Posted On 14 Jul 2017
Meet the musician and behind the scenes master Stacy Jones! Jones has had an incredible career on stage, in the studio and behind the scenes. He got his start as the front man and main songwriter for American Hi-Fi, who had the 2001 hit “Flavor of the Weak.” After the peak of the American Hi-Fi days, his career took the most unlikely of turns into being a Music Director, and 11 years in Jones is one of the most in demand in his field – working with chart topping artists like Miley Cyrus, Noah Cyrus, the Chainsmokers and Troye Sivan among others. His story is pretty incredible and a great example of having a successful career as a musician outside of the spotlight.
A music director is a job that is essential to nearly every major touring act, but the job description can be a bit nebulous. This role was a natural fit for Jones, who as a drummer and front man has been directing, constructing and leading shows (unknowingly) his entire life. He got into this role unintentionally working as staff producer at Columbia & Epic records. One of the projects he was producing and A&Ring was Open Air Stereo, of MTV Laguna Beach fame. Jones was asked to worked with the band to translate their live show to television, for the biggest performance of their career on MTV’s Total Request Live. In addition to crafting the set and handling production details, Jones performed with the band, playing guitar off camera from a utility closet on the TRL set.
His work with Open Air Stereo led to a chance encounter with the manager of then Disney Channel star Miley Cyrus who saw the TRL set and commissioned Jones to come on board as Cyrus’ Music Director. Stacy worked with Cyrus to construct her show and put together her touring band, which features Jones on drums. The musicians Jones brought on board have been Cyrus’ touring band for 11 years. His work with Cyrus has lead to work with the above mentioned bands.
In addition to the MD work he still works as a writer, musician, producer (Bob Rock was his mentor) and tours consistently. He is an active member of his bands American Hi-Fi, and Letters to Cleo, has been the touring drummer for Matchbox Twenty since 2012 and even has a great story about recording vocals with Mötley Crüe.
ADDITIONAL DRUMMING CREDITS: Madonna, Ariana Grande, Everclear, Avril Lavigne, Joan Jett, The Jonas Brothers, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Flaming Lips, Lily Allen, Cobra Starship, Sheryl Crow, The Cab, Hey Monday, Veruca Salt, Dia Frampton, Aimee Mann, Butch Walker, The Dollyrots and more.
Learn more about Stacy Jones in the following All Access interview:
Let’s start with how is 2017 treating you so far? Musically, did you approach this year any differently than you did last year?
Yes, I did. Yes. Well, 2017 has been great. Honestly I’m really lucky just in general to say that at the end of every year, I’ve had a fantastic time. I’ve been very fortunate and lucky to work with really great artists. I was just talking with somebody about it the other day. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for a living for I guess 23 years now, which is crazy. Listen, I know that I’m very fortunate and I don’t take it for granted at all to be a working musician. But yeah, so 2017 has been great.
Over the last couple years I have changed my focus a little bit. My wife and I decided a couple years ago that we wanted to have a baby, and so I started transitioning a little bit from being a road dog and more doing stuff working in L.A. as a musical director. I’ve always done that. I’ve been doing the MD thing now for about 12 years, but most of the time if I’m a musical director for an artist, I also play drums in their band. For the last like three or four years, I’ve started really focusing on being an MD but not necessarily playing in the band. I’m a drummer by trade.
Now I’ve started doing more things where like with The Chainsmokers or Troye Sivan, or Broods, or Five Seconds of Summer who I’m working with now, clearly they’re a band. They already have a drummer so that’s different. But now I will put a show together for an artist and do production rehearsals and all that and go to the first couple of gigs. Then once the show’s up and running then I go home, which is really, really nice and a new development in the last few years for me. Yeah, I have definitely changed my focus a little bit. There are some artists that I will always go on tour with. Matchbox 20 is one of them. Miley Cyrus is one of them. I’ve been with her for 12 years now, and so any time she’s going to do a tour, as long as she’ll have me, I’ll be there.
