SU­PER­STAR DJ... HERE WE GO!

In 2010, An­ton Zaslavski was the ex-drum­mer of a death­core band who had started do­ing his own remixes. To­day he’s Zedd, a Grammy Award-win­ning DJ and pro­ducer who’s worked with Gaga and been re­spon­si­ble for some of the big­gest hits of the past decade. “Wh

Q (UK) - - Zedd - PHO­TO­GRAPHS: SI­MON SARIN

Asa teen grow­ing up in the South-West Ger­man city of Kais­er­slautern, Rus­sian-born An­ton Zaslavski loved Fri­day and Satur­day nights. He’d live for the week­end – but not in a way that would seem fa­mil­iar to many cur­rent or former teenagers. His Fri­days would kick off with band prac­tice, be­cause at this point Zaslavski hadn’t yet be­come Zedd, hadn’t yet been re­spon­si­ble for bil­lions of song streams with his own tracks and pro­duc­tions for Ari­ana Grande or Thirty Se­conds To Mars, hadn’t yet won a Grammy for the Foxes col­lab­o­ra­tion Clar­ity and was still the drum­mer in a death metal band called Dio­ramic. But when Fri­day evening band prac­tice was over, Zaslavski’s week­end could re­ally start. “I loved Fri­days and Satur­days be­cause that’s when ev­ery­body went out,” he be­gins, which seems fair enough. But then: “I could play video games all night. And I knew no­body would dis­turb me, be­cause ev­ery­body was out par­ty­ing. That was my mind­set: I can be by my­self.” To­day, with the 28- year-old back in Ger­many ahead of his set at lu­di­crously over-the-top Düs­sel­dorf dance fes­ti­val Pa­rookav­ille and Zedd’s mu­sic sound­track­ing a planet’s worth of nights out from Ve­gas to Vaux­hall, he hasn’t changed much. He says go­ing out is “not some­thing I love do­ing.” Club­bing, ex­plains the glob­ally fa­mous DJ, is “not re­ally my thing.” His home in the Hol­ly­wood Hills, he adds, has all the hall­marks of a “num­ber one party house”. From where he lives he can see nightly par­ties tak­ing place in other man­sions, but in nine months of liv­ing there he’s only had one him­self and even that he down­grades to “get-to­gether” sta­tus. On the topic of whether he en­joys meet­ing new peo­ple, he says, “Not re­ally.” All of which might make Zedd sound like a roar­ing dullard and bor­der­line pil­lock, but the sweat­pants-sport­ing, softly-spo­ken and fre­quently rather smi­ley chap en­ter­tain­ing Q to­day is, like a sur­pris­ing num­ber of big DJs, merely lightly in­tro­verted. And there is one ex­cit­ing thing hap­pen­ing in that Hol­ly­wood abode: he’s re­cently com­mis­sioned an artist to par­tially de­mol­ish one of the walls, then re­build it with blocks of Lego. There will be lit­tle se­cret com­part­ments in the wall, he ex­plains with in­creas­ing gusto, in­side which will be minia­ture de­pic­tions of scenes from his life, such as his cur­rent Ve­gas res­i­dency. He pauses while he’s ex­plain­ing all this, catches him­self, and in a very Zedd-like state­ment that screams, “I’m happy to have some fun and put a load of Lego in my house, but let’s not get car­ried away,” he adds. “It’s al­right. It’s not a load-bear­ing wall. I checked.” Just af­ter Zedd’s 2017 sin­gle Stay was a mas­sive hit he had a meet­ing with Spotify, who took the op­por­tu­nity to show him how their al­go­rithms worked. They told him about things like skip rates, and how long lis­ten­ers would stick with a song be­fore mov­ing on to the next one. Stay, he was told, was a great ex­am­ple of lis­ten­ers re­ally en­gag­ing with a song. “I never re­ally knew how Spotify worked un­til then,” he says, sug­gest­ing a de­gree of in­tu­ition that dates back to 2010 and his ear­li­est for­ays into pro­duc­ing, when his death­core out­fit had dis­banded and, hav­ing heard a Jus­tice al­bum, Zaslavski had started en­ter­ing remix com­pe­ti­tions. “When I started mak­ing elec­tronic mu­sic I hon­estly had no idea what I was do­ing,” he smiles. “I didn’t know at all.” He knew more than he re­alised, as he dis­cov­ered af­ter ran­domly mes­sag­ing Skrillex on MyS­pace. This set in mo­tion a se­ries of events that by 2011 saw In­ter­scope’s Jimmy Iovine in­tro­duc­ing Zedd to Lady Gaga. It was a strange first meet­ing – they were on­stage at an event – but Gaga took the op­por­tu­nity to say, “Let’s make mu­sic.” Zedd sub­mit­ted a song and leg­end has it that Gaga im­me­di­ately called Iovine with the words, “I want this guy to pro­duce my al­bum.” She wasn’t mess­ing around. “For it to be pos­si­ble, I had to be there,” Zedd re­mem­bers. At that point he was still liv­ing in Ger­many. “She flew me over for four

