Afrojack is not only a major contributor to the rise of EDM in today's mainstream music scene, but he's an integral figure in the scene's future. He's had a string of huge hits, but with a new album on the horizon for Island Def Jam in early 2014, Afrojack's sound is taking a bit of a turn, which was properly showcased in his latest single, the radio-ready "The Spark," which followed up his Chris Brown-collaboration "As Your Friend" from the spring of 2013... and that's just his original production. He's collaborating on limited-edition clothing lines with G-Star, being called a "DJ Legend" at the TCL Chinese Theatre, hitting the New York Stock Exchange with SFX Entertainment, spinning for MLB fans, and much, much more. With March of Afrojack, he gave us previously-unreleased footage of his life behind the scenes, and we recently got a chance to speak to Afrojack, getting even deeper into the next phase of his career.
On his latest single, “The Spark”
The idea behind the track was something that Spree Wilson wrote. It’s a song that he wrote together with a buddy of his, and I got the song through the label; it was just the song and a guitar. Just one guitar and him singing. I liked it so much that I reached out to him and said like, “You wanna do it together?” So I produced the whole song, finished the whole project, and then eventually, well, I got some requests of putting some major artists on there, like major major, and they did some cool stuff, but I just thought it would give the track the wrong balance. It’s really edgy pop, and [the other artists] made it a little bit too pop. I listened to it and thought Spree just sounded better and gave the record a better vibe. Now he’s coming on tour with me. Up until six months ago he was only writing songs. That’s what I like to do, to give someone an opportunity.
If the other guys would’ve been a better balance for the song for my project then, of course, but it wasn’t. I need to keep the balance, that’s why I think something like putting a brand new artist on it is just a really cool thing to do. I like the new artist aspect a lot, because it gives so much freedom of creating the image of that artist. People who see him now for the first time, they have no idea who he is but they see him in the video and everything outside of the video is an idea they can create themselves. Maybe he’s secretly gangster.
On his forthcoming album
[I’ve been working on it for] two and a half years. It’s the thing that we started it, I started it. It took me a year to find a label I wanted to work with, which became Island Def Jam. I think my way put the two roads together, it fits very obviously, but this was something I had to think about for a long time because I don’t like giving other people say over my music, which eventually they got. I’m the boss. But then I was working on the album and then, well, times change, music changes. I listened back, and I want to like my album, too. I was sitting on tracks that I made a year ago and I was like “ehhhhh. The album’s got to change.” Even now, I’ve basically said for the last couple of weeks, the album is 99% finished. I was working with some writers. We made some great songs and that shit’s gotta be on the album. It has to be on there. It’s now scheduled for February/March 2014. I’m handing over to the masters before the first of January 2014, and then that is it. So then it will come out, no matter what is on it. Even if it is what it is now, and that’s already something I’m excited about, because a lot of my fans are already getting exciting about the songs they are hearing.
On who’s heard tracks from the album
No one has anything. I didn’t sell out music for a long time, like old underground stuff. There used to be a time where every club you would go to, you would hear an Afrojack song. Everywhere, every DJ would play one. Now it’s still the same in the smaller clubs with a song like “The Spark” or “No Beef.” They still play “Take Over Control,” “Can’t Stop Me,” “As Your Friend,” all those songs are played. Also the productions like “Pon De Floor,” “Look at Me Now,” remixes. But the big DJs like Tiesto and Avicii, and Calvin, and David. They don’t really play them anymore, but it’s also [that] I don’t really send it out to anyone. I’m so focused on this album and I couldn't really send anything out because that would be like putting my own finger up my own ass for the release of the album. So I’m about to start doing that with two of the songs. The next two singles, what I think are going to be the next singles. They’re going to be the ones you’re going to start hearing all over the world in the next couple of months.
They’re different. “The Spark” is like the most pop-radio crossover thing off the album. It’s like the introduction to the multiple styles you will hear back on the album. I’m a dance music producer, but I’m also a music producer. I love conducting, orchestrating, arranging, remixing, mixing, mastering - every aspect of producing music in every genre. So that’s what I always try to do, also when I DJ, I try to give people something new. I give them what they want, and then I give them something they wouldn't really want in the first place, but then after listening they’re like, “it’s nice, I want it.”
First you saw the apple, then you saw the banana, and then you saw the dragon fruit. That’s basically how the whole album is going to flow. It’s going to be starting with an apple, one big-ass banana, going to dragon fruit, and then fucking weird Japanese fruit.
