Stacy Jones on wrecking arenas with Miley Cyrus

(Image credit: Will Ireland)

For most musicians a show at the gigantic National Indoor Arena in Birmingham would be huge. As Rhythm stands on stage and looks around the dauntingly vast expanse before us, our jaw drops when we overhear that for Miley Cyrus, the NIA represents one of the smaller gigs on her massive world tour.

The man charged with keeping Miley's super slick band in time for this succession of enormous performances is Stacy Jones. Jones has been Miley's drummer, and musical director, for the past eight years, stretching right back to when the controversy-attracting artist we see today was a squeaky clean, tween queen.

We ran a huge interview with Stacy in the September issue of Rhythm, and here we present a few highlights as the sticksman discusses rocking arena's with one of pop's biggest, and most controversial, stars.

How did you get the Miley gig?

"I was producing a band for a TV show called Laguna Beach. They had to go to New York and perform on TRL, which was a big show and they had never done live TV. Their management asked if I would help them rehearse. I went down and their songs were melodic rock and the guitar player had a Strat with a really clean sound with a little distortion pedal, they had everything wrong for what they wanted to do, I called management and said, 'Let me have your credit card and get these guys what they need.' I did that and ended up playing guitar and singing background vocals with them, but off camera. I literally stood in a janitor's closet next to the stage at TRL! I stood in a f***king closet with a Marshall half stack with me and I was stood next to a mop in a metal bucket! Their manager was Miley's manager."

What were your first impressions of Miley?

"I met Miley when she was 12. I went to New York and she sang for me, I loved her immediately. She started breaking my balls instantly, she was making fun of me because I had like a mullet and she said I looked like her dad. I said, 'She's awesome, I'm in.'"

How long was it from getting the gig to Miley becoming a huge star?

"It happened quick. We did one gig, I think it was our first, at a mall in LA. No one knew who would turn up. The stage was tiny, there was no barricade, there was barely a PA and 10,000 kids showed up. It was an absolute zoo. From there we went from that to arenas. We played a show in New York one time, we'd been doing all of these arenas and we did a private show at Hammerstein Ballroom. In New York it's one of those places where if you're in a band and you play there, you think you've made it, it probably holds about 3,000-5,000 people. We were playing and Miley said to the crowd, 'Wow, it's great to play such an intimate venue to you guys.' I said, there's 5,000 people out there, that's not intimate! But it's amazing that was her perspective because we'd shot from zero to 60."

Is Miley hands on with what she wants from you drum-wise? And has it always been that way?

"Totally. But, I know some people who have worked with pop divas and there's no way I would work with somebody like that, there's too much punk rock ethos flowing in my blood to do that! Some people just get worked up about the wrong s***. Miley is so open and creative and she cares about her craft the way that she should."

Looking back at the Hannah Montana days to now, it's a very different gig. Is that reflected in your playing?

"I don't think my approach has changed that much. I don't like electronics so I always try to do as much as I can with acoustic drums. It was a validating moment on this tour when the guy that produced most of Miley's record, Mike Will, came to one of our rehearsals and I was nervous with him standing there. I didn't know if he'd like what I was doing, I was playing his grooves with a 26" kick and a big fat snare. He came up and bear hugged me afterwards and he loved that we played it live. He said he'd have real drums on his records but he didn't know how to do them like that. Since then I've done a couple of sessions for him."

It seems that you try to stick to acoustic drums as much as possible live

"Something I'm really proud of is that we play live versions of her songs, but we play them like the records. I'm mimicking those grooves, they might be programmed on the record but I'm playing the same hi hat and kick patterns and the same snare. That means we don't have to have so many tracks. I don't like seeing a pop show where the band is playing under the album because the tracks are so loud. The drummers are playing these fills and you can sort of hear them but not quite. This band, we all focus on our feel. We're here to support Miley. Tonight after the show I can walk off the front of the stage and not one person is going to stop me. Maybe one person will be like, 'Hey, drummer,' but that's it. This is Miley's show. Our job is to make her feel comfortable and like she's 20-feet tall. We play to a click but I don't want it to feel like we're playing to a click, on some songs I'll lay back, some I'll push. It's not a cookie cutter show. It's next level pop."

It's a little unusual to see a 26" bass drum on stage at a pop show

"I like big bass drums. On this show I use a 26" kick, I used a 26" with Veruca Salt, I think it was a 22" or a 24" with Letters To Cleo. With Matchbox I played the 26" for a while then I switched to the 22" just because it seemed to work a little better for that, it was punchier for that show. On this show, that 26" kick and the big fat snare, you should feel it out there. If you don't we're doing something wrong."

For much more from Stacy check the September issue of Rhythm.

Rich Chamberlain

Rich is a teacher, one time Rhythm staff writer and experienced freelance journalist who has interviewed countless revered musicians, engineers, producers and stars for the our world-leading music making portfolio, including such titles as Rhythm, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, and MusicRadar. His victims include such luminaries as Ice T, Mark Guilani and Jamie Oliver (the drumming one).