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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JAY DEMARCUS

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JAY DEMARCUS

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

It looks like Jay DeMarcus's musical journey has 'finally' come full-circle. The truth is...Jay didn't come to Nashville to do 200 dates a year with Rascal Flatts, he came here to produce and write songs. The remarkable part is...he's managed to do it all. And the proof is in the puddin'...

In addition to producing Reba McIntire's next album and Rascal Flatts current album REWIND, while preparing for their 2016: Rhythm & Roots Tour with special guests Jana Kramer (Spring Dates) and Kelsea Ballerini & Chris Lane (Summer/Fall Dates), DeMarcus has also produced the band CHICAGO, ALABAMA, 3 albums for Michael English, Jo Dee Messina, James Otto, Laura Bell Bundy, Kix Brooks, Jason Crabb, Austin Bridge, Ronnie Dunn, Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe, for Scott Borchetta on Big Machine, Rascal Flatts and Lucy Hale on WE LOVE DISNEY along-side David Foster and The NASHVILLE Cast Christmas Record. And that's just a partial list.

Jay DeMarcus
Jay DeMarcus

Jay is also a killer self-taught multi-instrument musician, who seldom turns down session work, when opportunities to play with artists like Brian McKnight, Leann Rimes, Lady Antebellum and Lionel Richie come his way. His body of work has also garnered multiple Grammy and GMA Dove awards and nominations, an impressive list of songwriter credits, and what appears to be, a promising acting career.

Jay was born in Columbus, Ohio in '71, to musical parents.

"Yeah, they met playing music. Both my mom and my dad grew up playing music with their families. All I knew growing up was, my dad was gone nights playing music and he was really good at it and my mom was Country Music Queen of Ohio in 1969."

Jay started playing drums when he could walk, wrote his first song at age 11, learned how to play bass, keyboards, guitar and mandolin and sang his ass off in bands, while attending Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee before arriving in Nashville in '92, only to land a record deal on Benson, with Christian group East To West. But the rest is like a blur to DeMarcus, whose fame with Rascal Flatts has been etched in stone, on both the Nashville and Hollywood Walks of Fame.

Then, on May 15, 2004, DeMarcus married CMT Personality Allison Alderson, currently acting as host of "Reel Eats" and "CMT Southbound," who while hosting "CMT Hot 20" met DeMarcus on the music video set for the Rascal Flatts song, These Days. Their first child, Madeline Leigh, was born in December 2010 and Jay and Allison welcomed a son, Dylan Jay, in July 2012.

"I wanted to write and produce and it's so funny, I've had two artist record deals without really trying. I never really wanted to be an artist. I was so much more fascinated with the behind-the-scenes stuff."

Looking at what appears to be, a long over-due focus on producing, all I can say is, DeMarcus is finally gettin' to-do, what he came here to-do..."God lifts us up where we belong," Congratulations Jay.

The Producer's Chair: How did you get your first producing gig with Michael English?

Jay: After East to West broke up, I was on the road with Michael. We were playing a lot of pop music and then, he would still do a lot of his old favorite gospel tunes because, the fans still wanted to hear him do that. So we went in and cut his GOSPEL record on 1995, on a shoestring budget and it ended up being Michael's biggest selling record on Curb. We got nominated for a Grammy and we got nominated for Album of the Year at the Dove Awards, so I went out on the road with him to support that record.

As he started to work more, there weren't enough dates to really - to make a living out - and to make it - to make it to where I could do it full time. So I started to reach out to friends of mine in Nashville here. Started going to some of the bars and some of the clubs and making friends with a lot of people that were playing country music. I've always loved country music and I had a heart for it. It's what I grew up listening to and just didn't really know how to get started 'cause I'd spent most of my early years in Christian music.

The Producer's Chair: Did I read somewhere that you were broke when Chely Wright hired you to play in her band, after your stint with Michael?

Jay: As I started to go out and hear some of the guys playing around town, I fell in love with this circle of friends that were, on the road playing music with Mark Chesnutt. I started to sit in with these guys and Preston Stanfill, who was playing drums for Chely Wright at the time, came to me and he said; "Man, Chely just let her piano player go. She needs a keyboard player - badly." I said, well that sounds great, but I don't own a keyboard and I'm broke. So I went to JD at Corner Music and he gave me the gear to go home and learn the tunes and hopefully get the gig. And I did get the gig and it was fantastic and I had a great two years with Chely. It was wonderful.

The Producer's Chair: How did Rascal Flatts emerge?

Jay: Gary and Joe Don and I were playing in Printers Alley at the Fiddle & Steel Guitar Bar and Mila Mason used to come in and see us pretty regularly. She was an artist at that time and she fell in love with us and she said; "I want to do whatever I can to help you guys. I think there's some magic here -" and I've got a friend, Mark Bright and Marty Williams, those two guys, 'I want to bring them in to see you.' And they came in a few times to see us sing together and Mark said; "Why don't you come in to the office? Let's sit down, let's talk about your future and see what we can do."