Was there ever a time in your career that you wanted to quit all of this and try something completely different?
No, I’ve never had that thought. I think partly I don’t know how to do anything else. I really don’t. I’ve been doing this, like I said, professionally since I was like 22 years old, and I’m 46 now. I think I’m too old to reinvent myself in terms of a career. Now that being said, I have sort of reinvented myself within the industry. But no, I’ve never had a plan B.
Well, you’ve had an incredible career, and like you were saying, worked with all these amazing artists. I’m curious, what experiences or what artists have really stood out to you? Is there one or two moments that you can pick out as your favorites?
That’s tough because I’ve had great experiences with everybody, but I’d say definitely Letters to Cleo, which was my first band that really did stuff for real. That was the first time I heard myself on the radio. That was the first time that I got to play on a TV show. It was the first time I had a video on MTV, first time going on a tour where people actually came to see us, first time on a tour bus, all that kind of stuff. I think Cleo will always have a sort of special place for me just based on everything was a first with them. That’s definitely one. I’d say working with Miley has been phenomenal. She’s the first person I ever was a musical director for, and I didn’t even know that that job existed when I was coming up. Being with her and just learning about that job, and learning what it entails, and just sort of being with her through this evolution of her career from Hannah Montana to where she is now has been a pretty remarkable journey in and of itself.
How do you think that the roles that you’ve taken on have transformed over the years with the changing music industry? Do you think that they have?
Definitely. I think one of the main things for somebody in my position working with artists like The Chainsmokers or Troye or Broods, those artists are a little more electronic and a lot of their music is made just on a laptop.
But I think that’s been one of the bigger challenges lately is figuring out how to take a record that was made on a laptop and figure out how to make that translate in an arena with live musicians around it, you know?
That’s really fun because all of the people that I work with, Troye, Chainsmokers, all those people that are more electronic, they don’t want to go on stage and just press the space bar on the computer. You know what I mean?
They want to perform. They want to be playing instruments. They want to be bringing these sounds to life. It’s a good challenge for me to figure out, okay how are we going to play that thing that’s in the verse of that song that is clearly a computer-manipulated sound? It wasn’t played on a guitar or a keyboard necessarily. That definitely has been one of the things that has changed over the last few years for me.
How do you balance all of these different roles – being an active member of these bands and a touring drummer for so many, how do you like balance it all, and do you ever sleep?
I don’t get a lot of sleep, especially with an 11-month-old son.
It’s tough. Luckily the artists that I work with are really cool and understanding. For example, right now I have a sub playing drums in Miley’s band because I’m doing Matchbox 20. They booked me before Miley decided she wanted to get up and running again. I was able to come in and get Miley started and do a bunch of stuff with her at the beginning, and then have my friend Adam sub for me on drums. I kind of got the current show up and running and did a bunch of the first shows. Excuse me, sorry. Now Adam’s in there. He’ll play through the summer while I’m out with Matchbox, and then hopefully I’ll jump back in in the fall when she gets busy again.
You make it work. Everybody, especially in the sort of higher gun/musical director world, we all look out for each other. There’s a few other guys that are kind of in the same lane that I’m in in terms of what we do as far as MDs, and so we’re constantly calling each other like, “Hey, I’m out with Matchbox. Can you fill in for something with Miley if she needs something?” Or people will call me and say, “Hey, can you do this thing? I’m out with Katy Perry and I need a sub for this or that.” You know?
It’s a really good community and it’s very supportive of one another.
That’s nice to hear in this industry that can be kind of cutthroat. It’s nice to know that you have this community of friends that help each other out. That’s great.
It’s great. It really is. It really is. It doesn’t feel competitive or cutthroat at all. We all watch each other, and we all watch each other’s shows and see what each other is going. It’s definitely just watching other MDs work with different artists has given me ideas of things that I want to do with my people, and vice versa. It definitely helps your creativity to have a community like that.
