UNKNOWN Is The Underdog That Should Be Your Favorite
Bryson “Unknown”Stilwell is an artist, engineer and producer from Indian Trail, NC. He is the founder of Dirty Room Recordings and recently completed a two-plus year project titled “Thank You Lord” which he dedicated to his late father Kenneth Stilwell.
Where were you born and what was your childhood like?
I was born in Indian Trail. I grew up in a small town with a close-knit community of people that my parents pretty much always knew their whole life. Basically, I grew up with my parents divorced and stuff like that. I was really thrown around a lot normally, dragged between houses and different environments and stuff like that. That’s where I got a lot of my more iffy experiences from and stuff like that. A lot of my more worldly experiences, but it taught me a lot.
What music do you remember hearing in your household?
In my household, I grew up a lot with my mom singing gospel music and Christian music in the church a lot. I grew up with her rehearsing in church a lot and doing a lot of performances through the studios and stuff like that. She would take me to the studios, do performances in church and choir, and go to places and do karaoke and stuff like that. I grew up around her doing a lot of stuff like that with country and Christian music. Then with all my older cousins and all my older family, my siblings and stuff like that, they were putting me on to all the hip hop and R&B type of music, the pop music. I grew up with a big, big inspiration of lots of different varieties of music. Even my dad, he listened to rock music. There was a lot of stuff that I listened to growing up, really.
Tell us about your father (R.I.P.) and the type of dad he was.
My dad was the dad of all dads. He was born to be a dad. That’s what I thought because he was going to be there no matter what. If it meant missing work or something like that, he was coming to the games. He was going to make sure that he was coming to practices and just support no matter what. If I had a show, he was going to be there. He’s front row. He was a very supportive figure. He definitely pushed me to chase my dreams and everything like that throughout my life.
How often does your life story find its way into your music?
Really, I’ve tried to push my life into my music more and more. I feel like when I first started making music, it was me finding a creative outlet. Now, I’ve matured a little bit. I realize that it’s more of an outlet for my therapeutic side, too. I can get a lot of things that I go through in my experiences out through my music. I use it as that type of vessel to push my narrative and things like that. Things to people that maybe have never heard it before and could just hear me out.
What was life like for you during the pandemic?
It wasn’t too bad. I graduated in 2020. You can imagine being in that class right there where we’re hitting the peak of the pandemic right at the start. I’m about to graduate. They can’t do big graduations. You can only get two people at your graduation. We didn’t have a proper ending to our school year where we had a prom and all the other nice things like that. They cut a lot of things short for the seniors and stuff like that. That was a whole big gap to get over. It gave me a lot of time to push back into the studio and be with my friends and stuff like that. Work on building a sound and just more of a passion for the music that we’d always been talking about being able to do. But never really had the time with school and everything going on. It gave me a lot of time to focus on my music and what I really am passionate about. It helped me in the long run. It’s crazy. I ended up not going full-fledged into college.
I was about a semester into college. I looked at my dad, and I was living with him, and said, “Dad, I can either be down here in the studio and making money and chasing my dream, or I could be in college and wasting money and failing and still be down here chasing my dream because I’m going to do this either way.” And he was like, “Well, I mean, it’d be better than wasting money. You might as well do what’s going to make you some money while you’re doing it.” And he let me take off with the studio. And that’s really when the studio started and everything like that is right when COVID hit.
What would you do now if the world shut down again?
Lord, if the world shut down again, I’d probably do it all over again. I’d probably go harder. I’m still doing the studio, of course. I’d have even more time to do my music, even more time to help build with the community and stuff like that. So I think that I would do everything again and do it more.
How has your music evolved since the very beginning?
I’ve always been self-produced and engineered my own music, recorded it, and all those things. So, I mean, I was working with my friend Deuce early on, and we kind of helped develop each other into more professional-sounding artists and things like that. Because it takes an increase in quality to really be up to par with the rest of the competition. Not even to look at it like competition, but I get competitive. So, it turned into that more competitive aspect, really. It went from being something we were just doing because it was fun to being like, “Okay, we have something we got talent with and we could really work at for a significant amount of time and grow and really show people what we have to offer.” And so it went from being just fun and kind of joking around, maybe, and having just a fun night making a song with my friend to being full-scale. I want to make an album with one cohesive topic and everything makes sense and make it flow through musically and really more in-depth with the music. It changed completely, I’d say. Complete turnaround.
Compare yourself as a rapper, singer, and producer.
I would say engineering and producing are something that I am passionate about as well. And that’s where I understand that that is a way for me to set up a career and a future in music without having to bank on the success of a song to blow up. I don’t have to go viral and be famous and make a whole bunch of money. If I hone down and I really focus on my skills and I know that I can produce and I know that I can engineer, I can solidify a business, and I can make money for myself through the years. People are always going to want to make music.
And as long as I have that, then I know that. But being an artist is what I’m passionate about. So that’s where it helps to have both because I can bounce one right off the other and use everything that I’m doing over here to help solidify that I’m taken care of and the bills are paid and my family’s taken care of. I can take that and use all the skills to implement it right into my own music and being an artist. And so it helps a lot, both of them comparing with each other and contrasting. And all the things that come with it, you make more connections being in the studio and being an engineer. There are a lot of people that come through the studio that need spaces and people to work with. And I can sometimes work as a person to kind of make those connections for people. And that helps me in the long run with making connections of my own. So it’s definitely very beneficial to have both.