months. You think some­one that big is not tuned in to all the lit­tle guys. But she very much was. I give her a lot of credit for a lot that oth­er­wise wouldn’t have hap­pened – I had all this time, so I started mak­ing my own al­bum.” Ul­ti­mately, Zedd pro­duced three of the bet­ter tracks on ARTPOP, and mu­sic he’d recorded dur­ing his Gaga-funded ex­cur­sion was al­ready tak­ing off: Foxes col­lab­o­ra­tion Clar­ity went triple plat­inum in the US alone. Zedd notched up an­other global hit with Stay The Night, fea­tur­ing Paramore’s Hay­ley Wil­liams, and by 2014 he was work­ing with uber-pro­ducer Max Martin on Ari­ana Grande’s hit sin­gle Break Free. Re­cent years have seen Zedd leave be­hind the glow­ing em­bers of EDM in favour of slower beats, big­ger melodies and even greater suc­cess with songs like the Spotify-friendly Stay and sparsely-cho­rused bel­ter The Mid­dle. Over the last 10 years the line be­tween elec­tronic artist and pop star has be­come in­creas­ingly blurred, the long and short of which is that Zedd is now ex­tremely fa­mous. He’s dis­cussed his un­easy re­la­tion­ship with fame in the past; fair enough, Q sug­gests, as the whole thing looks aw­ful. Is it hard work? He laughs. “It de­pends what kind of fa­mous we’re talk­ing here. There are some peo­ple who are stressed to leave their house – I’m nowhere on that scale. I’m at the very bot­tom.” He was thrust into an un­ex­pect­edly harsh spot­light in 2015, when he was ro­man­ti­cally linked with the singer Se­lena Gomez. Sud­denly, friends’ phones were be­ing hacked, and the me­dia were both­er­ing his par­ents. “I was gen­uinely sur­prised – and mad – when my dad told me,” he says. “It re­ally an­gered me. But now, think­ing back: what did I ex­pect? I should have been aware of it. I just didn’t want to think about it, maybe? That kind of fame is noth­ing for me. Noth­ing I’m in­ter­ested in.”

“Lady Gaga flew me over to LA. You think some­one that big is not tuned in to all the lit­tle guys. But she very much was.”

While he wouldn’t rule out an­other high-pro­file re­la­tion­ship (“if you meet some­one you fall in love with, you’ll sac­ri­fice ev­ery­thing for it”), Zedd ad­mits that for self-preser­va­tion he’s de­vel­oped some­thing of a sixth sense that in­volves ask­ing him­self: “Is a per­son gen­uine? Why is that per­son talk­ing to me? And do they ex­pect or want some­thing?”

Af­ter to­mor­row night’s fes­ti­val slot, Zedd will fly to Am­s­ter­dam, and then to Minneapolis, where he es­ti­mates he’ll have time to take pre­cisely one shower be­fore ap­pear­ing on­stage. “Can I promise I’ll be on­stage su­per-stoked to per­form?” he won­ders. “No. If I can’t sleep on that plane I’ll be tired and ex­hausted, and that’s when the per­sona will kick in where I por­tray happiness. No­body who tours a lot can say they loved play­ing ev­ery sin­gle show. That’s just a lie. Some­times you’re tired, some­times you’re ex­hausted. You still have to per­form.” Zedd ac­cepts that his work­load has af­fected him phys­i­cally, lead­ing to prob­lems with his neck and his back, re­quir­ing sched­uled weekly mas­sages. “But more than any­thing else,” he says, “it’s men­tal health.” At one point, he re­mem­bers, “I was work­ing so much that I just stopped be­ing cre­ative. There were days I was ac­tu­ally scared to go to the stu­dio, be­cause I didn’t want to ex­pe­ri­ence fail­ure.” He paints a bleak pic­ture of what be­came his daily rou­tine. “You sit down. You waste 12 hours. You go home. Then you re­flect, ‘What did I do to­day? Noth­ing.’ I was over­worked. And I wasn’t cre­ative. And I still went to the stu­dio ev­ery day be­cause that’s just what I did.” In­sist­ing on a rough three-way time split be­tween tour­ing, pro­duc­ing and rest­ing even­tu­ally got him back on track but Zedd seems to envy artists like to­mor­row night’s gateau-toss­ing fes­ti­val head­liner Steve Aoki, who’ll play 31 shows in 30 days, or Skrillex, “who’ll get into a taxi and have his head­phones on, and he’ll pro­duce on the road.” Some­times, Q of­fers, it’s nice just to stand up and go for a walk. Zedd seems keen on this idea, un­til it’s sug­gested that he could leave his phone at home. “Oh no,” he says. He looks very con­cerned. Q has pushed it all too far. “I would be mis­er­able.”

