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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

Zedd Talks Electronic Music, ‘Clarity’ and the Art of the Album

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Before he reinvented himself as the electronic producer Zedd, Anton Zaslavski spent nearly a decade in his rock/metal band Dioramic, without much to show for it. The group played a few tours and signed to a midsize metal label in their native Germany, but hardly made an impression outside of their closest circles. “We never really got out of Germany,” Zaslavski says. “And we never made a single dollar. If we played a tour and we came back home and the financial status was that everybody had to pay $200 to cover the costs, I was really happy.”

It wasn’t until 2009 that Zaslavski began dabbling in electronic music. Beyond a fondness for Justice and Daft Punk, he had no background in the music or the scene—nor, for that matter, any way to gauge whether the tracks he produced were even any good, though a friend far better versed in the scene assured him they were. Within a year, he was seeing the kind of response he never did with his metal band. His 2010 remix of Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” turned heads in the electronic community, and by the following year he had struck a creative partnership with Lady Gaga, remixing a couple of tracks from her Born This Way album for its deluxe edition and later joining her on the road. For Gaga’s upcoming album, ARTPOP, Zaslavski served as a primary producer.

That’s the type of dream project most producers would be chomping at the bit to discuss, but Zaslavski doesn’t want to talk about Lady Gaga. His publicist asks that interviewers refrain from asking him about her, an understandable request, given that he’s got plenty of his own projects to talk about. After a slow start on the charts this winter, Zedd’s single “Clarity,” from his 2012 debut album of the same name, proved resilient this summer, not only peaking at number one on the dance charts but also cracking the Hot 100’s top 10. Because of the single’s strong showing, the album will receive a deluxe re-release later this month, with a new single tacked on: “Stay The Night,” featuring Paramore’s Hayley Williams. Like its predecessor, which he recorded with English singer Foxes, it’s a crowd pleaser built around a huge, joyous drop and an impassioned vocal performance—it’s essentially “Clarity” with bigger star power. 

Zedd’s rapid ascent from anonymous metal geek to burgeoning electronic star will likely tempt more than a few penniless rock drummers to trade in their kits for laptops, but Zaslavski insists that his reinvention was neither as easy nor as abrupt as it might read on paper. “I actually have worked really hard,” he says. “When I started producing electronic music properly, after I finished school, it was every single day for 12 hours a day that I’d be making music. I would wake up, eat, make music and that was it every day.

“It also helped,” he adds, “that at the end of the day, I knew music, and I knew how to play instruments.” Raised by a family of musicians who taught him classical music early in life, he’d played everything from jazz to funk to metal by the time he was a teenager, so electronic music wasn’t an unfathomable leap. The theory was the same; the tricky part was mastering the sounds, a technical challenge that required endless practice. And though that part clearly came to him—Clarity is the work of a proud perfectionist, with every thrust and wobble adjusted for maximum impact—it’s still not the part of the process he enjoys most. At his core, Zedd is a pop songwriter, and unlike many prominent DJs who let their singles and remixes define them, he prefers to view himself as an album artist.

“I get more joy out of writing a chord progression that nobody else has written before than in making bass that is louder than everybody else’s bass,” he says. “That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the science of making your bass sound loud, but that’s just what my state of mind has been lately.

“I still see myself as a new artist, and I think I’m still developing what kind of artist I am,” he continues. “It’s way more interesting for me to be an album artist than a singles artist. I can’t address who I am in one song in just three or four minutes. I appreciate having a hit, because it’s powerful performing for a whole room that’s singing along to your song, but ultimately it was more important to me to make an album that I could look back at and be proud of in 20 years.”

Zedd headlines the Rave on Saturday, Sept. 14 with openers Oliver and Alex Metric.

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