NAKED MUSIC LAID BARE:
Bruno Ybarra, Styled & Profiled
– by Jianda Johnson
What’s not to love (read: lust) about Naked Music? Not only has this ultra-chill, sweet cool collective raised the barre for modern (read: postmodern) electronica, they have indeed set the industry standard for muy suave boutique sounds with a mainstream appeal.
Luckily, Bruno agreed to have a chitty-chat with me about the audiovisual soulcandy Circe that is Naked Music (naked-music.com). Prepare to be seduced.
– How long has Naked Music been going, and who’s at the helm?
[Bruno Ybarra] Naked Music was launched as a label in December of 1998 by Dave Boonshoft, Bruno Ybarra and Jay Denes. Dave acts mostly in a CEO capacity, dealing with contracts, budgets and logistics. I act as Label Director and deal with most of the musical side of things: A&R, compilations and artist work. Jay is one of our chief producers working from the New York studio and we also have Becky Wisdom acting as office manager/operations.
– How did you come up with the concept for Naked Music (sleek, sensual, romantic, suave, top-notch production values and musicianship…)?
[Bruno Ybarra] Naked Music started out as Jay and Dave’s first studio (“Naked Music NYC”) – where Jay was producing some dance material for a handful of labels – mostly 12″ stuff. I was working for Om Records at the time doing A&R and signed Jay’s first album, ‘What’s On Your Mind?’, for development there. It wasn’t until the fall of 1998 that we decided to create Naked Music Recordings (as label) and the concept was to create sexy, forward-thinking, urban-influenced music in several different formats (dance, downtempo, etc.)
– What contribues to the vibe, the spirituality, the aesthetics of these “genres” (for lack of a better word) you deal with? Why do you think it touches most everyone who encounters it so centrally? In such a long-lasting way?
[Bruno Ybarra] I think one of the key reasons is our focus on songwriting and arrangement … which has always been a major interest for us. There is such a surplus of ‘tracks’ available out there nowadays that we all felt we could make more of an impression by really trying to craft some real songs based on compelling vocal performances. Of course, we also wanted to marry that with a production aesthetic that could speak to the audience we were most familiar with – the dance/underground community.
I think the hybridization of these two elements is what crafted our signature sound, more or less, from the get-go. These days, it really takes alot to make any real impression with new music, given the landscape out there and the shorter attention spans, so we’re constantly seeking to evolve the sound somewhat and take it to a new level!
– The presentation is so sleek, sensual, well-thought out, seductive, and the talent is so great! How do you find all of the visual, music, production and multimedia artists for your label?
[Bruno Ybarra] We’ve been really fortunate in that most of the people that work with and for the label were all friends before we kicked things off. In that respect, we haven’t had to really go out in search of new talent – so much as just work to cultivate the ‘in house’ artists.
We’ve branched out a bit and incorporated the remix talents of several UK producers and artists as well as some in France, Germany, Scandinavia, Africa and all points in between. The best part is that people have a fairly clear understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish – so it makes it a bit easier to forge ahead. The rest is just a matter of the all-important budget, timing and synchronicity!
– Tell us about the Scuba Parties.
[Bruno Ybarra] We threw the Scuba events here in San Francisco initially back in 2000/2001 … then we began throwing them over the summers as a monthly at La Terrazza (Barcelona). We’ve since discontinued the SF monthlies … but occasionally do one-off events here to promote upcoming artist albums, compilations and various other types of parties. We’re planning to do more residencies this summer in NYC, Europe and other parts of the globe if all goes according to plan.
– What inspires you, Bruno? What keeps you involved in projects of this caliber?
[Bruno Ybarra] I’m mostly just a firm believer in the power of music to reach people in a wholly-different way than any other medium. Unlike other media which present a more-or-less ‘specific’ imagery for its audience … music falls more into the subjective realm where people all react differently depending on where they’re at in their lives, age, relationships, location, etc. When you’re listening to music, it really does feel that anything is possible (not to mention the ultimate escape!) …
At any given time in my life, music has been my teacher, friend, guide, lover, drug and entertainment all rolled into one. It’s truly amazing to see the potential that music has historically, culturally and environmentally … not to mention the fact that it truly is the ‘common language’ for people across the globe … he who feels it, knows it!
– Have you known you’ve wanted to do this all of your life?
[Bruno Ybarra] From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always done everything in my power to expose myself to, and surround myself with, as much music as possible … from playing in bands, to doing radio, to writing editorials/reviews, dj’ing, attending live shows, etc. It’s just one of those things I can’t imagine living without.
However, I do know when enough is enough – and I think it’s important to balance your life and not get too top-heavy in one arena. I definitely find myself enjoying learning about as many other subjects as possible in addition to enjoying a good tune! Let’s face it, nobody wants to be a broken record, right? I’m by no means fanatic about it … I know when to change the channel. Otherwise, my only friends would be record store clerks! ha.
– Have you licensed any of the music out for film or TV?
[Bruno Ybarra] We have licensed some of our tunes out for commercial use (some with our approval and some without!). It’s great when you can land a nice synch license for television or film – but that’s a very competitive market nowadays. It’s a great vehicle if you can land it!
– So many of your releases combine electronic and natural acoustics and instrumentation. Do you have much to do with the production work involved in these releases?
