Zedd teases upcoming single, gives update on third album (Exclusive)
Zedd really needs a break, but he might not get one anytime soon.
The Grammy-winning artist has been non-stop since he burst onto the scene in 2012 with his global smash, "Clarity," having since released countless massive hits that have been kept in rotation on Top 40 playlists for years on end. In the past two years alone, he's dropped "Stay" with Alessia Cara, "365" with Katy Perry and, of course, "The Middle" with Maren Morris, among several other tracks, and he's gearing up to release what he told AOL is "one of my favorite songs I’ve ever done in my entire life."
"I wish I could post teasers, but all I can say is that I’m really close to being done with a song -- hopefully in the next week or so," he told AOL's Gibson Johns of his next hit at an event celebrating his partnership with Columbia Sportswear's new SH/FT Collection. "Then it will come out as soon as the first available date comes up."
A break, he said, could come when his home studio is finally completed, which will allow him to slow down and then hunker down on figuring out what his third album will sound like.
Read more below for our full conversation with Zedd, where he further teases his upcoming material, talks about the pressure he felt following up the massive success of "The Middle," the grind of constantly touring, what he wears on stage and much more.
You've partnered with Columbia Sportswear on its new SH/FT footwear collection, which strives to connect our urban lives and being outdoors. Talk to me about this collaboration.
People who know my sneaker collection know that I like bright and extreme colors, something unique-looking that you see and know right away what it is. The first thing that I liked was the look. I didn’t really know about the technology or that they were even hiking shoes. Then I met with the team and saw how passionate they are and that they really love the details, and it’s not too big of a company where you can’t try certain things anymore. I love that, and that’s sort of how I run my own camp: Everybody’s involved in everything and everybody can do everything. We’re not a factory where you can’t do certain things. We can do anything we want to do. The other thing is that I started hiking very late -- four or five years go -- and I’ve never had hiking shoes. I even asked my trainer for some workout shoes, which is very different. I didn’t want to buy a hiking shoe, because something about it didn’t appeal to me.
But, I’ve worn them on stage, which is the ultimate test for me, because it’s hours of jumping and you feel a bad shoe right away. I’ve worn bad shoes on stage, and I’m not going to lie: Some shoes look really cool, and I just want to wear them and an hour in I’m like, "This is bad."
Let's take a specific performance as an example: I saw you during Coachella Weekend One. How much thought went into what you wore for that set? Do you just throw something on? Or is it more planned out?
You’d be surprised how little thought I put into it. [Laughs] I’m not gonna lie. The shoe is the most important thing. I put the most thought into the shoe, just because jumping for hours every single day… I had shin splints after my first tour when I didn’t know you needed a mat for your feet or a proper sole. I couldn’t walk for a while. I also played, like, twelve shows in a row, had one day off, eleven shows in a row… it was bad, and I learned from that. For Coachella, I had a couple shows in between weekends, and there was a fan at one of the shows and she gave someone on my crew a bag and said, "This is for Zedd." It had a shirt, and it was shoes and pants, and I just wore it.
Are you ever settled in one place? Your lifestyle is intrinsically about being on the move, but are you ever able to give yourself some time to settle down and have a break?
It’s not that easy for me to answer that. The easy answer would be no, and I definitely haven’t in the past. The more detailed answer is that I was just having this conversation with my team. I was like, "Hey guys, we need to plan in some time off for me a little bit." I think I need to do exactly what you’re mentioning. Our first stage was going from playing 220 shows a year to 100 shows a year. In addition to the shows, you’re probably traveling 30 more days, easily, and then I’m spending probably 60 or 70 days in the studio and then I really don’t have that many days left. I’ll go back to Germany for Christmas to see my family and grandparents, so we broke it down to make it about 100-100-100: 100 shows, 100 days in the studio, 100 days off. However, the whole travel back-and-forth thing and my Vegas residency make it hard to do any actual trips. I was just talking about how I want to do a vacation for more than three days, because that’s a different level of relaxing. My next stage is to plan in maybe two weeks where I don’t work.
Your past several releases have been a trio of massive singles ini "365," "The Middle" and "Stay." Are you gearing up for an album? Are these part of a larger project? Or are you just going to continue to favor one-off releases with huge pushes behind them?
"Stay" was the first time I was like, "I just want to release this." If you just look at the data, then you could argue that the few singles I’ve released have sold more than both of my albums together. It makes me sort of question the whole album concept, however, I’ve said that for a while there’s no doubt that I’ll make another album.
