Ivan Jackson of Brasstracks has been boxing lately, focusing on life outside of music. After years of working nonstop, success to him finally looks like achieving balance—which begets happiness. After a sudden split with Capitol Records, under which they put out their 2020 debut album, Golden Ticket, perspective was the key to Ivan’s not feeling like he was beaten down by the music industry. Having signed in 2019, Brasstracks had already been a success—GRAMMYs say as much—but, as Ivan candidly tells Audiomack, parting ways with the label brought a whirlwind of misery. Until it didn’t.
“I called my mom and dad and said I was going to quit Brasstracks, and I was fucking done,” Ivan explains. “It’s such an unforgiving industry. When you’re given all the tools, nothing ever seems to go your way, and I was sick of it. It was a mixture of terror and shame and anger. Then… everything started to change rapidly.”
A viral hit called “Our Style” with Japanese rapper WILYWNKA, four sold-out shows in New York at the legendary Blue Note jazz club, and a distribution deal with Ingrooves all set Ivan back on the path of believing in the good of the music industry. The Welcome Back EP signals the duo’s return to independence. It also sounds like a return to joy for Ivan.
Despite the tragic loss of A&R and dear friend Quinn Coleman in 2020, which is still difficult for Ivan to fully articulate during our chat, Brasstracks have a pressing need to persevere. “How am I gonna take this bullshit and turn it into gold?” Ivan remarks. “For the sake of the music, I’ll do it.”
So, you’re no longer on the record label. Sigh of relief, or terrifying?
It completely started with the latter. What came afterward? Really fucking good [things].
We had a song called “Fever” that we made in 2016, 2017. It was more of a high-energy, electronic tip. It’s a sound we had left, then this rapper from Japan named WILYWNKA got on it, released it without us knowing, and it went super-duper viral. Him and his team reached out, and we heard it, and we loved it! “Let’s get an official version out.” We wouldn’t have been able to do this if we were on the label. Us and WILYWNKA, we’re splitting the master down the middle. I saw that and thought, “Maybe there are good things about being indie.”
We left Capitol with an outstanding bill. For full transparency, they have Golden Ticket. I only have 18 percent. That’s fine because they gave us the music we made under the term right back. But I was making all this music under the term, for maybe a whole year, and they kept on being, “It’s not quite there.” Things were difficult because we didn’t have Quinn [Coleman] anymore. It’s hard for me to talk about without crying. But we had an outstanding bill, and they were supposed to pay me a lot of money. We didn’t even hit our second option. I was freaking out, dude. When we parted ways, it was unexpected.
Then, we sold out four shows at the Blue Note! The thing with WILYWNKA, there’s money there! Then we partnered with Ingrooves again, and they’re like, “Oh, you have music? We’ll take that.” That was five figures, not crazy, but, fuck…
I don’t wanna disrespect the people who did good by me [at Capitol], but it felt like such a whirlwind of “This is so terrible—now, this is the best thing ever.” Everything turned around.
How do you part ways with a label without burning several bridges?
I burned bridges; there’s no doubt about it. The way we were let go was not cool. I had someone tell me, “I have your back” after Quinn passed on. We were Quinn’s first signing at Capitol, and I was really fucking proud of that. When he passed, I had people telling me, “It’s not gonna be the situation of ‘your representation left the company’ and now you’re in limbo.”
So there were really heavy emotions attached. I missed Quinn every day—he was one of the first people who took a chance [on us]. With those emotions in tow, it’s fucking hard, dude. It’s difficult because people there were close to Quinn, too. Everyone loved Quinn. When it was sudden… I felt like they were doing wrong by Quinn. Now what? We dedicated Golden Ticket to him! At the same time, I hope the people I got angry with understand where it came from.
Would you sign again, knowing everything you know now?
I understand the scope of the industry a lot better than I used to. So, yes, but I would do it on the terms I need it to be.
I’ve already signed something. We’re independent, but we have a distro deal. I jumped right into that a couple months after [Capitol]. It was, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, what are we gonna do?”
With labels, it’s going back and forth: “I got this much money here. What are you gonna do for me over here?” We played that game after the sudden split and figured something out with Ingrooves that I’m happy about.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from being on a label, and how are you planning on applying that to the indie venture?
Trust your intuition and move with it. Find people that believe in that intuition and are willing to challenge it, but not at all times. I don’t want a bunch of yes-men around me, but do appreciate someone who says, “Well, what about this?” Quinn was that. We’re just getting started over at Ingrooves, and we don’t have that just yet, but we’re getting the music out.
I made “Welcome Back” the night we got dropped. The whole thing. I made all of it in five hours, in tears. My plan was: I’m not gonna tell anyone. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know if I was gonna continue Brasstracks, but if I did, I was going to drop this and say, “Welcome back to independence.”
There’s this old narrative that success in music is signing to a label. You’ve done that part already. Now what?
I was successful before we signed to the label. That’s the key to not feeling like I got beaten. We only signed in 2019. We’d done a lot of stuff up until then. I could’ve stopped at 26, gotten a regular job, and been happy with my fucking GRAMMYs on the wall. I’ve already made a bunch of benchmark plays. Success looks like being really balanced.
For artists that aren’t as easily pigeonholed in our new TikTok-label ecosystem, what’s your best advice for them to find their version of success?
So people like me? Ha, okay. I’m going to approach this like my dad would. It’s easy to get super negative on the standard things in this industry. We always talk about how we should be doing TikToks more, and running Discord, and I see both sides of the coin.
When you’re an artist, you’re scared of being pigeonholed. I’m a trumpet player. I am not a TikTok blueprint. I’m bad at running my social media, but I try. I try not to let these platforms freak me out.