The Pianist Turned Producer: An Intimate Interview With Zedd
“ Every track this guys sends me is fire,” shouts Skrillex as cheers echo through the Backbeat Tent before the final set of CounterPoint Music and Arts Festival. That guy is Anton Zaslavski, better known as Zedd, and although he’s new to the electronic scene he’s been studying and making music since he was four. 2012 has been a huge year for Zedd: turning 23, signing to Interscope Records, releasing his debut album Clarity, touring around the world with Lady Gaga, producing for Justin Bieber, and creating remixes for Adele, Fatboy Slim and The Black Eyed Peas.
This type of sudden success may be unbelievable but it isn’t undeserved, and while working with such ‘big names’ often generates an ego Zedd remains humble about his accomplishments and honest in his intent to make music. His highly melodic music incorporates elements of electro house and progressive dub-step to create songs that are catchy yet well composed. Spinr caught up with Zedd before he closed out CounterPoint to talk about drumming in a German metal band, a life changing MySpace message and accidentally meeting Max Martin at the Grammys.
Spinr: You’ve only been producing ‘electronic’ music for 2 years but both you and your parents are classically trained musicians and you also drummed in the metal band Dioramic. How has that eclectic and extensive background influenced the way you make music?
Zedd: In a lot of ways starting with piano and music theory kind of helps me make chord progressions and melodies that other people would probably not do because they just don’t know how to get there. I know a lot of people who say that they have a certain feeling they want to create, but when you know what you have to do and what notes you have to play to create that feeling then it’s much easier and you can concentrate on other stuff. With a band you also learn a lot about song structure and dub-step is very playable as a band so it’s almost a modern form of metal.
A lot of more instrumentally oriented artists at this festival like Lotus and Beats Antique prove just how playable and progressive ‘electronic’ music can be.
Yea and I think playing an instrument can be a big advantage. I hear that with Sonny (Skrillex) as well. I can totally hear riffs in his music made the same way we used to do it with our bands, and I don’t think that would be there if he hadn’t played in one first.
You two are both ex-members of metal bands who transitioned into making ‘electronic’ music. When you were drumming in Dioramic did you ever envision making this type of music or achieving so much success?
I never had any success with my band. We only sold a total of 888 records and we had been touring and playing together for nine and a half years. It was just very difficult to break through and in since almost everything is blocked in Germany they’re always a couple steps behind.
Most people would imagine that you’d be a couple of steps behind as a producer since you’ve only been making ‘electronic’ music for about 2 years, yet you’ve already achieved so much. Outside of stumbling across a copy of Justice’s “†” album how were you initially introduced to this type of music?
I remember that when I first heard Justice it was something new to me and I always love trying out new things so I wanted to do something I’d never done before. With my band it was so hard to find something we didn’t do yet, but with electronic dance music I’ve never done anything so it’s a whole new world that I can experience for myself. I remember making my first song and it was just so completely different and there was so much to do. That was one of the points that really made me want to try it. It was never for success or money or anything because I started doing this for fun and I never even thought about anything like that. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I did things differently because I didn’t even know people played my music. I just made music and I think that probably helped me.
That’s refreshing to hear since there seem to be some artists who enter into music with much different motives. How did you go from not knowing if people even played your music to meeting Skrillex and making an immensely popular remix of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”?
At that point I was working on a song and I thought that it was kind of something new. While I was working on that song I saw Deadmau5 post something about a guy named Skrillex so I checked him out and was like ‘wow, that’s pretty much what I do’. So I just decided to message him on MySpace, which was completely random since I had never talked to him or even knew him before. Shortly after that he replied saying that he would love to use my song for his show that night. I didn’t expect that, but we stayed in touch and he asked me for remixes and we started working together and then we started touring together.
What is the most beneficial thing that you’ve learned from Sonny as a friend and an artist?
Well, I learned almost everything from him. I would never do something that I’m not convinced of, like if a label told me to do something I didn’t want to. I learned a lot about stage performance from him. I remember I was playing EDC and I was fairly shy at that point. I didn’t really use a mic and he was like “You have to use a mic today.” So I used the mic and ever since then I’ve been doing that.
