Bunk up the beat

Frisco teens create Top Bunk Recordings music label with equity in mind

Top+Bunk+members+include+Memorial+senior+Diego+Fernandez+%28top+left%29%2C+Heritage+senior+Shruthi+Venkatesh+%28top+right%29%2C+Memorial+senior+Kaleb+Mills+%28bottom+left%29%2C+Memorial+junior+William+Flashnick+%28middle+left%29%2C+Memorial+class+of+2020+alumni+Corbin+Dennis+%28bottom+middle%29%2C+Memorial+junior+Megan+Butler+%28bottom+right%29%2C+and+Memorial+junior+Jurnee+Brinson+%28far+right%29.+%22I%E2%80%99ve+always+felt+that+Top+Bunk+will+be+whatever+Top+Bunk+wants+to+be.+We+have+no+agenda+and+it+is+truly+a+space+for+everyone+within+it+to+evolve+as+they+feel+is+natural%2C%22+Fernandez+said.

provided by Diego Fernandez

Top Bunk members include Memorial senior Diego Fernandez (top left), Heritage senior Shruthi Venkatesh (top right), Memorial senior Kaleb Mills (bottom left), Memorial junior William Flashnick (middle left), Memorial class of 2020 alumni Corbin Dennis (bottom middle), Memorial junior Megan Butler (bottom right), and Memorial junior Jurnee Brinson (far right). “I’ve always felt that Top Bunk will be whatever Top Bunk wants to be. We have no agenda and it is truly a space for everyone within it to evolve as they feel is natural,” Fernandez said.

By Aaron Boehmer, Liberty High School - TX

Under a loft bed, two friends from English class started making music.

From that same loft bed, a record label came to be: Top Bunk RecordingsMemorial High School seniors Diego Fernandez and Kaleb Mills met at school and their friendship led them to begin writing songs at Fernandez’s house. Mills then introduced Fernandez to Memorial junior Jurnee Brinson, who joined their music-making sessions.

“From there, Top Bunk quickly evolved from being solely a name for music releases to a vision for a brand and collaborative environment that could live, grow, and transform with its members,” Fernandez said.

Organic collaboration is a staple of the label, as the team’s first single “Time with Me” came to be rather random, according to Brinson.

“I had no intention of really recording a full song. One day, Diego and I were just sifting through old beats on his laptop, and he found one that he told me to get up and just sing melodies to,” Brinson said. “After a few minutes I was singing the chorus to ‘Time With Me.’ I didn’t think much of it but Diego swore up and down it could be something good.  Although I didn’t really believe him, I trusted him enough to contribute so many weekends in a row to make this song.”

Top Bunk members Diego Fernandez (left) and Jurnee Brinson (right) create music together. (provided by Diego Fernandez)

Reworking the instrumentals and recording vocals, the song was coming together, though COVID-19 pushed the song’s release back to mid-December of 2020.

“‘Time With Me’ went through so many reiterations and versions. It’s quite ridiculous,” Fernandez said. “The song was originally rooted in dancehall. We took a lot of inspiration from D’Angelo’s ‘Voodoo’ and Erykah Badu’s ‘Mama’s Gun’ and used that to quickly switch gears towards a neo-soul and contemporary R&B direction. We wrote verses and a bridge in mid-February and then produced it almost entirely one weekend in about 30 hours and added finishing touches over the next week.”

The label’s next focus is releasing Mills’s single “Station”, which was written in November 2020.

“With that comes not only finishing production and engineering, but also planning and organizing for the subsequent promotional material, photos, videos, and possibly a music video,” Fernandez said. “In addition to this, we are designing and developing a website from scratch to house all of our future projects, especially in regards to visual media, and working on art and hopefully clothing very soon.”

From songs to videos, websites to future clothing, Top Bunk creates its art horizontally, with no hierarchy between its members in order to align with its goal of forming a cooperative.

“One of our biggest goals is to register Top Bunk as a cooperative to make Top Bunk democratically controlled and operated,” Fernandez said. “This would allow us to focus on equity, creativity, and building true relationships without the suffocation of hierarchies and the exploitative practices seen in today’s business models and, notoriously, the music industry.”

Top Bunk member, Heritage High School senior Shruthi Venkatesh, sees the label becoming a co-op as a step in the right direction for even a small part of the music industry to value people over profit.

“The scary thing about creating art and music in today’s society is that it’s hyper-commodified which completely throws artistic freedom out the window,” Venkatesh said. “How are you supposed to truly create what you want when the goal is profit and catering towards other people? We just want to incite a new age of ‘artistic freedom’, as free from the bounds of capitalism as we can be.”

Aiming for artistic freedom without bounds to larger corporations or businesses, Fernandez sees Top Bunk as a way to provide this to up-incoming artists, producers, and more.

“It is my hope that Top Bunk will be a trailblazer in revolutionizing these business structures to bring artists one step closer to creative emancipation,” he said. “I dream of building an environment in which everyone can grow and be provided for and I think Top Bunk is the vehicle to achieve this.”

With that comes versatility, as Mills doesn’t want the group to be just one thing.

“I don’t want Top Bunk to just be a record label,” Mills said. “I want it to be a lifestyle as cliche as it sounds. Top Bunk in the future should be a record label, fashion brand, host of events, and a group that inspires the young to accomplish their dreams. I see us adding many talented artists and reaching and inspiring many people with our music. I hope we have our foot in many genres and create new innovative music.”

Memorial senior Diego Fernandez poses with Heritage senior Shruthi Venkatesh. “The scary thing about creating art and music in today’s society is that it’s hyper-commodified which completely throws artistic freedom out the window,” Venkatesh said. (provided by Diego Fernandez)

Developing this space now, while all but Top Bunk videographer Corbin Dennis are still in high school, gives the team a head start on making a career out of the label in the future, according to Fernandez.

“I think our age gives us a huge advantage though and because we’re in high school, so many people feel directly involved with what we’re doing: parents, friends, teachers, community members,” Venkatesh said. “We wanted everyone around us to feel personally and directly connected to Top Bunk and being high schoolers makes everyone so much more interested in what we are doing. With everyone kind of ‘rooting’ for us, it really helps to keep us motivated and in sight and in reach of our goals. Our community is what continues to push us.”

While the group will be in different places by next fall, as some members are graduating and others will still be in high school, Top Bunk is ready for anything that comes its way.

“We hope to do it all,” Fernandez said. “I’ve always felt that Top Bunk will be whatever Top Bunk wants to be. We have no agenda and it is truly a space for everyone within it to evolve as they feel is natural.”

This story was originally published on Wingspan on May 14, 2021.