So we went in and we sort of sang with him. He wanted to hear us outside of that element of doing just covers and he wanted to hear us with a couple of acoustics and we sang for him and he said, 'I want to get involved, I wanna do this. I want to make a record on you guys.' So we signed a production deal with Sony and with Mark and Marty, and before we were finished with that three-song demo, he took it to Dann Huff. And Dann said, 'Lyric Street I know is looking for a band right now.'

The Producer's Chair: Why would Mark take it to Dann Huff?

Jay: Dann was turning into what he is. He was turning into the golden boy of Nashville. I think Mark wanted to bounce the music off of Dann and Dann said; "This is great. Let me take it to Doug Howard if you don't mind. I'll let him hear it." So he took the ruffs over to Doug and he called us - Randy Goodman was on vacation - we sang for Doug and the rest is history. It was really surreal.

The Producer's Chair: Rascal Flatts has taken some heat over the years about being 'Country'. How did you feel about that?

Jay: This is so weird, really 'cause of where I started from. My dad would play rock, R&B, and country in the clubs because back in the day you had to have a pretty good repertoire. And then we would go to church on Sundays and I would hear hymns and Christian music and then I would pop on the radio and I fell in love with the likes of Journey and ToTo. So I was a very confused young man. I loved it all and it all kind of fused together because I had a great appreciation for everything. If it was good I wanted to hear it and I wanted to know it and I wanted to be around it. And so it was. I think that's why it was so frustrating early on in our careers because we were derided as such a fluffy, pop boy band and not really a country band and I didn't really expect that 'cause I just figured if you tried to do your best and make good music, it was gonna rise to the top.

The Producer's Chair: The way you wound up producing CHICAGO XXX is a great lesson for young artists in, following your gut. Can you share that story?

Jay: We played the Washington State Fair one day before they were to be there. So I put our record in an envelope and hand-wrote a note to Jason Scheff and I said; 'You know I've been a fan of yours since childhood. This is our record and you may not even be into country but I wanted to let you know what we're doing and I'm sure if you listen to the whole record, you're gonna hear some influences in there from Chicago.' He called me the next day and I was just blown away. And he was like, 'Of course I know who you guys are. I love your music. I'd love to meet you someday in person. So we stayed in touch and became really good friends and met up in Nashville and started to write songs together. Well, the more we wrote together, I just did the demos and with Jason singing them, they sounded like Chicago songs already. So I started putting horns on them and I started really making them sound like Chicago records. He took them and played them for the band and they had been talking about doing a new record. They hadn't done a new record in like 12 years and Robert Lamm said, 'Why don't we let him take a crack at it?'

Robert Lamm called me on Thanksgiving day 2005 at my mom's house and said, 'I'd like to offer you this Chicago record and we'll give you full autonomy and well - It was one of the best days of my life, to be honest. The first person I called was Dann Huff. I called him and I said, 'You'll never believe what's happened to me and I know you played on some of these records and I'm jumping out of my skin. And Dann was so thrilled for me and he said, 'Well, let me tell you this, I know a guitar player that maybe can play some solos for you if you need.' Yeah, he's all over that record. It was so much fun.

The Producer's Chair: What's your fondest memory, about playing on Lionel Richie's TUSKEGEE sessions?

Jay: I can remember two distinct things: One is sitting in a chair across from Shannon Forrest remaking Brick House and playing the bass line to it. And I'm sitting there in the chair and I'm watching Lionel standing there singing it and I'm watching Shannon Forrest over there playing that signature drum intro and I'm playing the bass line and I'm going, 'This is freaking Lionel Richie and I'm playing Brick House?' This is unbelievable! That's when the world and everything kind of went in slow motion for me because I was going, 'How did I end up here? This is amazing.'

TWO, I also remember Lady Antebellum came in to cut "Running With the Night" and we're sitting there cutting that song and they're in the vocal booth singing behind me and they're trying to work out this middle section and they're going back and forth and I just have this idea in my mind that was like, 'What if we just stop the music and let you guys harmonize in this big whole and then the band will come back in? And Lionel Richie said, 'My man...now that's why you here! That's why you sitting in that chair!' And so, we ran it a couple times and they loved it. Then of course I made some joke like now how many points do I get for that?

The Producer's Chair: How did Gary & Jo Don react when you wanted to start producing Rascal Flatts?

