American Hi-Fi has been called a pop band, a pop-punk band, a pop metal band, but it’s all just Rock n’ Roll to me. After making three records, I have learned to embrace our continual identity crisis. I got into music at an early age. My parents always had music on around the house and in the car. My dad would sing along (in his own special key) to great records — The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles, ELO, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones — you get the picture. I would set-up pots and pans and sit in front of the stereo with giant headphones on, banging away with wooden spoons to songs like “Tusk” and “Evil Woman.” My parents bought me a drum set some years later, and my future was sealed.
I played in every garage band I could find throughout junior high and high school. Every teen dance, every backyard party, every basement, every battle of the bands I used my parent’s car to haul around my giant drum set (Neil Peart from Rush had set the bar pretty high). After high school, I moved to Boston for college.
At the time, all of my favorite bands seemed to be from Boston: The Pixies, The Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, and Juliana Hatfield. I was lucky to be surrounded by such killer music. I ended up playing drums for some artists who I really respected; Tanya Donnely, Aimee Mann, until I met up with what would become my first “real” band, Letters to Cleo.
I played drums in Cleo for several years; we had a pretty good run. We toured the world and played with a lot of my musical idols. I will always remember the first show we sold-out. We were playing with an up and coming band called Weezer in Hartford, Connecticut. The club was packed and the crowd so rowdy, that during Weezer’s set, kids from the audience were climbing up the balcony to get to us. One of them reached me and almost pulled me over. The only thing that saved me from a three-story fall was Matt from Weezer, grabbing me on his way to the dressing room. I survived Hartford and went on to record two records with Letters to Cleo.
I met my next band while playing shows together over the next year. They were called Veruca Salt. During a long break with Letters To Cleo, Nina Gordon asked me to join and I jumped at the chance. Our first tour in support of their second album was opening for Bush. It was during this time that I first had the idea to start my own band. I didn’t really know how to play guitar, and had never sung a note in my life (not even in the shower). I bought a Mel Bays guitar book and taught myself how to play in the back of the tour bus.
On breaks from touring, I would hook up with my buddies in Boston and work on what would become American Hi-Fi. I recruited my best friends to be in the band – I knew Drew Parsons, our bass player, from Tracy Bonham’s band. Brian Nolan, our former drummer, was just finishing a stint with the band Fig Dish from Chicago and Jamie Arentzen came from a much loved indie band, the Sky Heroes. It started out as late night jams in the old Cleo rehearsal space. Consisting of Cheap Trick covers and large quantities of beer, I never imagined that we would turn this thing into something real.
Eventually, I left Boston and headed to Maui to record Nina Gordon’s solo record with Bob Rock. While I was there, I told Bob about my band. Every once in a while I would slip him demos and he got pretty interested in working with us. He told me to invite the guys in my band to Maui; we could rehearse in his warehouse and use all of his gear. The dudes came to Hawaii and we started writing the record. We would surf all morning and then hit the warehouse in the afternoon. We had yet to play a live show at this point, and we made our debut opening for Bob’s country band at a local bar in up-country Maui called Casanova’s. Drunken surfers and locals only, it was enough to convince Bob to do our record. We stayed in Maui for the next seven months and made the eponomously titled American Hi-Fi. “Flavor of the Weak” giving us our first radio hit.
Our second album, The Art of Losing, produced by Nick Launay, showcased the more aggressive side of the band. Drawing from bands like The Jam and the Clash, Oasis and Cheap Trick, the record has a seventies punk aesthetic with a modern melodic approach. We always wear our influences very proudly on our sleeve (hints of Adam Ant are reflected in the title track).
Two albums in and a world of touring behind us (Eve 6, Our Lady Peace, Sum 41, Everclear, Elvis Costello, Phantom Planet) our label, Island Records, decided that the future of music was with ’emo’ bands. They let us go just as we were hitting the road with Matchbox 20. With very little promotion on our second album, we marched on. The Matchbox tour was amazing and we sold-out our entire U.K. and Japanese tours before we even arrived.
Next step? I moved to Los Angeles and took in the palm trees and Sunset Strip. A few months later the rest of the guys joined me. We took over a studio in Korea Town that had once belonged to Eric Erlandson from Hole. We were determined to continue American Hi-Fi with or without a label. After all, we were just getting started. We wrote and recorded the record ourselves, bringing in our friend Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne, Simple Plan, The Donnas) to help with the production. Butch and I had been friends for a while, and it seemed like a no brainer, we both grew up listening to the same music and had the same vision for the new Hi-Fi record.
I think Blur might be the single biggest influence on the new record. I have always been a brit-pop freak, and I admire the way they always re-invent themselves album to album. So many bands influence us; I like the opportunity to experiment with different sounds and styles on every record. I think that makes for a better record and catalog. Who wants to put out the same record every time? The Beatles and the Stones, Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello never did! Not that I am comparing us to them, but they are our heroes.
Hearts On Parade is the new album, and I think it is our best yet. We cover some familiar ground with songs like “The Geeks Get The Girls” and “Something Real,” and branch out on tracks like “We Can’t Be Friends” and “Hell Yeah!” Lyrically I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve. Struggles, heartache, dark times, parties, its all there. I wrote “Hell Yeah!” after a perfect Hollywood night on the town. Moving to LA for the scenery, the girls and the nightlife, we left our troubles behind…but I guess when you hear “Something Real” you realize, we never really left anything behind. On the surface, you move to a place like Hollywood and everyone looks happy, driving around in their shiny BMW’s, but really, there’s a darker side to it; the struggles that we all face searching for the real meaning of why we’re here.
Deep down, I’ve always felt like a bit of a geek when it comes to girls…I guess that’s what I wanted to get across in “The Geeks Get The Girls”, an anthem of sorts for all of us guys who wish we were as smooth as we’d like to be and how cool it is when the ‘underdog’ finally gets the girl.
The entire feel of the album comes from change – both as a band and within each of us individually. Moving across the country, getting a fresh start, it all started the transition process for us. Musically, we have grown together as well; three albums in and we are really hitting our stride as a band.
It takes time to figure out who you are, and I feel like we are on our way…
Rock ‘n’ roll rules!
-Stacy Jones (written on the road again, November 2004)