INTERVIEW: Paul Van Dyk (2009)
With all the talk about the big DJ Mag poll, it seems fitting for me to post this interview that I recently did with Paul van Dyk. In June, Paul toured the US in a tourbus hitting seventeen cities in seventeen days. While the idea of a bus tour isn’t unheard of for superstar international DJs (remember the infamous Sasha/Digweed bustour,) it is quite rare as most of the big guys choose to fly in, out and around the states for select dates. I caught the show in Nashville and it was absolutely mesmerizing. Paul was on stage mixing and producing tracks live. He played updated versions of his classics (tying in with his Greatest Hits CD Home,) brought in unheard new tracks and sprinkled in club favorites for a show that was unique and different every night of the tour. I can only imagine what the lucky New Yorkers got to see in Central Park in July!
DJ Ron Slomowicz: The idea for the bus tour, where did it come from?
Paul van Dyk: It came from the fact that I otherwise would have not been able to do all these other markets; we’ve never been to places like Albuquerque or Okalahoma City, so the only way for us to actually connect all that was by taking a bus. So after the gig we just have a quick shower, get on the bus and drive and sleep on the bus. When we get there, it’s usually midday, we just check in to the hotel, sleep a little longer, and so therefore we’re not too exhausted. Otherwise we would have actually had maybe three/four hours’ sleep and then this whole traveling shit with checking in and security control with planes, it wouldn’t have worked. So we decided on doing it day by day on the bus.
RS: So you’re enjoying it more than flying from city to city?
Paul van Dyk: Well let’s put it this way, it’s like I’m getting used to the fact that I’m actually going right to sleep and wake up in the next city.
RS: It’s Tuesday, it must be Nashville.
Paul van Dyk: Yes.
RS: OK. Your new CD that’s out now is a Greatest Hits compilation, what was the idea or where did that idea come from to put that out?
Paul van Dyk: Well, it’s exactly fifteen years after the release of my very first album, so it was about time.
RS: How did you choose the tracks for it?
Paul van Dyk: Well, it’s called Best Of so I wanted to choose the ones that had the best response by our audience. So the singles of course, but also stuff like “Together We Will Conquer” that has never been released as a single, but always had a great response by my audience. So that’s on there, and then the remixes, you know, U2, Britney, Justin, New Order, all that right next to Binary Finary, You Made, and all that.
RS: “For an Angel,” the first single, how was that chosen? Was that your biggest fan favorite, do you think?
Paul van Dyk: Well, it’s probably one of those signature tracks and people always kept asking me, it there ever going to be like a re-release with new mixes? And we first thought, you know, releasing the new track as a single from the album, but then it probably would have like confused people. So we took one of the big ones, putting it out as a single beforehand to make people aware of the Best Of, and then the next thing we’re going to release, “Home,” is a new track.
RS: OK. Speaking about “Home” and fifteen years, it’s right now about the twentieth anniversary of the breaking of the Berlin Wall and you as a German DJ having the freedom to go out there and play around the world, does that have any significance right now for you?
Paul van Dyk: Well yes, of course, and not just for me as a DJ, but as a person. I mean, the whole world has changed for the better and if we get the terrorism issue sorted out and if Iran calms down, you know, everything should be OK.
RS: As a DJ right now you also, you were really big with Rock the Vote, what other charity stuff are you doing to help to bring that piece of message across.
Paul van Dyk: My general approach is the fact that I grew up in a communist dictatorship, so I know what it’s like if there’s no freedom of speech. And then when friends of yours suddenly disappear, their whole family just disappears… I know that, so I really appreciate democracy. But it’s like while traveling around, I’ve realized that democracy is the best concept we have together to live on this planet, but it’s not perfect. And in order to make it better, it’s like the whole society needs to get involved. It starts with going to vote – this is why I was involved in Rock the Vote, to encourage people to go out and actually do so – but it also goes further. It’s like in the small terms, you know, if you see something that’s wrong in your neighborhood, go ahead and change it. If you see a granny struggling going over the road, help her, and if you have bigger possibilities to help, then do something bigger. And this is what I do with the charity organizations that I support.
RS: You are also an ambassador for Dance for Life. Tell us about that.
Paul van Dyk: Dance for Life is basically a big project, it’s a campaign that is connected to the UNESCO and it creates awareness of the problem that AIDS creates.
RS: Very cool. What’s coming next?
Paul van Dyk: Well I’m working on basically writing music right now for my next artist album, so that’s what I’m doing.
RS: Is the travel inspiring you?
Paul van Dyk: It’s not, right now it’s more tiring than inspiring. But, you know, the whole of next month my good friend Johnny, who I wrote “Time of Our Lives” and “Home” with, we’re going to hang out the whole month and just write music, so I’m pretty sure something’s going to come up.
RS: What kind of sound do you hear for it?
Paul van Dyk: I don’t really know yet. You know, usually it’s like when I go to the studio I don’t really sort of put that pressure on me, I have a general musical idea in my head and I work on it until I feel it’s coming across. And sometimes when I think ‘oh this is going to be a lush, ambient piece,’ it turns out to be really banging techno.
RS: Alright. For your live set, what exactly do you do when you perform live? Like are you going to play CDs, are you going to have a laptop going, what does your show consist of now?
Paul van Dyk: Well, I have two computer systems with me, one is running a program called Abelton with a lot of audio material and the other is running the performance program of Logic called Main Stage. And I have software synthesizers installed and I have keyboards on stage that I apply, I have a custom-made mixer, I have mini controllers all over the place and I play all sorts of things.
RS: How different is your show from night to night?
Paul van Dyk: Well, when you get out there, if a certain arrangement of something works very well in order to bring the idea and the track across, it doesn’t really make any sense to completely change it. But I have everything on my fingertips to change everything completely, if I wanted to play For an Angel as a complete ambient track, I could in a matter of seconds.
RS: Very cool. On this tour, even these cities you never have been before, what city has most surprised you with their response?
Paul van Dyk: To be really honest, it’s like it’s not so much like just one city, it’s just like the general thing. I’m honest about it; I was a little worried about playing on the Monday night in Albuquerque or Tuesday in Oklahoma City because they don’t have big festivals and I doubt they have radio stations really pushing electronic music. And still the shows were absolutely phenomenal, like really, really cool and all I can say is this shows how widely-established electronic music is and how many people love that music. Because regardless where you live, if you’re interested in it, you hear it, you love it and you experience it, and this is what happens. So this tour was good for something.
RS: It was definitely good here in Nashville because they played your mix on 102.5 which is a very commercial radio station. What about your sound do you think is going to bring across the commercial crowd who are not used to the electronic sound?
Paul van Dyk: Well I hope they get some sort of idea of why there are so many people globally attached to that music. Because this is what it is; I just spoke to someone who’s really into bluegrass, you know, grew up here, like really liked this music, and I explained to him that basically what fascinates me about electronic music is the fact that we have endless possibilities of expressing energy, emotions, whatever. If you have your trumpet, if you have your bass, you know you can do so many things within the electronic field with the soundscape you have, you know, with the power you can bring across, it’s endless and therefore really, really intense, and this is what I enjoy.
RS: Speaking about intense, what music or artist right now is really inspiring you that you’re hearing out there?
Paul van Dyk: Well, I hear a lot of pop artists using sounds that you would basically source within the electronic field. Which I don’t really have a problem with, it widens the ability of the usual pop listener to listen to good music. To be honest, I’d rather have the Pussy Cat Dolls singing on a straightforward techno beat and not some weird r&b crap.
RS: Good answer. And what would you like to say to all your fans out there?
Paul van Dyk: Thank you so much for everything.
Interview conducted August 2009.