On featured artists on the album
Well, everything is co-produced, well not everything, but most of it, by Polow Da Don and DJ Buddha. Buddha used to do everything for Pitbull, and Polow Da Don is, as he’d say, Polow Da Don. They've basically been my co-producers, especially in the sense of project-handling. I’m also a DJ, so I’m also touring and doing interviews and they made sure I got to the right place, met the right people. They introduced me to the entire world behind the scenes, basically, behind the music scene. And they also helped with a lot of music, so it was a lot of fun. They are basically my main two guys. I actually never really talk about it because nobody really cares, but they’re actually really cool guys.
Polow is a legend of a producer. He’s great, he’s a great producer. He always plays me this shit and I’m like, “what the fuck?” He doesn't like doing just something. If he does something, he tries to make it special. I want it to be special for the masses, but he wants it to be special for even the artists and the producers, like everything is in sync, like “oh my god this is so crazy.”
On making tracks that will connect in the mainstream as well as for diehard EDM fans
I have a really wide array of fans. I have my “Give Me Everything” fans, but I also have my make-fun-of-all-those-drunk-tweeting fans, and I also have my underground-“No Beef” fans. And when I do a show at a festival of 20,000, 80,000 people, I have to make sure that every one of them thinks that was so cool. I want to show people that it’s all possible to come together. It’s like, it’s not that the person likes one genre of movies; I only like action, so you watch Inception and you’re like “oh my god” and then the ending gets emotional, [and you say] “you’re so fucking emotional,” no. It’s part of it, it’s part of a whole and that’s what I try to do bring those genres together and basically do that as a producer and that’s what I’m doing with the album, it’s basically what I’m doing with my life.
That’s my next level shit, to set people free. People are bound to the rules of their own perception. There are no rules in this world. A lot of people aren't focused on what is possible in life. They only think [about] what is possible according to the rules. But life is too short to stick to the rules. It’s your life, you only get one. Don’t waste it on making society. That can make you suffer, go do what you love.
On making March of Afrojack
I wanted to show people that, seriously, I am a normal guy. Yes, I’m sitting in the trunk of a Ferrari 458 Italia. And five years ago I was taking a subway to my digs. And that’s one thing to show people that it can happen to anyone, that you can be in the subway and five years from now you can be flying private planes and shit. But the second message in there, for me, is that people know that I was just as happy five years ago as I am now. Now I have fucking stupid-ass $3000 shoes on, but they don’t walk more comfortable. Like, I don’t wear this shit when I’m in my living room, sitting and watching TV. The TV show isn't going to get funnier because I’m wearing $3000 shoes! It doesn't change anything. You’re mom’s not going to love you more because you have expensive shoes. And that’s my message to the people, if you just follow your heart and do what you want to do. Of course it’s nice if you get some extra money, but trust me, once you get it you start realizing more and more that when you’re focusing, working on what you love, it’s not there. The private jet is not in my studio when I’m making music. When I start making music on my laptop I can be in my hotel room, I can be on the fucking toilet, I can be out on the street, I don’t care. I’m making music, I’m doing my shit, I’m the happiest man alive. I’m happier making music in a toilet than flying on a private jet, surrounded by four hot bitches. I’d rather be making music in a toilet. It’s more fun, for me. That’s my passion, that’s what gets me... “AHHH!”
On giving advice to younger producers during the 2013 Ultra Music Festival
I did an interview with Huffington Post and I said something about Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball," and I said something [like] I’ll just remix to show that everything it’s fucking possible. Just because it’s directly against the rules. I’m not here to be cool, I’m not here to be politically correct, like “Yeah, Miley Cyrus, go away," no. It’s different, that’s why I wanted to say right now I think I’m the Justin Bieber of EDM. Everyone has something to say. Am I the most controversial? Am I cool? Am I not cool? I think people actually wonder sometimes, “Wow, should I follow Afrojack on Twitter or not? I think he’s cool, but I also don’t think he’s cool because he works with...“ This is not what it’s about, and that’s what I’m trying to point out and that’s what I’m trying to point out to those producers because we’re feeling the same [way]. You’re Afrojack! But you’re also Afrojack. And you’re Afrojack. I’m three different kinds of fucking Afrojack at the same time.
I noticed that and that’s why I wanted to show them and teach them the first thing about becoming a producer is do not try to be cool. Don’t do it. Stop. Like, everyone always try to be cool. “Epic” is hot, and the triplets, and they’re going to start doing that because they think it’s cool. But then because you’re doing something that you think is cool and you think it will provide greatness because you’re trying to be cool, that’s selling out. If you listen to your heart and just make the music that you want to make, any kind of music, because I know every music producer likes making all kinds of music, it’s just as scary, that is following your heart. And that is what I do. Yes, I produced a song for Pitbull. Yes, I will remix Miley Cyrus. I will remix Justin Bieber, I will do a song together with Justin Bieber while making an underground track that will make the club go crazy while producing hip-hop beats for Lil Wayne. Why? Because I can. And everybody can. I’m honest and not a lot of people are honest anymore. They say they’re honest, but they’re not.
