By Sarah Carroll
With mega hits like “Break Free,” “Stay The Night,” and “Clarity” under his belt, Zedd’s a constant force of nature on the radio airwaves.
But it may come as a surprise that it’s been nearly three years since he released his last album, Clarity.
How exactly did Zedd end up partnering with Selena in the recording studio? You’re never going to believe his hilarious story! Take a listen:
Booker: This man saved our AMPLIFY show. [Last year], I see my newsfeed and it says, “DJ Tiesto cracks his head open,” and I’m like, “Uh, we have Tiesto for a show tomorrow night!” We’re utterly screwed. We don’t know what we’re going to do. So we literally tweet Zedd, “Hey, can you do our show? Ha ha ha!” You know what he says? “Yeah.”
Zedd: I was on a plane. You randomly probably saw my tweet, I saw yours…I had just gotten to LA and I had one day off, so my crew was in the back of the plane, so I was like, “Hey guys, do you have any plans today? You guys want to play a show?” And they’re like, “Sure!” It was great. I love it!
Booker: How did you start with music? You were young, your parents were musicians, no?
Zedd: I started with piano. I was four years old and I didn’t enjoy it. I’ll be honest! I enjoyed playing, I just didn’t enjoy taking lessons and taking directions from other people…Then I started playing the drums later when I was about 12, to do something that my parents didn’t want me to do.
Booker: When you were 12, what did you dream of? Was it being in a band?
Zedd: I just wanted to make music. I didn’t really plan on being in a band, to be honest. But then, I started a band with my brother and then couple years later I figured that’s going to be my future until I started making electronic music just for fun as a side job. You know, why not? Try it out. And then a couple years later, I was here and played the AMP shows…I was only in one band with my brother for nine years. It’s been awhile! You should check it out on YouTube. It’s Dioramic. It’s kind of complex music and kind of hard with a lot of screaming and that kind of stuff.
Booker: At what point did you say, I’m going to put down this drum kit and go ahead and decide “I’m going to be a producer,” or was it a DJ first? How’d that come about?
Zedd: DJ was never the plan, even when I started making electronic music. I just made it because it was fun until someone said, “Hey, do you want to play this show.” And I was like, “Well, how do I do that? What exactly do I play?” And they said, “You gotta DJ,” and so I literally started from scratch: Okay, how do you DJ? I downloaded Traktor, that was the first software I used, and just figured out how to do it and then tried to do my own thing with it.
Booker: Did you fall in love with performing in front of people immediately?
Zedd: That was great, considering my band has always been kind of small and we never had a big audience, and then when I started DJing, suddenly I was like, “Oh, damn! There’s a lot of people out there,” so that was an amazing feeling, for sure. And when people recognize my music and sang along, I fell in love with that immediately.
Booker: What’s the one piece of music or one song that you put together that at the very end of it, you said, “I am the most proud of this.”?
Zedd: That’s a really good question because I’m pretty proud of every single song I put out and if you look at it, I don’t put out that many songs because it takes a second! I think when I did “Spectrum” I felt like I made something that no one’s ever done before. It started really with the chord progression. It started as a piano song and even before I started producing the song, I thought it was one of the most unique songs I’ve ever done and I didn’t even know what it would sound like yet because it was just a piano. There’s something about the chord progression that makes you feel a certain way that I haven’t felt in music before. That’s why I was really excited about it. It’s really hard to do something you’re excited about yourself that you’ve never felt before when you make music all day, every day. That was one of those moments.
Booker: How do you decide who you want to collaborate with?
Zedd: I love to work with other people. It doesn’t even matter who the other artist is. If we can create something amazing together, then I don’t care who it is. I don’t care about the image someone has or whatever. I just want it to be great. And it’s always exciting because every artist is different and it’s kind of a challenge.
Booker: How do you wrestle with someone like a Lady Gaga? Here’s someone who has an exact idea of what they want to do and you know exactly what you’re doing.
Zedd: Lady Gaga was probably the most opinionated artist and that’s amazing. I have a very strong opinion usually. It was very interesting for me to work with somebody that knew exactly what she was talking about. We were able to talk on a music level. And a lot of the time, I don’t actually get to be in the studio with an artist. That’s something I should mention as well. That’s also really great to be in a room with someone. And yeah, she was amazing. I learned a lot by working with her and collaborating with her.
Booker: Is it hard for you to tell an artist, “I don’t really like that. I want you to change this.”?
