On The Couch With... Armin van Buuren

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After the worldwide success of "Imagine," Dutch superstar DJ Armin van Buuren returns on September 14 with his much-anticipated follow up effort, "Mirage." The album features Armin's signature sweeping instrumental trance plus chart-savvy collaborations with dance music icons Ferry Corsten, BT, and Josh Gabriel, along with the talents of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Nadia Ali, Guy Chambers, Christian Burns and Adam Young of Owl City.

I recently sat down with Armin to chat about his continuing reign at dancefloors around the world as the undisputed king of trance. We also chatted about what inspired this new LP and his collaboration with Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the Nervo sisters. 

Lastly, Armin talks about DJs United, his teaming with Paul Oakenfold and Paul van Dyk to produce "Remember Love," a charity single that is a tribute to the victims who lost their lives at this year's Love Parade Festival disaster in Germany. All proceeds will be donated to the Association of Non-statutory Welfare in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany to help those who were injured and the families of those who passed. "Remember Love" will be available exclusively on Beatport.com starting on Tuesday. 

Congrats with te release of your new album. "Mirage" features both instrumental dance pieces and vocal collaborations. What was the sound you were going for on this record?
People always tend to highlight the collaborations, but half of the album is instrumental trance. The collaborations are nice, they're cool, but for me the core of the album are the instrumental songs. I'm saying this because I don't want to focus purely on the collaborations, because the instrumental tracks represent me the best. I really didn't have a specific sound I was going for. Things just fell into place organically.

So why did you decide to include the vocal collaborations? Was it a way for you to mix things up?
It's like John Lennon once said, "Life happens when you were busy making other plans." It's exactly that. We shared a few demos with peope and we hoped a few collaborations would work out and some did and some didn't. 

All of the pieces of the album all came together organically when we were in the studio developing the sound of album. 

Mostly, making this album was a lot of fun. I was able to let go of the stress of the success of "Imagine." I bought a new house, built a completely new studio behind my house to really focus on the sound of this record. 

I wanted to expand myself muscially. My main sound will always be trance, but I've been having a lot more fun by doing things differently. For example, I worked with Guy Chambers, the man behind Robbie Williams, and he taught me a lot about songwriting just sitting down with a cup of tea, a guitar and a piece of paper. That really inspired me.

I think your assignment in music is to find a balance between staying true to your own sound and trying to develop it. I want to inspire people by delivering something new and not just do the same thing. That's what I wanted with this album of vocal and instrumental tracks.

How does this new album reflect your development as an artist?
Songwriting, co-production, working with bands and orchestras and also using some of the latest production tools that are available these days. I hope that people that listen to Mirage will hear the amount of fun I had with it.

There are DJs that have been incorporating vocals to create a poppier sound. Take for example David Guetta who has had tremendous success with that. Was that something that you considered when picking your collaborations?
I've always worked with vocalists long before this whole hype started. I'm glad pop and dance music are successfully merging because it shows that thinking in genres or styles is completely rubbish. Music starts to get interesting when they start merging. I love what David Guetta has done. He's very forward thinking and is just having fun in the studio, plus he's one of the nicest guys I know.

One of the stand out tracks on the record is your collaboration with Sophie Ellis Bextor. How did that song come about.
Yes, I really like how that song came out. We had an instrumental track that we sent to the Nervo sisters. And I remember we were in my hotel room on Ibiza one time and they were singing on their Blackberries to write the song. A few days later, they had a meeting with Sophie to work on a completely different project, but they played her that song and she loved it so much that they recorded the track together.

You've produced a special charity song together with Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk to benefit the victims of the Love Parade disaster. How did that project come about?
It was an idea of Paul Oakenfold. We were all really shocked by what happened in Germany. I played Love Parade in 2008 and it was an amazing experience. We all felt that something had to be done for the victims. So many family and friends have pain from their loved ones that passed away or got injured. There will never be a second Love Parade because it is done. We wanted to step up for the victims and show them that we will never forget and always support them.I hope people go on Beatport.com and buy the single. We decided to call it DJs United and not attach our own names to the project directly. We dont want to profit from it in anyway - promotionally or financially. It's just a very serious matter and we wanted to get something done.

September 7, 2010 in Armin van Buuren, On The Couch With... | Permalink

On The Couch With... Mike Posner

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One of the hottest new pop artist to enter the mainstream spotlight this summer is Detroit's Mike Posner. Earlier this month, the producer turned singer released his much-anticipated big label debut "31 Minutes to Takeoff" on Jive/RCA that follows the release of 2 hugely successful mixtapes. The album debuted this week at #8 on the Billboard Album Chart and #3 on the Digital Album Chart. Mike is stirring up a storm on pop radio as well with his single smash, "Cooler Than Me."

I met up with Mike to have a bite to eat, play a few rounds of Connect 4 (yes, he won) and to chat about his success, his inspirations, his unique brand of hip pop and the importance of social media in his rise to mainstream fame.

In person, Mike is very much like his music - savvy, articulate and presenting himself with a style and swagger that make him one of the coolest new kids in the business. What you hear is what you get.

