balance of art and commerce with label life. I’m just learning how to be a very positive person in this industry. I hope that anyone I come in contact with feels like I’m a good guy and someone they can trust. I want my eyes to be on the right things, which is art and human connection and just kind of being there for each other.
Now, John, I have a question I ask in every interview before we close. I am very interested in real musicians that play on stages all over the world, one if they are interested in doing karaoke, and two what their go-to song would be? Do you have a go-to karaoke song?
John: Dang! Dude, I don’t know if I have a go-to song so, I will just say what my last one was. I was downtown with my family, and I think it was back in the summer and my younger brother and I did ‘We Will Rock You’ really late and here is the thing… like no one can do Freddy Mercury, and Queen is just so incredible, and that’s not even my favorite Queen song. Anyway, we had this thought that if we go up there and just really sell it that everyone will get riled up. It’s like the National Anthem for white people… like “We Will Rock You” and we went so hard and I actually think it had the opposite effect. We were doing ‘We Will Rock You’ and I think people actually liked it less because we were taking it so seriously. We ended up walking out and it was a totally weird situation, but it was so funny, and we were laughing. So I don’t know man if that’s a go-to but ‘We Will Rock You’ was a challenge.
That’s the perfect story, and it brings up one more question. Did you do the stomp stomp clap in the song?
John: Yes! Yes! Like no, we ripped right into it, and I like was in the crowd. I was like, “Okay, I do this for a living, I can get a group of people who have had a few drinks to rally behind us” and that is just not what happened. Very humbling.
That’s amazing! Is there any chance that will be covered by PUBLIC in the future? (laughs)
John: I will absolutely say that I have pitched that to Matt and Ben probably about sixty times. I think they are right. Their response is always if we do a headlining show and have some momentum and people that will get behind it then that is probably the time. So I am like okay that’s fine.
Well when that day comes on your headlining tour, I’ll be there stomp stomp clapping right along with you.
John: (Laughs) I expect it… front row and you’ve got to back me up.
I appreciate your time John and I am so excited to see as the PUBLIC story continues to be told.
John: Yeah man! Thank you so much for your time. That was a great interview. Great questions!