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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JEFF AND JODY STEVENS

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JEFF AND JODY STEVENS

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

I was floored when I found out that, Luke Bryan,'s co-producers, 'Father n Son' Jeff & Jody Stevens on his 5th studio album KILL THE LIGHTS, have been on such, amazingly similar journeys. They were both completely immersed in music, long before their teens, they're both hit songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, they both got signed to major labels, as artists, they both got signed to major publishing companies and … they both knocked it out of the park as producers, on their 'second time at bat'.

On the other hand, Jody is an SAE Graduate engineer and programmer, Jeff is not an engineer, and they come from two completely different generations musically. Jeff grew up on traditional country and Jody grew up on 90s country, rap and alternative music. So considering where country music has gone … good call Luke.

Jeff and Jody Stevens
Jeff and Jody Stevens

Jeff: Well, first off, I have to say that if you've ever tried to do something artistic with a relative, I would guess that 99.9 percent of the time it's a mess. But for whatever reason we work really well together. I have such a high degree of respect for what he does and how he goes about what he does. He does for me, too. We are able to stay out of each other's way. That's probably the secret to it. In that way I bring the old school Nashville way of, you know, tracking a band and it's a fixed studio and working with that band and, you know, I can't mix something myself. I have to have a mix down engineer do all that. Not only can he do that, but he has the artistic and technical expertise to basically make a record on his own. Cole Swindell's first single - everything on there was Jody. So, we both have different talents. I don't know what Jody thinks about his voice. I'm a singer. When it really comes to producing a vocal on somebody I think I can bring a lot to the table there on their mic technique and all that sort of thing, because I have 40 years of experience. When it comes to working inside of a track, well, you know, he has so much more experience and is gifted with that. That's just his area, and he takes over. We try to get in each other's way when we can … and then try to stay out of each other's way.

And you'll love this...

This being Jody's first appearance on The Producer's Chair, I asked him: What is the best advice Jeff ever gave you about producing?

Jody Stevens: You need to do what the artist wants. When you say 'producer', you know, we aren't making our record. It's the artist's record.

The interesting part is, the last time Jeff Stevens was on The Producer's Chair in 2012, I asked him: Is it difficult to be objective about selecting songs, when you're producing and writing with your artist?

Jeff Stevens: It's not a Jeff Stevens record-it's the artist's record and I try never to lose sight of that.

If that doesn't speak volumes, I don't know what does.

Prior to meeting Luke Bryan, Jeff had only produced one other artist for a major label, and that was Jerry Kilgore, on Virgin Records, in 1999. And just like Jeff, prior to meeting Cole Swindell, Jody had only produced one other project for a major label … his own duo FAST RYDE, on Republic Nashville.

Jody: I loved rap music and when I was in high school. So, I tried to make rap records on a bunch of people in Nashville. Some of them were selling kind of independently and in stores. None of it was big label stuff.

Jeff and Luke Bryan met on a songwriting session and they wrote a really cool song called "Baby's On The Way". Luke had previously done a showcase for the folks at Capitol and he took the song over there and the next thing you know, they've got Jeff on the phone asking him to produce some sides!

But don't think for one minute that it's been an easy road, for either of them. As I began my interview, I recalled the rough time that Jeff had in the mid-eighties, while raising 3 kids, when he lost his wedding ring and all of his guitars to a pawn shop, while he was signed to Atlantic, only to find out that, in 2007 Jody was parking cars, for a living, when Scott Borchetta signed him and James Harrison's duo FAST RYDE, to Republic/Nashville.

Jody: A friend who I had known for probably 5 years at that point introduced me to James Harrison. So, we sat down to write some songs. He was kind of doing a - I can't really explain the music. It was more R&B influenced kind of music than what I was focused on doing. We must have written 10 songs like that. I thought that we should be trying to be writing country music songs. We started doing that and eventually we got some that everybody liked. I suppose the first real project that I produced for a label would have been FAST RYDE in 2009.

By this time, on the other side of town at Capitol, Luke Bryan and Jeff Stevens were killin' it. The first two albums, 2007s I'LL STAY ME and 2009s DOIN' MY THING both hit #2 on the Billboard Country Album Charts. After which, TAILGATES & TANLINES went up for 2012 CMA Album of the Year, Luke was nominated for 2012 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, plus...he led the 2012 American Country Awards with 9 Awards including Artist of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Male Single of the Year, Music Video of the Year and Male Music Video of the Year, plus two more ACAs for his radio successes. Get the picture?

