Eight years ago, a budding Vermont-raised DJ and radio station manager left the snowy East Coast for Los Angeles and the three Ws: weather, women and work. Sunny So-Cal continues to please him; he has completed three successful studio albums (a fourth is due this fall) and delivers remixes for the likes of Madonna, Underworld and even Daft Punk on the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. The producer who is continuing his Palms residency, headlining Perfecto at Rain on July 9, talks about his track-making process.
This year has been huge for you. Along with your residency at the Palms, you were nominated for a Grammy for your remix of Nadia Ali’s “Fantasy.” How was the Grammy Awards experience?
I’d been before; I didn’t have seats this good last time. I do some volunteer work for the Academy, and it was funny because I got Afrojack tickets to go, and he won. He got written in last minute and was like, “I’m desperate, I can’t even get tickets.” I was like, “I’m playing this guy’s music. I need to hook him up.” So he was able to go and get good seats.
That was mighty nice of you. It was your first Grammy nomination, for “The Longest Road (Deadmau5 Remix),” that put you on the music map. How did that project come about?
He was just getting known, and I think it was even before the mouse head. My friend played me a track and I was like, “I need to hire him to remix my track.” He started getting more famous and the label kept saying, “this is a lot of money…” so I put my foot down and said, “we have to hire this guy, he’s going to blow up.” Sure enough, he blew up. You just gotta go with your gut.
The vocalist on that track, Lissie, also sings “Fight for You” and “Believe” off Believe. What’s the songwriting process like?
It’s 50/50. Like “The Longest Road,” Lissie had written three or four pages, and we needed to condense it. You consolidate. I was like, “What about this line, ‘the longest road’? This reminds me of the desert.” It’s inspired by Joshua Tree [National Park], that and relationships. So she wrote and I scrapped the lines I didn’t like. We’d fight and yell; it’s this process. It’s fun.
What do you consider when writing lyrics?
It’s always a personal experience, but never a direct personal experience. It’s a culmination of things, a story, a narrative, little bits of relationships that went sour. It’s a whole mix of things. The words have to be singable. It’s got to immediately work.
How long does it take you to produce a track?
Oh, man, forever. It can be a week, it can be a couple months; one song took six months. It’s almost like pulling teeth in the early stages because you’re starting with nothing. But once you have that spark, you get that momentum—it sort of snowballs.
With your most recently completed album due this fall, you must have been living in the studio. What are some details on the album?
A new single will be out this month, a song I did with BT. There’s a song with Angela McCluskey from Télépopmusik, two songs with Tegan and Sara, a song with Nadia Ali. On this new record there’s a big emphasis on songwriting, but it’s tough and fun, a little bit less melancholy. On this new record they’re all pretty much love songs in different variations: love or sex.
Your songs always convey so much emotion and tell a story, unlike a typical Beatport chart-topper or club hit, which makes your spin on electronic music so unique.
I’m trying to have lyrics that make sense. I’m not trying to dumb it down. I always think the stuff you hear on the radio is very common denominator and it works for the masses, but I’m trying to have thoughtful lyrics that are universal and apply to a lot of people’s lives.