I Left My Wallet In El Segundo But I Can Just Venmo You When We Get To Ibiza
I Left My Wallet In El Segundo But I Can Just Venmo You When We Get To Ibiza
A guy walks into four bars, no eight bars, wait 16 bars, yeah, this one's gonna be a hit
Swedish DJ Eric Prydz may admit to a fear of flying, but he's not afraid to take his crowd on soaring emotional journeys. Besides recent travails: a CHVRCHES collaboration, 2014's EPIC 3.0 MSG headline performance, Four Tet and Deadmau5 going gaga over his track "Opus" last year, there's more. It's been many moons, but this talented human conceived the global dance sensation "Call On Me." Yes, it borrowed heavily from a sensual Steve Winwood melody, but isn't there great power in deflecting attention on cultural milestones? Also, the world needs more dance, like it needs more clean water, less perpetual warfare, and more enrollment options favoring spandex onesie thongs. And now, Prydz switches gears from from jet-setting, to jetting politely through bits and pieces of his prodigious career. Here he speaks with with Beats 1 DJ Zane Lowe.
[Disclosure: Conversation appears slightly condensed from original version]
Zane: This is pretty crazy. You released 30 plus songs last year, and yet, this is your debut album, coming out in 2016.
Eric: I think I just made up my mind that I actually need to release music. I make music because I want to play it out, and then releasing music for me is kind of secondary in a way. I just decided from now on I'm going to start putting out music. I kind of got a little bit over excited, I think, last year.
Z: No, come on, man. It became a treat for people to hear a new record at a gig, and it was something that you got as a reward for buying the ticket, you got to hear something new, and then people traded information, "Did you hear that record? Did you hear that record?" Sometimes you would then release it for people, and we'd all be like [gasps]. You did that faithfully for a long time. I think it was really cool last year that you bombarded us with a deluge of great music. It was almost the anti thing.
E: Yeah, it was. A lot of people, fans and stuff, started hitting me up, emailing us privately, "Eric is not quitting, is he? Is Eric in Thailand? What's going on? Is Eric sick? What's going on?" I didn't even think of it that way. It was the celebration of the ten years on my label Pryda, and we'd already had a plan for that, to release a big album split up in three parts.
Z: How do you know a song is done?
E: Tracks are very rarely done. For me it's always like, "What if I add that?"
Z: Have you ever been satisfied at the end of a session, where you've gone, "I really can't add anything to that piece of music." What's the closest you've got?
E: "Opus" that I just did. I did that in half an hour.
Z: Come on, wait a minute. You did the whole thing in half an hour?
E: I needed a finale for "EDC Las Vegas," when I did that. I was on the tour bus and I had the actual riff previously. I went through all these ideas because I have... whatever, hundreds of them. I was like, "Oh, yeah, I like this," but it wasn't finished. It's only... I think it's six bars. It's supposed to be eight.
Z: You made a whole career out of doing things on a grand scale but from a very humble footing. That's what I think is really interesting about you. You're not somebody that stands on top of a mountain with your arms wide open, trance hands. It's not your style. You're understated. Yet the music you make it euphoric.
E: Yeah. It's euphoric in that kind of melancholy and sad... It's me listening to way too much Depeche Mode and Alphaville and all this stuff when I was growing up.
Z: Your whole style is to find those wonderful riffs, those little cadences, little moments, which you could on loop and loop and loop, and then you let the bass create the emotion around it.
E: Yeah. That's actually very true. You have the emotional part and the melodies, but you have the aggressive energy. The combination of those two elements is part of my trademark, I think.
Z: Do you feel like an outsider when you're playing festivals in some respects? I'll qualify that question. Because of the music ... We just described what you do, effectively, and yet so much of the music on these festivals and on these bills is, in my opinion, and I'm not trying to be insulting, I just feel it's more linear ...
E: It's generic.
