IMAGE COURTESY OF RYAN PALLOTTA
Australian DJ Havana Brown has traveled the globe with the biggest pop stars (Britney Spears, Chris Brown, and the Pussycat Dolls to name a few) and now, armed her first solo single "We Run The Night," produced by RedOne and featuring Pitbull—along with her brand-new track "City of Darkness," which we're psyched to premiere below—she's ready to take a stab at becoming a star herself. The 27-year-old's varied career has hosted its own ups and downs, but over time Brown's become one of the best-known DJs in Australia, her Crave compilation CDs racking up a whopping six volumes. We spoke to Brown about her introductions into music, DJing, and her newest foray, being an artist.
ALEX CHAPMAN: What would you say is the sound you shoot for when you DJ?
HAVANA BROWN: Well the type of music I play right now is a broad selection of stuff—I play house, hip-hop, R&B, a little bit of rock. I've been through several different phases of my life, and it's great to be able to blend all of them together. When I was really young, in primary school in Australia, I remember a time where I didn't know there was any other type of music besides R&B. My brother, he was heavily into R&B and hip-hop and was playing a lot at home, and that's all I thought existed.
CHAPMAN: Do you recall the first time you were introduced to other genres?
BROWN: One day at school—I remember this so distinctively, it was like in grade five—we had to rock up with our favorite music to listen to, and one guy rocked up with Marilyn Manson! I was like, "What is this?" I just didn't understand it. Obviously I went through my grunge stage a little later on.
CHAPMAN: Was R&B necessarily popular at the time?
BROWN: When I was listening to R&B and hip-hop growing up, it was not popular at all in Australia, and I didn't know that. So I'd be rocking up like, "Do you know this song? ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie, you other brothers can't deny...'" And people would be like, "What?" I just didn't understand it wasn't popular—it was kind of rebellious to listen to.
CHAPMAN: So you were obviously into music from a really young age. Do you play any instruments?
BROWN: I tried several different instruments growing up and hated playing every single one of them. Lessons bored the hell out of me, and I just wanted to enjoy music. Something about it being so technical takes away the enjoyment of the actual music [for me]. But with DJing, there's still an art to it—you get two DJs and give them songs to play, one can play it better. There is a way, and it's not just about the songs you're playing, it's about how you mix, the timing, when you cut out and in. I love it, and I love feeling the excitement of the crowd—you go on this journey with them for an hour or so.
CHAPMAN: How did you discover DJing as something you wanted to pursue?
BROWN: When I moved to London, I was working on music—producing, writing—and that's where I discovered DJing. I was apart of this group, a sort of Arrested Development/Fugees-type group like six or seven years ago [called Fishbowl]. We signed to a record label, and it kind of felt like, "This is it!" Then the group had a fight and it broke apart, and it was the most depressing time in my life. I started partying every night because I just needed to dance and enjoy music and forget about things, and that's when I started to notice DJing is the best job in the world. I honestly believed I could do it very well, so I went to one of my friends that was part of the group. I was like, "Crazy idea, but I think I could start DJing." He encouraged me to do it and taught me a few things right there and then.
CHAPMAN: That stage of committing to DJing is always the scariest in my mind, because then it means you have to invest in all that equipment.
BROWN: I definitely didn't pay my rent for a few months. But my friend told me, "Get the stuff that's in the clubs." It's a lot of money for someone who has no money, but I got some decks and loved it straight away.
CHAPMAN: When did you feel like your DJing career started to go really well for you?
BROWN: It was a culmination of things happening, but definitely when I first scored the Pussycat Dolls tour. Their manager saw me DJ—he actually saw me when I was trying something different and had dancers, and would come out and dance as well, but he loved it! He asked me to come and support them on the tour, and it so happened that Gaga was touring with them at the same time. Through that, I actually scored the Britney Spears tour. I think those things were a big door opener for me.
CHAPMAN: Where's your favorite place to DJ?
BROWN: Vegas—it's so simple. No one goes there for any sort of business. You go there to purely have fun, and as soon as you start getting in the vicinity, you feel the energy of the places. Normally as a DJ, I'm very much "working," even though I'm enjoying myself, but Vegas always brings out a little something extra in me. I've had my wildest nights there!
CHAPMAN: Have you played your single, "We Run the Night," in any of your sets?
BROWN: Everyone in Australia knows me as a DJ, and I remember the first time I premiered the song—I was on tour with Chris Brown. I hadn't really told anyone, and I was a little worried it would come across as an actress or model suddenly becoming a singer. Also, now I'm really opening myself up, and it's a lot more personal.
CHAPMAN: Right. As a DJ you can probably hide a little behind other people's music, but now it's all you.
BROWN: If someone doesn't like another artist's song, that's their prerogative. But now it's kind of scary, and I never thought of it that way! But I love the challenge and feeling fear. When I played the song, everyone kind of already knew it—it was the best feeling.
CHAPMAN: RedOne produced "We Run The Night," which is huge considering his track record. How'd you guys connect?
BROWN: He heard about me through Enrique Iglesias actually, because I sang "Heartbreak" with him on X Factor. Then he heard "We Run The Night" and called me up, asking who was singing on the track. I told him it was me, and he was like, "No way! We gotta work together. Let me make my own version!" It was a dream come true. You get a Twitter message from RedOne, one of the biggest producers in the world, asking if he can call you! It's crazy.
HAVANA BROWN'S WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT EP IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON HAVANA BROWN, VISIT HER FACEBOOK PAGE.