She's an internationally renowned DJ who has spun at some of the world's top clubs and worked alongside electronic music legends like Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin and John Digweed. Her DJing and production have earned her accolades and awards, including 'Best Breakthrough Underground DJ' at the UK Underground Music Awards. But while she could easily rest on her laurels, Misstress Barbara (born Barbara Bonfiglio in Sicily, Italy) is embarking on a whole new adventure with the release of I'm No Human, her first album as a songwriter - one that features contributions from Sam Roberts, Brazilian Girls and Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John.
'I've always been drawn to anything that's different... I like challenges,' she says. It's this spirit that drew her to the Air Cadets, where she learned to fly a Cessna at age 16, and led her to become a Ducati motorcycle rider. This adventurousness also convinced her to trade her first instrument, the drums, in for turntables and a mixer after watching underground DJs ply their craft. 'I'm hungry for more knowledge in everything I touch. I thought it was very beautiful the way they were working and touching the vinyl.'
For I'm No Human, Misstress Barbara has drawn on her background in electronic music production, while infusing it with a new sensibility. Starting the songwriting process on piano and guitar inspired her to experiment with chord changes and overlay her minimalist beats with lush melodies. The album also finds her singing for the first time, and with her intoxicating space age femme fatale sound, it's a happy development that was born out of unhappy circumstances.
Though Misstress Barbara had been planning on making an album for years, the catalyst came in the form of tragedy when her father passed away on Christmas Eve in 2006. The next day, she wrote a poem and found that the words flowed easily. Soon she had a large collection of songs and headed into the studio - first her personal studio, where she did the majority of the production, then into outside facilities in her hometown of Montreal as well as Los Angeles, where she worked on arrangements and vocals bringing the album to life. The influence of her father followed her into these recording sessions. 'I know he would be very, very proud. He played guitar, violin, piano,' Barbara says. On recording violins in the studio, she adds, 'I had tears in my eyes. He would be so happy.'
This emotion shines through in the album. I'm No Human is a rumination on themes of uncertainty and love - the latter a topic very close to her heart. Or as Misstress Barbara herself puts it: 'Everything in my life is for love. I do everything for love and I undo everything for love.' Fittingly, she included a cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Dance Me To The End Of Love' on the album. It also features 'I'm Running,' a duet with Sam Roberts, which tackles love from an overarching perspective. 'It's a love story,' says Misstress Barbara. 'But it's more wide than just love. It could be friendship. It could be family.'
There's one song, though, that's pure, teasing fun. The made-for-the-dancing track 'Four On The Floor' refers to the traditional structure of house music - a kick drum on each beat - and came about as a reaction to a friend who asked, 'Is there anything you do that doesn't start with a kick and a clap and a high hat?' 'I was so upset,' says Barbara, 'that I thought, 'I'm going to make a song and be really ironic about it.' The result is a joyful celebration of the techno music she fell in love with so many years ago. 'It's a four on the floor! Yes, once more!' she shouts cheekily on the song's driving verse.
Though her DJ career means she's no stranger to performance, recreating the songs live is yet another new challenge she's excited to undertake. After traveling and performing solo for the past 13 years, Misstress Barbara is energized by the dynamics a live band offers. 'I love the sharing of emotion. I really love it,' she says. And with the release of I'm No Human on MapleMusic Recordings in May 2009, Misstress Barbara is making some new additions to her already-impressive list of accomplishments. Pilot, producer, DJ - and now captivating songwriter and musician.