(Attention! Some mild language here – just a dash.)
There is this thing with interviewing famous people. I mean, to arrange the meeting I interact via email with the management. Then I show up at the venue – usually in the backstage area the few hours before the concert – and proceed until I stand in front of a locked door.
This is the moment when I call the tour manager and she/he picks me up from behind said closed door. Then I wait a bit and maybe chat with whoever may be around. Besides the tour manager, all the others could be anybody. The ones that talk in a deep Viennese accent are probably employees of the venue, the others could be really anything – stage hands, tour crew members, even band members themselves in a good disguise!
Point is, until the moment the tour manager calls me and introduces me to the artist, I have only seen pictures of them. Even if I’ve seen them play live once or twice… I have the memory of a 200 meter view! If I’m not the very first one to interview them, I will probably be escorted to a room, and when I enter the room I meet the artist in person for the very first time.
Imagine you enter the interview room to meet The Chainsmokers, and three guys are standing there! It takes one or two seconds to decipher the faces and connect them to the pics you’ve seen on your computer screen. An embarrassing one to two seconds, sigh.
The Chainsmokers are an American DJ duo consisting of Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall. Their 2014 single #Selfie reached No. 16 on the US charts and No. 11 on the UK charts while their 2015 single Roses reached No. 6 on the US charts. On October 23, 2015, The Chainsmokers released their first EP titled Bouquet. The first single from their debut album, Don’t Let Me Down, was released on February 5, 2016. It features singer Daya.
(I was still in the doorframe, standing like a pumpkin, looking around – one, two, three… – wondering how this would go…)
Alex: I love your glasses!
(There they are! This is going great!!)
Thank you! What a cool way to start an interview – compliment the interviewer!!
(All laugh, maybe also because my glasses are bigger than Alex’s.)
I’m from Global Rockstar and our point of view is the up-and-coming artists, who are trying to make it…
Alex Pall: That’s cool.
(I fumble with my smartphone and start the recorder)
Drew Taggart: Do you want me to hold that? It might be better.
(Err… I’d feel better if my smartphone was laying safe on the table but, obviously, if Drew Taggart offers to hold your phone while being interviewed, you hand it over. I handed it over.)
Why music? Why, when, how did you decide that you want to make music for a living?!
Alex: I don’t want to speak for Drew, but I know we’re both involved in music our whole lives in different capacities. But I don’t think it was a clear occupation choice for either of us till four or five years ago, maybe… less for me.
It was always a passion, but it never really seemed like a viable career option. Like for real, you just go through life and you think that it’s not an option to do this, do those sort of things. And it got to a point where I was working a job that I wasn’t really passionate about, and the thing that I really enjoyed doing was DJing, and the music stuff side of that all.
I was lucky to meet Drew, who was working on the production side – he can tell you more about that in a minute – and we just decided that we would give it our all and not try to half-ass it and really focus and do everything we can…
(Drew dropped my smartphone on the floor. No kidding, it fell flat on the screen! Alex immediately bursts into laughter. Drew quickly picks it up and checks – the glass was intact – before allowing himself to laugh too. Only then did I join in. Without comment, I took my phone from Drew’s hands and put it flat on the table next to us. I didn’t really see myself telling my boss the story of how The Chainsmokers broke my phone and you should really pay for a new one…)
Alex: Yeah, and you know, it was just a… it was a great lucky time and I feel like if I’d waited one more year, or even earlier, it wouldn’t have gone the same way.
So for me, I’m lucky that I’m doing music now, but it was never like a viable option growing up.
Drew: Same. I mean, I went to school for music business and thought I wanted to be an agent. And then I thought I wanted to be a manager. But I would do extra-curricular things, like DJ, and I was promoting parties, and doing things that were kind of involved in the world that we’re in now.
And then I bought Ableton, the production program. After I went to Argentina, in high school, and heard David Guetta and Daft Punk, and all these artists that weren’t getting played in the United States at the time. And I was just so fascinated by the sounds and the music that I just bought the program!
And any free second I got I was on YouTube, trying to figure out how to make all those sounds that I was hearing. And I solely just did, I never thought it would be a career option until when I was finishing school, and my friends started to hear my music and were like…
This is actually good!
I was putting it on the Internet, and blogs were writing about it, but nothing like huge or anything.
Then I did an internship at Interscope Records – which is a big record label under Universal in Los Angeles – and they heard my music and were like…
Yo, we want you to be a management client!
And they would give me pop records to remix and work on.
And it just didn’t… feel right. But it definitely inspired me to not get another job, I was like…
I think there’s something here, with this music thing.
I remember I got paid three thousand dollars for a song I made, or something like that. And that was enough for me to decide…
OK, I’m going to give this two months of work.
And in those two months I met Alex!
Hey, I’ve got all these DJ shows in New York City, why don’t you come down here and we try to build this thing?!
At the time Chainsmokers didn’t have any music, they just were club DJs. I didn’t have any gigs, and my music really wasn’t that good. But it was something.
