Eclectic singer-songwriter Brad Urba meets up with us at the overtly arts focused Joe Coffee in North Hollywood, CA to talk about using his music to help others, being influenced by anything around him, and his genre transitioning journey from rapper to the country rock/EDM pop hybrid that he is today.
So you recently released your single, “The Way Down.” Congrats!
Brad: Thank you!
Care to share a little bit about how the song came about?
Brad: Of course! I wrote that one maybe a year ago. I got a beat that had a very ominous vibe to it, and it kind of got me thinking about when life wasn’t always the greatest for me. I think a lot of us have reached a point in our lives where we feel really down. I reached back to those times to grab inspiration because that’s kind of where the vibe of the beat took me. So I linked up with Chris Hayman of Sonic Gods, he’s my producer and makes all my music, and wrote the song. I thought it turned out pretty good. *laughs*
Brad: Thank you!
Now apart from “The Way Down,” you’ve also released a series of singles that all sound distinctly different from each other. We have “Cheers To More Love” that clearly has more country influences, and “Let Me In” has that dark EDM feel similar to “The Way Down.” What inspired you to go in those instrumental directions for the other songs?
Brad: So I started my music career as a rapper and only doing hip-hop. It’s only been within the last two or three years that I started really singing. Actually, I attribute my wife with kind of steering me into a different direction. We went to the Stagecoach Music Festival, and because she was playing all these artists that were going to be there leading up to it, I started getting into country. I was like, “Alright, this is kind of cool.” *laughs* We went and saw a bunch of people, but it was like I was seeing the world in a new way when I was watching them perform. When I went home, instead of starting a new rap song I made a country song with one of the beats that Chris Hayman made for me. I tried it and it worked! I started branching out into singing to all kinds of music! I guess I don’t really make up my mind when I go into the studio. I don’t say “Today I’m gonna write a country song” or “Today I’m gonna write a rap song” or “Today I’m gonna write a rock song.” I listen to a lot of the music that I want to write to, and whatever inspires me that day is what I’ll end up writing about. I think that pretty much dictates the style of my voice. If it’s acoustic guitar or if it’s got a country feel, I tend to kind of go with that vibe.
Which is interesting, because a lot of modern music now kind of doesn’t really have a genre anymore. They all tend to blend a lot of different elements instead of being a product of the environment. That’s what your music is doing and what you’ve kind of explained that you want to do.
Brad: Right, exactly. My wife has introduced me to a lot of new music, and I find that the people she shows me are like what you just said about not having a specific genre. Everything’s kind of becoming a bit more genre-less, and much more open to different musical tastes.
How has the writing and recording process been different or similar for each of the singles?
Brad: Well, the writing of it is just like how I described – they’re based on how the beat is. What I do is I take the song, I bring it to my producer, and then we create the music portion. I tend to write songs fairly quickly, sometimes I could write a song in an hour or two out in the studio. So the process of that for each song was the same. The production is pretty different in terms of what instruments we use. Like, when we’re doing some of these country rock vibe songs, we do a lot of acoustic guitar and bass, we’ll do live shakers and tambourines, I’ve had a violinist come in, I’ve had a harmonica player come in, everything’s real organic. And then with some of the more EDM-esque stuff, it’s all in boxes made from virtual instruments and stuff like that.
And if you could have an infinite amount of money, which single would you choose to do a music video for, and what would your concept be?
Brad: Actually, I have a concept for every song I write. When I write it, I picture the music video as I’m writing it. I have a country rock song called “Red Light” I’m gonna release soon, and I’m actually in pre-pre-production for a music video for it. I would do that one, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it would be like a Western love story in the Prohibition era. It’s pretty cool.
It sounds cool! I’m sure that would cost some money.
Brad: Yeah! I’m hoping to reach out to brands or get someone to throw us some money or feature some stuff in the video to help alleviate the cost for it. I don’t have unlimited money…yet.
Well, it would make sense for your theme, Prohibition. *both laugh* Do you think releasing a series of singles is easier to promote than an album or an EP?
Brad: I don’t really know. I’ve read a lot of articles on which one is better, and there seems to be good and bad for each case. I kind of like the idea of just releasing singles because I don’t have to constrain it to fit a mold. It would be really hard to release a country song and an EDM song on the same album. Whereas with releasing singles, it’s like, “Oh hey! This is what I’m doing right now. Check it out!” or “Oh hey! This is what I’m doing now. It’s different than the last song. Listen!”
