Last November, me and fellow Run The Trap writer David were fortunate enough to meet up with Brillz before his Twonksgiving show in Phoenix, AZ, the day before Thanksgiving. What was meant to be a quick, 15-minute interview turned into an hour long conversation with one of trap music’s fastest rising stars. Brillz was not only kind and very in depth with his answers, but very humble and extremely honest…
We’re in the kitchen of the Monarch Theatre — upstairs in some weird “green room” area. We decided the run down kitchen would be a better spot for some reason. We settle in and Sami aka Brillz decides to show us a new “holiday track” he’s been working on. “Swoop” aka “Schmutz,” starts to play and we’re already freaking out. All of a sudden, we’re listening to a “Hava Naglia” version of “Swoop,” originally produced for Mad Decent- a Very Decent Christmas, but never released. We’re laughing and enjoying the gimmick of this novelty track playing. What much more could you ask for other than your favorite trap artists playing a classic Hebrew track on the first day of Hanukah and the day before Thanksgiving? Almost literally dreams come true. Needless to say we were going wild!
We’ll see where it goes…
Take us through this past year it’s been pretty crazy, you’ve been on tour a lot, highlights of the year, take us through the year — high moments, low moments, anything you want to talk us through the year 2013.
March 2013 was the birth of TWONK! So it’s been a super crazy year. All the hard work and grinding has resulted into a cult following and movement with my audience. To see so many people get down with Twonk and the Ideas behind is humbling and inspiring to say the least! I live and die for my fans and supporters, this year would have been nothing without them. Another highlight was getting to play and work with a lot of DJs and producers that I respect a great deal, and release music on labels that I have loved for years.
You touched on record labels… at RTT we are huge Slow Roast fans… what is that like working with slow roast records?
Slow Roast is family to me. For those guys to be like “we really like what you’re doing, we want to put you on” was a serious milestone for me. I respect those guys so much, I love those guys. The best part about working with them is they are artists and producers and world class DJs, so they understand the challenges, struggles of an artist, as well the personal experience of being in the scene, releasing music, touring, on a personal and business level. Bottom line, you’re in good hands.
What’s it like working with Craze and Kill The Noise?
Both of those guys are champions, you know? That championship mentality that’s like, “I’m going to fucking kill it, this shit is mine, this is a home run, I will WIN” but there’s no arrogance to it. It’s just passion. It’s a competitive passion, it’s the failure is not an option attitude. That is an inspiring thing to be around.
There’s a fine line between ego and confidence. Some successful people blur that line and come off an egomaniac pricks, and you wonder if that’s how you have to be sometimes to make it to the top? I look at Craze, Kill The Noise, and guys like Bro Safari, and Skrillex for the answer to that. Ultimately I think it comes down to an obsession and a goal, and I think you can still be humble and down to earth and still project greatness.
Do you think that there are artists that are super egotistical and very self absorbed?
I think people in general can be like that, in this culture success can definitely amplify it. When you do a bird’s eye view of a DJ and how everything is structured – You are the center of your own universe, and competition and entitlement can create an ego clusterfuck pretty quick between artists. It shows a lot in the way you treat people too. I heard this famous quote once, forgot who said, like a manager who managed some of the biggest rock stars in the world, like 1980s megastar shit. He said “The real rock stars are the ones who treat everyone in the room the same way, from the owner of the venue to the janitors”
You have a wide background of music history, where do you draw influence besides electronic dance music?
I draw a lot of influence from emotions. When I play a show, or I’m at a show, and a certain song will come on — whether I’m playing or in the audience — there’s a vibe that comes over the crowd, and you’re just like, “man…” and I kind of just try to capture that feeling in that moment.
So, when I’m in the studio, I’m not necessarily like going, “oh man I’m really inspired by this kind of music, I wanna make this kind of song…” I can just start playing around with anything I just ask myself is it rich in emotion?
If I wanna make something that’s hype, how hype do I feel when I’m making it? And then I’ll listen to more hype shit and I’m like, “is that more hype than what I’m doing or is this not hype enough?” So the emotions really just help guide me and I let the musicality or style or genre just happen in the moment.
To piggy-back on that, “Ratchet Bitch,” is one of your biggest songs, where were you emotionally when you wrote that song? What was the emotion and inspiration behind that track?
