Please describe your current sound in five words or less.
Music that touches the soul.
Congratulations on the release of your sixth studio album, “Watch the World.” What does this milestone mean to you as well as the development of your sound?
Thank you so much. Artist albums are such huge milestones for the career of any DJ, and this one in particular for me is driven with the most personal attachment.
Following the accumulation of five artist albums and two Dakota albums by 2014, I wanted to evaluate and see where I wanted to go in the future. What was the next step to take me forward and make things more exciting?
So when I undertook a period of reflection, my mind cast back to writing, and my teachers would always be encouraging me to try it as often as possible. However, even at that age, having fallen in love with music and listening to the radio, I was so determined to chase my dream of the days of my youth, and the things I enjoyed. When I was at school, the one subject I excelled at was creative becoming a DJ, even at the expense of everything else.
When doors began to open for me on the DJ front, the next step for me was moving into production. And when you are at that young age, you expend all of your creative energy into the music – playing around with the synthesizers and turning the knobs. So my desire for creative writing began to fade away over time.
But I went into this songwriting adventure with the mantra that everything is built from a pen, a blank piece of paper and a guitar – writing words which leads to the creation of a song, and building the music around it.
So it’s a very personal presentation overall, with 17 tracks reflecting on personal experiences of varying nature. It’s a case of you and me hanging out, and I’m going to tell you some stories if you are happy to lend an ear.
“Watch the World” comes in two discs, the first primarily electronic with 17 tracks and the latter acoustic renditions of 10 select tracks. Would you please describe for us your purpose in providing a separate acoustic disc?
In an overall sense, the acoustic versions came about because I admired the simplicity of that format being able to emphasise the words and their collective accumulation towards a story. When you hear a song that’s well produced with so many layers, sometimes it’s difficult to absorb the words or even understand the story that is trying to be conveyed, but with less – simply a guitar, sometimes gentle percussion and the lyrics, that story can be told and recognised.
With the exception of “Destiny” and “Fears,” the acoustic versions that appear on the second disc of the album were produced prior to the original, disc one versions. This was mostly prompted through the creation of “Facedown.”
Because of the story involved in Facedown – where it’s two people who have screwed up in their lives to the point where they have nothing but each other, and their plea is for each of them to stick with the other through this difficult time, coming out on the other side intact. The radio edit, a more acoustic driven version with basic percussion, was deliberately the interpretation I wanted people to listen to first – to listen closely to the words and understand the story, and of course the big club version with the trance riffs would be the one you would hear me play in my live sets.
Following on from that, and because people appreciated the value in the story, it became more apparent to me that writing the song with a basic guitar melody was the best way forward to complete the “Watch the World” album. So that was how the “acoustic disc” became a reality, so to speak; it made sense to go back and do “Destiny” in that style.
Disc 1 breaks EDM convention by including sounds and melodies of acoustic instruments, such as the acoustic guitar, in its tracks. Please describe for us why you chose to keep the instrument’s sound integrity as opposed to synthesizing it.
That’s correct. As well as delving into the world of songwriting, I wanted to enhance the level of production with each track, in the hope of yielding extra warmth to the finished product.
Nowadays, because of all the travel involved with touring, you want your production setup to be as simple as possible. Typically, on the road I have a separate laptop with Logic and Ableton on it. Ableton is good for carving out loops and rough ideas, and Logic helps me get creative with the sounds and effects. In fact, nearly all of the tracks on the “Scream” and “Scream 2” albums were produced this way.
However, with the production of “Watch the World,” I consciously wanted to utilise more organic instruments like guitars. Even if you don’t hear it in the mix, there’s a guitar buried there, or a piano that’s buried in there because it just brings out a frequency that I feel is missing or has been missing in a lot of productions lately. It just warms it up so nice. From a production standpoint, this was the biggest aspect which I have taken appreciation from.
What does Disc 1’s track order mean to you? Why did you choose “Watch the World” as the poster-head track for the album’s title?
The track order is based on the journey of varying emotions. You have the calmness at the beginning, the opening yourself up to different thoughts and scenarios, while the middle encounters those moments of self-doubt and finding the fortitude to move forward with something you believe in. And the end, you thank those in your life who support and inspire you, and given the choice, you would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Ideally, I wanted to name the album after one of the track titles. And in analysing the names, I had to determine which would best paint an overall portrait of what the album is about. I spend endless hours on airplanes and always looking out the window. From that perspective, the words “Watch the World” took on greater meaning. When you think about it, how many stories are being developed and shared in various locations around the globe on a daily basis?
