On the dance floor, Bay Area DJ and musician Barbara is the party. Between her big smile, bright energy and incredible song selection, she’ll fill your heart and soul with joy.
She plays from her gut informed by her musical influences, DJ residencies at places like Black Flamingo & W Hotels, Burning Man and her wild inner child. If you’ve ever been to see Barbara play it’s all gas, no brakes. Her music is surprising, fun, and upbeat and makes you feel like you’re at a funky disco house party somewhere unknown.
Barbara (also known as DJ Barbs) has played at popular venues including Makeout Room, 1015 Folsom, Make Believe and major events such as Daybreaker, Femme House + W San Francisco Presents and Burning Man. Keep an ear out for her
What makes Barbara aka DJ Barbs such a unique artist (and fun to listen to) is that she plays by no rules. And she’s always smiling and bringing people together on the dancefloor with her eclectic taste. You can hear it in her album Palm City Dreams since she draws inspiration from 90s pop bands, alternative rock, deep house and disco.
What sets your music apart? What is unique, or at least uncommon?
Great question! I think what really sets me apart as an artist and my sound is that I’m not only a singer-songwriter but also a DJ and a producer.
I know exactly what I like and what I don’t and I can describe it when I’m in the studio collaborating with other artists or go into Ableton and make it or change it myself. It’s incredibly liberating and empowering. In so many ways I feel like I’m still discovering new skills from being in both worlds of electronic music as a DJ and producer but a lover of pop, oldies, classics and soul as a singer-songwriter and fan myself/concertgoer. It’s the best of both worlds because I’m bringing the drum beats, the vibes, the joy, the tension, and the quirkiness from what I love to hear in the clubs and what I play at clubs and events to how I’m making my own music but then adding this layer of pop structure for the lyrics, chords and arrangements.
I think being a DJ has helped me understand how to make people move, how to catch a groove, get lost in the music, fall in love on the dancefloor and how to keep the energy going for a long period of time. And as a DJ I can test out things and experiment with what works or what might need to be adjusted with the mix of a track which lends itself to my production side.
As a singer-songwriter, I love that I can now perform/DJ with live vocals over my tracks to bring a live musical element to my sets. I think what also makes me unique and my music is my ability to craft really catchy hooks from my crazy repertoire or index of music (I can listen to a song and hear several other songs all using similar chords) so I’m constantly drawing inspiration from blending different genres and ideas. The end result (which I hope!) is really fun, upbeat music that makes you want to dance and what you’ll hear has my unique Barbara only sound 🙂
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Has your musical journey had a deliberate direction, or did it simply gradually evolve in whatever direction it found?
Oh wow, it’s definitely been quite the journey with so many twists and turns. It’s a real example of how when something is meant for you, it won’t pass you. Like most musicians, I grew up in a very music-filled home.
My mom and I lived with my grandparents in Medford (a small town outside of Boston, MA) and there was always 50s music playing or my mom jamming to Tavares or singing to me. My grandfather, Dominic, aka Grampy, is also a professional saxophone player and owned a music shop so I was always wanting to try different instruments like the piano and the flute but I couldn’t get the hang of music theory or reading sheet music. But I realized that I could sing early on and it made me (and others) happy.
My mom would bring me to sing at local parties and put me in the church choir and I ended up trying out for Handel and Haydn Society, Boston’s Grammy-winning performing arts organization and I got in. I really enjoyed singing with them but still couldn’t grasp music theory, so my ears became my best friends.
Naturally, I wanted to pursue music in college, but I couldn’t read music nor sight read – a requirement for every reputable conservatory in the U.S., so I ended up letting go of it all, leaving my passions behind to major in business and art history at Suffolk University. At this point too, I really didn’t see anyone close to me make a path in music either so I didn’t feel like I could keep following my dream which really sucked. But here we are ????
In 2017, I finally made my dream happen to move to New York City and the energy of the city reignited my love for music. I couldn’t help but explore every music store and underground club I could find and learn more. I became so enchanted by how the DJs were creating this vibe and world on the dancefloor so I decided I wanted to learn. Thankfully, I had a cousin who lived in New York City too and was a music producer with an old set of DJ equipment lying around. He was so kind to come over to set up the turntables in my 300 square foot apartment (on top of my dog’s crate) and that was the start of my DJ career.