Plus it helps you kind of tailor the way that you promote the song itself.
Brad: Yeah exactly. I mean, I still need to be better at promoting. *laughs* That’s one of the hard parts, and it kind of goes in with the question of whether social media makes it easier or harder for an artist. I think the answer to that question is that it’s kind of two sides of the same coin. It makes it easier because you get to reach out to the people directly. But then on the flip side of the coin is everyone is doing it. By the time you get my message, you’ve already gotten four other people in the last hour asking you to check out their music too. Then you’re probably like, “Ugh! I’ve already listened to all these people! Stop spamming me!” *Heather laughs* And then another thing is if you listen to someone and they’re not great, then the odds of you listening to the next stranger that comes along are lower and you might say, “Yeah, I dunno. That last one wasn’t so hot. I don’t wanna waste my time.” So it’s definitely a little bit of both.
Do you feel that social media has become almost oversaturated for not only people like me who are music journalists, but also people that are just music listeners?
Brad: Yeah, but I also think that’s a good thing. The Internet has provided a place for anyone, anything, and everything to carve out an existence in an industry that you used to not be able to step foot in without tons and tons of resources. So yeah, while it oversaturates, it’s still giving so many people opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have had available to them. It’s just one of those things where you take the good with the bad. Ultimately, I think it’s a really good thing that social media has been a huge game changer for a ton of artists. And not even just artists, but bloggers, writers, any kind of craft.
Do you think that social media has kind of taken over as the main form of marketing where people feel like they don’t really need to go these companies anymore? Or do you think it goes hand in hand, like you need that bigger push sometimes?
Brad: I think what I’m kind of figuring out now is that you need both. I think that social media will only get you so far, but you need to be out there in other avenues marketing through different campaigns. I think that’s what separates the really successful people from the independent do-it-yourself-ers like myself who are still trying to make something happen. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate more marketing and promotional efforts aside from just social media.
Yeah, definitely. Kind of going back to the music listeners and their exposure to social media. I feel like it changes how artists market themselves and that it sometimes has an effect on their music. Like, with popular music sometimes it seems like they don’t really care about the lyrics aspect. But you clearly care about your lyrics and put a lot of time into them. So as an artist who takes their lyrics very seriously, would you say that popular music has kind of been on a decline in regards to more meaningful lyrics?
Brad: I guess there is an extent to that. Maybe I’m not the perfect person to ask that because I don’t listen to a lot of music on the radio. I listen to what my wife plays, and the stuff that she plays for me I really do enjoy and think the lyrics are great. I like Imagine Dragons. They’re a huge band and all of their lyrics are good. I think it just depends on the genre and the artists. You know? For a long time in the rap world, especially when I was a part of it, I was always thinking that all these famous artists would have these really popular songs, but they wouldn’t have the lyrical quality as some of the other independent underground hip-hop artists that I used to listen to and considered myself to be. It kind of makes you wonder why these people that are actually saying something positive or meaningful or profound aren’t reaching the same people.
I agree. Missed opportunities for music fans I say. Do you tend to write your lyrics first and compose later, or is it kind of hand-in-hand process for you?
Brad: It depends. I’ll be out and about, I’ll come up with a lyric idea, and then I’ll type it in my phone so I don’t forget the concept. I’ll be like “Oh, I need to write a song about this!” Or I’ll have an actual lyric, pop into my head that I’ll write down. But then when I go out to the studio, I’ll play the music, and then I’ll sing along. It would be funny to watch me because I’m in there singing gibberish. *laughs* I try to get what melody and what flow I’m going for, then I’ll figure out how I’m gonna sing, and I kind of fit the words to the melody that I’m coming up with. I use a lot of temporary music, so when I take it to my producer we’ll either add to it or completely remake it. The process starts with lyrics at the same time with the beat, then we take it and work on just the beat, and then I’ll throw in all the lyrics, record them, layer in everything, and then we’ll take it a step further and fine tune the beat again to match the lyrics. In the end all of it kind of fits and feels like each part complements each other.
Almost kind of like putting pieces of a puzzle together. You start with your corner, which is the lyrics…
Brad: Right! And then you find the other corner, and then you start to build the outline, and then you make your way in. That’s a good analogy.
