By Maria Ekaterina
Photo by Roger Gupta
The first full day at sea on Jamcruise 18, I sat down with Mark Brownstein from Disco Biscuits and additionally known as DJ Brownie, in my Toon appropriate attire dressed as Belle. We covered a lot from how DJ Brownie came about, what a DJ is, who inspired him along the way with a bonus lightning round.
Maria: I’m with The Jamwich. We’re a music focused magazine based in West Virginia supporting the music and arts community by providing a platform for our community of artists.
Marc Brownstein: Is it related to the festival in Richmond?
Maria: Which one?
Brownstein : Jamwich? [Actually Jam Sandwich, formed in 2017]
Maria: No, but have you heard of The Mad Tea Party Jam?
Brownstein : Oh yeah.
Maria: Cool, that’s the one.
Brownstein : Was that the one that went kind of haywire with sickness a couple years ago?
Maria: It did, and we were there for that.
Brownstein : You were? Did you guys get sick?
Maria: We didn’t get sick.
Brownstein : After that, I was at Sonic Boom festival in Colorado where everyone is really in the same wavelength and all. I came in there and heard all about the sickness at Mad Tea. Everyone was saying Todd Stoops is in the hospital, hundreds of people are sick. I look at my backstage area, and it’s us and the next room over is Papadosio. This was with Big Gigantic, String Cheese Incident and Disco Biscuits. So, first thing I did was I made a big deal about it. I was like I will not be in the next room over from Papadosio. I need to be as far away from them as possible and I don’t want to have any contact with anyone coming from this festival. Which I thought was smart. I’m being smart. I’m not going to get sick here because these guys are coming around with whatever sickness they’re bringing. Ultimately everybody else was just like transforming, melting into one. I ended up just sitting in my car the whole entire festival. I wouldn’t get out of the car. I think everyone was like Brownie is fucking crazy. They thought I was crazy. I hope they have me back. But they were like, this guy is not transformational. I just didn’t want to get sick.
Maria: How did DJ Brownie come about?
Brownstein : So, it came from my last name. In college everyone started calling me Brownie and at first, I thought it was kinda weird. But then fans started calling me that. I just stopped fighting it ultimately, I just gave in. You can’t fight a nickname, like it’s just what ends up happening. I was talking to Adam Deitch from Lettuce when I was starting to DJ kinda looking for a name. He was like, ‘dude like that’s just it! You’re Brownie. Like, you can’t change what you are, you’re Brownie and your DJ name is DJ Brownie. That’s just who you have to just be.’ I thought about it for a little bit. Slept on it, and then thought yea I’m Brownie and if I DJ, my DJ name is DJ Brownie. The first time I ever DJ’d was here on MSC Divina and it was 5 years ago in 2014 on Jam Cruise. I asked if I could DJ and they let me; it was a disaster. I had no idea what I was doing. It was right here, just ten feet away from us, was my first ever DJ set. It was so scary; it was like a war. One of my friends describes being a new DJ like being on a boat storming the beach in Normandy. There are bombs going off and you just hear screaming. That’s how it feels you’re trying to get the beats to match up in your ears – pow! Pow! Pow! It was not easy which is cool because I thought being a DJ would be super easy. That was a great experience. Now I’m coming back, and it’s 5 years later. I looked at my computer today and looked back at what I thought my first day as a DJ would be all about. I looked at the songs I was playing, and it was way, way, way different than what I do now.
Maria: What did you start out with as far as your system setup?
Brownstein : I started out with Serato and I was using a little Serato mixer. Now I use a Traktor, which I bought recently, and I like to take it everywhere with me. Back then I was doing poolside and other tropical house stuff. I was mixing in funk songs and Michael Jackson. Now, I DJ pretty much primarily tech house music. I don’t know if I have enough music to get me through a whole 3-hour show tonight so I’m going to have to get creative. I also DJ a lot of disco, based off of house music.
Maria: Do you incorporate lyrics?
Brownstein : I try to find remixes of popular song that everyone is going to know but remixed into a deep house song. There is so much of that. Every song of all time has been remixed into house music. Every time I have a show, I go on Beatport and I search disco, deep house and sometimes I go into the funk section. There is a lot of funk music, based in house music. A lot of times I’ll be searching through my crate and just seeing what I can mix. The hard part is getting to know the music well enough to DJ it. A lot of times that happens on stage. I’ve been told by great DJ’s to once a set make sure that everybody hears that you’re actually mixing. If you do one bad mix a set, then everyone will know that all the other mixes that you did took talent to mix them. Otherwise it could sound like you pre-recorded it all. For me, I don’t prerecord my sets so it’s something that I get to experience with the audience for the first time. I don’t have any idea what I’m going to play before I play. I just get up there and vibe with the crowd.
Maria: Some may say that all a DJ does is push buttons. What’s your perspective on this?
Brownstein : I’m definitely pushing buttons. We’re button pushers. There are buttons and we push them. That is a real thing, but there is technical skill. I played with DJ Logic the other night in Chicago and he’s a real DJ. I can’t DJ like him. I do beat match some of the time. The house music I play doesn’t need to be beat matched. He was mixing from my set to his set that night. It took him 4 minutes to get this track mixtape mashup to my track. We were all watching his skilled ability to perfectly sink us. People always say, what do you think about people who just record their set and push play? Bassnectar had this answer which was great. He said if you were at a party on your phone playing music for everybody through iTunes, you’re a DJ. It doesn’t have to be like a crazy skill, doesn’t mean you scratch, it doesn’t mean that you’re making music.