“There are two types of artists. Ones who like to fo­cus on the mu­sic and keep their beef out, and ones who live for drama. I just don’t have time to waste on beef.”

One ben­e­fit of leav­ing his phone at home might be the avoid­ance of less-than-cheery bons mots from Di­plo, who for the last few years has waged a one-man war against Zedd via so­cial me­dia – a bril­liantly cere­bral tirade that’s in­cluded a poo emoji, a claim to have “fucked” Zedd’s “girl”, and a photo of a Zedd poster next to a pile of rub­bish. Zedd ad­mits that all this has “up­set me ev­ery time”. “There are two types of artists,” he de­cides. “Ones who like to fo­cus on the mu­sic and keep their beef out, and ones who more or less live for drama. I just don’t have time to waste on beef when I can spend it mak­ing my own mu­sic. I’ve just never been into be­ing a dick to other peo­ple. More or less all my other DJ friends are like, ‘Why don’t you ever an­swer?’ And I think, par­tially, it an­noys peo­ple more if you just ig­nore them.” In any case, as Frank Si­na­tra sup­pos­edly once noted, the best re­venge is mas­sive suc­cess, and one of Zedd’s big­gest and best suc­cesses to date is The Mid­dle, the bil­lion-stream be­he­moth whose jar­ring chorus – noth­ing more than vo­cal­ist Maren Mor­ris and a tick­ing clock – be­came one of 2018’ s big­gest ear­worms. Zaslavski is one of the song’s seven cred­ited writ­ers, as well as the prin­ci­pal listed pro­ducer along­side duo Grey and pro­duc­tion out­fit The Mon­sters & The Strangerz. Demi Lo­vato, Tove Lo, Carly Rae Jepsen, Anne-Marie, Camila Ca­bello and many oth­ers recorded ver­sions of the song dur­ing its tor­tur­ous record­ing ses­sions – a story so em­blem­atic of the mod­ern hit process that ear­lier this year the New York Times pub­lished a video doc­u­ment­ing the song’s cre­ation. It re­vealed some­thing quite cu­ri­ous: The Mid­dle was pretty much fin­ished by the time Zedd got his hands on it. “I helped the pro­duc­tion and the vo­cal,” he says, when asked what he ac­tu­ally did on the song. “I said, ‘I think it has a lot of po­ten­tial but you’re los­ing me in the chorus.’” The bridge used to be the chorus. It’s very lit­tle things that make things ei­ther good or great.” Per­suad­ing his col­lab­o­ra­tors to re-imag­ine the song was, Zedd says, “a long, painful pro­ce­dure. I said, ‘Can I just try and do some­thing? And if every­one hates it, then at least we tried?’” The gam­ble paid off. De­spite Di­plo’s best ef­forts, Zedd’s star con­tin­ues to rise. Once cur­rent sin­gle Happy Now has done its busi­ness there are as many as five fu­ture sin­gles that are all planned and mapped out, and don’t rule out a last-minute Thom Yorke guest spot on one of them, ei­ther. “I as­sume he’s very open­minded,” Zedd says. “He’s one of my heroes, so I’d let him take the song in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion if he wanted to. I think he should call me. Not that he needs to, of course, but I think we’d cre­ate some­thing re­ally amaz­ing.” Per­haps a lit­tle on the fan­ci­ful side; then again, eight months ago the kid in Ger­many who op­por­tunis­ti­cally MyS­pace-mes­saged Skrillex was on the cover of Forbes mag­a­zine, ac­com­pa­nied by stats es­ti­mat­ing his earn­ings as ex­ceed­ing $ 85m. Zedd doesn’t flinch when Q sug­gests that that fig­ure must now be over $ 100m. “I didn’t even re­ally think about the fig­ure,” he adds, which is the sort of thing you can say if you’ve got enough cash to have a Lego art in­stal­la­tion shoved into your house. “To me, it was about a pro­ducer who started mak­ing mu­sic on a slow com­puter in his par­ents’ base­ment. When you work so much, and so fast, you for­get what you achieved, but that was one of those mo­ments where you think: ‘I did achieve a lot.’” He smiles, and stops. For a mo­ment it seems Zedd’s look­ing back on his eight-year ca­reer with the happy con­tent­ment of a man with noth­ing else to achieve. But that mo­ment is brief. It’s hard to imag­ine him stop­ping un­til, if noth­ing else, his en­tire house is made out of plas­tic.

(Above, left) He bangs the drums – in death metal band Dio­ramic; (above, right) Zedd and Foxes ac­cept their 2014 Grammy for Clar­ity (in­set).

Thumbs up: Zedd en­joys the good life, Pa­rookav­ille, July, 2018.

Bot­toms up! Zedd with Skrillex (right), who helped kick­start his ca­reer.

Happy now: Zedd calmly re­flects on the $ 85 mil­lion cur­rently swelling his ac­count.

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