Getting To Know… Barbara

Getting To Know... Barbara

Photo: Kitsune Kreations

F: Hi Barbara, it’s a pleasure to chat with you today, how are you?

Barbara: Thanks for having me! I feel great today minus some ringing in my ear. My friends Matisa and Kim Ann Forman played last night at Good Room in NY and the music gave me life. What an incredible party. We got home at 6 am as the sun was coming up.

F: Who did you listen to growing up and do they influence your music at all today?

Barbara: Everyone and 1000%! It’s funny because people will listen to my music today and say oh were you a fan of Avril Lavigne and Nelly Furtrado? I absolutely loved them so it’s clear they left a mark on my sound. My mom and I lived with my grandparents and I spent a lot of time with great grandmother, my aunts and my cousin coming from a big Italian family you had the 90’s pop and punk rock explosion of Aqua, Britney, Christina, Blink 182 mixed with early 2000s dance, house and trance like Alice Deejay, Castles in the Sky, We’re in Heaven and then I had major influences from my family of funk, soul and doo-wop like Tavares, Luther Vandross, Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Sinatra, Sam & Dave and more.

F: Which came first for you, DJing or songwriting and production?

Barbara: Singing actually. My mom would sing to me when I was a baby. I started singing when I was 5 or 6. My grandfather owned a music shop called Dominic’s Music and played the saxophone and harmonica, so he really wanted me to learn an instrument. But I didn’t want to spend my weekends learning piano or flute and I wanted to play with my friends. But he also encouraged me to sing. I would sing on Sundays in my church choir and soon got into the Handel and Hayden Society. During the summers I was performing with Tuft’s Magic Circle theatre camp. I gave up my dreams of pursuing music when I was applying to colleges 1) because I was rejected from American Idol and it crushed me, and 2) my family was afraid and against it. Their support has always meant a lot to me, so I completely stopped and instead filled my love of music with going to concerts and clubs. 

I went to my first Ultra in 2015 and fell in love with the music at the resistance stage, artists like Maceo Plex, Guy Gerber, Thugf***** and Adriatique. I was completely lost in the sound and couldn’t believe the hypnotic vibe on the dance floor. Soon after I moved to New York City and went out in the underground club scene of Bushwick like Bossa Nova and Jupiter Disco, plus TBA and Donna in Williamsburg. I decided I wanted to learn how to DJ with vinyl and my cousin had a pair of turntables and got me started. I got my first DJ gig from Toribio, then manager at Black Flamingo. I played open to close one Saturday with my huge record bag and my mom and all my besties were there. The crowd loved my funky energy. After that, I started getting booked to play regularly there and around the city. 

Next came production because I wanted to spin my own tracks as I was developing my sound. I learned Ableton through SAE, Pyramind, IO Music Academy, Femme House and YouTube. I also got to participate in the Repopulate Mars program run by some of the greats (Lee Foss, Lee Curtiss, Deeper Purpose, and John Summit). That’s how I also met Francis Mercier since we were in the same cohort. This was over COVID when I was living in San Francisco and went deep into my craft. My voice slowly started coming back and then the songwriting. All these ideas were pouring out and I was storing them in voice memos and notes on my phone. 

F: What was your first release?

Barbara: ‘Ghosted. It was featured in a promo video for this awesome record shop in LA called the Record Parlour. My good friend Vika called, she’s an incredible photographer, and said she needed a fun disco song for a video project she was working on with her brother and I had the perfect track. The song premiered in that video before it even hit the DSPs.

‘Ghosted’ is the first single off my debut album ‘Palm Dreams’, which I made with Jim Greer – a super talented multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer behind works with Big Freedia, Foster The People, A Tribe Called Quest and more. We made the album, 17 tracks in two weeks in the Autumn of 2022. It was my first time in the studio. ‘Ghosted’ is really special for me because it was the first track we wrote together and it’s all about the trials of dating in New York. It’s all about this guy I dated, he was a coder and played soccer. He was from California and basically a professional player who played ‘Girls for Sport’, which is another track of mine. I remixed the vocals from ‘Ghosted’ for that song. This track was also covered by a few music blogs saying it was a modern “Copacabana”, which I love! It’s so true. It’s very funky and disco and has resonated with a lot of people who have been in this situation.

F: Which of your own tracks was the biggest labour of love to create / personal favourite?

Barbara: This is a really tough one. ‘Girls for Sport’ because of all the vocal editing and processing I did give it that ping-pong, percussive fx. I really loved that line from ‘Ghosted’ and I knew I wanted to build a whole track around just that and throw in some gaming references. I had a lot of fun with the sound design on it and finding that Game Boy power on the sample and the sports car engine revving. Those elements were really important to me to get right. Plus I really love trippy weird acid house so I wanted to make the breakdowns very different from the verses so you hear the chanting and different melodies. The whole thing I wanted listeners to feel like they were in a racing game like Grand Theft Auto. Then my good friend and collaborator Ed Hoffman wanted to make a dope dub remix which is perfect to take my initial concept to the next level. My friend Cristina Lazic recommended Noize London for the mastering and the final result was exactly what I had imagined.

F: You released your debut album, ‘Palm Dreams’, earlier this year, how was the whole ‘making an album’ experience for you and are you pleased with the results?

