With both parents being musicians, German producer/DJ Zedd got his start playing piano at a young age, moving on to drums, then eventually playing with a “post-harcore/rock/metal” band (as he describes it). His education in classical music is reflected in his productions, and moving into the EDM world he received major attention by winning two Beatport remix competitions – Armand Van Helden’s “Witch Doktor” and Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice.” Zedd’s music quickly got noticed by heavyweights like Skrillex and deadmau5 and led to remixes for major artists including The Black Eyed Peas, Swedish House Mafia, and Lady Gaga. Currently working on his debut artist album, he has also worked with Swedish super producer Max Martin on a track for Justin Bieber’s album. His production for Eva Simons’ “I Don’t Like You” hit number one on the Billboard Club Chart. And now, with the crossover success of male vocal tracks like Calvin Harris’ “Feels So Close,” it seems the perfect time for “Spectrum,” his current single with label-mate Matthew Koma, to follow it up the Top 40.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: I want to ask you a bout a few of your big tracks that have become cult favorites. What inspired you to make “Legend of Zelda” into a club track?
Zedd: I just think the theme song of “Legend Of Zelda” is one of the best musical pieces ever created. I absolutely loved the song and I played some of the Zelda games. Basically the whole song was just something I’ve really wanted to do. I didn’t really think about making a club banger or releasing it in the first place, I just wanted to do it.
RS: So how did you stumble upon the Jack Rebney / Winnebago Man sample that used for “Slam the Door”?
Zedd: Actually when I was in the studio working on another track someone showed me the video, which I thought was hilarious. I don’t really know why THIS got into “Slam The Door”… but somehow it felt right and funny, so I just went with it!
RS: Many of your early tracks have been instrumental or sample tracks, what challenges have you faced moving into full vocal production?
Zedd: Well, I’ve never had “sample tracks.” Even songs like “Dovregubben,” I’ve re-played the whole orchestra; there’s nothing sampled (same thing with Zelda; everything is replayed, nothing is sampled). You know, tastes change and people like or don’t like things for various reasons. I’ve started liking vocal songs more and more because I felt that it’s extremely difficult to get even close to the emotion of a human voice in a song. Not every song needs it, but I’ve started producing a lot of pop music for several artists and learned a lot about vocals in that time. Anyway, it’s nothing that I’ve planned, it’s just something that felt natural and made sense in the songs I’ve produced.
RS: How did you collaborate with Matthew Koma to create “Spectrum”?
Zedd: It was simple. I’d produced the track “Spectrum” and was just thinking about vocals for it. Literally at that moment, Matthew (whom I’ve worked with couple of times before) wrote me that he was back from his tour and wanted to make some songs. So he came by the studio and I’ve played him “Spectrum.” He loved it and we started working on a topline. The melody was there really quickly because we both were absolutely sure about the melody. The lyrics took quite a few weeks, but we finally got there!
RS: Although you are German, I keep seeing you lumped in with the Dirty Dutch movement. How do you react to that?
Zedd: To be honest I have never really seen me connected to the “Dirty Dutch Movement.” I don’t think I’ve ever really produced Dutch House or anything like that (which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t; in fact I love it). Chuckie is a good friend of mine, so whenever we play the same festival or show we’ll always hang out/go out; I think that’s pretty much the only connection.
RS: Congratulations on the number one Billboard Club Chart record with Eva Simon “I Don’t Like You.” How did that song come about?
Zedd: It was actually an insane coincidence. Eva sent me lots of her song ideas some time ago. I was making the track to “I Don’t Like You,” and was wishing I had a vocal on it so I could get an idea of how it would sound. So I just go through my “vocals” folder and realize that she had one acapella in the same key, so I literally “threw” it on the track and it blew me away. I realized that my track and her vocal, in that case, were just magic so I started re-thinking the whole song and re-arranging so it made a “full” song. A few weeks and lots of hours later we had a song done, called “I Don’t Like You.”
RS: What was it like working with pop superproducer legend Max Martin?
Zedd: It really was one of the biggest moments in my life. I’m a huge fan and he’s just a legend. It was the biggest honor for me to work with this man. Working with him was incredible because we had the same vision for the song. I’d produced the track and showed him the song and luckily he loved it and wrote a topline on it that was exactly what I was looking for, for the track. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with someone that had that much of the same opinion on a song as Max, so it was really easy and fun working with him on that track.
RS: How do you think your core EDM fans might react to your work on the Justin Bieber track?
Zedd: You know, actually, the feedback was incredibly positive. I don’t make secrets out of what I produce (once things are official, obviously). I am proud of everything I put my name on, and I always want my fans to know that even if I produced a track with or for the one artist they wouldn’t like, they should give it a try because I would never ever put something out that I’m not 100% convinced of. Most of my core fans were not big Bieber fans, but by far the biggest reaction was something like “Oh, wow… I can’t believe I’m actually enjoying this Bieber track.”
And this made me really happy, because Justin is a talented kid and he deserves so much more respect than what he’s getting, in my opinion. This kid knows how to play all sorts of instruments and knows how to sing. What’s wrong with that? Of course there were people saying it’s a “sell-out” move, but to be completely honest I stopped thinking about things like that and comments like that. I just ignore those comments because I am an artist, and I will always continue doing what I think is right and what expresses my feelings. I’m like a movie – you can watch me and if you enjoy it you can share it and watch it again. But if you don’t, you can’t change the movie. It is what is is. Follow me, or don’t. I will always stay who and what I am.
RS: A lot of the superstar DJs started as DJs first and became producers. You started as a musician/producer and then started DJing. From from your musician/producer background, what all do you bring to your DJ performances?
Zedd: As much as possible. I try to mix interestingly; fast, in keys and change keys the way you would do it musically. Not just throw two songs together and call yourself a musician/DJ.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Zedd: My album is almost finished, so I can tease a little bit; saying that it will be released in the fall, later this year, and it will have lots of emotions and musical roller-coasters in it. Furthermore: Shave it up!
Interview conducted July 2012. Special thanks to Ashley Eliot at Interscope for arranging the interview.