And here's another tidbit...as fate would have it, just like when Jeff left Atlantic Records, after a string of low-charting singles and got his first major pub deal in '92 at age 33 with Warner Chappell, FAST RYDE were dropped by Republic/Nashville in 2010, after which, in 2011, Jody engineered and did programming on several songs on 'Tailgates and Tanlines', including 'Country Girl Shake it For Me' and 'Drunk on You', just before signing his current pub deal with SONY/ATV, in 2013, at age 31.

In 2014, Jeff and Luke's CRASH MY PARTY album received Billboard's Top Country Album of the Year, Luke won Entertainer of the Year again, and in the same year...Cole Swindell's single 'Chillin' It', off his self-titled debut album, produced by Jody, went through the roof and has now sold 427,500 copies in the U.S. as of October 2015, partially due to Sirius XM exposure, which in turn, got Cole signed to Warner Bros.

Jody performed all instruments on that track and...he's a co-writer on Cole's current single 'Let Me See Ya Girl', which brings us full circle back to Luke's current album KILL THE LIGHTS.

Not only did Jeff and Jody co-produce the album but, they both sang back-up vocals with Perry Coleman, Hillary Lindsey and Jennifer Wrinkle, they both played keyboards, they both played electric guitars along with J. T. Corenflos, Kenny Greenberg, Adam Shoenfeld, and Ilya Toshinsky...and...Jody also played banjo, acoustic guitar and did all the programming on the album.

There's more...the album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, moving 345,000 units in the week ending August 13 and...there's more...Jeff n Jody also co-wrote the title track, 'Kill The Lights' with Luke and Jody co-wrote two other songs on the album. The third single, 'Home Alone Tonight', with Cole Taylor, Jaida Dreyer and Tommy Cecil and 'Love It Gone' with Jay Clementi.

Now that's what I call FATHER N SON teamwork, and it don't get much cooler than that.

The Producer's Chair: Looking back, how would you describe Jody's journey?

Jeff: He definitely did it his own way. Very seldom do I remember him coming to me and asking me for advice. He's probably had questions more like, "How did you do this?" Most of the time they were sort of like business questions, really. That's a really muddy river that we all have to somehow get through. Since I've been through some of that, there are a lot of times when I can help him out there. Musically he took a completely different path. I never sat down with him to show him anything like that. He basically took the reins and did all of that himself. I sort of took the stance just like I did with my other kids. They've got to make it on their own. He just chose music, and my other kids didn't.

The Producer's Chair: You said, "He brings the new school, and I bring the old school to the table." Can you be elaborate?

Jeff: Well, I tend to come at it from more of maybe the pragmatic sort of—all I need is a guitar and a piece of paper, you know? While I've seen him write that way, you know, he comes from—maybe he could answer this. He comes more off the wall than I do. My stuff seems to be—like I have to wade through a bunch of ordinary stuff. With him it's just off the cuff different. I don't know if that's old school or new school or not. I think that I can't help but pull from people, you know, artists as far back as the 40s, Carl Smith and Faron Young in the 50s, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash in the 60s and Waylon and Buck Owens in the 70s. I was there firsthand. So, all of that stuff goes through my brain whereas now they don't go to that stuff. They go to their stuff. You have to answer what all that stuff is.

The Producer's Chair: Was co-producing with Jody something that you had in the back of your mind, all-along, or did the whole thing just, kind of, happen organically?

Jeff: Well, I would say that it happened because he had a band—a duo—called Fast Ryde which has been said by other people—and I would say that they're probably right—this wave of music that ended up being termed somewhere along the way 'Bro Country'. Fast Ryde was the first act to sound like that, and that is because of him. So, when I heard his demos on that, I asked him if I could co-produce it with him and help him bring it to, you know, into just a little bit more. I was just looking for a little more—or I wanted to keep the rawness of it, but make it so that the average person could hear it and not be turned off by some of the raw stuff on it. So, when we worked on that together it was pretty apparent that we worked well together. That's been 5 or 6 years ago now. Ever since then, you know—we both work here on different things, but we both kept just getting in each other's way, kind of. It just made sense for us to throw in on something's. You know, he's got his own things that he produces on his own. I have to admit that I'm not producing anything on my own right now. I feel like I have to have him around. He's got a lot of stuff going on.

The Producer's Chair: What is your engineering and programming background?

Jody: Well, Dad bought a 4 track recorder sometime around that time - '92 or '93. I can't remember exactly what year. I was making recordings and stuff on it. I never really thought much about what I was doing. I was just kind of having fun. That's pretty much what I do now. So, I figured I'd record on it. My dad showed me that if you recorded three tracks you could record those to another track and then have another three tracks to keep recording. You kind of had to mix and match. There was no EQ's or anything on those. It's like The Beatles did it, you know? First on a cassette tape. I had a boom box that I would make recordings, you know, I'd bounce from the 4 track. Sometime - I want to say around three or four years later - well, first off, I didn't just record by myself on the 4 track. I had a buddy that played drums. So, he would come over, and I would play the guitar and he would play drums. I would sing something on it. Most of it was probably cover songs and stuff that I was recording. Some stuff I was just making out of thin air, you know?