Jay: I've been producing a bunch of stuff for the Flatts on our previous records, either bonus cuts or whatever so I've been itching to get my hands on the Flatts for years. I had a very honest conversation with my guys and I said, 'For years, I've been producing other people and pouring all of my energy into other things. Just give me a shot.' And I finally got my shot. We did a handful of songs with Howard Benson and we came back to town and cut them here. And we released the single, "Rewind," and it went to number one. And I'm very, very proud because we're getting ready to have another hit again with another song that I did called, "I Like the Sound of That."

The Producer's Chair: Do you feel like there's a different kind of responsibility when you're producing Rascal Flatts, as opposed to producing another artist? Is there a different feeling?

Jay: Yeah, there is a different feeling for me. I think I feel a greater weight and a greater sense of responsibility to always listen to what those guys have to say and make sure that I'm not dismissing their very valid input. I can get single-minded when I'm producing by myself on another artist and I know the way this should go. I've got clear vision for it and I know how to chisel away the stone until we get to where we're going. With Rascal Flatts, it's a little more tedious because I've got two guys who need to be heard. They need to have their ideas explored even if, in the back of my mind I'm going, 'That's the worst thing I've ever heard'. I've gotta chase it and I gotta see what we end up with because, they have as much ownership in it as I do.

The Producer's Chair: Are you in awe of other producers?

Jay: There were certain producers that come along that put their stamp on it to where you know it's no one else but them when you hear their records. I've always been enamored with that guy. Shane McAnally, is very much one of those guys. Mark Wright, in the 90's, was one of those guys and you know a Tony Brown record when you hear a Tony Brown record.

That's my goal. Dann Huff is very much one of those guys. Even when I was teenager and he was starting in White Heart and he and David Huff were playing together in White Heart. I was very much influenced by the music they were making then. It shaped me as a young man and I knew, even at an early age that, Dann was an exceptional musician. What he did with the guitar, the solos that he crafted and the parts that he played blew my mind. So when I got the chance to work with him, I spent countless hours sitting with him, beside him, watching him, watching his process, watching what he went through, picking his brain, asking him questions about the Michael Jackson records that he played on. The Michael Bolton records that he played on...just wanting to soak up every bit of knowledge that I could from him. I think the greatest thing I can say about Dann was, he was kind and gracious enough, to give me the information. He called me when REWIND came out and he said, 'You never need to look for another producer to produce your band.'

The Producer's Chair: What do you look for in a new artist?

Jay: There are a lot of artists in this town that are great singers but there's something when somebody walks into a room, you know almost immediately that they are star material. There's something that you can't put your finger on. They don't even have to be the greatest singer in the world.

Interesting thing with younger artists is, sometimes they don't exactly know what they're about and you kinda have to experiment and explore and help them go through the journey of finding themselves. You can have a person that's a wonderful singer and player and can do a bunch of cover tunes, but when you ask them, 'Well, who are you? What do you wanna say?' They don't know the answer to that.

I'm talking about an 'it' factor, an intangible that you can't manufacture. There's something about a voice when it's behind a microphone, it may not be the best voice, but it has something that makes you take pause, you know, what is that? I wanna hear more of that. And that is what I look for something about this person that I'm in love with and don't know exactly why.

The Producer's Chair: If you could young artists one little bit of advice, what would it be?

Jay: Don't chase a trend. Don't chase something. I think you have to be authentic because if you aren't, people are gonna see through it and there's so many people, you know, that started chasing trends in our business, you know, whether or not you want to call it bro-country or whatever. And I think that some of those people have every right to be there because that's authentically who they are. Some of the people that have chased I think might wake up one day and find that it wasn't authentic and they're gonna be sorry for the choices that they've made. You gotta be true to yourself and who you are. You gotta sing and be what you are naturally.

The Producer's Chair: Where do you see Rascal Flatts five years from now?

Jay: We've had this conversation before - we'll never break up. I think that eventually as the Flatts start to slow down, we'll probably do some things that each of us want to do individually. For me...the next chapter in my life is about developing the next generation of artists. I want to find the new talent. I want to do what Shane MacNally has the luxury to do, is spend time writing with them and developing them and helping them find themselves. That's one thing that I'm so jealous of. The guys that get to stay in town and do this every day. I mean I love being in the Flatts and what we do is very, very important and it is my priority right now, but the other side of it is very appealing to me right now. That's the next phase for me, I want to tap into writing and developing and finding young new talent.

I've been considering that for the past two years. I've been figuring out how that picture looks the best. It's a very hard thing to figure out when you spend so much time out on the road like I do. You have to have somebody that runs it, that you trust implicitly and somebody that you can put your confidence in and know they are going to do it the way that you would do it if you were there. So I've been trying to figure that out, but yes I very much would say that that's the way my business is going to look in the future. If you have the capabilities of doing it and the right artists...that's the key...the right talent, why not? I think the sky's the limit.

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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