The popular dj spills all the beans, including his take on the state of nightlife in Seattle and Capitol Hill…what happened to his relationship with The Cuff…AND, his new business venture with former Q owner C. Scott Smith and the new club they want to open in Seattle this year!!
This dude Almond Brown. Man, I have been hearing about him for at least 7 years now. I first remember when Gaysha Starr was meeting with me about some possibilities. I swear “Almond Brown” fell out of her mouth about 25 times during that conversation. Ok now, I remember the name. When Gaysha takes the time to make a point like that, I’ve learned to listen. Then over the course of the next several years I saw things unfold – him playing some great nights, some great clubs, obviously bonding with some of my favorite Seattle industry people, playing with some industry titans. Ok, he must be cool. Next, I saw this “Now Serving” podcast circulating around the interwebs, so of course I had to listen. Hilarious. Real. Awesome. Ok, so now he’s funny and smart too. Still, never met him. Can you believe this? Me neither. Sometimes you miss a lot when you are out on the hustle.
About a month ago Mr. Strangeways reached out to me about doing one of my interviews with him. SURE! Of course I would. What a great opportunity to connect. I reached out, he agreed and bamalam, here we are. In the course of setting up the interview I got a phone call: “Kendall, this is Sydney”. I was like, “Who?”. Girl, of course his name was not “Almond Brown”…silly Kendall. Anyway, we chopped it up for like 30 minutes and could have gone longer if time would have allowed. Almond Brown is a genuine, hilarious, positive force in our scene. That’s the impression I was left with after that call, even more so after our interview. Read for yourself and make up your own mind.
L.A. Kendall: Why the name “Almond Brown”?
Almond Brown: It was used in an episode of the tv show “Martin” and I always thought it was hilarious based on the context in which it was used.
LAK: I need to googletron and remind my granny brain….What drew you to being a DJ?
AB: I started dj’ing when I was in the 9th grade. I was the kid that would show up to these house parties in Tacoma/Hilltop with a stack of records. I was happy to be the “DJ” cause the girls weren’t feeling me back then! We’d DJ the Jr. High dances with one turntable! As a musician I’ve always seen it as another form of musical expression and I submersed myself. I’d sit in my room and memorize all the lyrics, member names, liner notes. My parents would buy me Jackson 5 LP’s but the older I got the more my tastes broadened. The first record I mindfully purchased was Elton John “Caribou”. GIRL.
LAK: GIRL! That’s amazing! I will leave the obvious “gay’s first purchased record being Elton John” joke alone. Who are your top influences?
AB: I’ve been influenced by so many. From Grandmaster Flash to Steely Dan. I’m still influenced & motivated by people right here in our community. Musically & otherwise. Our brands extend beyond what we play as DJ’s & become inputs to how we are perceived as a whole.
LAK: I couldn’t agree more. Steely Dan is a personal fave of mine, too. Sometimes I will find a track that perfectly samples a classic riff of theirs and I am in HEAVEN! Next question: Turntables? CDJ’s? Midicontroller? What’s your flavor and why?
AB: Ya’ know I’ve done them all, but I currently run TRAKTOR with two controllers. I love what I’m able to do with the program and the flexibility it provides. The ongoing debate over the sync button is tired and comes from a place that is usually followed by how much of a DJ you aren’t if you’re using that technology. I say use what makes you feel good and no matter what medium you choose, it’s song selection and your ability to mix is what gets you gigs. Not because you choose to strictly use CDJ’s and a rotary mixer. There has been many a whack set performed on vinyl.
LAK: I completely agree, and I have been on both sides of those issues many times. But ultimately technology moves on and if you want to remain relevant you better jump on the bus, Gus. Though I still have my turntables, always will…I encourage the young ones who’ve never touched them to come on over and play on mine for a spell. It is its own magical experience, and I do believe my ability to easily go between a controller, cdj’s, etc – is the hard learning that went into learning on vinyl (back when I was in my 20’s and all this other technology did not exist). But I agree – play what you love, love what you play and let the haters hate!
I personally respect that you are House oriented. I miss the days of dropping a House set and having an LGBT audience appreciate it, as opposed to being mobbed with requests for – insert the latest Top 40 smash here. How do you navigate this current nightlife culture?
AB: It was really hard for a long time. I remember when I started at The Cuff, I came out thinking I was going to move the children with some Deep House and I was literally shamed into playing more and more Top 40! But there has been a change, and I just don’t get the Britney/Gaga/Pitbull requests. I’m not sure if it’s a change across the board, or if folks just know better now than to ask me to play that stuff! There are plenty DJs that can take that role. I for one can no longer spend my nights playing Top 40 remixes and music that doesn’t inspire me. I think there is a collective understanding of what I do and what my sound is after a number of years.
LAK: Man, I have had the same experience and have taken to being really selective about where and when I play, making sure that the parties, the people who plan and attend them are supportive of the House vibe. I know how difficult it can be to stick to your guns. Good on you for doing so!
Ok now, I am in Love with the “Now Serving” Podcasts you have been driving. What prompted you to start this podcast? What do you think makes it so popular among the Seattle House community?