And between both of us, when we started working together, every day we just tried to get better and better and better. And find new sounds, and become better producers, and market our music differently. And that was about three and a half years ago.
A match made in heaven!
D: Honestly? Yeah!
The turning point was meeting each other?
D: Pretty much. And our manager as well, but… he doesn’t need to know that 😛
(FYI the manager, Alan Alpert, was the third guy in the room, the one that took me two seconds to distinguish from Drew and Alex. We all turned to him, sitting in a corner, and he quietly waved back.)
It’s interesting, when you said you were putting your stuff online, because… coming from this platform for up-and-coming musicians, we hear endless complaining about the new digital era, and the revenues for the artists have vanished and blah blah…
But EDM is the revenge of the digital era! Would it have been different ten years ago? Twenty years ago?
Drew: Yeah – I think about this all the time! There’s a huge technological impact in that, you know? An impact that changes the game for everybody. So everyone complains that there’s no money in music… well, there’s money in music, trust me!
Where is it?
Drew: It has to be good music and artists have always had to write the best songs, have always had to figure out ways to get their stuff out there, get signed and be ambitious. And not be lazy about one aspect of it.
Or if they are going to be lazy about the marketing and promotion, hire someone that is really truly invested in it!
I think with today’s technology, between me buying Ableton and figuring out how to do everything – that you’d need a full studio to do ten years ago what you can do today just on my laptop! In my dorm room at college! This definitely says a lot… and now we’re touring around the world, talking to you in Vienna! Off of those songs!
It is nice to hear this freshness! That the digital era is an opportunity and not only an obstacle…
D: Yeah, we had a really clever marketing strategy in the beginning.
A: Yeah, we luckily… there’s a site called Hype Machine – is it German? Or Austrian?
D: It’s German. Must be German or Swedish…
A: But uh…
I’ll check that.
(Fun fact: Hype Machine is from Brooklyn, NY, USA!!)
Alex: Yeah. It’s a really great site to discover new artists and new music and stuff. We would go on there and look up other artists and songs that we liked, from lesser…
D: There’s a chart!
A: Yeah, through the chart. It’s a blog aggregator, they validated all of these blogs that they considered to be the best blogs on the Internet. And then they aggregate all the songs that those blogs are posting, and then based on how many blogs are posting one song, it goes into a chart. So the song’s trending.
D: We would pick ones that trended well – we always tend to like them, but generally the ones we like are always doing moderately, pretty well – and we would remix them.
The dance music was becoming so mainstream, kind of… not cheesy but it was very much, like… dull. And we figured out that, if we take these great, lesser-known indie artists that have really authentic vocals and stuff, and remix them in a Chainsmoker-y way… we would create our own lane – and kind of that’s what happened.
It was great, because you can’t… when you’re starting out… getting good vocals, getting the confidence and all that stuff is really hard. So we started by getting good vocals from these indie artists, and then the songs did really well… we kind of started building a repertoire.
And that was how it all started, really.
A: (Talks to Drew) We’ve got to do a how-we-made-it video! That would crush!!
D: (Answers Alex) Yeah, that’s a good blog, actually!!
(Realizing they’re ignoring me) Sorry – good idea! 😛
Hehe. Nowadays glam rockers are almost extinct creatures… somehow DJs are the new rock stars. Do you agree? Do you feel a bit like rock stars?
A: There were for a second – I feel like hip-hop is now back at the forefront and there are some great bands out that are… and pop stars that are doing well! DJs as pop icons has never been a thing until now. But it is hard, you know, there are very few that have really crossed over now.
D: Yeah, there’s great giant DJs in Europe, you guys have the Axwell’s and Esco’s and guys like that are gigantic here. But in the U.S., I don’t know if people would freak out if they saw Axwell or Ingrosso on the street. Here they’re really celebrities.
But the same thing in the U.S. There are big DJs in the U.S. … like us!! (Both laugh) Like we’re really big in the U.S. and we’re trying to build an audience…
You get recognized a lot, I assume.
D: Yeah, more in the U.S., but here we’re building that audience. There’s only a few guys that have really transcended across the borders between continents. Calvin Harris, who is probably the biggest of everyone, dating the biggest pop stars with more successful records than anybody. But I think there’s a lot more failures than there are the Calvin Harris’s. We’ll see what happens.
I mean, for us, we’re becoming more performance than DJ, and I think that will help change the profile of how DJs at least were conceived. Because you always want to stand out, that’s the idea.
The fans and fame and getting recognized… is that what it’s all about, or is that the dark side of success? Do you enjoy it a hundred percent?
D: It’s, like, nice and awkward at the same time. Because…
D: It’s just weird when you’re walking through a public place and… someone’s making a spectacle of you. Before you’d just be able to go somewhere, and now… I feel kind of uncomfortable with everyone else that’s staring at you, that doesn’t know who you are. I think that’s… weird?
But it is nice to be recognized, you know? And recognized for something that you do, that is your passion, that you do well enough that someone knows what you look like! That’s a good thing.
