A live show is rarely worth seeing if the drums don’t rattle your soul, and drummer Stixx Taylor has helped give full-body experiences at live shows for Musiq Soulchild, Zendaya and Justin Bieber. He’s also seen firsthand how Bieber’s fan base has reacted to a good show.
“We got on the bus and the fans started chasing us. There was so much traffic our driver couldn’t maneuver, so we were stopped in the middle of all of these people,” Stixx remembers. “They came with all of their cameras, rocking the bus while chanting, ‘Justin, Justin!’ Justin wasn’t even on our bus. They almost flipped the bus over. We’ve seen some crazy stuff, especially overseas.”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the veteran drummer discusses how hands-on Justin Bieber and Musiq Soulchild are with their shows, going to amusement parks with Zendaya in between concerts, and how he continues to get better as a drummer.
Who was the first major artist you performed with?
The first major artist I performed with was Musiq Soulchild in 2012. We went to Europe for two weeks. That was my first time ever going to Europe. It was like a 2 1/2-week tour we did with him.
When it came to those shows, what went into putting them together? What did you add to the live show?
A lot went into putting it together. My homie named Payge Cooper was the drummer at the time for Musiq, but he had some things going on. The music director and I were super cool, and he asked me to come in and sub for my boy. They sent me the show a few weeks in advance, so I listened to it every day. My boy and I set up some time over a couple of days where we were going to get together by ourselves before we started rehearsing for the tour. I went to his crib, listened to the show, and then went to rehearsal and rehearsed it. As time went on, I put my own flavor on it as I figured out what the MD wanted, what Musiq wanted, and what my boy was already playing. It was kind of crucial. It taught me a lot.
How involved is Musiq in his live show?
He was very involved. When we were in rehearsal, he liked open hi-hats on a lot of stuff. If I wasn’t doing it in rehearsal, he’d turn around and tell me to do it or give me a hand signal. He’d even do it at certain shows when I was just starting out. In rehearsals, he’d ask me, ‘What if we play this? Would this sound dope?” And we’d work it out until we got what we all like.
What was your favorite Musiq Soulchild song to perform?
From that tour? ‘Buddy’ and ‘Half-Crazy.’ From a drummer standpoint, a drummer would think ‘Half-Crazy’ is boring because the beat is doing boom-tsk-tsk boom-tsk-tsk, and that’s kind of boring. I loved it from a production and music standpoint. That’s why I loved the song — not from a drummer standpoint.
What was the next big gig after Musiq?
I started working with Zendaya for about a year or two, from 2013 to 2014. This was when she was still on Disney Channel, so we were doing a whole bunch of festivals and amphitheaters. We were going overseas and everything. It was crazy.
What was a memorable show you did with Zendaya?
All of the shows were fun. It was my first time playing with a pop artist. We played at a lot of theme parks and amusement parks. So, we were able to go in and ride all of the rides before the show started that night (laughs). We skipped all of the lines. I went to a bunch of amusement parks I had never been to before. We were really young, too.
What was her personality like offstage?
She was super cool. Back then, we’d hit movies, go to dinner, hang out. She invited us to go over to her crib to hang out and kick it. We did a lot of stuff as kids to build our relationship. It wasn’t just with me; it was with her whole squad. She was super cool, humble and sweet. She was definitely one of my favorite artists.
How did you connect with Justin Bieber?
Me and my boy [Julian Michael McGuire], who’s playing guitar with us right now, and Harv, who’s the music director, were in rehearsal working with a whole other artist, and the music director at the time called me like, ‘I got your number from such and such. Would you be interested in auditioning for Bieber?’ My boy, the music director now, was the bass player with Bieber at the time and had been with Bieber since ‘Baby.’ I flew out, did the audition and here we are. That was in 2015.
How would you say Bieber’s live show has evolved over the last seven years?
