INTERVIEW: Kaskade (2008)
Starting at OM Records, Kaskade has long been associated with the San Francisco house sound. What that is is hard to explain because the SF music scene is so diverse. A stream of critically-acclaimed albums and the hit club singles “Steppin’ Out,” “Everything,” “Be Still,” “Stars Align,” and “Sorry” led the way for his music to cross onto radio as well. His most recent CD, Strobelite Seduction, features productions with Deadmau5 and has spawned a number one dance radio hit. With hit remixes of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Plumb, and the Pussycat Dolls, Kaskade has shown that he can rework pop hits for the dance floor. Not a shock especially since he won Best Resident DJ at this year’s Club World Awards.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: So you recently moved from San Francisco to LA?
Kaskade: I’m in the process of relocating right now.
RS: What was the motivation behind that?
Kaskade: Just a little more space. I’ve been in the city for a long time. It was time to get a house, move out of the condo. It’s very sad, but some more space.
RS: Set up the studio.
Kaskade: Set up the studio at home … it was just nice. No more running back and forth, but have it in my house. That’s definitely a huge moving factor, for sure.
RS: In your studio, how many computers do you have? What software are you running? Doing any outboard gear?
Kaskade: The technical side of things… I’m a ProTools guy, have been for something like fifteen years. It’s been a long time, but since the Digi 001 came out, it’s been my primary sequencer for everything. I start and end with that. That’s where I feel comfortable. When people ask what instrument I play, I’m like, ProTools. Obviously that doesn’t count, but in my mind it does. Outboard gear… a Juno 106, not a lot of stuff plugged in. It’s pretty much all in the box these days. It’s just so much easier, it sounds good, it works for me.
RS: You’re also touring a lot right now.
Kaskade: Always. It’s kind of neverending. That’s the DJ world, I guess. Every week there’d be some club that needs a DJ in it, playing.
RS: On the road, are you playing CDs, are you doing laptop?
Kaskade: I am doing the CDs right now. Definitely sick and tired of burning CDs, so I’m considering moving into the computer realm. We’ll see how it breaks down. I’m waiting to see how it kind of settles with all this technology out here. What’s going to be best? But I feel a bit stagnant. I’m ready to make the next move. I feel like there’s a lot more creativity that could be done with the performance with things, like Ableton Live and Traktor and Serato. It’s getting to the point where it’s making the show better.
Working with Deadmau5
RS: Congratulations on number one with your single with Deadmau5 “Move 4 Me.” How did the two of you collaborate on that?
Kaskade: Thank you. I was working on my album, getting near the end of the album, and I reached out to him on MySpace. It was like, ‘Hey dude, I love what you do. Your music’s amazing. Let me know if you’re ever looking for vocals. I’m a songwriter and your music is very inspiring, we could be a good match.’ Anyway, I didn’t hear anything, no big deal, whatever. You know, MySpace, you never even know who’s reading that stuff. But I saw him on instant messenger – a friend of mine gave me his IM. I’m like, ‘Hey dude.” I’d actually recorded. I’d written and recorded a singer on top of one of his tracks just because I thought it was cool, screaming for a vocal, you know. So anyway I was like, ‘Hey dude, this is Kaskade, what’s up? Here’s this track, check it out. It’s your song, and I wrote over the top of it.’ And he was like, ‘Who is this? This is awesome.’ And the rest is kind of history. We just sent some files back and forth, and collaborated on those tracks. It seems like other people also liked them, because they’ve done really well.
RS: Have you ever actually worked with him in the studio?
Kaskade: No, no. We actually didn’t meet physically or speak during the entire process. He’s in Toronto, I was in San Francisco. It was very virtual, very 2008. I do that with a lot of people, just post stems, people grab them, and work with it in parts. It was not until two or three months later I saw him at Winter Music Conference and I walked up to him and I was, ‘Joel, Ryan, Ryan, Joel.’ He was like, ‘Oh hey, what’s up?’ You know, he’s kind of looking at me strangely, and I was like, ‘My cyber buddy, what’s up?’
RS: When you were putting together the album, what was in your head when you were writing it?
Kaskade: I think this is the most ‘dance’ record I’ve ever done, possibly. I don’t know, other people might argue that. I just wanted to have something that kind of represented where I’m at. I think the dance songs are more like dance floor-oriented. Then the chill stuff is more, just the way they show, because compared to Love Mysterious, this was more middle ground stuff. Like, is this deep house? What is this stuff, you know? There’s stuff that was written for the floor, and then there’s stuff that’s like kind of Sunday afternoon, you could put this on and listen to it.
RS: Because you’re kind of associated with the whole San Francisco house sound. and you’re sort of progressing away from that?
Kaskade: No, not intentionally. I don’t know, this is my sixth album. Sure, things change and you grow and progress as an artist. But what is the San Francisco sound? It’s very hard to pinpoint that. I’m part of that landscape for sure, and I’ve been there for almost ten years. That’s where I came up, and that was initially with the records. But I think what is very San Francisco to the music is that it’s very musical. Whether it’s more epic-sounding, or it’s really soft-sounding, it’s got to have that real musical outlet to it. I still really associate with that.
RS: It’s also been interesting to watch where, over the past two or three years, you’ve done some really big commercial remixes, which is not something, when I see Kaskade Ultra, it’s not something I would expect. Was this something you did on purpose? Did you pursue this?
