Uncovering Treasure Fingers
Published July 1, 2011
ASHLEY JONES, AKA TREASURE FINGERS
We all know the way to get to Carnegie Hall—but who knew the same was true for Webster Hall? In an era where kids with souped-up laptops are playing the main stages of clubs and festivals, it hardly seems like our grandmothers’ advice applies. But being a great DJ could be as simple as “practice, practice, practice.”
Sure, having the Midas touch helps—and his moniker invites the comparison—but Treasure Fingers, né Ashley Jones, is proof that hard work and musical training lend to innovation and success. Treasure Fingers is in good company; he is signed to Fool’s Gold, the taste-making label helmed by two examples of the same ethic, A-Trak and Nick Catchdubs, whose studious and professional demeanors launched mega careers well before either hit 30. These guys approach their musical pursuits with the precision and dedication of a far more classical and rigid branch of music, but done only with an urban patois by card-carrying technology nerds. For his Treasure Fingers project, Jones meticulously labors over alchemizing the perfect synths, bumping bass, and harmonized melodies.
Such dedication explains why the musician/DJ/producer is hardly ever home, except for a few weeks at a time to record in the studio. Audiences freak out over his bombastic, sexy sound; it’s equal parts funky party jam and musical history lesson, and it has him booked all over the world. Despite his hectic schedule, Jones recently also began a weekly podcast that offers rare music, rotating musical guests, and a production-tip Q&A section for all those hoping to catch a glimpse inside his Fort Knox. Luckily, we had a chance to do just that on the eve of his big show at Webster Hall.
JULIE BAUMGARDNER: How did you parents come up with the name Ashley?
ASHLEY JONES: I was born in Oklahoma and grew up there, and I think my mom was a really big fan of Gone with the Wind, and you know the main character is Ashley. Growing up in Oklahoma, it was kinda weird, because for most kids, it was a girl’s name.
BAUMGARDNER: What was it like growing up in Oklahoma in general?
JONES: I liked it. But once I got old enough to move, I got out. [laughs]BAUMGARDNER: So you moved to Atlanta after high school?
JONES: Well after school, I went for a degree in graphic design and visual communications in Oklahoma. And right after that, I went to Atlanta.
BAUMGARDNER: Is that why you’re so good with production—because you’re good with computers?
JONES: I’m definitely a nerd; any gadget or any type of technology, I’m on it, I’m into it. I think that helped. When I was in middle school and high school, I don’t think the Internet was that popular yet, but I was one of the only kids that was on the computer constantly. I made friends with the librarian so I could go in during hours we weren’t supposed be in the library so I could use the computers.
BAUMGARDNER: Was that in the days of Prodigy?
JONES: Yeah, it was in the early ’90s. I was in chat rooms and trying to be a hacker.
BAUMGARDNER: Did you ever successfully hack into something?
JONES: Nothing big, just small shit. We’d hack into phones.
BAUMGARDNER: Oh, like prank calls—like Jerky Boys style?
JONES: No, no, no—well, we did that too. But there ways you can get free conference calls and you can call internationally for free. [laughs] We were little kids. Just childhood mischief. I’m a good kid.
BAUMGARDNER: Your dad was a musician, right?
JONES: He wasn’t a big musician or anything. It was more a weekend thing; they would play in bars on the weekend. He played guitar and sang. He’s the one who taught me how to use 4-track recorders, step sequencers, and even how to program keyboards, but he knows nothing about computers. I think it would blow his mind if I showed him what you can do with computers nowadays.
BAUMGARDNER: Did he also teach you other instruments or teach you music formally?
JONES: No, I’m not sure even he has formal training. He just kinda picked it up. But he taught me how to technically play bass, guitar and drums. I took piano lessons, and I was in the high school band—actually, I started band in middle school, and I was in marching band, jazz band. So I guess I wouldn’t say I have formal training, but I do understand music theory, and I can read music. But combine that with all the things my dad taught me and it makes me well-rounded, I guess.