It’s evolved crazy because I remember when I first got on with the Bieber gig. It was my first big world tour. Approaching the music back then was a lot different for all of us because we were a lot younger. As time went on, we got older and more mature with our planning and decision making when it came to arranging and things like that for the show. It’s definitely evolved. All of us are producers now, too. We want the records to sound like the records on steroids with a live band.
How do you feel you’ve helped evolve his live show?
I feel I’ve helped evolve it with what we bring to the table because he lets us arrange the songs how we want to arrange them. But, of course, he’s hands-on with it, too. Most of the time, the arrangements we come up with as a unit, he loves and appreciates them. He genuinely understands musicianship and what we’re bringing to the table.
You were on “The Purpose Tour.” I have to ask about Lisbon, Portugal. What’s your reaction when something like that happens?
Sometimes we’ll see it, and we’ll talk to each other like, ‘Yo, somebody is running on the stage.’ It’s shocking, but it’s not shocking because we have so much security and things like that. It’s definitely funny sometimes. We just had somebody jump on stage in London at a Jingle Ball show a couple of days before Christmas (laughs). A fan jumped on the stage and ran around on stage with his phone out and everything. Then, the worst happened to him when security got to him (laughs). He has diehard fans. We’ve seen people pass out. We’ve seen bras. We’ve seen so much. I remember we were in Peru and just got done performing at the stadium. We got on the bus, and the fans started chasing us. There was so much traffic our driver couldn’t maneuver, so we were stopped in the middle of all of these people. They came with all of their cameras, rocking the bus while chanting, ‘Justin, Justin!’ Justin wasn’t even on our bus. They almost flipped the bus over. We’ve seen some crazy stuff, especially overseas. His fans love him.
Mistakes have to happen for artists and their bands to create the chemistry needed for performances. What were some mistakes you all made with Bieber?
I remember we were playing Madison Square Garden. For our live shows, I play a lot of electronic drums and real drums. I’m mixing the two. If you hear a snap, clap, snare or an 808 hi-hat on the track, I’m actually playing those live. I remember one time when my electronic drum system went out completely in Madison Square Garden. For that particular song, it’s just me playing the electronic drums at the top of the song. So, we started the song and it didn’t work. We had to start the song over. Me, [Bieber] and the music director are having a meeting on stage. I was so embarrassed. We started the song over, and the same thing happened again. I knew I was fired. But, we got through the show. We talked it out, but I was super nervous. I was like, ‘Bro, I don’t know what happened to my machine. It had a glitch. I promise it wasn’t my fault.’ [Bieber] wasn’t mad. Even in the show now, as much as we want stuff to be 100% and go smoothly without anything happening, you have a good chance that’s not going to happen (laughs).
How involved is Justin in his live show?
He’s super involved in everything from a creative standpoint to the songs he wants to do. He’s even involved in some of the arrangements. He has his ideas, we have ours, and we put it all together to make a mega show. Teamwork makes the dream work.
How long are his rehearsals?
We rehearsed all of 2021 because we were doing a lot of different TV shows and virtual stuff during the pandemic. We usually rehearse for about three or four months.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve done with him?
What are Justin’s tour hits?
It’s hard because most of the songs we do are hits (laughs). But, there are a couple of his older songs from his older albums that we don’t do but fans ask about. In certain cities, we may drop them in, here or there. Fans may ask, ‘Hey, can you guys please do this?’ Or, Justin may say one day, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Let’s switch these two songs tonight.’ Then we’ll play some stuff that isn’t top 10 on the radio.
Photo by Rory Kramer / Paterakis
How have you become better as a live performer?
Listening to a lot of different drummers and studying. I do my homework. I feel I’ve gotten better at being a nerd and appreciating music and my gear. It’s ok to be a nerd. I’m a music nerd. I dissect the whole song to where I can play the drum part, sing the piano part and sing the vocal part. We’re on tour, and I like to listen to a lot of different artists’ live shows and their bands. I actually study other shows. I study certain things people are doing that were impactful to the world.