Zedd On His Innovative ‘True Colors Tour,’ Next Single & Future Projects: Idolator Interview
Zedd has been at the forefront of commercial dance music since the arrival of 2013 crossover-pop hit “Clarity.” The German DJ/producer followed that up with a string of radio-conquering anthems (Hayley Williams-voiced “Stay The Night” and Selena Gomez-assisted “I Want You To Know,” for example) and debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 with sophomore LP True Colors earlier this year. His latest achievement is transforming arenas into giant nightclubs via an innovative tour, which delivers a full multi-media experience.
I recently spoke with the 26-year-old about the True Colors Tour and he opened up about the influence of Justice and Skrillex on his live show, as well as the involvement of famed visual artist Beeple. The “Beautiful Now” hitmaker also revealed that he’s looking forward to producing music for other artists and speculated on his next single. (It may or may not be epic Troye Sivan collaboration “Papercut”). Find out more below.
I caught your True Colors Tour in Los Angeles. What inspired the spectacular multi-media staging?
There’s a lot of inspiration, I’m not going to lie. I was inspired by the Justice show that I saw a couple years ago. I’ve been very, very inspired by Skrillex. I don’t know if it’s known or not, but basically we do everything live. We have one person doing the lighting, there’s one person doing visuals. One person doing lazers, special effects. Then I play the music and have a keyboard which overrides the lights in case I decide to play something new or if I want to change something up on the fly.
With Skrillex, he has an absolutely amazing team, and that was the first time I’ve seen an artist have a live show that is close to perfect run by humans. That was my big inspiration to run it like that. Obviously for every single song and look and lighting position, there are screens. The Michael Jackson show ONE was a huge inspiration for us. We always try to use different genres, do different things — just to be a little open-minded and do things from a different perspective.
You did an amazing job of recreating the intense atmosphere of a music festival.
Thank you so much. Yeah, especially a venue like Staples, because it’s really not the easiest place to create that kind of vibe because there are so many seats. I know that a lot of people don’t have the perfect view, but we’ve been working really hard to… we call it the sweet spot, where the show’s perfect. We’ve been trying to make that as large as possible.
We’ve been making the production bigger and doubling images, so if you’re in the high seats you still can see enough screens. There’s a million things we’ve been trying to do to make the experience better for fans. If you look at it, it seemed like everybody was jumping, no matter where they were seated.
The graphics were great. I read that you worked hand-in-hand with Beeple.
Yes. We’ve been working with Beeple for quite a while. Back then, I remember, it took a while to get this man to do a little bit for me because he doesn’t really like to work for people. He just likes to make art. He is exactly my taste, which is why I never let go. I always tried to get him to do more. Then he came to Coachella and was really inspired by seeing his visuals, which are a really, really big part of my show.
Without the visuals my show would be only half as good. He was really inspired by that. We actually got to lock him in for a whole half a year to make visuals custom for my new production. This idea I had where I wanted people to feel like they’re in a different world every single time I switch a song. He thought of all these ice worlds, fire worlds, forests, underwater. All these different things. I think he’s created something really, really special.
It’s very impressive. I also enjoyed your support acts. It seems like you’re fostering a sense of community in the EDM world.
100 percent. To be honest with you, I was not even expecting the sense of community I’m getting back. The idea I had was to ask all my friends. My first thought was, for example, Martin Garrix. He is a good friend of mine. Whenever we play a festival together, we always end up just asking around if there’s a club that would want us to play. We never charge, we just go and play for free because we like doing it, we like giving back to fans. We would sometimes even say no to an official offer for a lot of money and then just go play for free.
That was kind of the mentality that I was looking for. I was looking for people that are willing to go and play in front of a sold-out arena, which is already kind of awesome, but also to do it unannounced. Nobody’s really getting a whole lot from it but the fans. They get something really special. I encourage people to play their own music to really showcase who they are as an artist. I’ve asked around all my friends and almost every single person was willing to even fly in for those 20 unannounced minutes.
It was a great surprise! Then sense of community extends to your social media accounts. There’s no beef or shade, unlike many of the American DJs. Is that positivity a European thing?
That’s a very great question, I wish I knew the answer! Maybe it has something to do with me being European. I really don’t know. As a person, I’m always fighting for people to tell others what they like before they tell them what they don’t like. If you’re in a personal conversation one-on-one, you can of course tell somebody, and you should tell somebody, your honest feelings.
