Posted September 28, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Zedd’s True Colors


A classically trained musician, Anton “Zedd” Zaslavski has become one of the world’s best-known DJs and music producers. His two studio albums — 2012’s Clarity and this year’s True Colors — have sold by the truckloads and delivered crossover hits such as “Clarity,” a soaring pop anthem that features the British singer-songwriter Foxes on vocals, and “I Want You to Know,” a soulful number that features pop singer Selena Gomez. Zaslavski recently phoned us from Las Vegas, where he had just finished his residency at XS, a dance club at the Encore, and was about to catch a flight to El Paso, a date on his current tour.

I think your parents were both musicians and you had a classical background. Talk about what your childhood was like.
My parents taught piano, bass, guitar and drums. They played concerts on the side too. My parents sparked my interest by challenging me to play a song or piece. I would want to prove that I could play it. That’s how they taught me to play when I was four. After a while, they told me I was going to have a new teacher. They thought I was a little too comfortable. The new teacher was a lovely woman, but I hated that I had to go there every week. Before that, I could learn whenever I wanted and play whenever I wanted. Now, it had a regular schedule. It was almost like work. I was horrible at reading music. I would pretend I could read it. I just memorized every single piece instead of reading it. I think that is better, by the way, because you can focus on the emotion more. When I was 12, I didn’t want to do it anymore. I started playing drums with my brother. We started a band. I still played piano and wrote music, but I didn’t go to those weekly lessons. We started producing other artists. One day, I discovered my interest in electronic music and started doing it just for fun. I thought my band would be the main music.

Did your classical background help you make electronic music?
To be completely honest, it made things very easy. Piano was difficult. I was at a drum store and I had never played the drums. I sat down and started playing drums. I realized how easy it was compared to piano. That’s one of the reasons why I switched. I was lazy. By the time I started making electronic music, I had played two instruments, written dozens of songs and recorded other bands. The other thing I had to figure out was how to use those synth sounds and what plug-ins to use.

Your interest in producing electronic music was piqued after hearing by French electronic duo Justice. What did you like about that album?
I had never been into electronic music outside of Daft Punk, which for some reason, I really love. Justice to me sounded very similar outside of the fact that their production was still some of the best in the world. I still sample their stuff. I wanted to know how to do that. I didn’t know how to make kicks and snares sound that good. That’s what got me going and wanting to be better.

You didn’t like old school electronic acts like Kraftwerk?
I didn’t go out. I was a semi-shy guy who would sit at home and not really go out. I don’t know anything about electronic music’s history. I know a couple of those just because you know those. I didn’t know about the DJ world. Part of that was maybe the reason why I sounded different from anyone else. If you know too much, you start thinking about things a musician shouldn’t think about it, like is this going to work and is the crowd going to jump. I didn’t know about extended mixes and that they needed those extra 30 seconds to mix other music in. I just did it for fun.

Talk about your debut, Clarity. Prior to that album, you released a slew of singles and remixes. What was it like to make a full-length?
It was very different. I’ve doing albums in the rock world before so that helped with understanding the flow of the album. Everything I’ve done was for the first time. It was all in my hands and I didn’t know how to do transitions right. It was about making an album which means you have to have songs that bring the energy down. There’s much more than just focusing on one song at a time. I really enjoyed it.

When I finished the album, I just wanted to make another one.

Did you intend for True Colors to depart at all from Clarity?
I don’t know if I planned on that. As soon as I had the first four or five songs, they sounded very different. I like to have a concept behind each record I make. Different colors should feel different so I tried to do that all the way through the record.

The title track is very soulful. Was there something in particular that inspired it?
Not really but there is one special thing about the song. I’ve done similar songs like this before. I would give them to other artists or perform live on TV and then make them all electronic. The majority of my songs I write on the piano. Considering the concept being every song is different and has its own emotional feel, I thought that was my best excuse to put a song like that on the record. I never had the courage to do that because I was afraid people would think I had changed. It was a great feeling.

The concept of true colors allowed me to make songs that might not have a drop.

With ‘I Want You to Know,” were you in the studio with Selena Gomez?
We did it together. I had started the song before and we started recording the song with her a couple of days after I met her. I played her all my demos. It wasn’t finished yet so it was a good chance for us to work on something together.

“Transmission” features a mix of electronic music and hip-hop. Talk about the vision you had for that song.
It’s one of the first songs I’d written for this album. I love the vibe. It sounds very different. The decision to have a rap on it was very casual. When I started it, I didn’t think it was going to have a rap on it. I heard about Logic. My manager played me some of his stuff. I’m not a huge rap fan and not a rap expert at all, but I liked his stuff. I liked his timing. That’s a big thing for me. I hit him up on Twitter and said I wanted to work with him one day. He said to send him something. I sent him the demo and went to dinner. I came back and it was in my inbox. He is incredibly talented. He just produced it himself and sent me an amazing rap. I didn’t know if I could change things around. He just told me to whatever I wanted. I chopped it up a little bit and we had a rap on the record.

What was it like to work with Botnek on the tune “Bumble Bee”?
I loved Botnek and played a lot of their stuff. They wanted to work together. They sent me an idea which I really liked. I told them to come to LA. We worked on it for a year and a half. There are videos of me playing that song out two years ago. That was the first version of it. It has progressively got better and better. We finished it just in time for the record.

The Echosmith song works really well as a final track to the album. Did you put much thought in the song sequence?
Absolutely. The beginning and the end are the easier parts. I knew “Addicted to a Memory” would be the intro and I knew that “Illusion” would be the outro. When I worked with Echosmith that was one of the questions. They wanted to know what the function of it was. I told them it would be the closer and that I thought it would be too long as a single. It’s important to know the function of a song on an album. They should all be hits on the road. They should do their jobs.

Talk about what the live show is like.
My show is all about the show. That’s not always the case. We started working with this visual artist called Beeple. He’s my favorite artist. I think he’s a genius. I think he’s going to be one of the most famous animators. He got famous for making one art piece a day for the last six years. He didn’t leave Christmas or New Year’s or any day out. We asked him to work on special graphic content. We invited him to the show. We wanted him to consider doing it for half a year. We decided on the aspect ratio and resolution and he created content to work perfectly with out production. It’s very difficult to do. We have incredible content with a really, really good LED wall. For two weeks of rehearsals, all we did was just assigned visuals and thought about what kind of lighting to use. I played the first show without actually having a set. I spent all my time making the show look amazing and I didn’t work on the music yet. The last part was the music content. As a DJ, that’s fine. That’s what we’re used to. We go on and wing it and read the crowd. The most important is for people to go home having experienced something in this genre that they haven’t experienced before.

Upcoming 2015 Shows

Sept. 30

Oct. 2

Oct. 5

Oct. 7

Oct. 8

Oct. 9

Oct. 13

Oct. 16

Oct. 17

Oct. 27

Oct. 31

Cleveland, Ohio @ Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica

New York, N.Y. @ Madison Square Garden

Wallingford, Conn. @ Toyota Oakdale Theatre

Amherst, Mass. @ Mullins Center

Kingston, R.I. @ Thomas M Ryan Center

State College, Pa. @ Bryce Jordan Center

Charlotte, N.C. @ Uptown Amphitheatre

Miami, Fla. @ Bayfront Park Amphitheatre

Tampa, Fla. @ USF SunDome

Indianapolis, Ind. @ Indiana Farmers Coliseum

Minneapolis, Minn. @ Roy Wilkins Auditorium


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].