The Producer's Chair: How old were you when you started?

Jody: Probably 12. Just a couple years later we bought a digital 8 track recorder that had a lot more functionality. It was a Roland VS-880. I tried to read the manual. I couldn't really understand it. I asked dad how to use the thing. He kind of showed me how to turn it on, hit record, and do the tracks and stuff. It had effects. So, it was kind of cool that it had effects. There were EQs and stuff, and I didn't even know what I was doing. So, I just turned the bright up on everything. I just turned the high end up on every track. The low end was a smiley face curve on the whole thing. We had a mini disc recorder. So, we could kind of go digitally to that to the mini disc. The mini disc was more like a compressed MP3 would be like today.

Jeff: Then it would really sound like shit.

Jody: Yes. It did. Sometime in the late - maybe '97 or'98 dad bought a CD recorder for it which - I didn't have any friends or know anybody that could record a CD. At the time it seemed way cool that you could record a CD.

Jeff: It was an add-on. You could plug it in to the side of the VS880, and it would render a CD. If you had a 60 minute CD it would take every bit of 3 hours to burn it.

Jody: But it would burn it eventually. We didn't have any digital way of getting music in. You actually had to record everything in analog and then turn it into a CD from there which was - it didn't sound as good as a store bought CD for numerous reasons, but you could burn a CD. That was pretty cool. So, around 2000 - the year I graduated high school - the big audio company DigiDesign made an interface called the Digi001 which went with ProTools. You could record in your house on a computer. You could run ProTools. I can't remember - I think it was ProTools 5 that had 24 tracks which was 3 times the tracks I had on the VS-880 plus there was waveform editing. So, you could just kind of move stuff around and put stuff in reverse—do whatever. There was lots of really cool stuff. AutoTune came out around the same time. It was fun to sing into it and hear your voice doing a bunch of wacky stuff. Dad had to buy a custom built computer to run ProTools. It was a 700 megahertz computer.

Jeff: I was making money by that time. I could afford it.

Jody: It had 256 meg of ram and a 40 gig hard drive. You could record 24-bit audio. The sound quality was so good that it shocked me. I couldn't figure out why it sounded the way it did. So, for about 2 months there I was recording into the VS-880 and then recording into ProTools from there. I eventually gave up on doing that because it turned out to be more trouble. It's probably similar to people going from tape machines to digital. So, I would make recordings on the new ProTools system, and - like I said - I graduated high school that year. The year after that I went to recording school at SAE in Nashville.

It was a time where the shift hadn't quite happened from analog. Although a lot of the guys in the studio were using Radar. At school, they had a couple Digi001s for video editing projects. They had Bias PEAK downstairs where you would do editing stuff. They taught you the basic stuff. Soldering - which, unfortunately, I already knew how to do. I definitely took his soldering iron a bunch of times to try to fix stuff that I didn't know how to fix. It was a time where some people were still using ADATs. I already kind of knew how to use ProTools which I didn't know at the time would become the format that I would continue to use even up until now and beyond. I learned some useful stuff there.

The Producer's Chair: When you graduated from SAE, what and where was your first gig?

Jody: I got a job at Sound Emporium. I worked there for about a month doing stuff that interns do - answering phones and making coffee and running errands, sweeping the floors and stuff. I had other jobs, too, around that time.

The Producer's Chair: What inspired you to start writing?

Jody: I think being in Nashville. I listened to a lot of country music in the '90s. Dad had songs on the radio in the '90s. Whenever I would get in the car with my parents they were always listening to that. I would be listening to a lot of classic rock like Fleetwood Mac and Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell and really diving into Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Kind of classic records for me to be listening to at the time. As I was listening to that I was also listening to a lot of alternative rock. When grunge disappeared—the back half of the '90s was alternative rock. I got to watch a lot of those bands play live. I just loved it. I didn't know why, but I loved it. I thought it was really cool music. Sorry. I'm kind of skipping around in my timeline here. So, I wrote from 2006 to 2007 I wrote a couple hundred songs by myself. I think I was trying to learn...

Jeff: If I could just interject. He would send those to me. Sometimes I would play them for his mother. I was like, this is unbelievable. It was the melodies. It wasn't the lyrics. It was the melodies. The take he had on it was like nothing I had ever heard before. I told his mother, "I don't know what's going to happen with him" I'm super tough on myself and on my own songs and stuff. I'm afraid I am on everybody around me. So, when I heard some of those things at that time in his life I went, wow! That's incredible. My brain can't even think of being able to do something like that.