*laughs* Thank you. So I wanted to ask you, and you kind of touched base on this a little bit, but what influences you as an artist? Apart from, you know, everything.
Brad: I get inspired and influenced all the time. It could be a TV show, a movie, a song. I could be at Stagecoach or in another musical environment. I could be walking down the street and see something. There’s art in life happening all around us, so if you watch closely, you’re gonna pick something up and feel something. I think my writing is all based on emotions. How does something make me feel? How would I feel if I was in that position? What am I seeing, how are they feeling? I try to write from that standpoint. A lot of my inspiration, though, comes from my wife, just her alone, but also the music she plays. I’m always like “that’s a good song!” and it makes me want to write. So I’ll often go off into the studio and write afterwards.
And which artists would you choose to collaborate with?
Brad: *laughs* I was thinking about this a lot, but I guess it would depend on, again, which genre I was gonna make the song. I would wanna do a hip-hop song with Alicia Keys. I think that would be really cool. This is gonna sound cheesy but: my wife. We came up with a really good concept for a song, and I’m looking to collaborate with her on that one together. Hmm…there’s a hip-hop guy in Atmosphere that I’d like to do a song with. The rapper’s name is Slug, the band is Atmosphere. But I think it would be cool to do a song with them.
So many choices! You could do so many different things.
Brad: *laughs* Yeah, there really are. It would also be fun to do something with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
You could just go in a completely different direction every time because your music is so eclectic. You could do whatever you want! *laughs*
Brad: *laughs* Exactly!
If you could choose three artists to go on your world tour with, who would you choose? What would you name your tour? What kind of music would it be?
Brad: It all comes back to what genre I would want to stay in. I think if it was like the pop/EDM/indie kind of thing, I’d probably choose Imagine Dragons. And Jaymes Young, he’s pretty dope. Maybe the other ‘James’ guy, James Arthur. Actually, maybe I’d go James Arthur and Jaymes Young, and call the tour ‘Two James and a Brad.’
I mean, it’s definitely memorable!*both laugh*
Brad: Yeah, right?!
And if you did a country tour?
Brad: So for country, I think a good tour would be me, Sam Hunt, Brantley Gilbert, and Anderson East. Hmm…I don’t know what I’d call that one. You have any ideas for that?
The Kinda Country Guys Tour? *both laugh*
Brad: *laughs* Yeah, I’m drawing a blank. My improv skills need sharpening.
I mean, you’re in NoHo. I’m sure there’s lots of good improv places here. You could go next door. *laughs*
Brad: *laughs* For sure!
Now, a little bit of a tougher question. If you could do one album in one genre, which one would you choose to do? EDM, or country, or hip-hop?
Brad: I don’t necessarily like that question, because the whole reason I’m doing all of them is because I boxed myself in for years, for countless years. At first I was only doing rap and hip-hop, and I remember my family and friends saying, “Oh you should branch out. Maybe sing some country or make other kinds of music!” Of course, my thoughts when I was younger was “No! Why would I do that? Like, I’m a hip-hop artist.” So I feel like having that closed viewpoint of ‘I’m only this’ really held me back for a long time. Opening myself to create whatever I wanted really expanded my horizons, and I think I’m a better artist and a better songwriter because of it. I’m becoming a better singer the more I practice, and the music overall is better. I think if it’s up to me, I’d choose to just do what I’m doing right now. I’m not totally avoiding the question by the way. I just really like how much I’ve grown as an artist since I became more open-minded. But, if I was forced to choose a genre to stay in, I’d probably say country-rock. Just because of the live aspect, you know?
Yeah. And It’s so cool that your past experiences have taught you to open up musically. And the fun thing is that country and rap kind of have some similar elements to them, so you’re getting the best of the past and the present.
Brad: Right. And to be honest, I think all of the genres do kind of blend together now – pop, hip-hop, country. I have a song that I haven’t released yet called “Need To Drive,” and it’s kind of like the first hip-hop song I’ve worked with a producer on that also has that EDM kind of feel/beat to it. So I think they’re all kind of interchangeable.
Brad: Especially now.
What is one word you would use to describe yourself as an artist?