[Bruno Ybarra] It really depends on the project … for the compilations I have much more input from the ground up. For artist albums, it really depends on the project. Producers like Jay Denes pretty much do things independently … other projects, like a vocalist album, require more input from an A&R perspective.
However, I try to always make suggestions with regard to instrumentation, changes, performances, lyrical content/arrangement, etc. where needed. Of course, the main job in doing A&R is to get people to perform at their highest level … which is a really tough balancing act to keep the feedback objective and inspirational and not spiralling into derogatory commentary – very delicate stuff! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t … at the end of the day, music is such a subjective thing – and people all see things differently. My favorite quote along these lines is “there’s an ass for every chair” … Jay Denes told me that once and it pretty much sums it up, eh?
– Indeed! How well is Naked Music being received in the States as opposed to the rest of the world?
[Bruno Ybarra] Judging from our sales, it seems to be about equal response both here and abroad … I think there are definitely territories that are more receptive to dance/underground music as a whole – and the U.S. has always been quite slow to react to changes in the music world … whereas may European territories have embraced it from the start. Things seem to be improving, though, on both sides of the Atlantic.
– Who are your stable artists on the site?[Bruno Ybarra] Our artist lineup to date consists of Lisa Shaw, Miguel Migs, Blue Six (Jay Denes), Gaelle-Speakeasy, Central Living (Dave Warrin), Aquanote (Gabe Rene), Lisa Treniere (‘Aya’) … we also work with several other producers and artists on a contract basis quite regularly.
– What’s your connection to Hed Kandi Recordings?
[Bruno Ybarra] None whatsoever – although Mark Doyle is a really great guy and has been a fantastic supporter for the label from day one. We licensed several tunes for Hed Kandi comps prior to our recent Astralwerks/Virgin deal. He also happens to know some of the best curry joints in London!
– How do maintain the quality control over all releases and products from your company?
[Bruno Ybarra] I’m not sure that I always do – as I always feel that things could be better (mastering, eq, mixes, etc.). However, I’m really glad that these things manage to go unnoticed from time to time. ; )
– How do you manage to balance the “business” side of the music business with artistic aspects? Is this natural? Learned? A combination of both?
[Bruno Ybarra] Well, I think that the disparate worlds of art and commerce have always been at odds with each other, fundamentally, but have somehow found a way to coexist in application. It seems to be mostly a case of one hand feeding the other in a revolving relationship.
I do feel that it’s important for business and artistic concerns to remain as independent as possible, in order for them both to achieve their goals. I guess I enjoy the balance between the two – as they both represent different sides of the coin to me. Definitely a combination of experience in seeing situations from both sides … and a strong dose of speculation, ultimately.
– Obviously, your music goes over well in SF, and NY, where your offices are located–why did you pick these two cities as home base? (as opposed to LA, Chicago, etc.)
[Bruno Ybarra] Well, I could really go out on a limb here to extoll the virtues of New York and SF’s obvious similarity as proverbial ‘points of entry’ for culture, art and geographical locales. However, the reality is that we just ‘happened’ to live in these cities. Jay and Dave are true New Yorkers … and I’m definitely got a case of Left Coastism … so the real question is how we can agree to anything to begin with! ; ) Somehow it all works – thanks to the recent benefits of technology.
– Personally, I know my fave Naked Music releases and songs change over time. What’s your current favorite release?
[Bruno Ybarra] Hmmm… probably one of my favorite Naked tunes at the moment is a track called ‘When’ that will appear on the Lisa Shaw album. It was produced by Eric Stamile and it’s hands-down one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in quite some time … the production really conveys a sense of vulnerability that really hits you right in the middle.
– Who are some of your favorite artists (be they current or from the past) who are not on any of your label affiliates?
[Bruno Ybarra] I’ve had so many favorite artists in so many different phases of my life … but some of the more consistent ones would have to range from the Clash, Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to Bill Evans, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Lonnie Liston Smith, Chaka Khan, Elvis Costello, Miles Davis – and everything in between. There are tons of groups and artists that I enjoy single albums and/or tunes from – but it’s a true test to find artists that have been consistently great over long periods of time. Not an easy task…
– If someone wants to book or feature one of your artists or projects, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
[Bruno Ybarra] Just send us an email! We’re all ears…
– What are some essential steps, for both artistic and commercial success, that you would recommend upcoming DJs/producers take?
[Bruno Ybarra] The most important thing I could stress – is to be yourself! I know people have said it from the beginning of time – but it’s the only real way to insure success as an artist and truly create a niche that only you can fill. Always do things for the love of it and you’ll never be disappointed.
– What’s your latest release, and are there any upcoming releases or tours you’d like folks to know about?
[Bruno Ybarra] Our most release release is Bare Essentials 2 – which is a combination of some of our highlight tunes from the past year and a half (and some new ones as well). We’re also currently working on the Lisa Shaw debut album, the Gaelle album, a DJ Harvey comp and a Bugz in the Attic comp … plenty more to come!
Lastly, thanks so much for your time with this interview! Anything else you want to add (our audience consists of both artists and people who love good music), please feel free to speak from your heart.
[Bruno Ybarra] I really appreciate you taking the time to ask the questions – really feels good to know that people are interested in today’s music in its many shapes! Thanks for considering us with your time and energy.