Most musicians dream of one day collaborating with their idols—but only a select few will have their dreams come true.
The ever-talented Esjay Jones is one of the fortunate ones. Now based in Joshua Tree and Los Angeles, Jones first made waves in her home country of South Africa as part of the band Stealing Love Jones. After No. 1 singles in South Africa, Jones shifted into a producer role, and over the past decade has engineered music for acts such as Sean Kingston, Nile Rodgers, Jeffree Star and Alien Ant Farm.
While still an active producer, Jones recently returned to the frontwoman position with her new project, (We Are) PIGS, which combines hip hop and metal. Jones introduced the project to the world with a cover of Slipknot’s “Duality,” a unique take on the original featuring Jones’ singing/screaming over a heavy guitar and bass, backed by trap drums.
“I’ve been working on this PIGS project for about three years now,” Jones said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time working on other artists’ projects, so it’s been on the back burner this whole time. COVID has opened up a perfect opportunity to finish up some songs that have been in the demo stage for so long. I was able to bring a lot of people on board who had some extra time as well, through the relationships I’ve made during years of being in the music industry. We’ve really been able to create something positive out of all of this negativity in the world.
“These past five months have been the busiest I’ve ever been in my life. People are trying to find creative outlets to seek positivity and joy, and keep them out of depression. I’ve had a lot of artists ask me to help them with production or songwriting. I’ve been working with a lot of interesting artists, and it’s been really cool.”
PIGS is Jones’ personal project, and she makes it very clear that it’s hers—and hers alone.
“When it comes to the PIGS project, it’s a little bit more introverted and selfish,” she said. “I don’t really care about what other people think. This is something I want to do to satisfy my musical ability. I want it to sound great, but it’s not my job to make it a radio hit, like what a label would do. For example, a label would hire me to come produce a record, and give me some bands they want it to sound like. My job at that point is to find a balance between what the label wants while still keeping the artist’s vision of the song. It’s a very delicate dance. A lot of bands and artists have to compromise to get to a certain stage.
“Do I think that this PIGS project is going to blow up, and I’ll be touring the entire world? No, but I feel that I’ve paid my dues enough to where I can put this out without anyone having a say in it. However, if I was a younger artist really trying to start a successful band, I would take every piece of advice a label or other musicians would give me so that I can better myself. At this point, I’m just having fun with my friends and seeing where it goes. The response has been awesome. I think Slipknot’s ‘Duality’ is a song that should never be covered, but we gave it a try—and there has been a ton of positive feedback.”
A lot of Jones’ friends are other people’s musical heroes. Notable collaborators on the PIGS project include Sonny Sandoval from P.O.D., Brian “Head” Welch from Korn, and Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins.
“Throughout my career as an artist, a songwriter and producer, I’ve learned how things should be molded and how things should sound,” said Jones. “I feel like the songs are in a really strong state, and when we sent them to Billy, he heard one he absolutely loved and hopped on it, after making a few tweaks. If it wasn’t for the coronavirus, he wouldn’t have had time to even listen to it. I really got lucky, and it’s really a compliment to be at a point in life where people can look at your work and want to get behind it.
“I’ve been playing in bands since I was 12, and have been a professional musician since 18, so I’ve been building relationships over the past 20 years. I’m only now leveraging those relationships and inviting people to do a song together. I think it’s important not to pounce on artists. My recent work with the Grey Daze project allowed me to meet a lot of really influential musicians and artists and become friends, which has led to the invitation of hopping on projects. It’s been really great to see those relationships blossom.”
Grey Daze was the late Chester Bennington’s project prior to Linkin Park. Bennington had recorded vocals for a full album, and earlier this year, Jones was asked to produce that album.
“The responsibility that we had toward Chester, his friends and to the band was heavy,” Jones said. “It’s been an incredibly overwhelming and wonderful experience. I am so grateful, and it all feels like a dream. I’m just this kid from South Africa whose journey led to being in the room with a band that opened so many doors, and having them reach out to me after hearing some of the Alien Ant Farm stuff I produced. … It’s really overwhelming to be a part of such a ridiculous project.”
Apart from the PIGS project, Jones recently started a new video series titled “Live from the Coop!” in which she plays live music in front of her chicken coop. She has Cristin Davis, guitarist of Grey Daze, to thank for this.
“Through working on the Grey Daze project, their guitar-player, Cristin Davis, invited me to come produce an EP for his side project, Enemy Airwave,” she said. “I went to his house in Arizona, woke up one morning, went downstairs and found a sign that said: Beware of the chickens. He and his wife rescued two baby chickens from the side of the road that were being attacked by cats at 3 in the morning. I decided to smuggle them across the (state) border and bring them home. Now I have six chickens, and it’s been really cool. I’ve never been one for meditating, but for some reason, every morning, I wake up at 5:30 and go into the coop with a cup of coffee and hang out for an hour.
“Did you know that chickens are the closest living relative to the dinosaur? When I’m sitting with them and looking at them up close, it’s almost like a scene out of Jurassic Park.”
From chickens back to PIGS: Jones said the right opportunity would have to present itself for her to consider playing a show with this project.
“Do I wanna be living on a bus and touring the country? No, but maybe if we were offered some cool slots,” she said. “I’m working on a new single for a project with Crazy Town, and another one with P.O.D. If they asked us to do a few dates on one of their headline tours, and the days made sense, then we would absolutely do it. It’s not something that I would want to start from the bottom again, like when I was 20 playing in my band in South Africa, touring the country with five boys in a van. I don’t know if I’m prepared to do that all over again.
“But if someone like the Foo Fighters asked us to do three weeks with them in a crappy bus, then I’d probably say yes.”
For more information, visit www.esjayjones.com.