Barbara: Incredible. I can’t wait to get back into the studio for album number two. I fully come alive when I’m in the studio, nowhere else do I feel that safe and in control and so free to express myself. It feels like home. I really like to make it nice and cosy with good mood lighting, my baggy sweatshirt, cosy socks and lots of tea and soup to keep me warm. So many producers keep the AC going, so I need my comfy sweats and I’m in heaven. When we made ‘Palm Dreams’, the entire album was our lives for two intense weeks, and then a few weeks leading up to it while I was making all the drum beats and after A/B comparing the mixes and mastered tracks. People can’t believe we made 17 tracks in two weeks from mostly entirely new ideas. A lot of the lyrics had been floating in my head, but all the tracks were made in that little cave in Berkeley, CA.

It was such an amazing and incredibly fulfilling experience working with Jim to co-produce it. He made me feel so comfortable and embraced all of my wild ideas. For all the work he’s done, he is so down to earth and chill. The results? I’m blown away by the response. I love to hear what tracks touch people the most because everyone has their 1-3 that speak to them. When I performed live at my album party at Outer Heaven in New York, I could tell most people loved ‘Horse at the Disco’, ‘Ghosted’ and ‘Let Her Do It’. I’ve had so many people reach out about ‘Church of House’, and how it brings them up when they’re really feeling down. There is no greater feeling in the world than reaching people through my music.

F: The album features quite a cross-pollination of genres including house, trance, indie, pop and even country music, was that intentional from the start, or did it just turn out that way during the writing process?

Barbara: Yes, all of these sounds represent me and my taste. It’s really a journey through my mind and emotions and so different experiences call for different genres. And I wanted the listener to feel like the album was a journey from alt / indie pop (my early days growing up) to house and techno (my club days living in New York City) to alt-rock and punk (back to my high school Warped Tour days). In the last track, I also wanted to signal where I want to take my style for the next album. 

F: Your new single release, ‘Feel Your Soul’ with Sasheen has just come out on Magenta Blue. What’s it all about?   

Barbara: It’s about finding your soulmate. I heard the track and it called me to write about a deep love, a connection so strong and so immediate with someone that it feels like you’ve known them your entire life. Maybe you have even met in a past life?  When you’re with them the world just melts away and you feel like you can see into their soul. This is what Feel Your Soul is all about.

F: You’ve also recently started your own new label, Good Crazy, what plans have you got for it?

Barbara: We had our recent minimal, tech house track that just came out called. ‘My Best Friend’, a collaboration I did with Ed Hoffman. Next, we have a trance song coming with Spunoff, one of my favourite funky underground artists from Paris. This track comes out in June perfect for summer. This fall we’ll release some new disco tracks, UKG and progressive house. Please send your music – we’re actively accepting demos.

F: You’ve played some pretty big gigs recently, including the Las Vegas Raiders Allegiant stadium, do you prefer to play to a big festival-type crowd or a more intimate club setting?

Barbara: It was so amazing! My first stadium performance for 30,000 people. I still have flashbacks of it. And it was such a cool lineup with Anderson .paak and Kings of Leon. I really do enjoy both because I had really good energy around me. From big to intimate it’s about the people at the party. I want to feel that I’m connecting with them and have them enjoy it as much as I am. Perhaps it’s easier to build that connection in a more intimate club but if there’s that intimacy you’re able to build in a festival setting then that’s special. I do prefer playing outside overall. I love a great day party on a festival lineup with all the different genres of acts. That’s my ideal setting.

F: And what can we expect from a typical Barbara DJ set and why should we come and see you? 

Barbara: High energy, laughing, bouncing, dancing and tracks that will keep you moving the entire time. I play funky, unexpected, sometimes acid, disco and house. The weirder and groovier the better. I love tracks with cheeky lyrics, quirky samples, amazing percussion and very gritty and kind of throwback. I started on vinyl in the clubs and I was kind of in the weird group growing up so I like to bring that mischievous, rebellious style to my set and the sounds you can only hear in vinyl. You’ll be dancing and having a great time the entire time. 

F: Have you any plans to play in Europe this year?

Barbara: I’m mainly focused on recording right now, I’m working on some collaborations with artists I’ve always dreamt of working with, but follow me along on my Instagram as I announce a few shows this summer and the fall. You can expect to see me in Ibiza, Milan, London and Paris is all I can share for now.

F: What’s the best DJ set you’ve experienced recently?

Barbara: Matisa and Seth Troxler and Kerri Chandler together. She played Good Room recently in NY and her energy and tracks were insane. I got to see Seth and Kerri go vinyl b2b. At Do Not Sit on the Furniture for the Disco Disco party closing out Miami Music Week and it was unreal. 

F: Who are your top 5 current producers? 

Barbara: Illangelo, Yetmore, Matisa,  Leo Pol and Kim Ann Foxman. 

F: Finally, what are your goals for 2024?

Barbara: Make as much incredible music as I possibly can with artists all over the world. I want to play another festival and go back to my roots for a special vinyl-only set. I want to make a track with my grandfather who plays the saxophone and perform it live together. 

Sasheen, Barbara ‘Feel Your Soul’ is out now on Blue Magenta.

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