BAUMGARDNER: So, you write songs, DJ, and produce. What do you think you’re best at?
JONES: Producing is where I feel most comfortable, and probably prefer doing over anything else. Songwriting, I think if I did it more, I would be more comfortable with it. I think I’m pretty good at writing the music part, all the melodies, composing; but when I get to lyrics, I just hit a roadblock. I can’t do that. It’s hard for me, because I second-guess myself. I’m too self-conscious about what I write, if it’s too simple or too dumb or its too cheesy. But I have some other projects that are kind of down-tempo or even folky that’s mixed with electronic. I haven’t done that sort of stuff in a while, but when I do, I just sit down with an acoustic guitar and write songs that way. Right now the main focus is the Treasure Fingers stuff. I’m lining up a bunch of new releases and do a tour later this fall. But once I’m done with that, I’d really like to revisit that project and even do like a four-track EP or something.
BAUMGARDNER: Would you want to tour with a live band?
JONES: Yeah, I think so at some point. I think that stuff would lend itself better to live shows than Treasure Fingers would. But if it takes off and I get a really good reaction from people, and I could do a tour and actually have people there, then definitely.
BAUMGARDNER: How did you get into the Treasure Fingers project?
JONES: All along, I’ve loved house music. When I started, the main driving force behind it was wanting to use this funk stuff that I was into. I was making these weird quirky funk tracks, and I started going out to these indie dance parties in Atlanta that would play whatever, from The Cure to Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It was just really eclectic music, so just going out and being in that type of environment, this was in 2006 or 2007, when the remixes trend started popping up. I got really into production and learning production tips. Indie stuff is cool, but when you play on a club system, it sounds good. But a well-produced house track sounds really, really good. The more I started playing on big sound systems probably helped change my sound, actually.
BAUMGARDNER: Has disco-house become the universal party sound lately? Does your ability to churn out disco-house that incorporates elements from funk, drum and bass, or hip-hop make you accessible or popular with global audiences?
JONES: I think in a way it is a universal party sound. Most disco and funk records had a really good overall vibe to them, so mixing that old element with new club elements really makes it sound fresh and inviting to new ears. I think meshing several genres has probably helped my popularity, just because there’s enough small elements from all these different places that, say, someone who is a big disco fan might hear one of my tracks and really like the strings I used, or the percussion, and someone who is into R&B might like the vocal, and someone into drum and bass might like the bass line, etc.
BAUMGARDNER: Do you have an idea of where electronic music is going in the next couple of years?
JONES: I’m optimistic about it. Lately, the stuff I’ve seen blow up and get a lot of press that everyone loves has been completely from left-field compared to what dance music used to be. So, it’s cool to see everyone receptive and open to new ideas. Even the new releases I’ve been working on, they definitely borrow a lot of elements from older house and other genres. I think it’s a new, fresh sound, and maybe that’ll inspire other DJs start playing that. I’ve seen tracks spark a whole new genre, and I don’t know if mine will do that. But if people like that, then I’m pleased. With Treasure Fingers, the main goal is just to make the music I want to make and still get booked.
BAUMGARDNER: Is that why you’re always on tour or on the road?
JONES: I really just like it. I have a lot of friends who think I’m mental, because I actually like hotels and I don’t mind being in airports.
BAUMGARDNER: Well, you don’t have to clean up after yourself or take care of things, right?
JONES: [laughs] That’s probably one of the main reasons. I just like seeing different cities and eating different foods, just the whole experience. I also haven’t been on the road for the last three weeks, and I’ve got crazy cabin fever. I want to get out and go somewhere. Traveling is my job, so this would be like taking three weeks’ vacation of doing nothing. Well, I’m in the studio, so I’m not doing nothing. But not being on the road makes me go slightly crazy. I actually think I’m missing gigs and get neurotic about checking my calendar to make sure I’m not missing something.
TREASURE FINGERS WILL PLAY AT WEBSTER HALL TONIGHT. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.