Billy Aukstik has had his hands full during lockdown. Producing, engineering, arranging, and even writing his own material as Billy the Kid—this guy does it all.
Aukstik started his robust musical career the second he stepped foot in NYC to attend college. He eventually dropped out to play trumpet for Daptone Records’ iconic soul singer Charles Bradley, which pushed him in the direction he’s going now. Getting to know the fellow artists on Daptone Records, Aukstik eventually started his own label, Dala Records, and more recently his own recording studio, Hive Mind Recording—both of which are still flourishing today.
His solo music as Billy the Kid is an intricate combination of his education in jazz and his experience with Afrobeat–plus you can even hear a little twangy country blues coming through. Billy the Kid has a handful of new solo singles dropping in the coming month, along with coming releases from his artists on Dala Records. “I have some material that I’ll be releasing soon that speaks directly to the idiots in power so I’m excited to release that and contribute a positive message to the movement,” he tells BTRtoday.
Read the entire interview with Billy Aukstik, aka Billy the Kid, below.
BTRtoday (BTR): So, you must be a busy guy, with your music and your own record label. Tell me how you started Dala.
Billy Aukstik (BA): I started Dala Records out of my bedroom in the East Village in the winter of 2015—armed with a 4-track cassette recorder, a piano, a Maestro Rhythm King drum machine and a whole lot of talented friends. I had started recording original music a few months prior while in between tours with Charles Bradley and soon found myself with a good chunk of material but no way of releasing it. Being a huge fan of Daptone Records, I took inspiration from the way they started out, so I decided to give it a go. For the first year, I recorded and mixed all of our releases on the same 4-track cassette machine in my bedroom. I then found a Tascam 388 eight track machine and moved our recording operations into my friend’s double-decker basement space in the East Village. From there, we were off to the races.
BTR: How did you start out in the music business?
BA: I would say my career in music started pretty much the day I set foot in New York City. Back in Chicago where I grew up, I had been performing as a trumpet player in big bands, at local theater shows, and church gigs. But he real fun started when I moved to NYC to attend NYU’s Jazz Studies program.
Early in my freshman year, while I was in music theory class, my friend Miles Arntzen, a drummer in the jazz program, asked me if I wanted to join his Afrobeat band. I thought to myself, “what’s Afrobeat?” Without much hesitation, though, I said “sure.” So, Miles got a band together of fellow NYU musicians, along with some of his close friends from the city and we started learning Fela Kuti songs in his basement.
Miles had been digging into the music of Fela, the originator of the Afrobeat genre, and Antibalas, a modern-day pioneer of Afrobeat in NYC, and had started sharing this music with us. Our band, EMEFE, started performing shows around the city and we quickly made a name for ourselves. Miles had also joined Antibalas as their drummer and started touring all over the world with them, so we also got to meet the members of Antibalas and play with them from time to time.
Fast forward to the end of our sophomore year—I had become friends with the guys in Antibalas and, sure enough, one day their trumpeter Jordan McLean recommended me to be the trumpet player for an up-and-coming soul singer on Daptone Records named Charles Bradley and the rest, as they say, is history.
Tommy Brenneck, Charles’ producer, had originally asked me to join Charles’ band a week before my sophomore finals, so I had to say no, but luckily they called me back that following fall and I quickly accepted the offer. That led me to then drop out of college and proceed to hit the road with Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires for the next seven years, traveling around the world many times over and playing some of the greatest venues and festivals on the globe. This then propelled me to play with pretty much every other Daptone artist, like Sharon Jones, Budos Band, Lee Fields, as well as Mark Ronson, The Roots, The Wu-Tang Clan, Erykah Badu and many many more.
BTR: Did you grow up on this kind of indie rock/oldies inspired music or did your interest evolve from something else?
BA: I grew up listening to jazz, big band swing, and my mom’s record collection (Carole King/Beach Boys/Beatles). My mom is also a piano player and my older brother was a great alto saxophonist when he was younger, so there was always music in the house. After picking up the trumpet in 4th grade, I was drawn towards music with horns, which tends to be music from back in the day. I loved it all though, and those early days of what was on the radio or the record player are now a huge influence on the sounds that I’m trying to create today.
BTR: What have you been getting into recently with both the label and your own music?
BA: I’ve luckily had enough recorded material on the back-burner to keep me busy during the shutdown, so I’ve been readying some releases to be put out soon. Included in that material is a handful of new original music under my solo act, Billy the Kid, so look out for those coming soon. Also coming soon is the new 45 from soul singer Bobby Harden, as well as the debut album from songwriter Mike Sarason. Since I now also have my own recording studio, Hive Mind Recording, I’ve been trying to expand our operations into the territory of sample replays and commercial recording for TV & Film. So if any music, TV, or movie producers are reading this, hit me up.
BTR: Why did you go with the name Billy the Kid?
BA: Billy the Kid is the nickname that the Daptone Records crew gave me when I first joined Charles’ band and it just felt right.
BTR: How is everything happening in the world today affecting you creatively?
BA: The shutdown has definitely negatively affected my output creatively but I try not to force anything. If it comes, it comes. I have some material that I’ll be releasing soon that speaks directly to the idiots in power so I’m excited to release that and contribute a positive message to the movement.