The one hundred percent transparent honest truth as to why I don’t have one yet is because my studio is taking way longer [that I expected it to]. I really want a new studio at my house. I had one at my old house, but then I moved. I just honestly don’t want to drive 35 minutes back and forth every single day. Sometimes you want to go into the studio at 10 o' clock at night, and it can just get fatiguing after a while. People were like, "In 6 to 9 months, you’ll have a studio," and I started talking about my album, but now we’re 18 months in and just about starting. When the studio is done, I could see myself taking a break and then coming out with an album. For now, I’ve been working on a lot more music than I’ve been releasing, and part of the reason is just that the songs I’ve been releasing were just really successful, which is not something we planned on.
It’s sort of silly when a song like "The Middle" had such an incredibly long lifetime -- and it still feels fresh -- to release something quick after that. I give it time, let it live organically and then move on.
After such a successful single, is one of the questions, "How do I follow up something like that?"
It gets harder! I’m not going to lie, it’s a difficult balance to find. My next song, which is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever done in my entire life -- I’ve done Zedd for 9 years, I’ve been in a band for 8 or 9 years and then I did classical music for a long time before that -- it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever done in my life. It really combines all of that together: There’s a lot of jazz, a lot of rock elements, a lot of real drums in it, there’s some very obvious Zedd-sounding electronic elements, some vocoder stuff that the more recent stuff has been known for and I feel like it really pulls everything together.
Judging just by a lot of your biggest hits, you seem to favor female vocalists on your tracks. Is that just what you prefer? What about female voices do you think works so well with your productions?
I think if I had a choose, I way prefer songs by female vocalists. Every song I make, when I get 80 percent done with the track, I make a list of 8 to 10 singers -- for "The Middle," it was like 12 -- and the key of the song predetermines that list based on a range. I’m not picking artists I just want to work with, I’m picking artists that make sense for the song.
For my upcoming song, for example, I had a list of 10 singers and only wanted to reach out to five at first. There were four female and only two male vocalists that could have the criteria of the voice that I’m looking for that I could think of. It’s predetermined, and there are only a few guys who could sing certain songs. There are also some songs I’ve done that I’ve really wanted to have a guy, but I also think that oftentimes female vocalists are a little more emotional. There’s emotional guys out there like Sam Smith: I’ve worked with Sam once and the emotion I got out of being in the room with him was just goosebumps. There’s a magical combination of my sound and a female vocal, and I don’t know why.
When you have these songs with such long lifespans, you must have these very unqiue, singular experiences with the vocalists like Maren Morris, Alessia Cara and Katy Perry, because you're performing them all over the world at different events. What are those mini eras like for you guys?
I do, totally. It sounds weird, because it’s just one song, but I can confidently say I’ve spent more time on one song than more people spend on a lot of songs or an album. I wish I wasn’t like this, because there are producers I know who are much better than I am who tend to work ten-times faster than me. It takes me a long time, though. When I record a vocal, I don’t only record it for a day, but it takes me a week to cut it and look at every breath and syllable. It’s a ton of work, and it’s like a family for as long as the song is alive before we move onto the next. They’re like mini relationships, and they’re strange, but it’s much more than a song. To me, the era of "The Middle" is way past just a song. There are other artists who release songs monthly, and I feel like they’re not as much their babies. My songs are genuinely my babies, and I’m very happy with every artist I’ve worked with. We do so many performances and versions and I get really close to my collaborators.
And by getting closer to your collaborators, that must also strengthen the connection these songs have with audiences.
I was just recording vocals for one of the songs I’m working on, and the conversations I was having were about what car they drove or what they did with their time off, because I want to make sure that the singer I’m working with is actually genuinely connected to the song. Those things matter, because you either believe it or you don’t believe it. I’ve made mistakes like that in the past, where I didn’t connect the dots and maybe didn’t pick the right singer, but I’ve learned from it. Authenticity is incredibly important.
You must've gone into this year somewhat knowing what you wanted to get done and release into the world and, following "The Middle," there was obviously interest in what you had up your sleeve next. Is it hard to keep those things a secret before you're allowed to talk about them?
Yes, especially because I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a song, and I’ve actually never spoken about the song whatsoever. It’s hard not to say anything, however, I’ve conditioned my fans really well to know that I don’t really talk about my personal life, because I want my music to be the reason people talk about me. I never wanted to be famous; I just wanted my music to be known. And, when I’m ready, I’m never going to keep them in the dark unless I have to for one reason or another. I wish I could post teasers, but all I can say is that I’m really close to being done with a song -- hopefully in the next week or so -- and then it will come out as soon as the first available date comes up.
This interview has been edited and condensed.