It was one of those surprising, but rather likely coincidences of a 'small world' and '6 degrees' syndrome. Now a denizen of New York City's club scene, William Salas, otherwise known as Bill Brenmar (formerly of Brooklyn based These Are Powers), is a Windy City (Chicago) transplant who rolled into NY to see what he could see, bringing a swag of knowledge and influences with him in amongst some excellent tracks. After a friendly 'hi' email was exchanged, we quickly realised that we happened to live within the same two blocks of each other - whilst I was in New York and when he wasn't touring or blowing up clubs in other cities, that is.
The thing that I enjoy most about Brenmar is his ability to take a
track, extract the most poignant moments from it, and bump it up to the next level by rewarding it the with a
whole song in itself. His new EP entitled At It Again released via Discobelle Records (which boasts four new original songs and a couple of
remixes by UK moodists, Ikonika & Optimum, and the holy trinity of juke: DJ Rashad, DJ Earl and DJ BMT) is an exercise in exactly that.
Hanging out with Bill was both a memory trip - having grown up with around the same Top 40 jams making an impact in our hormonal years - and an education; I got schooled in regional musical genres 101, all of which exist within the United States and somehow influence the Brenmar sound. It's this heartwrenching pop relatability combined with a sweaty, banging dancefloor vibe in his tracks filled with ghetto house, juke and R&B references that has made him a fixture in my playlists, including the XLR8R mix that he did last month that has had everyone raving.
We met just hours before he was off to play a Brenmar gig upstate with Lemonade, and just a day before I was due to exit New York, missing all the shenanigans of an American Halloween. Sitting in a café in Williamsburg, I found Bill to be a genuinely excited and exciting person, who creates music that has enabled him to steadily gain a following that boils down to the simple fact that behind the production and the samples and the clubs and the hype is plain old love for the music...
So how did you come up with the name? From your little brother right?
Yeah, he’s been going to therapy since he was two years old. He was born with a hole in one of his lungs so he had to have an operation. Though that’s not necessarily why he speaks like he does. It’s hard to pinpoint why he speaks the way he does but it’s potentially be one of the reasons. He’s gonna turn nine November 6th. He’s really smart though, he’s got better grades than I did when I was at school!
Anyway. When he
was two, he gave everybody in my family their own particular name. We
were slowly telling him our names and he would repeat whatever it was he
felt was right. I told him my name and for some reason he was like,
‘Brenmar! Brenmar!” I don’t know where he got it from. And
when it came time to get a name, I just thought back to what my little
brother used to call me.
I think it really suits you. I can’t really place the name Bill and you the music/person I’ve just met.
It works. A lot of people think it’s my real name.
How old are you? We would have grown up within the same sort of pop culture. How did you choose the tracks that you’ve remixed so far that have gotten out online?
I’m 25. I’m a hip hop head at heart. That’s the first music I fell in love with. And I’ve got an older sister, who’s 31 and all she listened to was R&B. I was always arguing with her growing up. When I was 14 or 15, I have to admit, I wasn't that into it. I would always say to my sister, “All you listen to is R&B!” And she’d be like, “Well all you listen to is hip hop!” And we’d fight in the car and switch. I have a little sister who’s 23 and she listens to a lot of R&B and Spanish music.
So it [R&B] was always around me growing up, whether I wanted it or not. As I hit my mid to late teens I got a lot more into it. And I started to like...hang out with girls and stuff a lot more seriously, so it started to resonate more with me! Suddenly it wasn’t all just about hard hip hop beats. But I went through multiple phases. Like I got into ambient music and commercial radio pop, ‘guilty pleasure’ shit. I have no qualms about what I like. I like what I like. There was definitely a phase when I was a purist about it. I went through a phase of like, backpack hip hop phase, a commercial hip hop phase ambient noise pop, rock, indie rock. I just dove into all that shit a little bit. And Brenmar, before I joined the band (These Are Powers) was just a little bit of everything. I produced this little record for my friend Elissa P and she did vocals. I was 18 or 19 at the time, learning the ropes. Then I started playing a lot of shows on my own.
So what, where are you from? And when did you move to New York?
Chicago. Well, These Are Powers existed for 8 or 9 months before I officially joined. They did their first tour of the mid-west and I opened up for them, as Brenmar. They were more of a band before. I took a little break for a couple of years and got more into production and got more into bands and fell into that kind of scene in Chicago.
Tell me a bit about Chicago - I know nothing about it. Is there a scene there? Is it cool?
Ahh yes and no. I’ve got a lot of friends that have moved from Chicago and are doing really cool things here. But in Chicago you just don’t get any recognition or love. It’s really hard to sustain being creative in Chicago. There’s not much support though. You can only get to a certain point before you start to go back down again. Where in New York -
It’s a jump off for the rest of the world.
