"Hey, Mr. Lowenstein, welcome to life."
That's the wakeup call that Jaron Lowenstein, half of the pop duo "Evan and Jaron," says that he got this last year as he and his brother plan their comeback -- without a major studio backing.
"We lived a charmed life, I felt like I've had everything fall in my lap till I was 29 years old," says Jaron, who just celebrated his 30th birthday with his twin brother Evan in March. "The last six months, I've had to work for stuff. I mean, I've always worked hard, and I love doing what I do, but it's having to feel like I'm doing almost the same stuff again to start the second time around."
The second time around isn't easy for any act, and a couple of years out of the limelight is like an eternity in the entertainment world.
But here we are on this sweltering Monday morning, Jaron looking scruffily handsome, diamond eyes sparkling over killer cheekbones as he animatedly talks about their new album "Half Dozen" on sale this week.
Since The Journal wrote about E&J nearly three years ago, their looks haven't changed much, but it seems like everything else has for them. For one, Evan's had a daughter and is trying to balance stardom with family-man-dom. Secondly, the world has seen an Orthodox presidential candidate, rendering E&J's Sabbath-observant clause no big deal. And most importantly, E&J have left their last label, Sony/Columbia in order to release their new album on their own.
"We're the luckiest guys alive, we got offered five different record deals and we chose not to go with them, because we felt we'd merely be trading seats in the Titanic," Jaron says. If they didn't make so much money with the label when things were going well, "why would I jump in with them [now] when it's not working? Maybe they'll figure it out, but maybe I will too."
The Lowenstein's risk-taking comes at a time when the music industry is hemorrhaging revenue from illegal downloading. And as music fans rebel at the high price of albums they can virtually get for free, E&J are hoping to tap into the anger and the indie current by selling their album at a fraction of the normal $20 cost.
The album -- actually, it's half an album, with six original songs and three bonus tracks -- will sell for $5.98 for the first 60 days ("What Jew wouldn't like that?" Jaron jokes), and afterward for $9.98, available on their self-mocking Web site, www.evanandjaron.com .
In the last three years, the Lowensteins have learned not to take themselves too seriously. Fame and its fleeting nature is the premise of the sitcom they're pitching to Fox, based on their lives. "We were in Lawrence, Kan. playing a car dealership for 13 people and a Bozo the Clown look-alike. And we locked ourselves in the car and we're like, 'We're not gettin' out, we are not gettin' out,' and we're like, 'You know what? We are getting out," Jaron says, punctuating his story with high-pitched melodic giggles. "And that's the reality. It's like a microcosm of the real roller coaster life."
Plans for the show are on hold while they go on tour next week, and they're hoping that their music -- not the marketing -- is what will help them reach their goal of selling 100,000 records. Like their last album, "Half-Dozen" offers a number of catchy tunes that you won't be able to get out of your head as soon as you hear them on the radio, and especially after you'll hear them on the radio a zillion more times. Take "What She Likes":
"She likes the romance/to slow dance/staying out all night./She lights the Christmas lights all year round/why put 'em up take 'em down?/She watches baseball/hates the mall/but hangs out with the guys./That's what I know about what she likes."
With simple guitar and harmony in their similar overlapping twin voices, songs like "Stuck in the Middle" tell more mature stories than "Crazy," about a couple who fight but can't split up. "Now we're stuck here/standing in the middle/of a mess we made./It's all too little too late./You call your mother I write a song/We've come to agree that we can't get along./Why can't I say goodbye?"
Saying goodbye to their record label might bring one small advantage: perhaps this time around, E&J won't have to contend with being typecast as a boy band or as singers for a teeny-bopper audience.
"Most of our fan base now is who it was -- 18-40, 25-35, 18-34," Jaron says. The brothers -- who see themselves more in the mold of Simon and Garfunkel or a "male Indigo Girls" -- got pigeonholed after they appeared in 2000 on MTV's "Total Request Live" and Columbia decided to exploit their looks, with Chanel stepping in a year later with a merchandising tie-in.
"There is a reason we've toured with Sting, with Jimmy Buffet...and none of those other bands did," Jaron says, referring to boy bands. "Because we're in that genre. That's our core, that's where we come from."
Speaking about where they came from, making a comeback is doubly hard when you come from the Orthodox community. There's a reputation to uphold.
"Having established ourselves as the 'Orthodox guys,' we're Modern Orthodox," Jaron says, although Evan is more religious than he is. Single and about to start touring next week, Jaron says he thinks twice about his behavior because he's become a role model to the Jewish community. In the last four years, Jaron says they've received tens of thousands of letters from Jews across the denominational spectrum. "And that's great. But it also comes with a lot of responsibilities to maintain."
But keeping kosher and Shabbat -- which has cost them dearly in the past, making them miss out on summer tours -- is important to the brothers. Jaron lovingly discusses what it's like to be from such a tight-knit community.
"It's so funny, every time we perform in front of Jewish people there's that Jewish mother syndrome. You know, no matter what you do, there's something wrong." Jaron puts on an old Jewish man voice: "They're not that good/They are that good/I heard they were better. Which one of them's this? Are they really religious? Can they be....? If they're really this, where's their yarmulke? How do they do that?"
In his regular sweet voice Jaron says, "Jews are the quickest to claim people" -- and he puts on his old man's voice again and says, "Billy Joel's Jewish/no he's not Jewish." Now back to Jaron again: "But as soon as they claim that 'yeah we got one,' then they just rip 'em apart. It's like, let's prove that he's not really a Jew."