Brad: *laughs* I don’t know. My friend called me eclectic a little while ago. Err, no–eccentric. *laughs*
Eh, same thing in a way. *laughs*
Brad: *laughs* Kind of. But you know what, ‘eclectic’ has a nice ring to it. I think that might be a good word for me, because I’m pretty much doing everything. Yeah, I like that one.
What do you hope that your audience takes away from your music? What do you hope to achieve?
Brad: Well those are two different questions. *laughs* So there’s a website called Play It Forward, and basically you can go and download my song “The Way Down” there, and all the money will go to a charity of my choice. I released the song in June, which is Pride Month, and I chose The Trevor Project to donate the proceeds to for “The Way Down.” My goal is to put my other songs on that site as well, but I’m trying to figure out a system to put in place on my website that will drive visitors to Play It Forward. I give away all my music right now, anyone can go to my website and download all of my songs for free. But I’m hoping that if I can drive people to the website, and then to Play It Forward to buy my song, that my song could help make money for a charity. So with every song I release, I plan to a attach a charity to it.
That’s very selfless of you.
Brad: Thank you. So that’s what I hope to achieve, that each song will be involved with a different charity and my music can impact everyone to take the time to do something to help others. What I hope the listener gets from the song will depend on which song. With “Let Me In,” I kind of want the listener to get that it’s okay to be vulnerable, that it’s okay to let someone in and open up to people, and to not have this wall surrounding you all the time. That’s a message I hope someone gets from that. With “Cheers To More Love,” that one’s more like a ‘Hey, let’s all just hang out, have a drink, and party together without being negative.’ So each song has its own feel and message to it. I hope that the listener will just listen to the lyrics, reflect on them, and hopefully get what I’m trying to say in each song.
Absolutely. I mean, music is so universal. There are a lot of people that just listen to a song and start thinking about something that you might not intentionally by trying to get them to think about. But still a good thing if they do.
Brad: Yeah. And to even take that sentiment a step further, sometimes I write with a sort of vagueness that leaves the lyrics open to interpretation. Someone listening to it going through one thing will hear it and might get something different from somebody else going through another thing. My goal is really to inspire and have a positive influence through my music and make the world a better place.
Isn’t that every musician’s goal?
Brad: Yeah, I think so, deep down. I mean, the music is such a huge piece of a person, whether they’re the one listening to it or the one making it. It resonates within them and that’s why people love it so much, it just speaks to us on so many levels.
Very well said. And now to end things off, what big plans can we expect from you in the future, apart from a potential music video and more music?
Brad: Well, my goal is to perform at Stagecoach and Coachella in the same year, so I’m gonna shoot for 2020 on that one. *laughs* But in 2019, I’m gonna start performing a lot more often. Right now I’m looking for people to play instruments for the country stuff because I can’t perform them without a band. So I’m trying to put the pieces of a band together. For my EDM/pop stuff, I’m trying to figure out what kind of a show I can put on that has lights, video in the background, and other cool things. I’ve done a lot of shows in my young rapping days where I never did much, where it was just me and a DJ or me and a CD. I really wanna elevate that part of my artistry, so I’m preparing for that this year. So yeah, just getting ready to do a bunch of new releases, some shows, and hopefully a music video or two by the end of the year.
About Joe Coffee:
North Hollywood is all about its Art’s District, so it comes to no surprise that Joe Coffee is heavily influenced by its surrounding environment in terms of indoor and outdoor appearance. From the moment you stroll in front of their impressive Sharpie Marker created exterior mural, you pretty much know that you will be graced by even more wondrous artwork when you step inside. Featuring rotating chalk wall murals and canvas paintings from local artist Phill Bourque, you feel like you’re stepping into an art gallery party rather than any old coffeeshop, which reminds you of why L.A. tends to attract the most creative of individuals.
Now on to your menu! You’ve got your classic lattes, fancy teas, and worldly pour over coffees, all of which you can add CBD to. And what’s a coffeeshop without scrumptious looking fresh pastries and, in Joe Coffee’s case, signature waffles! Since I was there on a day that was ungodly hot even for The Valley, it was a skip the skip the snack day (*sobs*), but absolutely perfect for some homemade Cold Brew. Although, when checking back at the menu I did notice that they had a Cold Brew Float exclusively for Summer. Looks like another trip to NoHo is going to be in the cards for me with this never-ending L.A. heatwave going on.