I got my first DJ gig at Black Flamingo, a really well-known music spot in Williamsburg (Brooklyn). I played from open to close and everyone loved it – even the manager asked for the names of a few tracks in my set! The energy was incredible, the adrenaline and rush moving from one track to the next and seeing people on the dancefloor having the best time. After that gig, I began to think how amazing it would feel to spin my own music one day.
Eventually, I moved to San Francisco and took a few classes through Pyramind & IO Music Academy to learn how to produce my own music with Ableton, software and hardware for music creation and performance. I was in flow, spinning regularly, making beats and starting to get booked for bigger DJ gigs and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. My good friends saw that I was really down (along with most folks) and insisted that I should continue to spread joy through my music – that’s when Digi Disco, a virtual quarantine dance party, was created. And it was amazing, I reached 1000s of people through the weekly stream and it felt so good to spread my joy.
Fast forward to 2022 and I began vocal coaching again to get my voice ready to sing. I started to have all these ideas poured out and knew it was time to make my own music with my vocals. I got connected with my co-producer on the album, Jim Greer, through my vocal coach, we made my first album, Palm City Dreams at the end of 2022 and now I’ll have like 5 songs coming out in 2023, an entire album later this year, remixes for other artists, a new radio show starting, tons of DJ gigs and so music has come back in full swing in the most incredible way.
Do you plan your music releases, or do you just finish a song and release it?
With the incredible volume of new music coming out these days (think it’s like 50k new tracks are published to Spotify per day) it’s critical to have a plan. I would HIGHLY recommend taking the Fanbase Accelerator program by Amber Horburgh (or even taking some of her free online workshops and webinars) if you’re just starting out.
If you want to break through as an emerging, independent artist with a limited budget then you must plan. I plan all my releases and think of them as mini marketing campaigns for a new product. It’s really fun and lets me be creative for each one even though I follow the same process. I give about a month’s lead time to provide my songs to my online music distributor (Distrokid), work with my very talented friend to create the music artwork and then think about the social strategy and videos I want to take to show my fans how the song was created, what inspired it, my creative process, etc.
Now I’m even inviting friends and fans to be part of the release plan by letting them select the next tracks I’ll release so for the next single that I’ll drop in July or August I’ll give them a few snippets (videos on social) to select the option they want to groove to next 🙂
Was anyone else involved in writing, recording, or producing the songs?
YES! I definitely could not have made my album, Palm City Dreams alone. I know what I like to hear as a DJ and what I am capable of singing in terms of my range and the genres/artists that have inspired my sound but I can’t sight read or play an instrument so it has limited my abilities (when I’m producing music in Ableton I play with a lot of samples of instruments and then get the midi notes to play around with them). I got connected to a talented musician/engineer/producer through my vocal coach in Berkeley, CA (his name is Jim Greer and he is a member of the Cardboard People band).
We met in July 2022 and hit it off immediately. I wanted to make an album and he wanted to work with someone with my level of passion and personality in the dance/electronic world. So we made Palm City Dreams, a 15 track album over 12+ hour days for 2 intense weeks (having never worked together before & me never working in a studio LOL). It was a really ambitious project.
I made all the drum beats prior to our demo days in the studio and sent him 100s of voice memos that I thought would form the tracks but it was incredible to create everything new on the fly. We’d open the session with my drum beat, he’d get a bass, piano, or guitar going and I’d riff lyrics/get a sense of the vibe from the notes. It was an incredible collaboration and I’m really proud of the music. Then we worked with Jonathan Kirchner to master the album.
Would you have any advice for would-be artists or songwriters wanting to follow you?
Make whatever makes you happy. Don’t play to the trends, what others are doing or what you think people will like aka be commercially viable. It feels scary at first to do something or make music that doesn’t sound like anything else but that’s what will be remembered — lean into what makes you different and happy or satisfies you the most because that’s what will make you special and memorable.
With social media, it’s really hard to not compare yourself to other artists who are further along than you but just have patience and know everything takes time (plus folks have different starting places). My coach tells me that overnight success is usually like 5-10 years in the making so just keep at it, stay positive, remain open and curious, and make a lot of stuff that might suck but that’s ok because when you’re just starting out its important to establish a consistent creative routine and get into the habit of finishing tracks – more important than the quality of them.