AB: Thank you! Spaceotter and I are always amazed when people say they’ve listened! The Now Serving concept is something that I wanted to do for a long time. Space and I always had these incredible phone chats and I’d constantly say to him “We need to be recording this shit!” So when I asked him to come to my little studio to try the concept out he had no idea that he would be dragged into a talk show. We quickly agreed that it would be a good way for us to talk about the many issues we’re passionate about, and wrap it around local nightlife and DJ culture and current events. I’m very proud of many of the episodes and some of the tough topics we’ve addressed. We’re equally happy with the 7th grade humor & drunken (allegedly) tangents we go off on. I think it’s gaining popularity because it’s a very novel idea and we touch on topics that are very specific to our region and we try to be as inclusive as possible with the community in which we’re a part of.
LAK: You totally succeed! Keep up the great work there! Tell us about your experience with The Cuff. It seemed like you had created a very successful night that was bringing people in. Why is this not happening anymore?
AB: I have many great memories from The Cuff. I facilitated bringing a lot of DJs to this area that have never been here and helped to redefine some of the programming choices in the room. HARD BLOCK was the key night that brought many people back to that room and dance floor. Then, a great ally of mine retired as GM, and everything changed. Some people can’t see the forest for the trees right in front of them and I don’t function well with negative reinforcement. I wish them all the best and look forward to seeing the positive and community focused changes the new partner contributes.
LAK: There’s been so many changes on Capitol Hill lately, both physically and other wise. Does this impact LGBTQ social life? Does this worry you? Are there solutions in your opinion?
AB: I think it does effect the nightlife. It’s certainly effected our sense of safety. Am I worried? I’m only worried about our resilience to adapt and redefine our footprint. The cost of housing is literally running many of the tribe out of the area, but without Queer dollars being poured back into the area what are we to do? These developers are certainly not focused on replacing the culture that’s being erased. I wish I had a solution…
LAK: Me too, me too. Change marches on whether we like it or not! I see you’ve developed quite a friendship with Derrick Carter over the past few years. What’s that all about?
AB: Ya know that all happened so organically. Karl Kamakahi and I opened for him a few years ago and we chatted and threw shade at each other! We exchanged numbers, chatted that night after the show and we just connected. It’s funny because my friendship with him is so not about the business. We spend a lot of time during the week sending each other horrible and disturbing animated gifs, pictures of shoes and memes about current pop culture stuff. I can honestly say that the time I’ve spent with him in Chicago and traveling to his shows has changed me as an artist. Especially the night I met Frankie Knuckles. That weekend seriously changed my chemistry. I’m a lot nicer to him than he is to me! He’s a very kind and generous dude and I’m blessed to be able to call him a friend.
LAK: I feel the same way about my relationship with Spinderella. Sometimes we get off a call and we’ve been laughing and carrying on, and I stop myself and think “When I was in 10th grade and the PTA at my High School was trying to ban PUSH IT would I have ever thought I would have the privilege to work with her, let alone consider her a friend?” LIFE IS CRAZY!
What is the state of night life on Capitol Hill and specifically dance clubs with DJ music? How can Seattle improve?
AB: I think overall nightlife is better than it was a few years ago. The underground scene is blowing up. I think the larger gay clubs still have very little interest in diversified programming which is keeping us on the Top 40 trajectory. With our efforts in trying to merge the straight & gay crowd, I think the LBGT community here is not as House music focused as other cities in some ways. On any given weekend you can find variety of incredible House music based parties and events and our presence at these shows is all but nonexistent. In the next few years I really think we’re going to have to be prepared to come off the Hill for more destination location events. Additionally, I think straight promoters and producers are going to have to reach out to the gay & lesbian community and close the gap a bit. As much as we want to think Seattle is this all inclusive nightlife experience it’s not. And although we have made strides integrating more queer DJs into the underground, It’s still quite divided in terms of patronage. The larger clubs could take a cue from what some of the local promoters are doing. Derek Pavone and Kirk Calvo are turning the kids with some very unique and innovative nights. Complacency and unoriginality are a hell of a drug and SEVERAL clubs are hooked.
LAK: Halleloo to that! They need to get into a 12 step program in fact – but that’s a whole different article. What does the future hold for Almond Brown? What are you currently working on?
AB: I’m just trying to stay as community focused as I can, continue the fight for equality and against racism. I’ve had so many key folks in the community who have went out of their way to help and give me breaks, I’m really into paying that forward and being supportive of up & comers. I’m working with Inaya Day again, which is always a thrill. Further expanding the Board of Deacons concept. Oh! This may may be an exclusive. C Scott Smith who owned and operated both xl in New York and Q here in Seattle and I are in the process of launching a joint venture. We’ll be working with others to develop bars and nightclubs both here in Seattle and around the country — as well as working on our own project that’s in the development stage right now. I’ve been holding this for so long! But if all goes as planned, we’re shooting to have a new room in Seattle this year. Fingers crossed!
LAK: Girl, I bettah be on the guest list! Can’t wait to see what you cook up! What is your dream gig?
AB: For the longest, it was to play with Riz Rollins, and I’ve actually been blessed to do that several times recently. Probably the next gig would be to play with Derrick at QUEEN.
LAK: Solid! I love that Riz Rollins. If I could put him in my pocket and take him around everywhere with me I seriously think my life would be perfect. Do you have any advice for anyone reading this, who might be thinking about becoming a DJ?
AB: Yes. Call ITT and get you an education!
LAK: HAHAHAHA! Ok that was the best advice I have EVER heard a DJ give a a prospective newbie. You speak the truth! Keep on bringing the good word to Seattle!
Catch Almond Brown every 3rd Friday at Baltic Room for PROPER.
Check out the HILARIOUS Now Serving podcast!
More about LA Kendall:
Like DJ Kendall on Facebook!