Which artists have you had the opportunity to work with?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with ZayTheGoat. I got some unreleased music with The Real Mouf. I have a whole bunch of people in my hometown that I work with very closely like Fazo, everybody on Dirty Rooms, KiccDoeJoe, Jayk, and Deuce. And then as far as, I mean, I got people who are promoters and friends like that, like Stephen Tha Dream. I work with E-Sudd and Sport E Odie and Social Currency on different events and things like that. So definitely a lot of different figures and different mixes and pools of people that do different things, you know, and trying to bridge a lot of gaps in that area, really.
Tell us about the collab with Deuce on Walking Tall.
Me and Deuce, man, that is, we go way back, that’s like my best friend with this music. So like he is initially who started producing for me ever, the first producer I ever worked with. So when we started really working together, I mean, we just took off with it. And now it’s all these years later, we’re sitting in the studio and we’re just like, man, like we got to make something. I got this album coming up. I need something with you on it. I need something that is like, man, like all this stuff, all this work we put in, all the talk we’ve done. Now we’re just walking tall in it because it’s coming to life around us. And that’s really where the inspiration for the song came. And it’s like a turning point in the album where like everything goes from being like, “I’m upset about all these things that are going on” to being like, “I’m overcoming the things that are going on.” And that’s like one of those songs that really makes you feel it, you know, like makes you like, “Okay, I’m walking tall. I got some racks inside my draws.” It’s like just some feel-good music, you know?
What was it like working with director Sean Stanley?
Sean Stanley is actually from my hometown, like right from the same place that I’m from. We grew up in the same school district. So like he’s just a partner in school and like the same little town. And he started doing videos around the same time I probably started doing the studio. And we really hadn’t got to work that often. And we started working, I’d say, last year after my dad passed away and stuff like that and working on some videos. And really building that connection with him has been great because he’s been able to encompass ideas of mine and these full videos that are amazing. And like off of just run-and-gun shoots, like just able to work magic, you know? And it’s a very easy process with him. He’s super straightforward. He gets the job done. And I mean, I’m always happy with his work. So that’s definitely my boy, Sean Stanley.
What artist do you hope to collaborate with one day?
This is a good one. There are a lot of artists that I would like to collaborate with, I’d say. As far as right now in today’s industry and like everybody who’s popping right now, I would definitely want to work with someone like Lil Baby or, man, it’s hard to say. I don’t even want to start picking sides either. You can’t throw too many names out. It’s going to get a little bit, you know… ha ha. Lil Baby, you know, Roddy Ricch. I’m a big Roddy Ricch fan. I feel like some lyricists I’d like to work with too. I mean, but everybody I could think of there is a little bit more older generation. I’d love to work with J. Cole, somebody from North Carolina, DaBaby. I mean, there are plenty of artists that I would love to work with. If I could have the pleasure to, you know.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen so far in 2023?
The best movie I’ve seen so far in 2023. I think it’s sad to say that the only movie I think I’ve seen so far in 2023 at the movie theater is the Mario movie. Yeah, but it was a good movie. But yeah, yeah. That’s like the only movie I’ve seen.
Who would you cast yourself as in a Marvel movie?
I gotta be Iron Man because, I mean, I’m willing to risk it all for everybody if I got to. So, like, I gotta be Iron Man. Might as well. Tony Stark. My dad would have said Iron Man too. So, I gotta be Iron Man.
What is your favorite place to take your girlfriend for date night?
We always go to Firebirds. Always. We’re always going to Firebirds. And that’s anniversary for us. That’s where we’re going. And probably to a movie. Firebirds and a movie, you can’t miss. You can’t miss.
What is your favorite song to listen to during photo shoots?
That’s gonna have to be some Unknown probably. It’s probably unreleased. It’s probably my new unreleased song. For real. Something I got coming called “I Can’t Lose.” That’s it. That’s gonna be the one, I think. That’s me.
What do you like most about living in North Carolina?
I like North Carolina because even people hate it because of the weather. But I feel like North Carolina is awesome because we can get every type of weather. Even though it can be bipolar, it’s one of those things that like… I don’t know. I just like it. I feel like I like the vibes here. Go outside. It’s a nice day right now. It’s sunny outside. And I like that. And some days, yeah, it might be bad. It might be whatever. But then we could also get snow. We could also get a little bit of, like… I don’t know. It’s a nice place. I just like North Carolina. It’s a nice place. It’s got a good environment. And there’s definitely… There’s a sense to everything that’s growing. That’s what I like about North Carolina too. Everything is up and coming. So it’s not like we’re trying to catch up with everybody who’s already been there and already done that. We still have yet to be there and done that. And we’re on the way to doing that. So it makes it great.
What can fans expect to see or hear from you this year?
Well, definitely, I got two more videos right now that are just sitting, waiting to be released. They’re ready. I’m just kind of making everybody wait. And then I got a new single I’m working on called “I Can’t Lose.” And then I’ll probably be putting together a couple of collab tapes with some artists. I have a Spanish artist that I’ve actually been working with. So I got some bilingual music coming. And then just working on, like I said, building a community and building more friends in my network through music. And doing all sorts of stuff like that. So definitely more collaborative stuff coming. And more music videos and content, really.
“My dad was the dad of all dads. He was born to be a dad. That’s what I thought because he was going to be there no matter what.” – UNKNOWN