When you have a voice and there’s a lot of young kids listening to you, you should use that wisely. I always encourage my fellow DJs to instead of saying that something sucks at least try to find something good about it and you’d rather point at that. Maybe that has part to do with it, but I just try to be myself.
That’s refreshing. You don’t have to troll all the time.
Very, very true. Very true.
“Beautiful Now” has been another big radio hit for you. Have you already started thinking about the next single?
I have for sure. Even before I released the album I already knew the list of, I think this should be first, this should be second, this should be third. But we kind of change our opinions all the time. The way I do it is, I always stay open. I love every single song on this record. For some reason, if everybody’s like, “I love this one. I want this to be on the radio all day long,” I wouldn’t say no because I love all of them.
I didn’t want to put anything on it that I wasn’t comfortable with. We’re still not one million percent sure what the next single will be. As of right now my focus is very much on perfecting this tour because it’s all live. We’re still fixing a lot of issues and making it perfect. Then, I’ll decide probably in the middle of this tour what the next single will be.
The Troye Sivan song seems to be a fan favorite.
I was very happy to hear that to be honest with you. I think those happy accidents are the best ones. The Troye Sivan song, “Papercut,” was the last song that I wrote for this record. Every song on the album is represented by a color and certain emotion. There were two songs on the record that both had… you know when I say the hit feeling? They feel like big hits. I didn’t like that two of them had that same vibe, so I took one out and decided to write a song that’s not a hit but a cinematic, long piece.
I wrote this almost seven minute song thinking that’s going to be this long, epic-building song and it happened to be one of the most popular songs on the record. I’m definitely not opposed to a seven minute song being on the radio all day. I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not. I love that song personally. I was really, really happy that a lot of other people liking it.
I really like it. I also love the Echosmith song.
Thank you so much. I have a very similar taste. I do love both of those songs a lot.
I also wanted to ask you about the lead single. They played a downtempo version of “I Want You to Know” at Selena Gomez’s Revival Event. Do you know anything about it?
There is still a lot of versions that are not released. Every single song on this record, I actually started off with a piano vocal version. There’s a lot of different versions. Maybe one day we’ll release them. I’m not 100 percent sure. Maybe just to let people see how I write my music and what the music sounds like to begin with. I want to make sure that I love the song before it is produced. That’s really important to me.
It was very pretty. It sounded great.
When I was on Letterman or Jimmy Fallon I stripped down the songs on purpose to just a piano, maybe orchestra and vocal. A lot of the people hear the songs in this dance environment, which I love them in, but I also want to make sure people know how I write the songs, which are very emotional and soulful I believe. Sometimes it’s easier to see that if you strip it down to just very, very few elements.
Have you had the chance to produce music for any other artists?
Actually that is something that I want to start doing again. I remember I used to do that a little more and then my own album took up so much of my own time I kind of said no to everything. A couple weeks ago, because I’m traveling with a studio, all my rig, everything is with me. Every day when I show up at the green room, my studio’s ready. I’m able to work, actually, which is very nice. I actually sent out a couple emails.
I talked to Ryan Tedder. We’re going to work on some stuff together. I texted Max Martin, who I’m a huge fan of, for us to work on some music. Actually I want to do this again and make a couple songs for other artists and not anyone asking me about it, but just make music and let that live out there.
You and Max Martin, now there’s a combination!
We did “Break Free” together and we did “Beauty And A Beat” for Justin Bieber. I love those two songs and I really love working with him. He’s extremely inspiring and it’s shocking how much on the same page we are when it comes to writing music.
Life on the road can be a little surreal. How do you stay grounded?
You know what’s really helped me with the beginning of my tour this time was that I brought out some of my really good friends from Germany that I grew up with and been friends for a decade. They all travel with me every single day. We do fun stuff and hang out. It just felt like a little bit of the good old days on the road. I thought that was really, really nice.
That’s something I could recommend for everybody that’s touring a lot and can’t be home for many months. I think it helps you to have the right friends and they keep you grounded. They punch you in the balls, things you used to do when you were a kid, when you do something that’s wrong. I think it’s really important to have those people that you know and you can trust, to have those in your life.