Kaskade: Kind of. I was very open to it, and I let people know that. Then I think people just approached me early on and I think it was a good mixture of the sounds. Like pop music… I think I write kind of pop lyrics anyway, so I like to remix pop stuff. It’s not too far fetched, and I think the A&R people at the majors realized that, and they go, ‘Oh Kaskade could work with this song, it’s in his realm of possibility.’ So it’s a good match. I’ve always been a big pop music fan. I listen to the radio all the time in the car. It presents an interesting and different challenge, to take something that is this, and try and make it this. So it’s like, is this a pop dance or a pop record? I can make it more appropriate for the floor. It’s cool, I really kind of enjoy the challenge. It doesn’t always work out, not every remix works, but I still enjoy sitting down and trying to reconfigure.
RS: Which of your remixes has been the most challenging for you?
Kaskade: Probably the hardest one I did was Paris Hilton. I forget the name of the track.
RS: “Nothing in This World” or “Stars are Blind” ?
Kaskade: Not “Stars Are Blind.” “Everyone will follow me tomorrow….” Oh man, I forget. I can remember the chorus but that’s it, not even the title. But for whatever reason, when I initially heard it, I had a sound in my head, and I thought, I can work like this. I worked it up like that, but it didn’t really work, so I had to try something completely different. Usually I can hear something, and I just kind of follow through with what my initial vision is. Ninety percent of the time that works, but I worked through two or three different variations of that song, and kind of struggled. But in the end it turned out really cool. I was happy. I actually really liked the original song. I think a lot of people had a problem with that album. Paris Hilton is a favorite. She has this iconic status.
RS: It’s pop for the sake of pop.
RS: And you accept pop for pop, and you go with it.
Kaskade: Right. I actually thought she sang really well on the record. I mean, if that’s her or not, I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
RS: Well, that could be said for a lot of these people. Which of these remixes came together the easiest, where you just sat down and it worked out of the box, and it was perfect?
Kaskade: Oh man, “Gimme More” by Britney Spears came together really quickly. You know, I really like Justin Timberlake. “Lovestoned” was really quick. Nelly Furtado “All Good Things.” Most of these came together quickly, but definitely Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were like, ‘Oh OK, that’s easy, it just works.’ The Nelly Furtado one was a lot of fun, but there’s a lot of stuff, there’s a lot of tracks.
RS: A remix you’ve done and think, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing, I’m really, really proud of this, this really represents where I’m going’ – is there a remix that you’ve done that you can say that about?
Kaskade: You know, typically when I finish one I’m thinking that. In the studio I bounce it down, and while I’m bouncing it down I’m thinking, ‘This is cool, this is great, I’m happy.’ Almost all the time I think that, when I’m done with a mix. But I mean as far as where I’m going… “Womanizer.” That actually came together really, really quickly, like in an afternoon. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awesome.’ I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily where I’m going. It’s very electro-sounding, but it was just a lot of fun because that’s the sound I do. I was happy with the way that turned out.
RS: Do you ever have a problem working with artists when they may or not agree with where you are in a faith place?
Kaskade: No, not really. I’m thinking there’s a lot of people… even this remix reel of singers that I’ve worked with, I don’t really sit down and talk religion and politics with people. I mean, if I respect and appreciate their music, that’s more what I’m interested in, and even them, as a person. People have differences of opinions, but that’s kind of what dance music is about, right? That’s what drew me towards it in high school, all these big jocko guys who were drinking beer. I didn’t relate to the house party mentality – sit down and drink the beer, beating each other up. I went into the city and went to dance clubs, and that’s where I felt comfortable, because it was like a free, open environment where people could believe and think what they wanted, and people accepted each other for their differences. That was kind of built into the dance scene in Chicago, as it is many other places. I think it’s kind of like this left-field thing. I was definitely out of the ordinary in my high school, because I didn’t drink and party and stuff, but I loved going out, pumping my fist and dancing till dawn.
Kaskade: As a person who has strong faith beliefs, do you ever have a conflict when you play in nightclubs, and you see things that you don’t agree with?
Kaskade: Typically, no. There’s been maybe a few times over the years. I’ve played a lot of nightclubs over the last ten to fifteen years. I’ve been DJing a long time, and I think there have only been a few occasions where I’ve actually been offended, or thought, ‘OK, this is not my scene. Maybe I shouldn’t be here.’ But when we’re playing a hundred and fifty shows a year, over the last five/six/seven years; and I still DJed a lot, every week before that, for maybe ten years…. I can actually only think of one time that’s happened, and that was a very after-hours event, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t have been offended.
RS: What are you working on next?
Kaskade: I just finished up a couple of remixes, and have a few more that are in the oven, not finished yet. I’ve got an Australian artist, Natalie something or other, an amazing voice, very poppy-sounding. And Laurent Wolf, I am remixing the song coming out after “No Stress.” So I’ve got those two, and then another Australian band, so quite a bit of remix work. I’m eager to plough through that stuff and start writing again. Actually, the girl who sings on “Move For Me” and “I Remember,” Hailey, I’m working on an album with her, in my free time, when it’s not too crazy. It’s coming along really well. I’m excited. A lot of people really responded to her voice, so that’s exciting news, working on that. I’m part of a band, Late Night Alumni. There’s actually a song in here. When the four of us can get together – it’s rare that we get together, most of it’s over the Internet, so we’re shooting this stuff back and forth. But we’ve actually got four or five of these songs, and are really eager to get those out there. It’s all very chilled, that whole project, but I’m really happy how it’s going.
RS: Very cool. Anything you want to say to all your fans out there?
Kaskade: I love you guys. I’ll be at your neighborhood club soon.
Image courtesy of Ultra Records. Interview conducted October 2008 at Amsterdam Dance Event.