Z: In some respects, and in other respects it's like, what I do is energy, or what I do is this, what I do is that." There aren't too many people on the bill, I think, that are trying to press the emotional button. For me, I would liken it to going to a heavy metal festival and watching the Deftones. They really stand out because they don't mind putting the emotion up front alongside the aggression.
E: I do think that a lot of acts, and a lot of DJs, these days, they will go with what they know works, and they're going to take the easy road every time. Business-wise and for them as a brand, I think they see it more like a business. They're going to go the route where they know 100% that there's going to get a pay off. I don't give a fuck, really. I will go and I play what I want, and some people don't get it at all. Every show you catch a few of them and they're like, "What the fuck was that?" That's how I've been doing it.
You want to smash it, but I don't really see myself competing against Calvin Harris and Tiesto. For me it's different styles of music. Do you feel like that sometimes when you were on the radio? When you would come on after someone else has been DJing ...
Z: When I was at the BBC, my show was generally speaking the beginning of the evening schedule into night time, into early morning. The term that used to get used internally was "it's the breakfast of specialist," because in radio terms generally the breakfast show in the morning is the start of the day, the schedule. It's a very important slot. It's what brings the biggest audience, generally speaking. The aim of a radio station is to hold that audience for as long as possible, traditionally. Then it would get to me, and I would then try and hold onto as many people by being more adventurous musically and playing new music, and not being so daytime orientated and getting off the playlist and going into our own personal selections, and try to hold that audience to then get them throughout the night.
E: Looking back on when you were over at the BBC Radio 1, whenever I would listen to your show, it was very different from what the other people were doing. It seemed like you came on and you would play the most random ass tracks from nowhere, and then jump into something else.
Z: I would have done that for free, because that freedom of being able to choose what you want to play, and not being told that you're a genre based DJ, was the absolute, and I say this time and time again, the absolute perk of that show. That was the gold dust. What it ultimately led to was Beats 1, because that's what Beats 1 is. You can turn on Beats 1 now and you can hear the Internet next to Tobias Jesso Jr. Next to Eric Prydz. That confidence of doing that show for that many years made me realize that actually as long as you program the songs in a way whereby they're all really authentic and brilliantly made and true, straight and true to what they do, then you can be a genreless enterprise.
E: Obviously now on Beats 1 you can tell that you're allowed to do what you want.
Z: Never being on a leash. That's been the ultimate pay off. Radio was never the term we wanted to be fair. We only had about two months, but spent as long as we could trying to think of a new term for radio, because we didn't want to come about and go, "We're building a radio station." We wanted to leave as much of the old tradition behind as possible. Can you imagine the bullshit fucking names we came up with trying to reinvent the term "radio"?
E: Oh, shit.
Z: We didn't have a solution, so we had to be radio. But we're more an experience with music fans, a shared experience between artist and music fan than we are like a radio station. Radio to me really is the heartbeat of a local community, of a city, of a town. It tells you where the traffic is. It tells you what's going on. It tells you what fucking corny shit happened that night on TV that was funny. It takes the piss out of local celebrity. That's very important and it needs to exist, but we're in 100 countries and 24 hour time zones. Right now someone just heard your show at 3:00 in the morning. Very different experience to hearing it at 3:00 in the afternoon.
E: What have been the things that surprised you most now six months in?
Z: I think the thing that I've really learnt is that context and contrast are two words I'm a huge fan of since I've been involved in Beats 1. The contrast of a show like The Chronic being on in the morning in Sydney creates a new context for that music and that audience, and it works. I think the contrast, the dynamic of one thing and another thing clashing against each other sometimes, that's when great things happen. Atoms get made that way. I think that's been fucking interesting. That's been cool.
Z: What's also been surprising is how into it the artists are. I don't think there was any guarantee, given how busy you are, Pharrell Williams, or Q-Tip, or Soulection, St. Vincent, would they maintain it? Way too much hard fucking work. But broadcasting and that connection with your audience is addictive.
E: How did it feel when you knew that you were going to set this whole thing up for them? Was that stressful?
