David Guetta Talks New LP ‘Listen,’ Smash Hit “Hey Mama” & The Future Of Dance Music: Idolator Interview

David Guetta's 'Listen': Album Review
We review David Guetta's sixth LP 'Listen,' which features "Bad" and "Hey Mama."

David Guetta could well have the Song Of The Summer on his hands with “Hey Mama.” A collaboration with Afrojack and Nicki Minaj, the ruthlessly catchy bop is eyeing the top spot on iTunes and making huge inroads on top 40 radio. It’s the latest smash hit in a discography jam-packed with timeless dance anthem like “Sexy Bitch,” “Without You” and “Titanium.”

I caught up with the French DJ the day after his star-studded second-weekend set at Coachella 2015 and he spoke about his very special festival guests. The 47-year-old also opened up about the darker tone of sixth LP Listen, the success of “Hey Mama” and his upcoming collaboration with The Black Eyed Peas. Another topic of conversation was the next step in the evolution of dance music. Find out more below.

How long were you planning Nicki’s cameo at Coachella?
I knew she wanted to come to Coachella maybe, but I didn’t know it was going to happen. It’s so funny because the week before we had Fergie’s manager call me and ask for some passes to come see my show and I’m like, “Okay, great!” I was also producing a record with Will.i.am for the new Black Eyed Peas. I said to him, “Listen, Fergie is here, come on!” It’s crazy, we’re all together and they hadn’t been on stage together in years.

Fergie was like, “Yeah, let’s do it, I want to come on stage!” Then I realized I didn’t even have “I Gotta Feeling,” because I don’t play it anymore. So I’m speaking to my management, telling them to go on iTunes and download “I Gotta Feeling.” It was so last minute!

There was a huge audience, it’s a huge festival and still completely improvised and crazy. Nicki Minaj and Beyonce also arrived at the last minute, they surprised me actually. Actually I played “Hey Mama” already but [Nicki] wasn’t there and then she showed up and she was like, “Come on, play it again!” You know I never play the same record twice in a set, but I did and when they came out on stage, it was insane.

Did you ask Beyonce to come on stage too?
No. It would have to be when she’s on my own record. I would love to make a record with her but I haven’t yet, so I need to wait to have a record with her to do that. I hope one day.

Speaking of A-List collaborators, you worked with so many amazing people on Listen. Did you make a wish list before starting the project?
No. I didn’t work like this at all for this album. I wanted this album to be super personal, so I’ve worked in a very old school way which was like starting by piano chords and voice, or guitar and voice — working on the song itself, then producing it and only at the end picking the artists that to me were the best to sing those songs.

It’s kind of unusual because before, I would work with the artist in the studio and I would start more from the beat perspective first, that was a little different this time.

I think Listen is a much darker and aggressive record that Nothing But The Beat. Would you agree?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. I’m always honest, first to myself and also to the people. I’m a very happy person, that’s my nature but I’ve been through a divorce, I was in a darker place myself, so obviously it’s been influencing my music and I made those records like “What I Did For You.” They’re still positive but have a little bit of melancholy, do we say melancholy in English?

I’m actually in a way better place again, it’s perfect timing for “Hey Mama.” It’s more back to who I am. I’m like, “Come on, let’s have fun and party and go to crazy and be sexy.” It’s important to be honest with the fans and give them music that you feel like making, not necessarily what you have to do because you’re classified as a certain type of artist, so you going to do the same record over and over again.

You seem to have a lot of loyalty to people you work with. You collaborate frequently with the same artists. Like Chris Willis.
It’s interesting that you mention him because I wanted to do one record with him on this album. He’s amazing, he’s one of the best singers on the planet. It’s really crazy. I got so lucky when I met him, not many people knew him in the US because that was also my early work. The way this guy sings, it’s really, really, really rare. I have, as you said, worked with a lot of very big artists and I haven’t met many people that can sing like him.

Are you surprised by the response to “Hey Mama”? It’s just exploding on radio and iTunes.
I was speaking about it with Nicki yesterday and saying how unusual it is that the charts are leading and the radio is following. Usually, first you put a record on the radio and then it’s blowing up in the charts. This time it’s bigger in the charts than it is on the radio. This is what you call a genuine hit record. We didn’t do any TV shows, we didn’t have a video yet [when the song took off].