Jody: As I was working on those songs I would send them to Dad. He would probably listen to a lot of them. He makes it sounds like they were all good. There were probably a lot of them that were pretty bad. In 2007 I was parking cars as a job—I moved into an apartment here on West End which allowed me to be very close in proximity to Music Row.

The Producer's Chair: How did you and James Harrison (FAST RYDE) get signed to Republic?

Jody: Our manager, Steve Bogard gave our CD to Virginia Davis. She took the CD to Allison Jones over at Big Machine. About a week later Allison called us in. We had a meeting, and we didn't hear anything for a couple weeks. Scott Borchetta heard our CD and he loved it. He called right after he heard it. He wanted to sign us, and all we had was a CD. We didn't have any pictures. We didn't have a tour. We didn't even have a band. We really didn't have anything except for 5 songs that were exciting to people.

The Producer's Chair: Jeff said that you bring new school and he brings old school to the table. What's your point of view?

Jody: Well, I think that there's a way of making a record that dates back to, you know, a bunch of people standing around a microphone playing a song in the studio that has continued on, I mean, even until now there's a band that you hire specific people to come in and make a record. They come in and they play the majority of the song. Occasionally there are overdubs that come in after the fact. I guess my way of doing it that is slightly different from that is I might have overdubs before the song has even been recorded or we may do it after. I think in my mind, you know, I pretty much don't have any rules. In certain situations I don't know if that's dangerous or not for me to not have any rules. I think that way I personally go about making records is whatever is the coolest thing that can be thought of is what we are doing, you know? With, obviously, less thought about—I think he thinks more about if people are going to like it. I think my barometer says, well, if we can get everyone in the studio to think it's cool and if we all like it and then artist is happy—then it is cool, and people will like it. I guess part of my thought process, too, is in certain things like on 'Kick the Dust Up' on Luke's current album—Dad grabbed his guitar and said, "We need to do the solo like this." So, we may just be playing whatever instrument need to be played to make the record as cool as we want it to be. I don't know that Dad necessarily did that before.

Jeff: Not really. I think having Jody here - I'm very comfortable with him. He is my son, I guess. He hit on something there. I came to town here, and I got a deal on Atlantic Records on the strength of my guitar playing and my singing. But when I started working with these musicians that are world class musicians, you know, I just kind of starting turning it over to them, and stayed away from playing the guitar. The last few years with Jody around - you know, we've got our own studio, and I've got all these great guitars and cool amps - stuff that I know how to play, you know? It's just a matter of, you know, am I comfortable playing it? He just has made it very comfortable for me to go, "Let me give it a go." Like on Luke's current album, you know, he plays a lot of stuff on there. I play quite a bit of stuff on there, too. Mine is mostly guitar. He plays a lot of different stuff. Mine is mainly electric guitar. Sometimes I'll pick up an acoustic and do something.

The Producer's Chair: How do you feel about artist development?

Jody: I think development is necessary in trying to figure out who the artist is and what kind of records they should be making. In many ways, I do artist development. There are some acts that I work with now. There's a band called Backroad Anthem that I work with. They've been around town for about a year. We have been in the studio to record some stuff. They have shows, and I come to them. Sometimes I go to rehearsals. I have another friend that I work with named David Ray. I went this past weekend to go watch him play in Iowa.

Jeff: There are artists who walk in and everything is already taken care of. They come in, they sing, and then they go fishing. They get to pick the songs, and to a degree - sometimes the songs are picked for them. But an artist's true potential can more likely be achieved when they're playing music that is of them - not done for them.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tony Brown

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Michael Knox

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Forest Glen Whitehead

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mark Bright

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Scott Hendricks

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Trey Fanjoy

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Chad Carlson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jay DeMarcus

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Shane McAnally

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Doug Johnson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jeff and Jody Stevens

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jamie O'Neal

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Fred Mollin

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dann Huff

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Noah Gordon

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Carl Jackson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Paul Worley

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Cactus Moser

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dave Brainard

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Gretchen Peters

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Frank Liddell

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Victoria Shaw

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jed Hilly

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Marshall Altman

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Julian King

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Brent Maher

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tom Hambridge

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jim Catano

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Michael Knox

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Keith Thomas

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mark Bright

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jimmie Lee Sloas

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Ron Haffkine

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Trey Bruce

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Doug Johnson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mickey Jack Cones

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Keith Stegall

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Ted Hewitt

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Carl Jackson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Brett James

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jeff Stevens

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dann Huff

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Paul Worley

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