BRIAN WARFIELD: Takin' Off The Gloves For Fisticuffs
A conversation with the Grammy and ASCAP award winner
You may not know the name Brian Warfield. You may not even know of the producers, Fisticuffs. But you’ve probably driven to, cried to, chilled to or even made love to music that Brian was a part of. Brian is one half of the production team, Fisticuffs. They are the producers behind hits from some major artists making noise in the industry like Jhene Aiko,
I’ve got a bunch of the standard interview questions for you. To start off B, where you from?
I was born and raised in L.A.
The way that Fisticuffs merges melodies with the music’s structure, I take it you guys are actual musicians and not just Fruity Loops users, LOL. What instruments do you play?
Trumpet was my first instrument. I also dabble with keyboards and have been known to hold a beat on the drums.
Oh OK.. so do you come from a musical family?
I grew up with my dad and he was a big music listener and collector. He had thousands of albums and CDs. I went to sleep with music playing and woke up to music playing. Everything from jazz to funk and oldies.
On that note, what was your childhood like, in general?
It was good. Like I said, I grew up with my dad. I’m an only child but have a brother and two sisters on my moms’ side. I had a great role model in my dad. He’s the reason I started doing music. Even though I wished I was able to go out and play all the time like all my other friends, I’m glad he disciplined me and made sure I practiced my music every day before I was able to go out. He was strict but, as an adult, I can appreciate why he was the way he was. He also kept me in recreational sports so I had a great childhood. Couldn’t complain.
That’s cool. You probably didn’t feel like it at the time, but you were fortunate to have that structure that put you on the path you're on now. So your early music background is your dad and what… ??
I’ve been playing the trumpet since 5th grade. I’ve been in multiple jazz bands growing up and went to performing arts high schools for music. I attended the L.A County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) from 9th through 11th grade and graduated from George Washington Prep H.S. in South Central L.A. The music department at Washington and, former music director, Fernando Pullum are reknowned in L.A. for top-level music education and for turning out top grade musicians.
How'd you team up with your production partner?
My production partner is Mac Robinson. Together we form Fisticuffs. We went to high school together (LACHSA). We were both in the jazz band. I played trumpet and he played guitar. We both produced in high school but it wasn’t until a few years after school that we hooked up and made a few tracks together for fun. We then combined music equipment, formed a production team, developed an artist and the rest is history.
What makes it work collaborating with Mac?
It’s like checks and balances. We both have good ears for what’s hot and different. It’s good to be able to bounce ideas off each other. Some tracks we start together from scratch, others we start on our own. But we make sure both of us are cool with everything once the track is all said and done. If we both
like it, chances are it’s gonna be dope. Are you doing any live playing these days? Is Fisticuffs using live musicians in production?
Yep, all the time. If you ever hear any guitars or live bass in our tracks, Mac is playing them. Trumpets, I’m playing them. We both dabble with keys and everything else. But we definitely like using live instruments. It gives tracks a more organic, timeless element that fake sounds can’t emulate. So what was Fisticuffs’ first break in the business?
The first music break was when my partner Mac and I (Fisticuffs) produced a song on Jazmine Sullivan's debut album entitled "Fearless". The song was called "One Night Stand". That was our first official production placement on a major release.
Oh OK. “One Night Stand” was my joint!! It;s still in rotation to this day. So how did that situation happen? Right place at the right time?We got referred to her through Manny Marroquin, an 8-time Grammy award mix engineer. He was mixing some stuff of ours and said we should get in touch with her since she was working on the album. We sent some tracks to her A&R and next thing you know, they sent us a finished record and it ended up on the album.
I know you got a Grammy for Miguel’s record. Any others?
I have a Grammy for engineering Miguel's hit, "Adorn". I also have two Grammy nominations for production on Jazmine Sullivan's “Fearless” album and Miguel's “Kaleidoscope Dream” album. I have a Grammy nomination for engineering on “Drake's Nothing Was The Same” album and two ASCAP awards for Miguel's song "Quickie" and Mariah Carey's "Beautiful".
So let’s drop some names now. Who have you worked with so far? Also, you got anyone interesting on the calendar?
So far, I’ve worked with Snoop, Robin Thicke, Diddy, Usher, Mariah Carey, Kendrick Lamar and Drake to name a few. As for who’s coming up, we just wrapped up Jhene Aiko's debut album entitled "Souled Out". We’re now in the studio with Miguel working on his 3rd major release.
OK back to the studio. What app(s) does Fisticuffs work in?
We record everything into Pro Tools. That’s where we're very comfortable. But, as far as sequencing, we both have Logic on our laptops. We usually start our tracks there and record ‘em into Pro Tools so we can edit and really mess with the sounds. We also like to incorporate a lot of live instruments and outboard gear as well.
So, who would you say are your music influences?
Hmmm.. as for what i listen to on a daily basis, Hip-Hop, R&B, Jazz, Electronic & Rock. I like to listen to all genres though because it’s good to learn and find influential elements that help with production.
OK, so what's in your MP3 player these days?
Everything. I stay on iTunes looking at all the new stuff that dropped. The last couple albums I’ve picked up are Schoolboy Q, Yuna, YG, Dom Kennedy, Glasser, Drake and Rhye just to name a few. I also picked up Daniel Crawford's album. Shout out to him for puttin’ that out. I keep a diverse, eclectic rotation of stuff. My 80GB iPod is full. I stay having to delete stuff to add more new music
When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
Chillin. I don’t really go out too often. When I do, it’s with the homies. I like hanging with friends and relaxing. Nothing too major.
What's your short term goal for the rest of 2014? Long term goal?
My goal in general is to make good, respectable music and to continue to change the game. I can honestly say we helped pioneer this new "Alternative R&B" wave and want to continue to push the envelope and develop more artists from the ground up. There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing your stuff start from nothing and end up on the radio and on the charts. Seeing it happen more than once just proves that it is definitely possible and within reach.
Well, in closing, what advice would you give young producers starting out?
I always tell producers to find talent. Develop an artist they truly believe in. Everyone makes beats nowadays so, unless you’re a big name producer, you need something else to help you stand out. By developing acts, they then become the face to your music. When they get noticed, so do you. People will start to ask, who did these tracks? Think about it. Timbaland had Aaliyah and Missy. Dre had Snoop. Swizz Beats had DMX. DJ Mustard had YG. All big name producers started out with a sound they gave to an artist. That’s a key element to getting recognized and taking it to the next level. Aside from that, just be prepared to work hard. Really, really hard! Don’t give up on your dreams. It can happen for you. I’m no different from anyone else. I had a goal and a vision and I stuck to it.
Thanks to Brian for making this happen. Nothing but good things for B and for Fisticuffs.