Sounds of Chicago: Mia Wallace
When we first saw “Mia Wallace” on a bill, we anticipated (and assumed) we would be seeing a kick-ass female DJ behind the decks. As two men got on stage to perform, we wondered why Mia Wallace wasn’t playing her set anymore. Little did we know that the two men on stage were ½ of the house group known as Mia Wallace. We were immediately impressed by the group’s performance, which consisted of mixing songs with a live percussion element layered on top. Their music is dark and dynamic, featuring bass lines that could put an earthquake tremor to shame. Our expectations were exceeded when we discovered that Mia Wallace is in fact four artists partnering under one guise. Collaborating between two artists is difficult enough, but trying to manage four different personalities whilst making music seems slightly impossible. Somehow the group forges ahead, and we suspect it’s because they believe in the sound that their unity creates.
Mia Wallace regularly performs at the best dance events in Chicago (they were a highlight at Riverwest Music Festival) and their most recent release, “I’m the Man,” was highly sought after by the Dirtybird chief Claude VonStroke. The four faces behind Mia Wallace all contribute to the group’s success, but the music they create collectively celebrates a diversity of sound and spirit that embodies the Windy City. Poised to explode onto the U.S. dance circuit, Mia Wallace continues to push dance music boundaries one bangin’ track at a time. In an exclusive interview with band member David Castellani, we learn more about each band member, discuss the group’s dynamics, origins of the name, “I’m the Man,” and more music releases.
RP: Tell us the members of the band and the role they play. How did you guys link up?
MW: David Castellani = Percussionist/ Beat wizard
Garrett Brunson = Male vocals/ Rapper extraordinaire
Mike Azrikan = DJ/ Live set/ Beat making maverick
Alyssa Waldon = Female voice of an angel
I’ve [David] been producing for a long time. I started in the funk/jazz genre with a band in high school. As a percussionist, I played a lot of Afro-Cuban music and Latin-inspired rhythms. That led to an interest in hip-hop and shortly after I began producing hip-hop beats. Garrett and I were in a hip-hop group together. After the group broke up, we kept working together. A few years ago I started gravitating towards dance music. So when Garrett and I started to produce more dance stuff, my longtime friend Mike, who was always involved in the local dance scene, joined the crew. He was the manager for the group for a couple months but we quickly realized we wanted him to do more so we brought him on as an artist. Alyssa joined the group a year ago and she’s been singing ever since her choir days in grade school.
You guys all have different cultural backgrounds-briefly tell us about that and how it has influenced your sound.
I was born in Italy and moved to the states just before high school. Mike is from Russia and moved here shortly before he started high school, too. Garrett is a Chicago native and Alyssa is a Midwest girl who has lived in Chicago most of her life.
All of our experiences have molded us and shaped who we are as artists and the kind of music we are making right now. Also, I think we are inspired by Chicago and the diversity of sounds that the city has to offer.
Does it ever get hard working with so many people? What’s the collaboration process like?
Our personalities mesh really well together. In all the bands I have worked with in the past that was always the biggest problem—the connection and communication between the people and having the same goals. This group works so well because we all have a specific role we are responsible for and we hold each other accountable. As far as making music, Mike and I make beats and then the vocals are inspired by the actual music. Garrett and Alyssa will listen to the beats and then sit and write for a while. But there are some occasions where they will have something pre-written.
How did you guys come up with the name Mia Wallace?
The name was something that was always really hard…we went through a bunch of them until eventually we landed on this one. A lot of things attracted us to the name. First off the name was inspired from the Pulp Fiction character (Uma Thurman’s character), Mia Wallace – how she carries herself, what she embodies, and her energy. I really like that character. I also like the fact that’s it’s a girl’s name… There was something about the name that attracted me to it.
What would you say is the personality that Mia Wallace embodies? What is the meeting ground between the 4 of you where Mia Wallace exists?
We all come from different backgrounds of music, but collectively, we’re all kind of pushing towards a really dark sound. Something driving that hits you and makes you dance but that’s also cerebral and weird. We’re getting into weird atmospherics and trippy stuff as well.
We are also working towards a full live performance, that’s the ultimate goal. Right now, we are doing a lot of live percussion and eventually we are hoping to incorporate visual elements like actual performers and weird carnie/late night strange vibes.
It’s weird because the dance scene is pretty divided—there’s this tech/house side and then there’s the jammy/electro more festival kind of music… It seems like most of the live shows push towards the latter side, like Pretty Lights etc. I would like to use the same type of live element in our shows but keep the sound on the tech/house side—dark, driving music with less melody, more percussion and weird vocals.
Your summer hit “I’m the Man,” out now via Slur Records, has been garnering lots of attention. Dirtybird boss Claude VonStroke is a big fan and it even made the coveted Beatport Staff Picks list. Tell us about the concept behind the track.
It was just one of those songs that happened in a very natural, clear way. Certain tracks fight you the whole way and struggle to find their sound. Other tracks just fall into place magically and right away you find the sound you want and it just happens. That’s kind of what happened with “I’m the Man.” We were sitting in the studio, Elroy was over (he’s a homie of ours), and he liked the beat so he just started trying different things lyrically and we just took it from there. In a few days the track was complete.
We saw a video of Claude VonStroke dropping the track in Chicago which was pretty awesome…
Yeah, when the track was complete, I immediately thought, “This would be perfect for Dirtybird.” I saw him a handful of times within the next year and gave him a demo of the song but we never heard back. The track was just sitting there for some time and Detroit-based imprint, Slur Records, showed interest in the track so we decided to move forward with the label and sign it. At that point Slur was waiting to release it until they built the label up a bit more.
It had been sitting with a signed contract for about 8 months when we were playing an afterhours party in Chicago and Barclay [VonStroke] was playing in town that night as well. We dropped the original mix of “I’m the Man” unbeknownst to us that he was at the party, and the next thing we know he’s at the booth exclaiming, “What is this? I want this song!” Obviously we were beyond excited and started talking to him right away. He really liked the track and wanted to release it, but we had already signed with Slur so the track had a home. We’ve kept in contact with Barclay, so it’s been a big positive for us.
What events/releases do you have coming up that our readers should know about?
We’ve got our new song “Calico” coming out in October via Apulia Records with remixes from Matthew Burton, Martin Dacar and Flatless. Also, we’ve got a new one coming out this fall on Bulletdodge Records with a sick remix by Terry Francis. Finally, we are working on a bunch of collaborations to be announced soon…
Discover Mia Wallace releases here!
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