Z: Yeah. I get anxious thinking about it, because it was the most frantic, insane 14 weeks of certainly my professional life. When we arrived in L.A., my family and I, I went to work the next day. We had precisely three months that day to build it from scratch. We had nothing. We knew we wanted to bridge that gap between promotion, which to us was a dying enterprise, and audiences that still wanted to hear from their artists, but didn't want them be interviewed by me the same way anymore, like selling records by doing it. It just was becoming stale to me, and I'm the one that's getting the biggest kick out of it, because I get to talk to you. If I'm finding that experience kind of stale, imagine what the audience and the artist is feeling.
It really was a race against time. We would run from office to office, like run down the corridor because you had some news you had to give somebody. What are you really going to save by saving seven seconds by running instead of walking? That's how it felt. It's like those competitive cooking shows where it's like, "Two minutes, fellas. Two minutes," and then utensils down. You're looking around you and someone's garnishing and they're laying out their plate, and they're doing this sprinkle and they're doing their nice spread of foam. I'm still boiling the fucking egg. I'm not going to be boiling the fucking egg. I'm going to be presenting by the time it's ready to go.
I think you have to be quite obsessive about making music to pour as much of yourself into it as you do. I am. I'm obsessive compulsive. I think that works very well in the artistic frame of work. I think it's one of the places where you can utilize it. I wondered whether or not you heard things that would really put you off in records you made five, six years ago and ones that are made now?
E: I do think that by maybe 2002, 2003, when I set up my own record labels and started to release music without having record companies telling me what to make, how it should sound, what it should look like, I remember feeling at that point that I was not finished but I was ready ... I had graduated from learning how to take an idea that I had within my head, an idea for a track, and actually have the tools and the know-how to take it from the idea stage and from the head and put it on a CD. From then on, I could just create. If I had an idea, I knew how to ...
Z: You could tap into yourself very effectively.
E: Yeah. That's normally how I do tracks in my head. Everyone can hum a tune in their head, but I think being a professional musician it's about taking those ideas and be able to put them down and be able to have an actual product out of them.
Z: You're sounding so synonymous with that though now. I'll be listening to your show or your music in the car and you'll be holding onto a groove for two or three minutes, and I know that there's a bass shift coming. You're going to go down, and you're going to go up, and you're going to reach that emotional moment. You're going to change it and feel something. I think your style ... in the same way, no one can do what Geoff Barrow does in Portishead, no one. You can take ten, fifteen, twenty years to make a Portishead record, which you probably will now, and no one can replace. I don't think anyone ... and you must be very proud of this, there isn't anybody who does the Eric Prydz sound.
E: What about you, Zane? You produce music, but you do it more in association, almost in…
E: Yeah, in collaboration.
Z: I used to be a lot more driven by my own thing. I used to make hip hop pretty much exclusively as far as music. I would only really make hip hop beats, and I produced some records in New Zealand on those terms. My DJing thing took off, so I started making records to play out, just like you're saying, just wanted to make beats to play out. I'd never get on the mic and go, "Yo, this is something I made earlier!" I knew it was, and it gave me confidence, and it made me feel happy that I was playing original things. I never finished them. I was one of those producers that never finished them. I just couldn't get them done. That was when it changed for me.
I realized that maybe that's not my calling. My calling isn't to be that kind of producer, to go out there and make records, one every couple of months, put it on Beatport, see it climb or drop, make another one, tour. What I was really searching for was an opportunity to learn. I'd be making music on my own for a long time, and it's lonely, you know that. It can be lonely.
E: It can be, yeah.
Z: I wanted to collaborate. I wanted to have a camaraderie and a mutual learning experience, so I started doing writing sessions, and I started out doing those sessions as kind of speed dating sessions where every day you would go into a studio and work with someone you'd never met before and try to drum up some magic. For the most part ... it's not pointless because you always get something out of it, but it doesn't often bear great fruits.
But that led me to getting some relationships, moving where I did. I got to write with people that I knew and then things started to happen. I loved it and I miss it. I knew when I moved to L.A. to do Beats 1, that would have to sit on the sideline for a while because this needed full attention. I look forward to going back to that. It's good for the soul.
