deadmau5 joined Zane Lowe on Apple Music to run through his ‘At Home With’ playlist. The conversation evolved into a curious interview where Joel talked about a few glowing topics. The world-renown Canadian talent talks about how it feels to be a musician in isolation, collaborating with The Neptunes on “Pomegranate”, the connection between dance music and heavy metal and more.
Joel Thomas Zimmerman was very active last month, as he was involved in a Fortnite concert and releasing ‘Pomegranate’ with the Neptunes. Dive into some highlights from the interview below.
What it’s like to be a musician in isolation:
deadmau5: Yeah. I’m just kind of sitting around and kind of coming up with ways to keep it going without having to leave the house. And that’s a big challenge. I mean maybe for the musician in general, it’s not really much of a paradigm shift because I’m the self-isolating champion from 2004 and onwards. Yeah. So the cool thing we’re going to see is we’re going to see this whole big influx of new music from people that normally would be out touring all the time and didn’t have time to make new music and stuff like that. So artists we already know, you know?
On how his record label has fared during isolation:
deadmau5: Matter of fact, we’re doing Mau5trap Monday. Just basically me at home in the studio live on a stream where people submit their demos and we listen to them. And you wouldn’t believe how many artists we’ve procured Mau5trap from doing these ad hoc kind of streams and stuff. That’s like one way that we’re doing it where it’s like kind of fan interactions/producer interaction with the label where we can listen to demos, keep a note pad of ones that are catching our ears.
Collaborating with The Neptunes on ‘Pomegranate’
Zane Lowe: Yeah. They do what they want. To see you with them to me was a real joy because three of the greatest producer on the planet right now. So tell us about the experience, how it came to be, what the vibe was.
Deadmau5: Honestly, it was just out of the tracking, that’s actually the track without Pharrell singing on it and all that stuff. It’s actually been kicking around for five years, just sitting in my burner pile of ideas and stuff. I caught wind of them, “Hey, we’re getting the band back together,” thing last year. I thought, “Well, hey, let me go through my spank tank of stuff and see if anything catches your ear.” Pharrell had to listen to that old demo, which was originally titled “Rupert.” So, I played it to him and he had a head nod. He said, “I’ll tell you what, I’m in Miami. If we met up in the studio…” I’ve had some interactions with Pharrell in the past, it wasn’t that awkward, “Oh, what’s he like?” when you’re going to work with him.
There was some already some familiarity there. I’ve never met Chad, though. He’s so talented, that guy, just as a musician, even just bring a Moog into the studio and just let them, Rick Wakeman, the thing to death.
Zane Lowe: It’s a great story about how the synth line of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” came to be, and how the synths were all live and they were playing it back to Chad for the first time. He just walked up and said, “Hit record while it’s playing back. Record that channel.” He did that line once and once only, and then walked out.
Deadmau5: Yeah, get her done. I like it.
Zane Lowe: Yeah, me too. For you, what were the key differences in the way that you work, that you appreciated that you saw that’s different to them and different to you? Cause I’m sure there was a tone, but what was one that really stood out for you?
Deadmau5: Well, when we were in Miami… My end, like I said, was more or less conceptualized and printed out and roughed in. So, there was really nothing I could do except for to sit in the back and crack jokes and that’s about it, and just watch them do their thing, which was amazing. Because Pharrell’s a busy guy.
He literally walks into the studio, walks behind the mic, played the track, and then just starts humming out word vomit. I was like, “Why isn’t anyone recording this right now?” But then I’m thinking like, “Wait a minute. It’s not like he can’t do this again, so just let him do his thing.” He got halfway through with no writing, obviously. He’s like, “Yeah, we should do this, we should do that.” I was like, “Okay.”
So, the collaboration, I think really happens between everyone in the sense that they already know how to do their own thing and they do it. It’s not a democracy where it’s me liking this and him liking that. You do you, I’ll do me. I’ve already done me. Then, Chad will do Chad, and then that is the collaboration. It’s bringing those elements together, not so much as inventing on the fly.
On His Connection To Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl:
deadmau5: The Foo Fighters connection is, I don’t know. I’ve had so many random run-ins with Dave Grohl, not even like in working things, but just more like we’re playing the same festivals a lot. We had a lot of mutual friends when I was in LA and stuff. So, we’d see each other out and about. And he’s just such a funny guy.
On the connection between Heavy Metal and Dance Music:
deadmau5: That was our clique in high school, man. We were all about death metal.
Zane Lowe: It’s some of the biggest names in dance music all share that in common. What is the common thread between that dynamic of the heavy sh*t that found its way into dance music, do you think?
deadmau5: I think it’s the adversity of the mainstream. You know, I feel like we all just listened to heavy metal because we all just wanted to really annoy our parents and teachers and everyone else who was kind of part of the pop culture vibe when we were kids, you know? Not to say we were going to use this when we’re grown up and we’re all big EDM superstars. We had no idea, we didn’t care, we just liked the adversity of the sound in terms of what was the mainstream.
On approaching music analytically vs. emotionally:
deadmau5: Again, I have an analytical mind when it comes to music so I’m never listening for a feeling, I’m listening and I’m hearing, what synth is that? It’s like going to an art museum and then being a person whose specifically 24/7 job is to analyze paint compounds. It’s weird for me.
Zane Lowe: Do you get feeling from your own music? When you finish something, do you get a sense of an emotion?
deadmau5: For me, it’s a journey of trying to sonically craft something that is interesting to the ear and the mind and the connection between the two, as opposed to going for a feeling.