It was fall 2012, I’m obsessed with this 100 bpm type stuff that was just starting to become a “thing”…Im with my boy T-Tux from ATL and we just started banign out some hard hip hop beat like “bum bum chik bum bum chik bum” So the emotion was just like, stank face, distort the 808’s, make it real snappy, put a little swing on it” super swaggy…We were talking about synths, and we were like, the synths need to be like… drunk. Synths that were on drugs and shit… And it was so funny… he came up to my ear and he was like, “make it go like this: ganah ganah ganah ganah and literally from what he did I just designed it in massive exactly how he sang it… And now we text each other now like, “ganah ganah, ganah.”
Ratchet has taken on its own, and you’ve taken the theme of Twonk, can you explain what that means to you and go into the movement. You have the Twonk crew, merch, all this stuff, what is it and how has it evolved throughout the year and where you want to take it.
I was thinking about the word Twonk –and I thought this record sounds like “TWONK” I went to Slow Roast and said, “The album is going to be called Twonk” and they said, “What the fuck is that,” and I said, “Exactly.”… And they said … “we love it”
Our brains our wired to understand and analyze everything, so when we see something we don’t understand we are compelled to engage and discover, it’s our curiosity. So when people say what’s “Twonk”? That’s what Twonk is! but from there the amazing thing that happened was we all got to define it for ourselves, so it’s a word that you can make your own, it’s a vibe that you create the way you want to. It’s about individuality, creative, self expression, embracing your inner WEIRDO.
Over half the people here are Twonked out, have Twonk gear. How does that feel for you?
I love fashion; to me music and fashion go hand in hand. Actually, to me all forms of art and expression are all one and the same. It’s ART. When I see people rocking the Twonk gear I know people are down for a certain kind of energy and a certain kind of vibe. It’s just a way of life for me and for the TWONK TEAM. I have so much love for them; it’s a family to me. It feels amazing. My partner Oz, he does all the Twonk Graphics and art, and we both go home from shows so inspired to make more gear and bring some ill fashion into the EDM world. We have big dreams, a Twonk tour bus, a Twonk stage at a festival, a Twonk record label… but for now, it about the clothing and our new line coming out in 2014.
What are some of the things that you’ve taken from touring with other artists that you’re now taking to your first headlining tour?
I guess now that I’m headlining I would say the most crucial thing I have taken from other artists is a sense of showman ship. Everything from interesting twists and turns in the set musically. Surprising the audience with edits and mashups. Getting on the mic, interacting with the audience, and constantly tweaking and improving the set. For 2014 I’m working on bring in more production and def taking things to a new level.
You have been one of the more outspoken artists when it comes to drugs and the dance community, I’ve read the essay that you’ve posted on Facebook and, I agree, drugs and music have always gone hand in hand, forever. Could you expand on that and then maybe tell us where you’re coming from with this angle.
*At this point, Brillz takes a step back and tries to process the complicated question I asked. I realized that from a journalistic standpoint this might have been too complicated or complex of a set up. Brillz puts his hands on his head and looks down, “Where do I dive in at?” After a deep breath he puts hands back down onto the counter and rests his head there.
In ancient times, and even in some cultures [today], drugs and religion go together. Humans have always been fascinated with mind altering substances because our reality is an enigma to us. We don’t know what this is, we don’t know why we’re here we don’t know what our fate is… There’s the conscious and the subconscious… So, drugs blur all that and it’s a very interesting thing. Music and art creates a cultural togetherness very close to spiritual thing like tribal chant. Instead of uniting in a church or temple, we’re still coming together under one united “sound” or feeling. Maybe, it connects us to some inner prelife, some other planetary type of thing, some other reality. I think EDM events, like festivals and raves expands on that idea in our current time, where if you went back to the 60s and 70s, Grateful Dead shows and LSD or shrooms might be the same thing.
So from there …
The thing that gets coupled with that is our human need to fit in and belong and the feeling of being a part of something is very powerful. Here you see all these people having the best time ever belonging to something identifying, dressing a certain way, rocking to the music and being one… you’re like, “I want this feeling, I want to be a part of this,” and you do and it feels really fucking good. It feels awesome, because out in the normal world everything feels robotic and bland.