Maria: How many years have you been on Jam Cruise?
Brownstein : This is my eleventh.
Maria: Do you plan on wearing costumes?
Brownstein : No, the year my wife came with me on Jam Cruise I had costumes. I was able to dress up because of her.
Maria: Does your family come on the road with you often?
Marc: Not that much. My older son has a band. He goes to this Paul Green Rock Academy like the School of Rock. My son has a little band and he went on tour this summer doing 14 shows. They went all over East coast, West Virginia and Virginia and Pittsburgh Ohio. I went home for one day and I went to play with him and I was like oh my God he’s really good. He’s like as good as some of the drummer’s that I play with. I mean you can hear him in three years, he’s going to be as good as any of these guys. He would be freaking out on this boat. All of his idols are on here. I’m not telling him that. I was inspired by Steve Kimock and his song Johny Kimock and when I started watching them, his son was 12. The inspiration for me, to help my son become a drummer was watching Steve teach Johny how to become a drummer. Now his son is a famous drummer playing with Mike Gordon in Mike Gordons’ band. When you grow up with professional musicians, you learn. It’s why it’s so impossible to become a professional athlete unless your parents are professional athletes. How is it so hard, but seemingly random that their child can do the same thing. For some it’s that they’re passing down the talent but it’s really about discipline. If you’re able to teach your kid the kind of discipline it takes to become great at something, then that’s the whole game. It doesn’t matter what that thing is. Just so long they learn discipline. I didn’t’ have that as a kid, I had to figure that out as an adult.
Maria: Your parents weren’t musically inclined?
Brownstein : No, they weren’t. They weren’t really inclined to explain what greatness is. Nobody ever explained that to me. It was just, go to school and work hard. No one ever explained to me that if you want to become great at something, you need to just do it always, and nothing else. If you’re doing something other than what you want to become great at, then you won’t become great at it. It took me a long time to figure that out.
Maria: How old do you think you were when you figured that out?
Brownstein : Probably five years ago when I was 40, I realized I wanted to become great at what I do. I’ve been doing what I do for 20 years but I want to be the best at it. So, the past five years, I’ve been putting in the time I should have been putting in when I was a kid. I was too busy being a kid. It wasn’t like, I wasn’t fully inspired. I wanted to be a bass player or a guitar player or just a Rockstar. I didn’t understand what it was going to take on the technical side. I ultimately like being in situations like these and seeing people like Karl Denson, Oteil Burbridge and just the people who are the very best at their instruments. It’s getting to know them personally and you know watching how hard they work. Watching how much time they put in and talking to them about how it happened. Getting inspired is what happened in the last couple of years. I just felt super inspired by some of my friends, to be like – ok, it’s time for me to figure this out once and for all. A lot of it was playing in the Disco Biscuits. You don’t really have to do all of those other things. It’s about how we sound. Mostly for me, it was about being accepted by other musicians. I felt like I wanted to get on a level where I felt like I could be playing in the game with these guys. Instead of feeling insecure about playing with these masters, is what we’re dealing with here. In the last 5 years I got super inspired and comfortable with playing with almost anybody. But I know I’m still not on the level of some of these musicians here. I know I have more to give. I talk to some people who are fans and they’re like you’re the greatest. But then there are other people who can really hear what I’m doing and can hear and see the small improvements in that I’m making the music better.
Maria: Favorite color?
Brownstein : Purple
Maria: Favorite day on the cruise?
Brownstein : Last Day
Maria: Favorite year on the cruise?
Brownstein : This one
Maria: Favorite destination the cruise has gone to?
Brownstein : Honduras
Maria: Favorite pair of socks that you own?
Brownstein : I just bought a 12 pack of Bombas, there’s like some yellow, light pink and light blue ones are like pastel and super comfortable. They also give away free pair of socks for every pair of socks that is purchased to homeless and those in need.
Maria: What instrument can’t you play?
Brownstein : I can’t play the flute, but I own one. It’s really hard to play.
Maria: Name a place you want to play at, that you can’t play at?
Brownstein : Madison Square Garden; I mean yet, that’s the goal. I just ate lunch with Eric Krasno, he’s played there three or four times. He goes to sit in with Dave Mathews Band. It’s the greatest arena in the world, well it’s the most famous arena in the world. I grew up like 20 blocks from there. That was my go to arena as a kid. When we were kids it was really, special. There was a path where you could walk around the whole garden. All the platform connected so you could just walk in anywhere and you can circle and get the whole vibe. The energy in the garden before they renovated is indescribable.
Maria: Do you prefer mountains or beach?
Brownstein : Mountains, I really would love to be snowboarding.
Maria: Driving or Flying?
On January 13th, the day after Jamcruise was safely ported in Miami, Brownstein went into emergency eye surgery due to detached retina. He has recently made a post on his Facebook page regarding his situation. We wish him a quick and full recovery for him to continue doing what he loves.
Special thanks to Cloud 9 Adventures and MSC Divina Staff for a comfortable trip at sea.