It's actually brought a new layer for me in broadcasting too. I would go in the studio during the day and I'd hang out and make music with my friends. We'd get something great, and then I would bring that to the observational standpoint of being a broadcaster. I wasn't just on the outside looking in all the time. I'd been in the room, I'd been in the process, I'd been privy and privileged enough to see what it was like, to make a record with Sam Smith or Future or whoever, and then I'd go on the radio and I'd take that kind of knowledge and put it in the back of my mind, and the words came out better, and the experience was more fun for me. I do love it.
That leads me to my question as well. I think a lot of your fans recognize that you've never been one of those DJs or producers who's looked to high profile collaborations or high profile vocalists or anything of that nature. You've never peppered your records with anything that I think is there to facilitate a hit record or anything like that. You're finding a way to lead the melody yourself. Is there a mentality behind that?
E: Yeah. The mentality is the track above anything else, and don't try and compromise
Z: You must have been pressured though at times to put vocals on things?
E: Yeah. I had that with a very famous independent record company in the UK, where the head of the company actually came to the studio, like in the movies, with a briefcase stacked with 100 pound bills, the whole bag
Z: You're like, "No, that doesn't work for me."
E: Yeah. I knew that if I did that record in the way that they wanted to, I couldn't stand for it. It wasn't me anymore. It was something that would become a big hit. It would have probably been a number one record in the UK. I had it with other records as well, like "Piano," which was an instrumental track that I made. It was number two in the UK as an instrumental track. Seal wrote a vocal for it that was amazing. Timberland did something on it as well. We had all these things. It took the track to a place where I felt I'm not comfortable there. It was a hit. It was a number one smash, but I was like, "No."
Z: How much of that was a reaction to the fact that you had such a colossal hit record so early on in your career with the song "Call On Me," which I'm sorry, to this day is a fucking tune. I think a lot of people think of that song as being a red herring. It was a moment where people thought of you in some way, but it wasn't who you were. How did you feel when it was a smash? What was that time in your life like?
E: I didn't expect it to be. When it was first getting traction in clubs and stuff, you had people playing it. It was something else. It was seven and a half minutes. It was another type of track, but then it got signed to a big record company and the edit was made and a video.
Z: Did you like the video?
E: I liked the video but it's not me. I didn't have anything to say about it. They're like, "You signed this. We can do what the fuck we want."
Z: I've got a story about that video. That video was directed by a very, very good friend of mine. [inaudible 00:49:28] directed that video. He was this very young aspiring ad director/video director, wanted to get into that world. It was very early on in his journey. He's done great, by the way. He said, "I'm doing this Eric Prydz video, this dance video." I was like, "What do you do? It's an instrumental. What do you do?" He's like, "I've got an idea, mate. I've got an idea." We all watched that video for the first time, and we were all just doubling over laughing. I think you answered it so eloquently. I like the video but it's not who you are. I think that's how a lot of people felt. They watched it going, "This isn't the kind of thing that I find necessarily I'm going to go hunting for, searching for, but fuck if it isn't funny or enjoyable or entertaining.
E: For me, I'm super happy about "Call On Me" the single, and what happened to it, and that it became super successful and all that. I don't take pride in the track, because Steve Winwood wrote the melodies in it. I added some beats, I changed the arrangement around, and somehow it connected with the audience. I'm happy it happened, but at the time I was on a different musical journey. This was just some side project that I did. It took me a half an hour to make, just a fun thing on the side. I already had my path with my labels and Pryda and the whole progressive house underground stuff and the techno with CirezD that I was doing. Then all of a sudden this happened, and I got a bunch of new Eric Prydz "Call On Me" fans that started turning up to the shows. I would open up with a John Mull record. They're like, "What?"
Z: It's a long road back, isn't it?
Z: Do you still play it out?