How did you get involved with Justin Bieber’s third album or the Lady Gaga remixes?
For me, it’s basically always been a lot of coincidences happening at the same time making things happen. I was at the Grammy’s with Skrillex and we were at an after party. Skrillex was talking to a guy and I didn’t know who he was and I wanted to tell Skrillex something. He was like “Oh by the way this is Max.” I was like “Hey Max,” and I didn’t know it was Max Martin at that point. A few minutes later he told me it was Max Martin so I went back and told him I was a big fan of his music and he said he really liked my music. That was pretty impressive because I’ve been a big Max Martin fan. And then I made a song that was the track for Bieber and I thought my dream would be for Max Martin to write the top line. I didn’t know who this would go to or be for, but the same way I did it with Skrillex, I just sent his manager an e-mail with an MP3 and said I had a song I thought was perfect for Max. Two days later he replied saying he loved the song and wanted to write to it. He wrote the top line and then we were kind of going back and forth about artists we would want to give the song to. Bieber’s camp hit us up and they loved the song. We just went into the studio with him and recorded it and it was great so we were lucky we didn’t try anyone else.
Is that what led to you recently signing with Interscope or meeting Jimmy Lovine?
What led to this was Skrillex as well, actually. He sent an e-mail to Dave Rene from Interscope, saying “Hey, check out this guy Zedd. He’s amazing.” That was it. Dave commissioned Skrillex to do remixes for Lady Gaga and people like that before, he then asked me to do remixes for Gaga, Diddy, and the Black Eyed Peas. At some point they asked me to start producing music for several artists, so I started slowly producing music for them. At some point it caught Jimmy’s attention. He was like, “Who’s this Zedd guy?” Dave was like, “Yeah man, I told you before, he’s dope. Sign this guy.” That was about it.
Do you ever get accidentally affiliated with Zeds Dead because of your name?
Yeah, we both get a lot of tweets. People saying “I’m excited for your show tomorrow in Atlanta,” and Zeds Dead won’t be playing there tomorrow-it’s the other way around. But you know, that happens and it’s actually gotten a lot better. Like today, we both played and people see it’s two names and they’re like, “Whoa, what’s going on?” So it’s getting better.
CounterPoint is just the sixth stop out of 19 shows on your Poseidon tour with Porter Robinson. How has it been thus far?
It’s been amazing so far. It’s been a great experience. We’re still figuring everything out because we just want to go in and play a set and be able to do back to back flights. And you know, we’re still figuring it out. It’s been an amazing time so far.
Was this tour inspired by Doctor P and Flux Pavillion’s concept for performing back to back and collaboratively?
No, I’ve never seen them perform. I know that Porter did and he thought it was very inspirational. I’ve played back to back with him once and it was amazing and I thought we had a lot of great energy together on stage. Since we’re good friends I thought it would just be something really cool and also for the fans.
Your album Clarity is about to be released-how would you sum it up with any experience or words?
You can’t. If I had to find one word I would say it’s emotional. I didn’t try to make the hardest drops, even though it has hard drops, and I didn’t try to make the biggest hit, although the album has hits. I just tried to make something very emotional in the first place, and very musical. That was my main goal.
Tying back into your classical influence, would you say its music that works well on paper?
That was pretty much the whole deal because I wanted to make a timeless album. I believe that if you concentrate on the music and what music is really about, which in my view is the emotion that comes out when you play this music, it will be rather timeless compared to concentrating on sound design. Which does not mean that there is anything wrong with music based on sound design, but for me, as a concept for my album, I wanted to make a timeless album that I’ll be proud of in 30 years.
What can your fans who will read this or who are here at the show tonight expect from you in the future?
I don’t know-that’s the thing! They can expect me to always be me and I will always do whatever I feel is right. I’m not afraid of making a metal song tomorrow if I want to. I will always just be who I am. Fans can be sure that I would never, ever work on something or put something out that I’m not 150% convinced on.
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