Zedd: It is really hard, especially because in the case of Lady Gaga, I think we were really proud of what we achieved together and that was only possible by us both telling each other we didn’t like what we did or the other partner did that much because then you push yourself to do the very best you can. It’s not the easiest thing, especially the first time I worked with her. The first time saying, “I think you can do better,” I definitely will never forget saying that to her because she’s great! You just have to remember that’s the reason why I’m sitting there and not someone else because they appreciate my honesty.
Producer Angie: You’ve worked with so many people. Is there anybody you really want to work with that you haven’t yet?
Zedd: I could probably give you 100 names if I look at your playlist right now! Adele is an artist I’ve always wanted to work with, Ed Sheeran is another artist…I would love to do anything, honestly, just because I love [Adele’s] voice. John Mayer is another artist I recently got in touch with.
Booker: How did this song with Selena Gomez come together?
Zedd: It was about as random as it gets. I had a day off, and I don’t have a lot of days off, and I decided to go buy stuff for my house because I just moved, so I have an empty house and I had to pee. And I had my engineer with me, so I was like, “I hope they have a bathroom here.” And he said, “You know what? Just go over to the studio over there,” which was across the street from my studio. He was like, “They have a bathroom. Just go use that.” I was like, “All right!” So I walk in and John, the head of our label who had just signed Selena, was there. He was like, “Oh! What are you doing here?” I said, “I just have a day off. I don’t take a lot of days off! Don’t be mad! I’m still working on the record!” And he’s like, “Okay. Have you ever met Selena?” That was literally the next thing he said. I was like, “Uh, no.” So he introduced me to her and was like, “Hey, she’s cool. Maybe we should make a song together.” And then like a week later, we started working on a song…all because I had to pee!
Booker: Was this song something you wrote specifically for Selena?
Zedd: I had the idea that I started working on with Ryan Tedder a little while ago. I just hadn’t really done much with it yet. At that stage, I played [to her] where it was and everyone loved the song and then we thought she would sound great on it…It went from, “Yeah, that song might make the album to this has got to be the first single!”
Booker: Was it hard to direct Selena when she was recording the song?
Zedd: No, it wasn’t that hard because she is extremely good at taking directions and she doesn’t have an ego, where with a lot of people, you’ve got to be really careful with that. Sometimes it’s hard, but she was great with that so it was awesome and I could get it exactly the way I wanted and that makes my life easier.
Booker: When will you and Selena announce the video release?
Zedd: We will announce it really soon.
Booker: Will you be in it?
Zedd: Yes, I will, actually. I’m always in my videos, didn’t you know? The first thing I tell the director is that I’m a horrible actor and I can’t lie, so I just don’t want to be in it too much, but yes, I will be in the video and it will come out very, very soon. It has [been shot already].
Booker: Is there a plot?
Zedd: There for sure is a plot, but I can’t tell you about that! Come on, we want it to be a surprise.
Booker: Are you going to continue playing in Vegas?
Zedd: That is correct. I will. I have a residency. It’s XS at night and we do day shows at the Encore Beach Club.
Booker: How long does it take you do make an album? Are you going to get a lot of people to collaborate with? When should we expect it?
Zedd: It takes me usually between, I would say, 2-3 years to finish an album. It takes me awhile, especially because on this record I’ve been trying out a bunch of singers. I just took a long time to find the right singers [in the past], where now I try three or four different singers, and then the fifth one, and then another one afterwards! Just to make sure I got the really perfect vocal because I think the right vocal color really makes a big difference. I’m really far advanced in my album right now. It’s probably still going to take me a good month, month-and-a-half to finish it, you know, the last touches. And then depending on if I can keep that promise of one-and-a-half months, it’s going to come out sooner or later!
Booker: If there’s three years of separation, do you ever worry that it might sound dated?
Zedd: 100%, especially with electronic music there’s going to be that new plug-in that going to make your sound way better and then you have to re-do everything. So, yes, that’s a concern, but that’s why I decided to put the focus on the music rather than the sounds, I guess. And I do take a lot of time to make it sound good, but I think at the end of the day, I want to be able to perform every single song on the piano. That was kind of the idea on this album, so as long as I take care of that, the songs won’t get old.
Booker: Do you ever sing?
Zedd: Actually, I do backing vocals on almost every song of mine…I would never be a good lead singer, but my voice happens to be good for background vocals.
Booker: You’re great on Twitter. You’re one of the only few guys I think that really communicates with his fans well.
Zedd: Well, I appreciate fans and you guys too. I remember, one of my songs was named after an idea that a fan had because it made sense. I sometimes do these party lines. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, where I have a number that I activate and people can just call me. And someone said, “Remember that song you played at that festival, that unreleased song? How about naming it that?” And I was like, “Yeah! Done.” I did it. It made sense. Fans are smart.