Can you talk about the video?
It was very last minute because I think we are surprised by how fast the record is growing. Because you know it was only three weeks after we released it and it was already like top 10 or something crazy. We were like, “We need to make a video!” It was just so last minute. We just had to fit it in our agenda which was completely crazy because of course it’s hard to fit in both of our agendas. We finally found the way to do it. I love it. I love when it’s completely crazy, last minute, hectic but comes from a real place.

Bebe Rexha sings the chorus on “Hey Mama.” Can I ask why she wasn’t credited on the song?
She was working as songwriter for us because she’s a songwriter too. In the same way, for example, people don’t know this but I’ve done… what can I give you as an example? I’ve produced lots of records like Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time.” Sometimes you work as a songwriter or producer and sometimes you work as an artist. People don’t really know how it works but this is quite common. [Bebe] was working as a songwriter and she’s credited on the record in the same way that I’m credited on Ariana Grande’s song — as a producer but not a featuring artist.

How did you find the time to work with people like Ariana while completing your own album?
Actually, for the example of Ariana Grande, the way it happened is, I was working on my own album. When I make my own album there are like 120 songs and I’m trying to make an album that is making sense because some of the songs can be great, but that doesn’t mean that they would fit together. That’s one example. There’s another song that we did together with Ne-Yo and it’s going to be on his album.

I love working like this actually because when I collaborate with artists, I just want to make music that is great and it doesn’t matter if it’s going to be for them, or for me and usually that’s what we do, we just make songs and at the end we say, what would make the more sense, the most sense. For example with Rihanna we made two records for [Unapologetic].

“Right Now”?
There was that one, but there’s another one that is called “Phresh Out The Runway.” That’s an urban record, but people don’t expect me to do a record like this. So I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to feature on this one because it’s too urban, a little ghetto.” It’s not how people see me. It doesn’t mean that I cannot — I love music in general. You see it’s like this. But Bebe Rexha definitely deserves lots of credit for that record.

You were talking about the Black Eyed Peas. Is the song you’re working on for their new album?
I should be still working on the record right now. It’s called “Awesome.” The version we did on stage at Coachella is not even the final version. I’m still fine tuning it.

Is Fergie on that song?
She’s not on that one. I want her to be on that one but we’re still discussing it.

Can you believe how far you’ve come from playing nightclubs in Paris to being a household name?
The first part of the journey was absolutely crazy because I couldn’t process it. When I started making my own music and started to see how crazy the reaction was every weekend, with kids and all these huge festivals, I started to compare, what’s happening when this rock band is playing and when this DJ is playing. I’m like, “Okay, we’re at least as good. So why don’t we have any credit? To me that was not making sense.

When I made records like “Sexy Bitch,” “I Gotta Feeling” and “When Love Takes Over,” all those records at that time, I think they really helped dance music to cross over and then it became even bigger and then it became bigger than I could imagine — seeing all the biggest pop, not only pop but also urban and also rock artists wanting to be part of it. Which to me is amazing because they also bring their own talent into it and their own credibility into it.

Now what I’ve been feeling lately is that we’ve become lazy. To me it’s starting to be boring because it’s so formatted. Now I’m trying to look for a way to go against the established format again because I think the essence of dance music is to go against formats. I think the challenge of the year coming is for dance music to go against our own format. It’s like we came such a long way to get there and be respected as much as hip-hop and rock, but now what are we going to do with it?

What do you remember about your early days as a DJ?
It’s really part of me. I think it can never go away. Actually what happened is when I started to be more successful, I started to do only the bigger concerts and festivals because it allowed me to reach out to more people and of course you’re also getting more paid when you play to one thousand hundred people than to two thousand people. I started to really miss it last year, miss the clubs.

That’s why I took a residency in Las Vegas. I still have my residency in Ibiza and still play all the huge festivals, but I’m also playing lots of clubs again and I love it because this is where I started. I love being in Vegas. It’s about creating a vibe that is so unique and special that people are speaking about it and coming back every time and also speaking about it to their friends. The night is getting bigger and bigger every week.

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