I always read these blogs and stuff and I see little letters and then big letters and I hope you can post this in big letters: EVERYBODY SHOULD BE HONEST WITH THEMSELVES, BECAUSE YOU ARE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND. ALWAYS. You go to sleep with yourself at night. You think about what you’re doing the next day while you’re eating your breakfast by yourself. It’s all you. So if you start lying to yourself, then how do you ever think you will become happy? If you’re lying to your best friend, and that’s being yourself, then you’re a walking contradiction. Then you’re never going to become successful at anything because you’ll never be happy. And if you’re not happy, you won’t be successful because you can’t be successful without being happy because then you’re not really successful.
On the intimate moments documented in March of Afrojack
It was kind of creepy but then I eventually kicked myself in the balls and said like, “come on, man up, this is the truth and people should know the truth. Don’t go bullshitting.” That’s also why I put my daughter in there, because this is the only time ever she’s coming up in any kind of public thing, but it’s also for when she grows up, she sees that I showed her for one moment [that] she has two happy parents. Even though her mother, we’re not together anymore, we take great care of her and everything.
That’s why I basically did the whole documentary, I just wanted to show people the truth and where does it come from and how does it happen and how to live it up. That’s the reason I would be so fucking rich if I didn't fly private jets anywhere, but that’s what I do. “Hey, I got money, let’s spend it!” What the fuck am I going to do with millions of dollars in my bank account, look at it? I’d rather have zero dollars and 25 cars - I love cars. So I have a black Lamborghini, I have a white Lamborghini, I buy my mom a Lamborghini, buy my grandma a Lamborghini, buy my 12-year-old nephew a Lamborghini. I’d rather do that than be rich because money doesn't make you rich, happiness makes you rich. And I’m also starting something, I didn't start it yet, but I’m starting a charity for special things that I think are necessary. It’s not there yet.
On his G-Star collaboration
They approached me. I used to be in graphic school. I used to be a graphic designer before I wanted to DJ. I always loved fashion and I really love their brand. It’s always really, really cool, but not like overly expensive. It’s basically like Nike urban-wear, only done more for clothing. That’s just what I like, because while I love the expensive stuff, too, not everyone can spend $10,000 on a fucking stupid-ass jacket.
They approached me and they said “we love your music, we love your image, would you like to do a line?” And I ran ten times around the table and said “yes, please, do you want me to wipe your ass, too?” I was just really excited. We got together and started working on some prototypes and designs. I gave them some inspiration, I did some drawings for them, I gave them some logos and basically the first thing they came back with I was like “this is perfect, it’s the perfect combination.” It’s me but it’s still G Star. And again, it’s not overly expensive. It’s just cool. It’s cool clothes. When you see someone walking in the G-Star Afrojack outfit you think, “wow that guy looks cool.” If so, success! I hope.
I will do more stuff in clothing. And I would love to do more with G-Star because the reactions I have seen on the limited-edition I’m like, “Why the hell am I doing limited edition? Let’s get this out there to the world.” But it’s cool, it’s a cool start. I’ve never done clothing in my life so it’s pretty awesome.
On forthcoming releases on Wall
I’m sort of getting fucked in the ass by my other label for my album, no offense, because they want to make sure that everything is set on the album, like all the focus on the album. And it is better for the album. But I’m a producer, I produce a new song every week. Underground songs. I have like 15 songs that I’m sitting on right now. I have 200 unreleased songs I’m sitting on, but I have 15 right now that I think will kill this shit. And we’re just working on giving it the right place. For the other artists signed to Wall, there’s a lot of new stuff that going to come out. I’ve been touring with them, showing them new production stuff. They’re coming out with some great stuff. I think the label is going to be great. I actually got a freebie from Island Def Jam. They said, “You know what, you love your underground right? You can do some.” So Afrojack's going to be on Wall Recordings. I’m excited about it, too. Shit’s hard. If I play you the song, you’ll be like, “daaaaamn.”
It’s really hard to combine these two styles of music and still keep the brand as a simply understandable thing, but I think I will be able to do it this year. Especially for club tracks, because Nick van de Wall doesn’t give a fuck about anything. I’m just a shy little boy, watching TV, watching Family Guy, having fun, eating pancakes at my mom’s home. Afrojack has an ego like a motherfucker. So if I release a club track I want everyone to go like “holy- damn!” When the drop comes in, you want be like “damn.”