“Thanks to everyone who has ever said I wouldn’t make it or made fun of me, because you only made me stronger.”
It’s a simple saying Sugarloaf native Gino Barletta included under his photo in his Wyoming Seminary yearbook, a quote that came from then-teen pop star JoJo, who hit it big with her song “Leave (Get Out)” in 2004.
Now it means much more to Barletta, 23, who has become a personal friend to JoJo, now 21, and co-wrote “Disaster,” the first single off her new album “Jumping Trains” and the newest material from her in almost five years.
“It’s overwhelming, of course,” Barletta, a singer-songwriter, said of his newfound success. “I’m still letting it all sink in.”
Barletta had an interest in the arts from a young age, when he performed in community and school theater and was part of the Madrigal Singers of Wyoming Seminary.
He moved to Los Angeles in 2007 after a year of school at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. He knew he was destined to be in L.A. and wanted to get there as quickly as possible.
“I didn’t know where I was going to live; I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t know anything about the industry,” he said. “I felt like I was walking around in the dark for the first year or two.”
It wasn’t until his friend Denise Hudson, with whom he performed back home, moved to L.A. that things started to change. Hudson worked with the likes of Mary J. Blige and the “American Idol” tour.
“She was kind enough to open up her network to me and get me started,” Barletta said. “Seeing her hustle made me want to become successful even more.”
Hudson also toured with JoJo, whom she introduced to Barletta. Barletta, who only began to write songs once he moved to L.A., had pieces of “Disaster” put together before meeting JoJo, and when Hudson heard them she knew JoJo had to have a listen too.
“When we hung out for the first time I felt like I was talking to myself,” Barletta said. “Our lives really mirror each other’s, from the way we grew up, our family life, all the stuff we went through trying to be an artist.”
“Disaster” tells of a crumbling relationship, a topic over which Barletta and JoJo connected.
“L.A.’s a very overwhelming place, and it’s easy to get into relationships simply because you feel alone. When those relationships go bad you have nobody else to go to, so you keep throwing yourself back into it, and things get progressively worse. We both had similar experiences with something like that.”
“Once we connected over that, the song completed itself.”
The song was released on U.S. radio on Monday.
Barletta has worked with other artists and producers, including Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, the band Girlicious and three-time Grammy-winning producer Ron “Neff-U” Feemster. He’s now in the studio with producer Mario Marchetti who not only worked on “Disaster” but is helping Barletta with his own music project.
Barletta may work in cooperation with other artists, through songwriting and artist development, but he’s also working on a career of his own. He calls his musical stylings pop rock, similar to Gavin Degraw and Third Eye Blind, with some added soul.
Though the sound is important, Barletta is focusing on much more.
“I’m aiming to bring back what I feel is lacking in the music industry, which is a story. I want to be a timeless storyteller, singer-songwriter. I want people listening to my music now and 50 years from now.”
He’s hoping to have his own material released within the next year.
For now he’s just glad, finally, to have the ball rolling.
“A good way to get into the industry is to do something behind the scenes. When people see you’re powerful enough to create what’s being sold as the product that goes through the singers, the actors, the dancers, then you gain credibility.”
“Having ‘Disaster’ be such an important single for JoJo is a defining moment for me as a writer. You grow up listening to these people, buying the albums and reading the album inserts, and now I’m going to be one of those names on the insert and I get to hear her sing these lyrics that we created together.”