Zane Lowe: Why did you choose to go into music and make it your ultimately a big part of your life’s work as opposed to something that you perhaps had an emotional reaction to, a feeling to, why music?
deadmau5: Because it was the thing I learned first. Honestly, in the same parallel with the same thinking and the same kind of mindset, the way I think, creating film or screenplay writing and stuff like that could have all been there. …or a screenplay writing and stuff like that, could have all been in this same vein. I could have done that. Because if you want to express a feeling or express a mood or convey feelings into people, actually film would have been way easier to do that.
But that’s good. But that’s good because that’s what music does. It’s unique to the listener. It’s not me barking down the pipe to say, “Hey, I need you to feel a certain way.”
deadmau5 Tells Apple Music About Kraftwerk…
Zane Lowe: Kraftwerk was a band that influenced everything. They’re in everything. I never felt with Kraftwerk, though, that I was getting an emotional reaction from people who were emotional making the music. And further to what you said before, I wonder if you recognized that in them?
deadmau5: I can’t speak for him, but I think that was the point, to be the anti emotional reaction and be like, “Well, we’re not trying to say, create a community of robots, in a manner of speaking, that people can come have some kind of emotional attachment to, or these machines that convey a certain sense of human traits, like identity or emotion or expressiveness.”
I think they were like the nihilists, trying to say that the soulless nameless faceless identity makes a sound and this is what it is. And don’t you dare try to pin this a feeling around it. I mean that would be one way to look at it.
deadmau5 talks about Wolfgang Gartner:
Zane Lowe: Watch out, we’re getting into big banger territory here. This is probably one of the closest things in this playlist that we’ve got to an EDM classic, Illmerica by Wolfgang Gartner. This is like a big monstrous EDM moment, isn’t it? Let’s just not even going to apologize here.
deadmau5: It was proto animal rights. It was the prototype for that. And then he ended up taking it, he’s like, “Yeah since I did most of the work and it’s pretty much already done, I’m just going to put it out.”
And I was like, “Yeah, you do you, man.” Was swearing him up and down after that.
Zane Lowe: So why are we playing it then?
deadmau5: Because of Wolfgang in his moment, man. That dude, he’s been through so much, really, in his personal life, I’m sure. But like for him to just pull this together and banger after banger after banger. And then we connected and we did a couple of tracks together. And it was a good time.
On listening to younger artists:
deadmau5: …as I’m getting older in my career is now me listening to younger artists. I see a lot of or hear a lot of me in them, and sometimes that attracts me to them. But other times it repels me completely. There’s a fine line between hearing what they’ve taken away from you and then hearing what they’ve completely ripped off of you. It’s a big gray line. So you could say, that exact same body of work, you could either decide that they’re ripping you off or they’re heavily inspired by you.
Why Richie Hawtin is the embodiment of techno:
deadmau5: He’s been influential in the sense of local guy from my area where I grew up and he was kind of the ringleader of all things techno in terms of the community. We’re talking late ’90s, early 2000 rave community kind of thing. He was techno embodiment and it’s like you could have sworn this guy was from Berlin but he’s from Windsor, Ontario. Look, there’s this embodiment of technology and it’s this guy. I swear he was the casting figure for the nihilists in the Big Lebowski.
He’s the guy. So I thought, wow, that’s sterile as f*ck. I like it, and I love this sterile sound. And then as I investigated him as a performer and as a producer, you start to dig a little deeper about how technologically influenced he is. And how he’s really reaching out and then exploring new methods to do things. That extends into his music, into his live shows, especially where he’s incorporating just out there technology or really obscure protocols to perform.
Because he’s always had the same problem I’ve had, that not a lot of DJs today have, which is, how do I do this on stage that doesn’t involve me playing a record at the same speed of another record? That is a huge question, and he’s done many things to answer that so that he was really a moving force in my upbringing, musically and performance-wise. It’s like, okay, nothing’s stopping me from showing up in the USB key. But, man, I would love to make this a little more technically immersive in a way that I could showcase that and other people would understand that it’s technically immersive.
On becoming an EDM Boomer and sharing his secret playlist:
deadmau5: If anyone ever asked me, what kind of music do you listen to? I would easily point to this because this is something I can listen to while I work. I don’t put it on when we have dinner guests or whatever.
Zane Lowe: You have dinner guests?
deadmau5: Kelly has dinner guests. I make PAs. I come in and, “Hi. Okay, I’m going to be in the pool house. If you need anything, just let me know. If you can’t get the Sonos system working, just give me a shout or whatever.”
Zane Lowe: Got it.
deadmau5: So techno, that’s what I like to still hang on as to what is techno. I always techno and I’m like, “All right. Okay, well, okay, boomer.” That’s like a boomer techno. But, I mean, my boomer techno is Rrose and all that stuff. And that’s the stuff that I like. The no fucks given, I’m just so pure into this kind of thing. And I almost feel bad for advocating it because now it’s my secret playlist is out and everyone really knows. And then those people get discovered and it’s good for them because it supports them as artists too.
Zane Lowe: And you’ve given it to a loving pair of hands. We’re happy to share. And now we have the okay boomer disclaimer so you’re covered as well.
deadmau5: I’m an EDM boomer. I’m totally an EDM boomer by now, for sure.
deadmau5 also shared anecdotes about working with Portugal and Trent Reznor. You can watch this curious interview in the video below.