Singer/songwriter and producer Darren Stakey’s fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of his upcoming Christmas release, a nostalgic song about love and family. Critics are already buzzing about the touching ballad, “Don’t Light the Lights (On the Tree Without Me),” saying it is virtually guaranteed to steal your heart and climb up the charts. It’s a traditional Christmas song with a great pop twist — truly a ballad to stand the test of time.
From sports stadiums to Carnegie Hall, Darren Stakey (sometimes known as “Stay Key”) has flourished as a performer around the globe. His riveting performances and captivating stage presence make Darren Stakey a crowd favorite. Beyond live performances, Darren is an accomplished singer/songwriter and producer, releasing his first Christmas EP, “For the Holidays” by Stay Key in 2013. Now, he’s back with the uplifting original song, “Don’t Light the Lights (On the Tree Without Me),” reminding us all what truly matters during the holidays — spending time with people we love and enjoying the “little” things, like lighting the lights on the tree.
Darren Stakey made his debut with Soltrenz Records / Strictly Rhythm, distributed by Warner Music Group, with a catalog later acquired by BMG. Under the moniker “Stay Key,” a play on (and correct pronunciation of) his surname, Stakey, he later affiliated with Amathus Music, distributed by Sony Music’s The Orchard.
Darren Stakey is the founder and CEO of the indie label and production house, Wildwood Productions, LLC. No stranger to the entertainment world, he is also admitted to practice law in New York and California. Darren has been recognized for his volunteer work and Pro Bono efforts. He sits on the Board of the Sound Justice Initiative, a Not-for-Profit organization dedicated to educating incarcerated populations and fostering better individual outcomes. He was named a Pro Bono Attorney of the Year by Touro Law Center in 2019. In 2015, Stakey played the piano and sang for a marathon of 111+ consecutive hours to raise money and awareness in the fight against autism. Simply put, Darren Stakey is a philanthropic warrior with an emphasis on helping people and making the world a better place.
Add another star to the Christmas firmament, because “Don’t Light the Lights (On the Tree Without Me)” is sure to become a perennial hit. The song already has 48 radio spots, including JVC stations WRCN-FM/LI, Oldies FM 98.1, Party 105.3, and
WRIV 1390 AM, TV spots include TLC, HGTV, Bravo, and News 12 Long Island. Telling a bittersweet story of hope and longing with a voice as smooth as silk, Darren Stakey’s new song promises to warm up even the frostiest of hearts this holiday season. It strikes just the right tone at a time when we could all use a jolt of joy, and goodwill. Move over Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey, a new holiday standard has arrived!
Q & A with Darren Stakey
How has your family inspired your music?
Family and togetherness are what my new holiday release, ‘Don’t Light the Lights (On the Tree Without Me)’ is all about. Music was very much a part of my upbringing, and I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my family, so I consider my family to be a major inspiration.
What or who inspired your song?
Last Christmas, I was thinking about holiday traditions and the ones I look forward to most every year. It struck me that lighting the lights on the tree may be my favorite Christmas tradition of all. Those lights have a sort of magical power. They can make a house a home. And the simple act of decorating a tree can turn strangers into family. I thought to myself, ‘more than presents under the tree, that’s what Christmas means to me.’ I was struck by the rhyme, and so I hastily scribbled down the lyrics that then became ‘Don’t Light the Lights (On the Tree Without Me).’
Talk about the producers you have worked with?
I have been blessed to work with so many amazing producers and studio musicians throughout the course of my career. It would be unfair to name just a few since every one of them has helped me grow as an artist.
Where do you get your ideas for songwriting?
Some songs begin with a melody, others a chord progression. Others still, like ‘Don’t Light the Lights (On the Tree Without Me),’ are born from lyrics. Lyrical songs generally start with a catchy hook, which I will develop and expand to determine whether it can be honed into a complete idea with character and substance. I do not believe in forcing art. The journey of creation must itself be organic for the work to come to life. As a result, I have a whole vault of catchy hooks and semi-formed song ideas just waiting to be developed. However, the best songs write themselves. In those instances, I feel I am little more than the vehicle transporting the song into existence.
What charities are you aligned with and why?
Understanding how blessed I have been in life. I believe I have a duty to do good works and to share my blessings with others. One of my favorite charitable organizations is the Sound Justice Initiative, which provides liberal arts education to incarcerated populations in order to help those individuals make better choices and get access to the resources that will facilitate their re-entry into society, thereby reducing recidivism. It is a truly worthy organization, so please consider giving it your support as well.