When I got into the rave scene it was because there was a kid at my high school doing liquid dancing, and I was like, “Dude, wtf is that?” And he was like, “it’s liquid — come with me Brooklyn tonight” So I went and checked my first rave because of that. To me, it was futuristic as fuck, it was loud, crazy, I was in another universe. The message I got was, “we listen to music, we dance, we do drugs,” And I was like, “Cool I want to do what you guys do, I want to be in this world. This is sick as fuck. “For me it was the dance and music first and foremost, but the problem we have today, in my personal opinion, is when kids just wanna go to get fucked up.
When you’re young you feel invincible, you feel like you can do anything, throw caution to the wind, live fast die young… Its human nature, it’s unavoidable. So what happens is you have molly being over-glorified by the mainstream and that’s part of the sadness about the girl who died at E-Zoo who blasted that she took six mollies. It’s like, she didn’t need to take six!! Why 6!! .
The downside is that some people die. And that is sad because they aren’t like trying to kill themselves. They’re not like, “I hate myself and I want it to end,” and then going to shoot dope and OD. It’s not like that at all. It’s like, “hey, I’m with my friends and we’re going to a show, trying to have fun” So I was just trying to communicate, hey I know drugs and music go together, everyone knows it, I’m not preaching here, I’m just saying watch out for each other and be smart! Just making a suggestion, try going once without it. You might have a good time and be like, maybe I don’t need to do it. And I get it. I’ve certainly done a lot of it, but at this point I can’t do it because I’m an addict. My life depends on my sobriety; I have other tortured artist issues ha-ha, that’s a whole other interview though.
I just realized that if I do have the ability to help some kids out there, then I HAVE to. Peer pressure is some real shit! People wrote back to me. They said, “Hey man thanks for writing that. I’ve kind of had those same struggles and I feel better just knowing that there’s a DJ or someone else in this life that is having a great time and is positive and isn’t getting fucked up.” So there you go.
My whole thing is that this should be about the music first.
I appreciate you sharing that much… To be honest it’s an interesting thing about you as an artist and I think that there are more people that respect that than people saying “fuck Brillz, he’s anti drugs”
Here’s the thing. I love drugs. They don’t love me. So FUCK you — Laughter — I guess what I really wanted to say in that essay is: Hey, kid that’s just getting into it, just so you know, you don’t have to go overboard to belong. All you have to do is love the music and have a good time. If you feel pressure to do something that maybe you’re uncomfortable with then don’t worry about it. Just be you.
I relate to that pressure because when I decided to be sober, it was like reverse. I thought nobody would want to hang out with me, all my friends would think I’m boring, people would just think he’s wack, and he doesn’t’ turn up anymore. I felt the pressure. I said it to myself as well, “be true to yourself.” People will like you for you.
Walk us through your production style. Do you like doing it on your own? Remixes vs. originals?
I’m working on a new album now, and pushing myself to discover new depths in my work so I’m collaborating a lot less. By the end of 2014 I want all my sets to be mostly all original music and want it to be diverse, so it’s taken my production style in a lot of new directions. Still doing remixes, which I always do solo
I start with an idea, maybe a melody, maybe a drum beat, a sample, a tempo, a song concept…. and just start building the idea itself. The idea behind the noises so to speak. Once that gets dialed in a bit, then I’ll start replacing drums and sound designing and reworking some elements to support the main theme of the tune. I’m mixing and tightening up the engineering as I go along. Constantly problem solving and pushing the track to a higher standard sonically throughout the creative process. A and B-ing your track to another track is always the scariest thing, cause what if you A B it and your sounds like SHIT after 2 days of work! Cant be scared though, A B things early on, really early on… keep yourself in check. When my final edits and arrangement are complete then it’s ready for a test run at my next show. I won’t announce it, just drop it in somewhere and see the reaction, listen to how the mix stands up against what came before and after. Sometimes I’m pretty close, sometimes I get to the studio and pull all the faders down and start a whole mix from scratch. I use different drums and make my sounds from scratch for every tune so threes no factory formula for what I’m doing. Its trial and error. By the end of 2014 I want all my sets to be mostly all original music and want it to be diverse, so it’s taken my production style in a lot of new directions.
So with that, can we expect anything outside of the trap boundaries?
I’m just doing Brillz music and I don’t know what the boundaries of that are …. I’ll be sure to push them farther if I ever found them.
If you could do a collab with any artist who would it be?
Let’s see… I was thinking about this the other day, Missy Elliot, Flava Flav, Baauer, Skrillex, umm..umm… I’ll get back to you on that
*The next day I got a text from Brillz saying “Dream Collab: do an album with the Wu Tang”