Exactly. You make a name for yourself in New York and you play to packed houses in Chicago, or elsewhere. Whereas if you make a name for yourself in Chicago and come to New York...
No one gives a shit.
Yeah. For the most part. That’s not exclusive to Chicago. There’s just more opportunities here. You can play a show and anyone from anywhere in the world could be there. I toured China last summer [with These Are Powers]. I mean, it was two years in the making but it was the result of a show I played with my band. This guy Michael Pettis who used to live in NY now lives in China, has a club and record label in China. He funded everything. But that was the result of us playing one show in NYC.
But there’s a lot of shit going on in Chicago. From like, 13 to 16/17, I was roaming the streets all the time. Like, doing shit I didn’t necessarily need to be doing. But whatever, we’d go to house parties and stuff. I grew up going back and forth between my neighborhood and Logan Square which back then was still pretty rough, still pretty hood. And this other neighborhood, Riis Park which was also pretty shady.
Nonetheless, we’d go to these parties and it was just straight up hip hop and juke and ghetto house, like early 2000s. Gatman, Slugo - you know any of these? They’re all juke DJs. But you’re familiar with like, juke in footwork right? That style of music? It’s really fast 150 to 160 sped up, pretty minimal ghetto house basically. And there’s a whole dance associated with it that happens on the south side of Chicago. But to go back to your original question of why I chose those tracks, there’s no real rhyme or reason, but I did this DJ Deeon remix - he’s a Chicago ghetto house producer that used to release records on this kinda legendary Chicago ghetto house label called Dance Mania - and I’ve been hearing that music since I was in my early teens but I never thought much of it except that I liked it, and girls would always get down to it and it’s a really dirty dance! Until I left Chicago and would bring it up with friends here in New York and no one knew what the fuck I was talking about. I only realised then just how regional it was.
The US is huge and anything that manages to gain popularity outside of it is another story.
Yeah! For a dance or music style to break out across nationwide is a big deal, and to go outside the country is even bigger. Or harder.
Actually, the reason why I’ve heard about some regional stuff is because of So You Think You Can Dance (YEAH Y’ALL, AIN’T NO SHAME IN SHOWING LOVE FOR SYTYCD), because they get these regional specialists auditioning and shit, it gives you a peep into a whole other world within these genres.
Yeah, yeah! Chicago has like Juke, Ghetto House, Footwork; you got like Snap Music Atlanta, Miami Bass which is very particular, Houston Screw... That’s out of Texas. You got New Orleans bounce - all of which are very urban, regional music that generally come along with their own dance style.
It’s not as specific as this, regionally in the UK, despite many cities having been known for a certain sound, but only generally I think because of certain bands that emerged from there, not because there is necessarily a scene as such that binds an aesthetic or sound as specifically as here in the US like you’ve been talking. Have you been to the UK?
Yeah, I’ve been there a bunch of times, with These Are Powers. I gotta lot of friends in London.
You know, I feel like there’s a new revival of ‘urban music’.
It’s being distilled. Specially in the UK. Like, you know Night Slugs? A lot of those guys are working with American hip hop and R&B influences. Girl Unit works with a lot of juke/footwork influences. He knows his shit. And they’re not the only ones.
There finally seems to be a symbiotic relationship between
the UK and the US in particular. The UK is very progressie when it
comes to it’s dance music. I like a lot of it, but sometimes it’s not
hard enough! I like it a little bit more raw. It needs to be a little
more primal. Sometimes the UK stuff is a little too ethereal, too much
reverb or too many pads or gets a little too emotional kinda, I don’t
know? It makes kinda really good house - like, at home music - to dance to, you
know? But it doesn’t always go over that well in terms of busting it out
in the club. Sometimes I get weird looks when I play some of that UK
stuff. The US is really big into electro. Justice is still big here.
It’s changing, but slowly.
How long ago did you feel the need to shift to New York?
I left Chicago in September of 2007. I’ve been here for a few years but I only feel like I’ve really been living here for a year and a few months.
Because of touring?
Exactly. Cos when I left Chicago, I left with literally a suitcase full of clothes and a laptop. And that’s all I had for two years. I didn’t have my own room for two years. I’d stay with friends or sub-let. And that was cool for a while, cos I was so complacent in Chicago. I needed my own space though, cos my bedroom is my studio -
Do you have a day job?
[high fives all around]
I hustle hard. Just music. I had this weird little job for a while where I was taking pictures of hotel reader boards. You know, those boards that tell you which companies are having meetings at the hotel that day? So I’d get handed a list of hotels three days a week on my own time, take pictures of these boards, walk out and upload them to this website. It was with some company based outside of Baltimore and they would pay me for every picture. It was really good money, really easy work. I think other hotels would hire this company to essentially hire me, cos I was an independent contractor to basically kinda spy and gather information on these hotels.
