When the post-grunge rock band American Hi-Fi released their self-titled debut album in 2001, critics hailed the recording as fresh, edgy music for a new millennium. Taking cues from classic bands like Cheap Trick and the Replacements, American Hi-Fi deliver punk-influenced rock with pop appeal. The band’s creator and rhythm guitarist, Stacy Jones—formerly a drummer for 1990s alternative rock bands Letter to Cleo and Veruca Salt—fronts American Hi-Fi with intense, angst-ridden vocals. Supporting Jones are Jamie Arentzen on lead guitar, Brian Nolan on drums, and Drew Parsons on bass. “Flavor of the Weak,” the group’s first single, was a top-40 hit. The band released its sophomore album, The Art of Losing, in early 2003.
American Hi-Fi formed in the late 1990s when Jones decided to come out from behind his drum set and sing his own compositions. Teaming up with Arentzen, Nolan, and Parsons, Jones established a home base for the band in his native Boston. American Hi-Fi got their big break in 2000 when Jones—who was working in a Hawaii recording studio with former Veruca Salt band mate Nina Gordon—gave group’s demo tape to high-profile producer Bob Rock. Liking what he heard, Rock invited Jones and his group to rehearse in the
Members include Jamie Arentzen, lead guitar; Stacy Jones, vocals, guitar; Brian Nolan, drums; Drew Parsons, bass.
Group formed in Boston, late 1990s; signed with Island Records, 2000; released self-titled debut album, 2001; released Live from Tokyo, 2002; released The Art of Losing, 2003.
producer’s Hawaii studio space. The band stayed for two and a half months, honing its sound with Rock, who had polished such superstar bands as Aerosmith, Metallica, and the Cult.
“[W]e thought, ‘Wow, if we’re going to Maui because of this band, something’s going right with us,’” Arentzen told Tom Kielty of the Boston Globe. Aside from Jones, none of the band members had yet experienced music-business success. Arentzen, who had played with the local Boston group Sky Heroes, was making ends meet with freelance production work and the occasional catering job. Parsons had just quit a job at a Boston pool hall; he and Nolan, former drummer for the Chicago power-pop band Fig Dish, were pinning their hopes on American Hi-Fi.
At the 2000 South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, American Hi-Fi captured the attention of several record companies. The band found itself the subject of a label bidding war; ultimately, the musicians signed with Island Records, which released their debut album American Hi-Fi the following year.
Prior to this release, American Hi-Fi had performed in public only once. To promote the album the band kicked off an exhaustive tour of more than 300 shows, hitting the road with hopes of creating listeners. Mainstream success came with radio airplay of the band’s hit “Flavor of the Weak,” whose lyrics spun a tale of unrequited love. Soon word about the band was appearing in major music magazines, and the group hit the late-night talk show circuit as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. “The future of rock & roll is surely guaranteed with acts such as American Hi-Fi,” wrote Mario Mesquita Borges in an All Music Guide album review. The group also contributed a song, “Vertigo,” to the soundtrack of the popular teen movie American Pie 2.
American Hi-Fi spent only two weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart, peaking at number 80, but the group was beginning to gain a following. During a tour to the Far East, they recorded Live from Tokyo, which included both songs from their debut and new material. Subtitled “Rock ‘n’ Roll Noodle Shop,” the album captured the high energy of the group’s stage performances. “I’d like to think touring and working really hard are behind all of this [success],” Jones told Carla Hay of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Ultimately, I’m just thrilled that people like the band. When we play shows, it’s really cool to see people singing the words to our songs.”
While the band was touring to promote its first album, Jones was composing songs for the group’s sophomore recording. The Art of Losing, produced by Nick Launay, came out in February of 2003; the title track, with a Burundi beat reminiscent of 1980s punk icon Adam Ant, soon became a modern-rock radio hit. “The song is about being the underdog, but learning to do things your way,” Jones told Steve Morse of the Boston Globe. “People say, ‘Hey, you could do it this way or that way to be more successful.’ But the song is about telling them, ‘I’ll do it my way.’” In addition to the title track, highlights include the rousing party song “Nothing Left to Lose” and the percussion-driven “The Breakup Song.” Many of the tracks pay homage to the band’s influences, with references to Cheap Trick, the Pixies, and AC/DC.
A tougher, harder-edged sound—with intense guitar licks by Arentzen and a beefed-up rhythm section by Parson and Nolan—distinguishes The Art of Losing from the band’s debut album, as does its live, spontaneous feel and lack of computer production tricks. “A lot of records aren’t made like that these days,” Jones told Ramiro Burr of the San Antonio Express-News. “What people do is overdub everything separately and put it all through the computer and make it perfect. We didn’t do any of that. There’s no digital editing on this album.”
Early in June of 2003, while American Hi-Fi was touring to support its new album, news broke that Island Def Jam Records had dropped the band from its label. Although the group had sold upwards of 600,000 albums, it apparently was not making enough money for the record company. “It’s a sign of the times,” band manager Josh Neuman, of Crush Music Media Management, told Contemporary Musicians. “There isn’t a tremendous amount of long-term development offered for artists. But we’re totally confident that American Hi-Fi will find another home.” Undaunted by this setback, the group announced both on its official website and the Island Def Jam site that American Hi-Fi would finish their remaining schedule of shows and begin working on a new record.
American Hi-Fi, Island, 2001.
(Contributor) American Pie 2 (soundtrack), Universal, 2001.
Live from Tokyo, Island, 2002.
The Art of Losing, Island, 2003.
Billboard, February 22, 2003, p. 9.
Boston Globe, December 21, 2001, p. 16; February 14, 2003, p.15.
Chicago Sun-Times, June 1, 2001, p. 15.
San Antonio Express-News (Texas), April 25, 2003, p. 12H.
“American Hi-Fi,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (May 23, 2003).
Additional information was obtained from a June 11, 2003, telephone interview with Josh Neuman of Crush Music Media Management.