E: Never, never. Last time was 2005. I was spit at, thrown glass bottles and stuff, and there's a video clip of this. Eric Prydz gets booed in Canada in 2007 when I went there for my first tour. They were going crazy because I didn't play "Call On Me." It got so bad they had to come and get security to protect me. I didn't have the track with me.
Z: Were you in Swedish House Mafia?
E: No. There was an early version of Swedish House Mafia that I might have been a part of. All of us living in Stockholm, we're all best friends. It was just us hanging out all the time. All our studios were at the same place in the center of Stockholm. Then in 2004 when "Call On Me" exploded, I decided to move to the UK because I wanted to start touring properly and stuff like that. They continued and they took the name, and they made it into something else.
Z: When it popped, man, when "One" happened, it felt like it happened ... It felt like something nitrous.
E: The planets were aligned and there was a new generation of club kids just coming into the scene, and they had this charisma together on stage that no one else really had. Boom, biggest act in the world.
Z: It must have been interesting watching your friends you'd grown up with. Obviously you were firmly established already, so you knew your future was bright. I look at Swedish house mafia as being ... they are like day one of EDM.
E: Yeah, I think so too, but they did it in a classy way. EDM is now ... Then people didn't call it EDM. It was just very accessible high energy party music. It came with the energy that they had, they just really work together. It was a good thing that I left, because if I was still there and I had a say in this whole thing, it would never have become as successful as it did. I was like, "No, dude, that's fucking cheese. Don't do that." I would just destroy the whole thing. One of the best things that happened to SHM was that I just moved out of the country and they could just do their thing.
Z: The dark lord is gone!
E: Yeah. They did it fucking perfectly.
Z: What I really like about your path is it doesn't feel like it's been easy money. You've been able to navigate that terrain tastefully. How challenging has that been, given how stupid it's become in terms of size and events and money? It's the fastest growing music business in America.
E: Yeah. Still, to this day, if that briefcase with money comes, I'm going to say no again. I've always just done what I think is right for me as this music geek making music. Everything else has just fallen in place.
Z: For me that's one of the things I admire the most about you, is that you've been able to carve so much success for yourself whilst giving your fans such a long lasting satisfaction. The consistency and the quality, which we throw around as a phrase at Beats 1 a lot ... on a bad day when it all feels like there's too many questions and not enough answers, the only thing you've got to remember is quality and consistency. Those are the two key ingredients that will give you longevity. I really admire that. I really admire that you stuck to your guns and been so prolific and so in charge of your own destiny.
E: Maybe I'm super naïve. I'm that kid that ... I'm not going to do my homework, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to listen to you, I'm just going to go play with my toys. That's what I've been doing, but somehow it's been beneficial for me in my career.
Z: You're still doing that. You're still going in the main house like, "I'm not going to do as I'm told, I'm not going to eat my greens, I'm going into my man cave and I'm going to play with my toys."
E: It's true. I get paid to do it now. It's the perfect scenario. I'm kind of curious, are you a DJ, a producer, a broadcaster?
Z: I think it all starts with being a fan, and when you're a kid and you hear it, and you realize that that is going to be your defining guide, that it won't be cars, or it won't be the culinary arts, or it won't be sports, or it won't be this or that, it's music, and you realize that, and so then you find the magic and it sparks your imagination, and where you take that magic, how it makes you feel, whether it's making records, or talking about records, or releasing records, or managing artists who make records, or building tech companies that create platforms for records, it all comes from the same place. I think that ultimately through success or otherwise, if you can retain that ultimate image of yourself being a music fan ... Rick Rubin is one of the biggest music fans I've ever met in my life. He's made his entire life out of being a really big music fan with great taste. I think that's a great combination.
E: Yeah. People like to ask that question. DJ or producer? For me it's the same thing. I use the medium of DJing to perform the music I love. If it wasn't that, I would use a piano. For me it's the same thing.
Z: Dude, I know that in some point in the next couple of months Season 1 is going to come to its natural conclusion. Can we go on the record now and say there will be a Season 2?
Z: Fucking Eric Prydz