I had to take these pictures on the down low. Like, the hotel staff weren’t allowed to see me take the photos, so I’d have to sneak in the camera. Sometimes the boards were like on the 36th floor, or way in the back or the basement, so I had to wander these hotels. The hotels were spread out through out the city so I got to know Manhattan pretty well. It was a little stressful at times, but mostly pretty chill.
Did you go to University or anything?
I went to Columbia College in Chicago for about a year and a half, studying sound recording and audio. I don’t regret going, but my biggest realisation going to school, my biggest ‘a-ha!’ moment was that I didn’t need to be in school; and that I didn’t like recording other people’s music. Plus they were constantly talking about the demise of the recording studio because of home studios, this and that - which is not necessarily true.
Also at the same time, I was doing my solo thing,
and Chicago was starting to take notice, people were coming out to my
shows, I was getting written up in the local weeklies and that was rad.
This is where I was like, skipping class to stay at home and make beats.
So I said down with my parents and told them I wanna move out, get a
job, make some money and then make music. My parents are cool, they’re
Where are your parents from?
My mother’s Puerto Rican and my father’s Costa Rican. They said what parents would normally say too, and they also said, if this is what you wanna do, do it. And that was four years ago. So, no regrets whatsoever, things have been going really well. It’s the best decision I made, honestly.
When you write stuff, do you base it on a sample, are you thinking of a beat or...
It totally depends. Sometimes I’ll start off with samples, sometimes just a drum beat, I’ll play around with rhythms, and then eventually, I’ll start looking for acapellas for a vocal fragment,s vocal snippets, and that’ll generally dictate the key of the song. Sometimes it’ll happen the other way around, and I’ll feel like it needs a hook.
Cause honestly, they’re kinda my own version of pop songs. I think in verses and choruses, I think in A, B, A, C...I like DJing my own stuff, and I think for the club and I think hooks. I want you to walk away and hum some of the melodies. The vocals are me essentially referencing my love for ghetto house, cos what happens is they’ll take a 3 or 4 word vocal and just loop it and chop it and repeat it over and over and over and over again; and it becomes this kind of hook/melody in it’s own right.
with the Aaliyah and Cassie remixes, the vocals are so strong that I
barely touched them, I didn’t need to - I didn’t want to! I flipped the
Aaliyah remix in like, seven hours in my parents living room with my
little brother running around touching all my shit, playing. I was bored
one afternoon in Chicago, when I had some time off. And I used to
listen to the acapella for it all the time, it’s really beautiful I like
it. Since I was in Chicago I decided to incorporate some of my Chicago
influences into it. That’s why it’s at 140 bpm and has a little juke
breakdown with the toms. That’s why I called it the ‘windy city’ remix
When I listen to your stuff, I can hear that it’s Brenmar. No one else is doing it like that right now, and I’m coming at it from a pretty virginal mindset because I don’t know the references.
I wanna do some stuff with original vocals too. I’ve got two EPs in the books for next year. Discobelle’s releasing the one I sent you, I’m shooting a video in the next 6 weeks for ‘Taking It Down’ and that’s going to be really cool. Not just some crappy screen saver, none of that.
Do you have any plans for the UK? What do you think of the scene there?
I get a lot of love from the UK and I love of lot of stuff from the UK. Brenmar is essentially like, UK based music meets ghetto house meets hip hop and R&B - and house! Those are basically my references. So any love from the UK and Europe in general is all good.
Do you associate yourself with a scene here in NY?
There’s a scene going on but it’s bigger than NY. I feel like there’s a new dance music scene that’s slowly but surely emerging. Like, NGUZUNGUZU just moved out to LA, they’re my really good friends. Dubbel Dutch lives in Austin and we’re working on stuff together LOL Boys go back and forth between LA and Montreal, and there's also my man Samo Sound Boy also holding it down in LA...In NY there’s a lot of support, and loads of friends, and I DJ this and that, but there isn’t like a core group of us necessarily.
Can I get your opinion on the new wave of 'R&B' and it's pop stars?
I think it’s really good. There’s a lot of like...a lot of it is trendy for sure. But in general it’s a really good thing. I think some of the most interesting music is being made on the radio, for the radio. Commercial hip hop, mainstream radio, it’s some of the most interesting stuff going on. Production wise, vocal wise...Content wise they recycle a lot of stuff. But production wise its some really interesting stuff.
I listen to Top 40 stuff more than I do anything else. Commercial R&B and hip hop is my shit, I love that stuff. There’s no other music that makes me feel the way that does. I love it so much. I’ve caught a lot of weird little tweets or this and that, and it’s like “Brenmar’s Aaliyah remix, so cheesy, guilty pleasure, so good!” I’m glad that they enjoy it, but why you feel guilty, what are you ashamed of? I’m being completely sincere. I make these tracks because I love that shit. There’s nothing guilty or cheesy about it at all to me. It’s real to me.
And taken from At It Again is 'Taking It Down':