A: We don’t do it to be recognized, but it’s great when you are recognized for what you do.
Like a validation of your work?
A: Yeah, it’s nice to see that people are excited about the music that you make, and they’re really pumped to meet you.
D: When I was in college I would just listen to Kid Cudi, I would just listen to Pheonix. And these bands that I was just obsessed with. And then Avicii came along, and I would wait for Avicii to put out another song… I couldn’t wait for that!
I guess when someone come up and takes a picture of your, or tells you they love your music, that’s the only time I get the sense that…
Holy crap, maybe we’re that person for somebody else!
That they’re just waiting for another Chainsmokers song… which is crazy to think about! But that’s like my main motivation.
On your website there is an interesting sentence on you bio: They find the parts of things that people actually give a shit about. This is supposed to be your talent! How do you discover a talent like that?
A: Oh, bios!! 😛 Bios are always really weird. I always wanted to delete it – how are we supposed to explain ourselves and our vision and what we’ve done and what we want to do in, like, a little couple (of) sentences?
But I think we have a really funny way of looking at the world, and we’re always questioning things and re-evaluating what we’re doing, and really pushing ourselves.
And we love pop culture! We don’t shy away from pop culture, or think that if you’re a pop star you’re lame. That’s all really interesting. We try to digest all of that and figure out a way to make it cool and put the Chainsmokers spin on it. Make it personal to us.
I don’t know if that really makes sense in that sentence that you read – how readily it applies – but we know that we don’t want to get caught up in the hype. We’re trying figure out our own lane, that people will be excited about.
Your first album is coming out this year?
A: Maybe. We don’t know. We did that EP, Bouquet, that just came out, and that wasn’t even necessarily planned. That was like…
Oh! We have five songs done…
Let’s put them together!
A: Let’s put them together! And I think that if you can make an album that people really are excited about, and want to listen to, and can take the time to enjoy each song… that’s amazing. That’s the type of artist we’ve been working towards since day one.
It’s just about the time of it. We’re not going to just make an album because you should make an album, because that’s what musicians do. We want people to pay attention to each song, we want the album to tell a story, and that’s what we’re working towards.
But we don’t know when that will necessarily be. I certainly feel like we’re getting closer to it everyday, and I think we have some songs that I would love to be a part of that.
But it’s just about when it feels right, not because the label wants it. Or that’s such an artist thing to say,
Oh, we’re working on our album…
Why? We don’t care, no one wants to hear an album from you!
We want people to be pumped, you know what I mean? And be like…
Holy shit, we’re going to get twelve Chainsmokers songs!! This is going to be incredible and it’s all going to feel coming from the same place. And when I’m done listening to it, I want to feel like I know what these guys tried to accomplish with that.
So, we’ll see.
Listen, my time is over and I’m more or less happy… you know what happens now?!
D: What, a selfie?!
(We all laugh)
Shall we take a selfie together? I know it’s a bit tacky but I really do this with each interview… really!! How sick are you of people coming up to you …let me take a selfie?!
A: We don’t care, it’s only the people that genuinely believe that #Selfie was like a… a selfie thing! Because those are the people that really don’t give a shit about anything we’re trying to do. We’re just in front of them because we’ve been placed there, and they’re there for the same reason, so they don’t understand that… you know what I mean?
(I believe I understand what Alex means, people completely missing the satirical side of #Selfie…)
And then they make it awkward – it’s just like, you just didn’t listen!! You just don’t know what we’re trying to do at all!! Just take a fucking selfie and we’ll get out of your life.
Hehe, I’m about to get out of your life, let’s take the selfie!!
Both: Hahaha! No, no! 😛
(Then we take the selfie you see above, Alex had the longest arms so he held the phone.)
Alex: Are you coming to the show?
Err… maybe I’m a bit past that age…
(We met mid afternoon at their hotel, so I don’t say this loud, but the show begins past midnight, I’m older than I look and my back doesn’t allow me to stand still for hours anymore… I’d probably be crushed before they even begin!)
Alex: What?! I’m already 30, if I can play the show you can certainly come! What are you? 25 top?!
(He pushed two VIP-tickets in my hands and I was already a bit gaga because of his 25 years guess, which is an underestimation by more than a decade…)
Oh, thank you! 😀
(This, luckily, worked well both for the tickets and the compliment.)
Then we hugged good-bye and I left the room.
On the tram on my way home I admired the tickets. They had a Willy-Wonka-quality, heavy and matte with a gold shimmer… definitely the most beautiful tickets I’ve ever held in my hands.
I called the only 18-years-old friend that I have. He’s also a musician, a guitarist, albeit more on the singer-songwriter side, all cerebral and jazzy and stuff. He happily took the tickets and went to the show with his girlfriend. The next morning he sent me the pic you see as cover and this:
“I’m not such a fan of EDM music, but The Chainsmokers did an awesome job. With their energy and their performance they captured me from the first song on. The crowd was crazy and everyone danced! I had a great night and I am a little fan of them now. Such cool guys!!” 😀