Musician and fellow midwesterner Brad LaBarbera has been releasing mellow, hip-hop inspired tracks for almost a decade now under the moniker of DJ Unwind. Harkening back to the earlier days of chill-hop, the Wisconsin born producer has gained a loyal following amongst dedicated beat enthusiasts.
Opportunities are abound for Brad these days. In recent years, he has had his music featured on popular television shows and has gotten the chance to work with legendary sound engineer, Andrew Scheps. Now living in Minnesota, he continues to grow a man and musician. Husband, father, travel enthusiast, and consummate professional, I am pleased to bring you an interview with such a class act.
Prox: How long have you been involved with music? Did you begin as a listener or did you grow up playing instruments?
DJ Unwind: Absolutely, a listener. My father had an impressive record collection growing up, so I would sit with him and listen to music at night. Everything from The Zombies, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Lou Rawls, etc. I got hands-on with music when I got my first set of turntables when I was 16. I didn’t start playing instruments until I was like 23 yrs. old (self taught piano, keys, bass guitar).
Prox: Who were some of your favorite artists growing up? Did the hip-hop, trip-hop, and downtempo scene in Minnesota influence your sound?
Dj Unwind: Growing up, I listened to mostly Alternative & Hip-Hop music. Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Outkast, Nas, The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Goodie Mob, the list goes on. I was raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and eventually moved to Minneapolis. I wouldn’t say I drew any influence from the scene in Minnesota to be honest. Most of my favorite artists growing up were actually Producers ie; Easy Mo Bee, Lord Finesse, Organized Noize, Jay Dee, Diamond D, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Buckwild, Hi-Tek. Too many to name really!
Prox: There have been pretty some long hiatuses between the releases of your albums. What are you usually doing during that time?
DJ Unwind: Besides being a father, a husband, traveling, working in a technology startup, cycling, hiking, etc, I am usually thinking about all of the aliases I want to operate under for different music projects [laughter]! In all seriousness, I also produce music for some exclusive publishers, for TV & Film etc., none of which I am able to release to the public. That occupies a good amount of my time. Also, I am fairly busy these days mixing (engineering) for a variety of artists. I have never made myself truly “available” to the public for mixing, but that may change in 2016. Matter of fact, I am sure most people don’t know that I engineer. Last October, I spent a week with Andrew Scheps (Mix Engineer: Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beyonce), and I realized in that time how much I really love being behind the boards!
Prox: Could you describe your musical evolution from your first album up until the release of Epais? Which of the three is your favorite, and what were you trying to convey with each one?
DJ Unwind: “Truth Beyond the Beat” was 100% vinyl samples. Before instruments, I sampled everything into Pro Tools from my turntables & an MPC 2000. That “sound” was a direct influence from the Producers I grew up admiring. Jazzy, mellow, ethereal samples is what I would always dig for in the record shops.
“Far From Here” was an experimental project that evolved from spending almost a month in Spain. I produced it when I got back home. It was really a result of me wanting to create a “fusion” sound that reflected my travels. 100% of “Far From Here” was played on my first keyboard, including a few fellow musicians.
“Épais” was a reflection of change for me. The release symbolized growth, and the feelings I was having at the time, mostly about becoming a young father, and the political BS we were (and still are) experiencing. It was an escape for me. You can hear the different emotions throughout that album if you listen closely. The beautiful thing about Épais is that I wanted the whole album to portray the sound of “samples”, but it was all played live (& Programmed), but saturated and “driven” to make it sound like it was sampled. Also, I had met Hannah Karydas who is an Australian vocalist featured on 3-tracks. She is now making waves in Australia as “Eves the Behavior”. I am thankful that I was able to collaborate with her.
Prox: Some of your music has been featured on television shows like Sons of Anarchy & Keeping Up With the Kardashians. What was your initial reaction to having your music featured?
DJ Unwind: It was intriguing. I realized how much I loved music in film, and that was something I wanted to pursue a bit more. I am a movie guy (mostly Indie & Cult Classics), and have been intrigued for the first day I saw the movie "Snatch", besides being an incredible film, the soundtrack is one of the best in existence in my opinion. That is part of the reason I also operate under the moniker “Oceans of Velvet”, mainly for pitching music to TV & Film. I did a song called “Unknowing” that featured Riva Taylor (popular UK Classical Singer), and it ended up in Sons of Anarchy (Season 7). I was very pleased with that placement.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite contemporary musicians?
DJ Unwind: People always ask me what I am listening too and when I tell them, they don't believe me so I took a screenshot of my current iTunes favorites playlist. That should summarize my atypical listening patterns.
Prox: Could you tell us some of the greatest things you have learned so far about your craft?
DJ Unwind: I have learned that there is no right or wrong way of doing anything when it comes to creating. I have also learned not to settle for mediocrity. Learning new chord progressions or instruments for that matter is critical for growth. Most importantly, I have also learned that you don't have to follow trends to gain recognition.
Prox: What are some of your favorite hobbies?
DJ Unwind: Travel. Some of my favorite cities include Montreal, Verona (Italy), Sevilla (Spain), & Avignon (France). Hosting, we always have people staying at our house (as we have an open-door policy), cooking (native Sicilian food), cycling on my Felt race bike when it's not winter, hiking near Grand Marais, MN with my wife & daughter, reading (geography), vaporizer sessions, and the occasional Xbox binge (& SNES). It's all relevant! I'd say keeping good company while sharing cuisine & libation is the most important.
Prox: Tips for aspiring producers?
DJ Unwind: Practice being patient. There are a lot of “smoke & mirrors” out there, so practice being wise, and keep good company within the music industry, it will help. Also, smile more often! Don't try to be too damn cool for your own good!
Prox: Final Thoughts?
DJ Unwind: Thank you Prox. I wanted to share a new music video from a new project that Levphonic & I are working on. Levphonic is a producer from California on Velvet Music Group.
Stay Tuned, and be safe out there!