And with the album being built around songs based on life stories, it became the most appropriate and poignant slogan to use. The track itself is beautiful and having a history with Lady V in the past, through the likes of “Erase You” and “Winter Kills Me,” our chemistry was strong with “Watch the World” itself.
To me, it’s just a beautiful title because it means so much as far as us watching each other, other people watching us. We’re watching the world go by.
What is the recurring motif, or theme, found throughout the album that you would like to share with your listeners? What particular emotions did you intend to evoke through its tracks?
The main goal I wanted to achieve with “Watch the World” was to write meaningful words; words which as a community have meaning, have importance and connect us worldwide. It wasn’t just the melodies and beats that I wanted to make, it as the words and messages that hopefully people will remember long beyond the release.
With this album, it feels like I am sharing my personal stories and life happenings through the words more than ever before. So my hope is that it’s something that the fans can attach to.
Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), Las Vegas is next weekend, and you’re no fresh face to its lineup. Would you please share with us your thoughts on what the festival means to you, as well as your favorite thing about it?
It’s one of the absolute top-tier, majorly important events for any DJ throughout the calendar year. And now it has
encompassed an almost week-long run of parties leading up to the main event itself. I have a strong affection and connection with the scene in California, in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, and this is essentially the biggest show closest to them, meaning there is a lot of representation from that area above all others. But it’s a worldwide gathering overall, and I count myself fortunate as one of the DJs asked to be part of the festivities for what will be the sixth successive year now.
EDC has provided me with some career highlights; some of which under bizarre circumstances, like in 2012, where halfway through my main performance, the festival ground to a halt due to high winds; disappointing DJs, attendees, and a worldwide listening audience collectively. After trying to keep the radio folks entertained with an improvised back to back session including Armin van Buuren and Cosmic Gate, I was asked by Insomniac some 90 minutes later if I would like the opportunity to play for the fans that had remained on the grounds of the speedway. No fancy gimmicks, no big stage setup, no visuals; just some CDJs, a mixer and speakers on an art car.
What followed was one of the most surreal yet special moments I have experienced. This unexpected third set of the night for me acted as a throwback to those mystical days of innocent Nevada raves; and a reminder, if it was ever required, of how blessed DJs are to be able to do what they love for a living.
How has the festival changed over the years?
The biggest change, of course, was the festival moving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 2011.
I actually only had the opportunity to play once during the LA era, in 2009 – very enjoyable, but at the same time there wasn’t quite the uniqueness that made it stand out compared to various other festivals that were popping up worldwide.
At the outset of the move to Las Vegas, I thought it was a huge risk, even though their hand was forced, because of the age restrictions in being able to book a hotel in the city and so on. But when you had a quarter of a million fans across the three days, you could decisively conclude that the new generation’s watershed moment had arrived.
Before the EDM explosion occurred, Las Vegas was the epicentre of innocent raves. The generation of kids from that era developed into DJs, club owners and business owners; helping facilitate the city’s increasing appetite for the music we love. Now, even with the spectacular production, the vibrancy of EDC is a throwback to those innocent times.
What should fans and onlookers expect from your set?
It will be the first opportunity to showcase anything from “Watch the World” besides “Destiny” at an EDC, so I will be weaving much of my set around the peaks of some of the album tracks. I like to view the festival as the beginning of the summer season, so all of the tracks I have been holding back for this time of the year will get their first exposure during that set.
As I mentioned, I think EDC is one of the absolute most important shows I perform at throughout the year, so you want to deliver something legendary. That’s the aim!
If you could change anything in the world with the snap of a finger, what would it be, and why?
Peace and tolerance. The events of Orlando at the weekend are a stark reminder of how precious life can be, and sadly we seemingly cannot have the freedom in the world to go out to a nightclub and enjoy an evening, and live to tell the tale to your friends the next day. That hit me quite hard, because a lot of my early days DJing in the gay clubs, because it was the first environment where I was playing music for people who knew their stuff. We have to accept and respect all beliefs and backgrounds, and there is no crime in everyone getting along with each other.
What’s the best piece of advice that you would give to yourself 10 years ago, if you could?
Cherish days off a lot more, because as the years have gone by, they have become fewer and fewer in occurrence.
And most importantly, continue to follow your heart, even when there are signs that you shouldn’t. If you don’t love the music you make and the music you play, then you’ll burn out very quickly, so you have to possess the same passion for this music that the fans do. It means so much to me as it does to them.
I am privileged to be able to do what I love for a living, meeting and inspiring people through the love of music, and not many people in the world are able to say that.
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