Are there any important projects you will be involved with in the future?
In my role as founder and CEO of Wildwood Productions, LLC, an indie label and production house, I am involved in so many exciting new projects at the moment. We have a whole roster of talented artists debuting next year, and I have been busy working with our staff to develop those talents and determine the best way to promote their art. The future is brimming with promise and the best is definitely yet to come!
Who are your biggest influences?
My musical influences run the gamut from The Beatles to KRS-One, and beyond. However, I believe my biggest influences in life are not merely great musicians, though the list does include several artists. Instead, I look to the people that have given something of themselves to the world, and, in so doing, make it a better place. My childhood hero was Abraham Lincoln, and, in many ways, he still is today.
What advice would you give to an artist starting out?
The best advice I can give is for new artists to build a catalog. Content is king, and the market is finally remembering how valuable music truly is at this time, so having a catalog of content will enable new artists to gain a foothold in the industry and to capitalize on opportunities when they arise.
Talk about your training in singing, music, entertainment, the arts, etc.?
I was fortunate to have many fine teachers and tutors during the course of my development as an artist. I was classically trained as a child, which certainly gave me many tools for success. However, actually succeeding in the music industry has required much more than a musical education. Success requires all-around development and substance, which involves training and hard work at a multitude of disciplines. Essentially, one must never stop training and pursuing the quest for knowledge in order to be a success, whether in music or life in general.
How do you take care of your voice?
Like any other instrument, the voice needs regular care and maintenance to perform at optimum levels. There is no substitution for rest. I once sang for a consecutive 111 hours as a fundraiser to fight autism, and I lost my voice for about a week thereafter. It was the only time I can recall not having my instrument, and it made me realize how important it is to have a voice — both literally and metaphorically. Thankfully, the pipes did come back, but not before I learned a valuable lesson.
If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?
As luck would have it, I already had the privilege of collaborating with one of my favorite artists. The song ‘Seasons’ was a collaboration with the imminently talented, Moises Modesto. Moises and I essentially wrote two different songs to the same chord progression, and then combined them together to create the unique sound of ‘Seasons.’ Our collaboration was so successful that we reunited to create a number of songs, which are yet to be released, so stay tuned!
What is on your playlist right now?
My playlist is filled with songs by artists on Wildwood Productions, LLC’s roster. ‘Daylight’ by Paul Mahos & New Life Crisis, ‘Borderline’ by Moises Modesto, ‘Creep’ by Renée Stakey, and ‘High In Love’ by a new bug, to name a few.
Are you currently watching someone on TikTok?
There are a lot of great challenges to the moment, as the ‘Daylight’ challenge with Paul Mahos, Sirena, Tess Cameron, and Raina Dowler.
When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
Music has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was a cantor at church, and eventually a pianist and organist. I believe spirituality and music are intertwined, so the synergy of the two certainly had an effect on my growth and development as an artist.
What artist did you admire as a child?
I have always admired the creative genius of Paul McCartney. Not just his captivating songwriting, melodic bass lines, and brilliant harmonies, but also his general approach to life and to being an artist. Even today, he continues to evolve and grow. I aspire to do the same.
Talk about the instruments you play and what led you to play them?
As for instruments, my first and last love is the keyboard. Unfortunately, pianos are not very portable. The guitar, however, is ideal for moonlight serenades in front of a campfire on the beach, and for so many other things as well. Bass and drums were creatures of necessity for me because I like to play all the instruments on my compositions, wherever possible. The woodwinds, particularly the saxophone, are also great fun to play.
What’s your fashion style?
I suppose my style would be described as classic or vintage. I try to find the look that fits my mood and my general vibe at the time, so it’s ever-changing.
Is there any major music venue you have not played at and want to?
I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to perform at some of the world’s most illustrious venues, from sports stadiums to Carnegie Hall, so I feel very satisfied from a performative standpoint at this point in my career. Nevertheless, there are so many venues that I would find thrilling, particularly one of the ancient Greek or Roman theaters that are still in operation.
Any plans for a major tour?
Mums the word on that one, but time will tell, so be on the lookout.
Is there anything you regret in your career?
Forget regret. We all have struggles and make mistakes in life. It is part of being human. The key is to recognize and take responsibility for those mistakes and to learn and grow from them. Ultimately, I believe you cannot move forward if you are focused on looking back, and I am all about forward momentum.