And he is ambitious too. In our little get together, he explains that there is a lack of male pop stars on the charts right now. He smiled, "Lady Gaga needs a prince. I plan on wearing that crown!" 

Congrats with the mainstream success of "Cooler Than Me" and your debut album. These achievements have been long in the making. For people new to your music, tell us a little more about how you got started in music.
I started playing drums when I was in fourth grade and when I was thirteen, I started making beats, becoming more of a producer and songwriter as well. Two years ago I got tired of having my ideas going through other people. As a producer, I always had to channel my creativity through other artists, I just got tired of that and I started singing. I started creating free mix CDs in my dorm room when I was a senior at Duke University. I decided to put those mixtapes on iTunes and before I knew it the word spread and in a few months it snowballed into a career. It is has been an incredible ride.

College kids were among the first to discover you and take it to a professional level for you...
Totally. It all started with me putting out the mixtapes and the word about those spread from my own social network. Simple as that.

Social media and online networking has helped you tremendously in spreading the world. In a way, you've set a standard for other acts to market their music. Do you see any drawbacks to this DIY style of marketing and producing music?
Music is more democratized than ever. Plus, you don't need a lot of money to make music. You can do it in your dorm room. And you don't need any money to get people to hear it. Record labels don't control who get big anymore, the people do. But at the same time, people are exposed to a lot more shitty artists because anybody can put stuff out. It's a double-edged sword.

Your music is blend of a lot of different genres, from dance to hip hop, and from R&B to pop. Hip hop especially seems to have influenced the way you produce and compose your music.
I grew up listening to a lot of hip hop. And I think that's what makes my lyrics different than any other singer out there. I sing my lyrics in a way that a rapper would rap his. It is in the way I structure my lyrics, not so much the melodies. For example, on "Cooler Than Me", I rhyme "designer shades" and "hide your face." Most singers wouldn't rhyme that way and if you're not a hip hop fan you may not even catch on to that.

When you decided to start singing your own songs, did you have the complete confidence you could make that work? 
I've always had confidence in my project otherwise I wouldn't have done it. When you compare my mixtapes and the CD, you can hear how much I have evolved as a singer. I definitely have grown as a singer.

As a producer, what are other producers and musicians do you look up to?
J Dilla is one of my favorite producers who is from Detroit as well. I also like Mos Def and Talib Kwali. I'm  also a big Nas guy. And Wu Tang Clan. Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin. Obviously I'm from Detroit so a lot of the Motown stuff was constantly in rotation in my house. I was lucky to be exposed to a lot of stuff from a very young age.

I'm also a huge Stuart Price fan. I met him a couple of months ago. I almost threw up [laughs]. He is the man. We were working in the same studio. He is such a pioneer for a sound that is really popping now - his "four on the floor" sound that is hitting mainstream America now. He started that a decade ago.

With your production background, do you find it harder to collaborate with other producers?
Great question. I think it only works for me if we are all really excited about collaborating. I want to work with people that I'm a fan of and that are enthused working with me otherwise I can do it myself. But at the end of the day, I'm only 22 so I love to learn as well. So when I go into the studio with Benny Blanco for example, I see all of his tricks and I come out of the studio a ten times better producer. I'm not cocky and think I can't learn from other people. So working with other producers is when I learn the most.

How do you see yourself in the pop spectrum?
When I started this project, I set out to be a credible pop artist. I want to be an artist that goes to Coachella and Bonnaroo, and still make pop music. There's nothing more important than authenticity in my music. And that's why I think the hip hop community has been supportive of me even though I'm not rapping. Plus, there are no guys really out in pop right now. Lady Gaga needs a prince. I plan on wearing that crown!

August 20, 2010 in Interviews, Mike Posner, On The Couch With... | Permalink

On the Couch With... Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars - Pub 4 - Harper Smith - 400

Bruno Mars is one pop's brightest new stars. Most of you will know him from his chart-topping collaborations with B.o.B ("Nothin' On You") and Travie McCoy ("Billionaire"), but this Hawaii-born wonder boy has a lot more on his sleeves. After focusing primarily on writing and producing for other artists (including Flo Rida’s "Right Round," and K’Naan’s "Waving Flags") together with his pals of the Smeezingtons, he recently stepped into the spotlight as the lead singer of his own material. 

You must check out his debut EP "It's Better If You Don't Understand" that showcases his genuine talent for delivering a soulful, contemporary pop sound with irresistible hooks. But don't expect him to "ride unicorns" any time soon to get attention. Currently in the studio with Cee-Lo and Mike Posner, his full-length effort will focus on quality songwriting, mashing high-energy tracks with sweet balladry. He is ready to "blow some faces off" with his forthcoming debut outing that he considers a "I told ya so" after nay-sayers discouraged him from trying for years.

Bruno and I recently met up to talk about his rise to fame and his songwriting chops. His ultimate goal is to write and perform songs that are timeless and still sound good twenty years from now. "I don't want the audience to feel embarrassed that they liked the song back in the day," he explains. Check out our entire chat after the jump.