Would you say that you have like a typically day-to-day routine, or every day is different, you never know what’s going to happen, where you’re going to be?
Yeah, every day is different. That keeps it exciting for sure. If you’re on a tour, you typically have a routine, which is you wake up wherever you are and have breakfast and maybe wander around, try to find like a hip coffee shop or whatever you want to do, go to the gym, that kind of stuff. Then you end up over at the gig by usually 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon for sound check. Then sound check, eat some catering, watch the opening band, play the show, get on the bus, have a after-show dinner, throw something on Netflix, and rinse and repeat. That happens for a couple of months at a time usually. But when I’m doing the freelance, when I’m just kind of jumping between artists, one day I’ll be in New York with The Chainsmokers doing Good Morning America, and then I’ll jump on a plane and I’m in L.A rehearsing with Miley, and then we fly to Vegas to do Billboard awards, but I also have Chainsmokers there as well. It’s always a new adventure.
As a musician yourself, what musicians have really inspired you and really helped you just write music and get started to begin with?
Definitely the classics, Beatles, Stones, Eagles, Fleetwood Mack. I grew up listening to really great music. My parents always had records and things on in the house. I learned from all of that stuff. Then as I got older and started getting into stuff myself, it was U2, INXS, The Clash, The Jam, and then all through the ’90s I was part of the sort of alternative scene, which was for me being in Boston was great bands like the Pixies, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom. I’ve just always been around great music, and I just kind of take from everyone that sort of inspires me.
As a drummer, I’d say one of my biggest influences is a guy named Steve Jordan, who is also a producer, who is also a musical director. He’s somebody who I’ve always admired, and now my sort of career path has sort of fallen in line with what he’s done. Not by design necessarily, but it’s just kind of headed that way, which is cool. He’s somebody that he’s a session guy. He’s a hired gun. He plays drums for people, but he also produces records. He also is a big MD. He does when you see the Grammys every year, that’s his band and that’s him on there, and stuff like that. He’s somebody I’ve always looked up to on all fronts.
Are you currently working on new music for these bands that you’re in?
New music, I did some stuff with Letters to Cleo at the end of the year last year. We ended up putting out a little five-song EP, and we did five shows. We played L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston. That was really fun. What else did I … Did I do anything new other than that? Not really. A lot of times, my part of the job as far as being an MD or a side man goes, the artist already has the record done or the music is already done. Really what I’m doing is taking what they’ve recorded and put on the record and turning it into a live performance, you know?
It’s not so much creating new stuff, although sometimes it is because they want to do a different version of the song, or they want to create an intro that doesn’t exist so we sit down and talk about what that looks like. A lot of times that involves like sound design as well. When you go see a show and before Miley plays Party in the U.S.A., there’s this whole screen content and this interlude thing. That’s my department there. I do get to be creative and create some new music for things like that.
My final question for you is what advice would you give to someone thinking about this career path, or even to someone really young that is just thinking about being a musician one day? What’s one piece of advice you could give them?
I would say immerse yourself in all styles. Have an open mind. Learn to play a little bit of everything, and also learn to play more than one instrument. Even if you’re not super proficient on something, it’s just great to have knowledge of what other people are doing when you’re on stage. Play with every person, and play every gig you can get coming up, because you never know who you’re going to meet. You never know. You play in some crappy bar on a Tuesday night at 11:00 at night, there’s nobody there, but you never know who the bass player is, you know?
You never know. Maybe that bass player ends up being a solo artist, or they have some connection that you don’t and two weeks later they call you and say, “Hey, do you want to play in this band with so-and-so,” and then that person ends up becoming a big star. That happens all the time.
I think it’s important to just always be out there and be playing and be networking with other musicians. That’s the best thing you can do for your career, other than practicing.
Well, thank you so much for your time this morning, Stacy. Like I said, I really appreciate it.
Hey, no worries!
You can also listen to the full interview here on Soundcloud: