Zedd is one of the worlds biggest DJs, although that’s a title he may be uncomfortable with. The German-born musician dominated the pop charts last year with his Foxes-assisted track Clarity and Stay The Night featuring Hayley Williams. With his recent rise to success, the 25-year-old was thrust into the spotlight, popular both on and off-stage. After his set at Toronto’s Digital Dreams, we sat down with the busy producer to talk about the state of his genre, how his live show is one of the best in music, and discover our mutual love of a certain board game.
You closed out Digital Dreams this weekend. Were you here on Saturday when it was canceled, as well?
I wasn’t. I heard about it, though. When I heard about all of the rain, I was worried that my show would get canceled too. I just played a show in Chicago last week in a stadium that had to be evacuated right before I went on. They canceled it and then they told me it was back on. [laughs] So all of these people left, and I thought I was going to be playing an empty stadium, and then suddenly, everyone rushed back in.
Have you ever done a show right in the middle of a big storm?
Yes! Those are some of my favorite shows. People get stoked when it rains. I remember playing with Deadmau5 in Philadelphia where there was a ton of rain and people loved it! The floor wasn’t even, so I was literally in a pool of water. I played in Indonesia when it was pouring and the crowd became infinitely excited. It looks great when it does happen. I love when I can get the lasers to shoot through raindrops! It all adds to the visual experience.
You mentioned with True Colors that you wanted the tour to be a sensory experience. How have you set up your live show this time around?
That’s part of the reason I never stream my sets. It’s not meant for you to listen in your bedroom. That’s what my album is for. When I play live, I walk through the venue and find the sweet spot. I do all of these things to perfect the visuals. I really want people to experience my show. It’s not just about what you hear, but about what you see, what you feel. There can be so many emotions to go through during a live show, and that’s what I want you to experience.
Was there a particular show that you would say was close to perfection? Or are you too much of a perfectionist that you can always say “I should’ve tweaked this or that”?
Nothing’s ever been perfect. But the closest I’ve ever reached was last week I believe, at Firefly. Two years ago, I played an amazing mixed-genre festival right after Paul McCartney. You know, we’re two artists really opposite on the spectrum, but everyone at the festival was so open to music. Nothing’s ever going to be perfect, but those shows were close.
EDM is one of those genres that is always questioned in terms of artistry. Many people can’t separate the idea of being a DJ and an artist. How do you find the balance of being an artist in a genre that is often critically challenged?
It’s a difficult balance to find. It’s very easy to get carried away by the storm of EDM, but for me specifically, I have been making electronic music for the shortest period in my life. I’ve spent much more time making classical and rock, than I have making electronic music. So for me, when people just call me a DJ, I mean, I get it, it’s part of my job. But I’d rather people call me a musician. Because I love to make every type, every genre. That’s why True Colors is so important to me. I wanted to show how many sides I have musically. It’s easy to be labeled a DJ in this genre. But it’s a little unfair to call someone who makes so much music, and so much music for other people too, just a DJ.
Why do you think the EDM culture is disregarded in that way?
That’s a great question. You know, there’s a lot of stigma in EDM. Especially by other artists that don’t take the genre seriously. There’s reasons why it shouldn’t, but there’s also a lot of reasons why it should too. People tend to focus on the reasons why it shouldn’t be taken seriously. At the beginning of my career, I wanted to collaborate with as many rock artists as I could. I love rock. It used to be very difficult to get anyone to listen to my stuff. They weren’t interested. Now I’m at a point in my career where I can get all of these artists that I love and who inspire me, to make music with me. Like Hayley Williams. I love Paramore, and that was a huge success to work with her. I don’t even think about the success of the actual song, it was more important to me that I worked with her. I think it’s changed a little bit today, people are becoming more open to the genre.
It’s like when Run-D.M.C. collaborated with Aerosmith. Fans of hip-hop and rock blended together and made genres accessible to new fans. I feel like EDM is doing well with that type of genre collaborating.