Try to write every day and don’t judge whatever comes out. Don’t wait for the moment of inspo to strike because there’s inspiration all around you, always. Don’t rush a song, it’s ok to go and forth to change things but it will never be perfect. So when you’re happy with it, consider it done and move on to the next one. Music is so subjective so people may have negative feedback and not like your music but that’s ok because you’re only seeking validation from yourself – your true compass. And your real audience of fans will love you – that’s all that matters. You got this!
What is next for you?
A lot more music ????I’ll have my album coming out in the fall, a remix/dance only EP, some remixes I’ve done for other artists and more originals with a close friend of mine in San Francisco. Really good, funky and fun music! Get ready for more live shows, my new radio show, more behind the scenes content, more milestones to celebrate, etc. I want folks to enjoy this ride with me!
What was the last thing you dressed up as for fancy dress?
I went to this really cool party in San Francisco, CA recently called Art Bash which happens once a year at the SF Museum of Modern Art (SF MoMA). This year’s performers were Amber Mark and Toro y Moi who I love. I was excited to have a reason to get dressed up on a random Weds night and have an incredible pair of height defying Valentino platforms (TAN-GO PLATFORM PUMPs) that have been sitting in the box just waiting for the right event!
I wanted to wear them for NYE in Miami last year but rolled my ankle before my trip lol so I was confined to sneakers only. Anyways for Art Bash, I dressed from the feet up knowing I would wear my black Valentino pumps. I paired it with this super cute green ruffley cocktail dress that my mother-in-law bought me for Christmas and a chunky faux faur jacket and some dangly gold shooting star earrings. I loved my look so much!
Do you have a cherished childhood teddy bear or other stuffed animal sitting on your bed at home?
LOLOL this one really speaks to me! My very good girlfriend Simone is a Veterinarian in FL and she and her entire family love stuffed animals. So I would say I was inspired by her to have 1 as an adult because when I’d stay at her place and visit her, she would give me a plush white soft rabbit that was soo soothing to sleep with.
So one day I come home to my apartment in San Francisco, CA (I had had a few cocktails with the girls earlier that day) and to my surprise this super soft little lamb. I thought wow my husband is so sweet, he knows I loved sleeping with the rabbit Simone had so he must’ve gotten me my own stuffed animal. I go to sleep holding it close, wake up the next morning and my dog is sitting up staring at me (we have a little mini Aussie named Berkeley, blue eyes). I’m like what’s wrong Berkeley?! And my husband goes that’s his toy.
What were you doing sleeping with it?! HAHAHAHA I guess its lamb or lamby as I say that like all pet stores have. It’s the universal puppy toy and I thought it was my stuffed animal LOL so on release day for my first single Ghosted in March, my husband actually did buy me one so now my dog and I both have our stuffed animals (we can tell the difference because mine is pristine white and Berkeley’s is now missing an ear). HAHAHA
Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life?
Rachel McAdams, Sienna Miller, or Florence Pugh – a badass blonde woman who I could totally see playing to all the parts of my personality – my silliness, playfulness, determination, decisiveness, adventurousness, curiosity, joy, wild mind, laser focus, experimental mentality and parts of my life where I had many shades of pink hair – the key would be an actress who could nail my dimensionality effortlessly and with the right balance.
What makes you nostalgic?
A turkey blt. It’s funny because now as an adult I crave it when I need a comfort moment. My great-grandmother (Nani/Eva) lived in Somerville, MA when I was growing up – like the town over from us in Medford, MA and I spent a lot of time with her. She was my inspiration. She was so kind, also dressed to the nines and loved to paint, cook, host family and hang out with her girlfriends (most days they would be hanging out at Dunkin Donuts in Davis Sq by Tufts University).
I remember going to Dennys with her in Somerville or just little sandwich shops and she loved a turkey club sandwich with extra mayo. My grandmother (Mame aka Rita) also really loves them and my mom loves bacon so I guess it runs in the family haha. I don’t like to eat that much bread since I try to be healthy so instead of a club I get a turkey blt with pickles and it makes me feel like I’m a kid sitting with Nani when I eat it. It brings me so much joy and comfort.
If you could learn any language fluently, what would it be?
Italian!! Io sono Italiana!! I’m 3rd or 4th generation Italian with my family from Abruzzi and Sicily, I lived in Florence during college and did a singing tour with my a capella group in Sorrento, Rome and southern Italy when I was in high school so I tried on and off again for years to learn to speak it. Italian is such a beautiful, romantic language and it’s my dream to have a song in Italian one day w/ Italian musicians such as Rkomi, Elodie and Irama.
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