Congrats with the release of your EP.
Yeah, thanks man. We just put it out. It is no big release or anything. I hope people enjoy to hear me sing a full song for change [smiles]

Most people are getting to know you for the first time as a singer, but you have been writing hit songs for a long time. Love to chat with you more about writing songs. You know how to write a solid hook. Who are people that inspired you as a young songwriter?
I'm inspired by people ranging from The Beatles to T-Pain and Kanye West. The Beatles especially - the songs they had were so simple. Or take John Lennon's "Imagine" for example - it is such a simple song but his performance on it is amazing and every single word on that song is accounted for. I can't help to not feel it. That's what I want to do with my music, I really want to make people feel something. Like with "Nothing On You" I wanted to touch the hearts of people all over the world. I also wanted to do something different, I mean how often have people put "girls" and "world" in a song, but it is the words that come after you it, like "I could be chasing, but my time would be wasted, because they got nothing on you," so it's already coming from an honest, genuine perspective and you're telling the truth to this woman.

By mentioning "Imagine" as an example, you set the bar really high for your own work. When you write a song do automatically strive for that level of perfection?
I think that song is a perfect example of what a combination of melody, chords and words can do. It's a timeless song that you can play today even though it was written a long time ago, and still gives you the exact same feeling. Everybody wants to write a song like that. When I write a song, I just hope I can still perform it 20 years from now and still have the same effect on people. I don't want the audience to feel embarrassed that they liked the song back in the day [laughs]

When you write music, what comes first? Melody or lyrics?
It is always different. Sometimes it can be a phrase, like "Talking To The Moon" on my EP that may make listeners wonder, "why the hell is he talking to moon?" Hopefully, when they listen to the song they know I'm going crazy and I'm basically talking to myself. With "Somewhere In Brooklyn" I just got the melody [he sings the chorus to demonstrate] and made a song out of it. It is always different. That's why I love doing music. I have so many ideas. I never know what melody will hit me today.

Are you constantly "on" getting melodies, lyrics and ideas?
Yeah, I can't turn it off. It's a bit like a blessing and a curse.

After successfully writing hits for other people, you now step out in the spotlight as a singer and performer with your EP. Why did you decide to make that move?
I always wanted to be a singer. That's why I moved to Los Angeles from Hawaii to make a career as a singer and performer. But things were hard initially and I started out in production. At a certain point somebody wanted a song that I wrote for myself for their artist. At the time I was so broke, and as much as I didn't want to sell my songs, it is something I had to do. But looking back it was the smartest thing I could have done. To put the artist thing on the side and just pray that one day somebody is going to hear me sing this demo and say "why don't we have this kid sing it?" And that is exactly what happened.

Do you consider writing Flo'rida and Ke$ha's "Right Round" a turning point for you?
I think you can say that. It was just telling us we were doing something right. We can't take full responsibility for writing that song because it was mostly a cover that we turned into a hip hop version of it. It just showed us we were on the right track and found a sound people enjoyed around the world.

So after giving us a taste with your EP are you planning to work on a full album, and when can we expect that?
Fortunately, "Billionaire" [by Travie McCoy] is really taking off so I have to do shows and travel, so it is postponing some of the writing on my album. but at the end of the month we are locking up some time to work on it. If you see the show, you'll see it is really high energy. That's what we really are going to focus on - to get some high energy songs that I can sing the shit out of [laughs]. The EP features a lot of sweet songs, but there's another side that I really want to explore.

You're really the man of the moment. Are you having a lot of artists knocking on your door to write for them?
Actually, I'm in the studio right now with Cee-Lo and Mike Posner. But moving ahead, I'm really going to focus on my own music. I don't want to put out crap because I have two big songs on the radio right now. This is my first album, you know. I want to blow some faces off! [laughs]

What's is it like to be with Cee-Lo in the studio. Any tips he's giving you?
I'm learning so much from him. He has that thing. There's people that can sing and there's people that can sang, if you know what I mean. He's that guy. I'm sure he's never had training. He just has that thing in his voice that you can hear his soul and feel that shit. I'm a big fan. He does what he wants. If he wants to write a song about being a transformer, and he does it and it is awesome. It's that mentality of I'm going to do what the fuck I'm going to do. I admire that about him.

That may be easier then said that done for most. If you're a young artist, how do you stand your ground with so many people around you telling you what to do?
I'm in a great situation because my team at the label really believes in me and they know that I can do it - I can write a song. They have a lot of faith in me. They are not trying to stylize me, or let me ride unicorns or give me some kind of gimmick. [laughs]

Now that things are taking off for you in a big way, what do you make of the fame that is part of that?
Well, for me it is a "I told you so." I told you I can do it and I told you I can write a song for the world. For a long time, people stopped believing in me or had their doubts about me. I never signed up for this to be famous, all I know to do is music. So that's what I want to do. That these songs are working is justice for me. I got through the fire and living my dream.

June 28, 2010 in Bruno Mars, On The Couch With... | Permalink | Comments (3)