By Darren Paltrowitz
A Jersey City resident since 2007, Sterling Fox has worked on a lot of hit songs in his Jersey City home. Initially, Fox moved to JC out of financial necessity, backing up local musicians after a stint as a pianist on a cruise ship. Less than a decade since his move to Jersey City, Fox remains a highly-demanded co-writer with songs written and/or produced for artists including Gym Class Heroes, Adam Lambert, Tiesto, Lindsey Stirling and Boyz II Men.
When not occupied with making music for other artists, Fox runs Silver Scream Records, a record label and online apparel store. Fox recently released on the Silver Scream label, a single by renowned DJ Samantha Ronson, and Silver Scream will also be the home of an up-coming full-length album by Fox. In the meantime, Fox talked with River View Observer about life behind-the-scenes in music, in addition to everyday life as a Jersey City local.
RVO: What made you decide to move to Jersey City?
SF: At the time it was one of the cheapest places you could live in the New York City area. I originally moved here out of necessity, but soon grew to love the neighborhood and now just enjoy living here.
RVO: Do you have a favorite restaurant in town?
SF: Being a vegetarian, I really enjoy Subia’s Cafe on Jersey Avenue.
RVO: What do you wish more people knew about Jersey City?
SF: I wish they knew more about the history of the neighborhood — which is quite interesting — and also about some of the locations a bit more off the beaten path. Places like the Loew’s Theatre and Riverview Park are super-unique and don’t really get the amount of attention they deserve from the Downtown JC folks.
RVO: What keeps you living here, as opposed to Manhattan?
SF: I enjoy the neighborhood, the pace, the diversity. Manhattan is, of course, amazing, but Jersey City gives me a little creative buffer/bubble in which I can develop ideas without feeling as much anxiety as I would in Manhattan. There’s a little less pressure to be part of a scene, so I feel like that aids me in viewing things objectively. It’s kind of the antithesis of hipster subculture. I like to think of Jersey City as the norm-core capital of New York.
RVO: When you’re working, what does a typical work day in Jersey City look like for you?
SF: If I’m working from home, which I do often, I will wake up around 10 am. Depending on which section of JC I’m in — I currently have two apartments here and bounce back and forth between the two for work – I’ll grab a coffee at Banyan Cafe on Bright Street, or Smith and Chang on Pavonia Avenue. After shotgunning said coffee, I’ll hole up in front of my workstation with my microphone, etc. and start writing or recording music. Often, recording artists will come to my house, and we will write songs and record demos. I sit in front of my computer a good portion of the day making music. For lunch sometimes I’ll hit Subia’s or Sawadee. If I’m going out for drinks later at night, I’ll typically hit Lucky Seven’s, LITM, Brightside Tavern, or Rolon’s. I usually lean toward older establishments or dive bar types.
RVO: Is there a good artist community around you in Jersey City?
SF: I think there is. I wouldn’t say I’m super-active in the scene here, although I would love to be. The art and music scene seems to be improving gradually. I think a proper small-to-mid-size music venue still seems to be a wish of mine. I’ve been talking with a few people about trying to put something together, so we shall see. I’ve seen a couple of great pieces of street art lately, and you get a few good bands popping up once in a while. I think the scene/city needs to continue to support the arts here and likewise artists need to continue to support each other. Jersey City has the potential to have a truly vibrant arts scene. New restaurants and developments are all well and good, but if creative minds aren’t given the support and space to work, the neighborhood will lose much of its charm and become just another commuter port-of-call. I think we, as Jersey City artists, also need to step up the quality control on our work. We could easily make this neighborhood a hotbed for creativity and cutting edge music and art, it’s just finding the vision and challenging each other to make our best work.
RVO: What’s ahead for you career-wise? Solo album still in the works? More Silver Scream singles?
SF: I do a lot of songwriting for other people — that is my primary gig. New songs should be coming out in the New Year that I’ve written for Britney Spears, Adam Lambert, etc. I also write stranger songs for myself and perform them as well. I tend to release a lot of stuff online, and every once in a while I do shows in the New York City area. I also run a little record label from my home base here, which releases singles online and helps incubate up and coming musical artists and gives them support.
RVO: Do you have any live gigs coming up?
SF: At the moment, I’m working on possibly developing a residency at Berlin on the Lower East Side. It would be a weird, Bowie-influenced rock and roll night once a week. In the past I’ve played at Pianos, Rockwood, etc. I’ve actually never played a gig in Jersey City oddly enough, but looking to do so ASAP.
RVO: You’ve worked with a lot of big names; who are some of the artists you’re still hoping to work with?
SF: My wish list for songwriting/producing collabs would most likely include Alabama Shakes, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Ariana Grande, Beach House, The Pixies, Bowie, Bjork, and Ty Segall.
RVO: Do you have an accomplishment you’re most proud of?
SF: This fall, Queen and Adam Lambert played one of my songs at ROCK IN RIO to about 100,000 people. Being a massive Queen fan growing up, it was pretty surreal to see Brian May soloing one of my melodies on guitar. I think a close second would be trusting my ear enough to work with Lana Del Rey early on. I produced her first hit “Video Games,” but at the time we worked together, she had no label and was just kind of bopping around New York playing to 10 people. She had all these quirky Nancy Sinatra/Marilyn Monroe demos, and I think a lot of other industry people kind of didn’t get it. I guess I can pat myself on the back for recognizing some level of brilliance and being able to contribute musically to the kickstarting of her career.
Sterling Fox’s latest single, “Angry Sons”
is now available on iTunes at www.itunes.com.