It is! I mean, I played at the Country Music Awards! You wouldn’t expect me there, but they really wanted me to be. It’s amazing to see such different musicians work together. You know, it almost shocks people. I do that a lot! [laughs] It helps to get the message across.
What is the message?
That any genres can work together! You know I made a song with Logic. Taylor Swift did Bad Blood with Kendrick. Linkin Park and Jay-Z. People don’t think that they want to hear it until they actually listen to the music. We have to push music forward, to open doors, break barriers.
“We have to push music forward, to open doors, break barriers.” – ZEDD
Keeping with that theme, what do you think the future of EDM is going to look like?
We’ve been waiting for the bubble to burst, but so far it hasn’t happened. I think it’s possible that electronic music won’t be on the radio as much as it used to be. Everything right now has an electronic influence. Especially in pop music. You know, everything comes in waves, and people will want to hear a different sound. But I don’t think this will affect the big festivals. At Coachella, there’s 10 stages. The one that is always packed is the EDM stage. There’s something about dance music. There’s this unity, and I don’t think that will ever go away.
You were mentioning the tribal influence in your album, and dance in general. This sort of "feel good" factor. Do you think that plays a part in the cohesiveness of the genre?
Absolutely. At every mixed-genre festival, artists see the dance stage and are amazed at the energy. Cody Simpson is a good friend of mine, I met him at Firefly actually. He never saw me live before. he watched my show and he told me that he never saw anything like it. For us, it’s normal. Everyone is dancing and singing together. There’s that real unity. There was this fan at Firefly that brought 5000 glow sticks to my show and gave them to everyone before I began. He told them that at the first drop, everyone had to throw them up in the air. Then, when I started my set, he counted down to the drop using a megaphone, and then all of these glow sticks filled the air. It was amazing. You know, that’s an example of the community we have.
Do you ever get overwhelmed by the devotion of the fans?
It is overwhelming, but in a great way. Still one of my favorite moments, is when I play "Clarity." I can turn down the music and get everyone to sing. That love is just breathtaking.
You’ve been ramping up to the release of of your album. What’s the rest of the year look like now. Are you already thinking about your next album?
My focus now is to get True Colors out there. There’s still a lot of people that haven’t heard it, so I want that to change. I’m playing this huge tour starting in September and will go all the way at the end of the year.
Do you write while you're on tour?
I used to. I can write music on tour, but I can’t produce it. I might have a little studio in my tour bus which would make things easy. But I can’t do anything on my laptop because I need three keys and a bunch of plugs and drives.
Speaking of the tour bus, I read somewhere that you love Risk?
I love Risk! Near the end of my album, I would play it with everyone after a session. Oh man it’s super fun!
Recently, my friends and I didn’t have time to finish a game, so we just took a bunch of pictures of our board, so we could resume it later.
[laughs] Really? Were you playing World Domination?
I’ve never played World Domination. I have the new Risk where the rules changed a bit. You have to watch your timing, because if someone collects the cards, no matter how good your position is, you lose. It’s shorter than the classic version.
I’ve never heard of that! My friends and I stopped because the game was taking forever.
Everyone says it takes so long! For us it only took, like 30 minutes. Everyone kept telling us that Risk takes so long and we were so confused. [laughs]
What else do you do to wind down? I imagine your energy is just at a high after the show.
Well, what we used to do, is just watch back the show. We record every show, because my goal was to get the best show in electronic music. I think I’ve reached the point where my show is one of the best, period. The reason is because, I would watch my show and take notes. We did that for two years until we had the perfect show. Other than that, there isn’t a specific thing to help me wind down...unless I play Risk.
You’re really at the pinnacle of your genre. What is success to you now?
My goal was never to reach the top. David Guetta told me the most fun is the climb. Once you’re there, it’s a little stressful. To me, success is still making music with the artists that inspire me. Now I can reach out to people. I love John Mayer, and we worked on stuff for True Colors, but it didn’t quite pan out. But still, it’s things like that. Being able do what I love for the longest period of time, is my idea of success.