DJ-producer Justin Blau (3LAU) is having an exceptional summer that will inevitably continue well into the New Year. His forthcoming collaborative track with Dash Berlin and vocalist Bright Lights, “Somehow,” is due out tomorrow via Armada. 3LAU has a residency at Drai’s Las Vegas, he’s performing at the Philadelphia edition of Budweiser’s Made in America Festival, and he has several more significant projects slated to be unveiled to the world in the coming months. After interviewing Mr. Blau, I was left with a sense of relief. Sure, I was aware of his pianist background and his mash-up beginning in deejaying. The “relief” came from 3LAU’s admitted acceptance of failures which obviously has only served as stepping stones to his success. He’s a DJ, producer, and musician sans ego with a penchant for applying what he learns in life and adding that zest into his music – an attribute that can only help in the furtherance of his career as an artist.
Life + Times: I’m really excited about your collab with Bright Lights and Dash Berlin for “Somehow.” How did that come about? Tell me about the behind-the-scenes.
3LAU: It’s pretty interesting actually. It was originally supposed to be a remix for Dash and we didn’t really like how the vocal was sitting on the remix. We liked the track a lot, but didn’t like the vocal. It was a completely original beat. I didn’t really use anything except for the vocal. So, Dash said to me, “Hey, maybe we can finish this together.” So, he worked on it. He made it a lot better. And then I reached out to Heather (Bright Lights) to do the vocals because she’s a close friend of mine and that was kind of the whole story behind it.
L+T: Oh wow. That’s awesome. There are so many options in artists for you to collaborate with and I was just thinking about how the idea would even come together – you and Dash.
3LAU: Well yeah, he was actually supporting one of my previous records, “Escape,” and that’s kind of how we got in touch in the first place. Then, he kind of reached out to me to do a remix. I loved the song, so I said ‘yes,’ but I couldn’t nail it for that vocal. So we just got a different vocal.
L+T: Great! I didn’t want to assume. So, you’ve had an amazing summer! In July, you released “How You Love Me” in not only its original dance music format, but also in acoustic – which I am in love with.
3LAU: Aw, thank you.
L+T: No, really. All flattery aside, I really do appreciate that acoustic version and I’ll tell you why in a second. In a past interview you stated, “For me, every musical idea starts on the piano.” I know that you’re classically trained. It’s refreshing to see a producer not solely go after a good drop or something “twerkworthy.” You stepped outside of the box. So, does your production approach always stem from the piano first?
3LAU: Honestly, pretty much every musical oriented track that I work on starts on the piano. Honestly, I make some club records as well. Sometimes they start from the piano, but sometimes they start from cool drum ideas. I think anything that has a vocal on it starts with the piano. And I’m just kind of sitting on piano ideas that I’m waiting to produce right now and that’s kind of all I do for inspiration.
L+T: That’s solid. In September – this all ties in together – you’re about to drop Dance Floor Filth 4 and “Bang.” Am I missing anything? What other projects do you have planned?
3LAU: Well yeah, those are the next two pieces, but then after that I have two more pieces. One is another radio oriented record with a male vocal that I’ve been working on for almost a year now. That’s nearly finished. I’m just finalizing the vocal. Then after that record, I’m actually singing on one of my own. So that’s kind of the next four things that are happening.
L+T: Oh, this is great. Is this before or after the New Year? I have to ask this because I’m overeager. (Laughs)
3LAU: (Laughs) Yeah, no of course! The radio single will be out I hope before the end of this year. It’s a super catchy, happy-go-lucky, holiday record almost – without holiday influence in the music, it’s just a happy record. And then the one that I’m singing on will ideally come out first quarter of next year.
L+T: I’m looking forward to that. I’m sure you’re asked this a lot, but in light of the series of singles you’re dropping, when do
you plan to release an album or EP?
3LAU: Well, I think that the one that I’m singing on will be a part of a future body of work. I have a lot of music that is already written, it’s just not produced. I don’t know when in this year I will do it, but I really want to come out with a four-track EP within the first half of the year. That’s being realistic.
L+T: Very cool. You’re performing at Made in America this weekend. I don’t know if you had a chance to look at the lineup or not. I know how it goes with DJs at festivals typically – you come in, do a set, and have to leave right after. Will you be able to stick around?
3LAU: Unfortunately, I’m leaving that night. I’m there on Saturday. So, we’ll probably come out and check the festival out on Saturday. Is it going on Saturday?
L+T: Yeah! Saturday and Sunday. Is there a particular act you look forward to checking out?
3LAU: I mean, I don’t know what day Kanye plays – but I’ve never seen him, so…
L+T: You’re in for a treat. I’m not too sure of which day he’s playing. He is a performer all the way!
3LAU: I’ve heard! I’ve always been just such a big fan. That’ll be fun. Honestly, I don’t remember the lineup off the top of my head. Chance [The Rapper] is actually a really good friend of mine, so I’ll probably be there for his set if he’s playing on Saturday. I haven’t spent enough time looking at the lineup to know who else is playing. (Laughing)
L+T: It’s a huge lineup. You have a lot going on. I took a chance by asking if you even had an artists from the lineup that you wanted to see live!
3LAU: It will definitely be the non-DJs, because I get to see all of the DJs all the time at the dance music festivals anyway.
L+T: That makes sense. I know you typically do a monthly HAUS mix.
L+T: For someone that’s not familiar with the monthly series, what is the history behind these mixes?
3LAU: We actually have a whole new platform that we’re launching for these mixes with the next episode. So, I’m delaying the release a little bit until we have the YouTube platform ready and the new artwork and all this new stuff. Basically, 3LAU HAUS is about a concentrated music energy in a short period of time. I’m usually squeezing 20 to 30 songs into 20 and 30 minutes. Everything’s changing every minute. It’s kind of a very ADD style of mixing. The whole reason why I started doing it was – well there’s two reasons actually – there was a lot of backlash about mashups when I started making mixes. There was just a lot of people that were hating on me making mashups and mixes and how I was “stealing” other people’s music. And a podcast was a more legitimate way to do the same thing, but in a longer time. No one was ever like, “Oh, all these podcasts are stealing people’s music” because it’s like a mix. Whenever you do a mini mix in like five minutes all of a sudden someone thinks you stole somebody else’s music. For me, Hardwell actually got ripped apart by Swedish House Mafia back in the day for releasing mashups and that’s when I was like, ‘Okay, maybe to avoid some hate I can do this in a way that is perceived to be more legitimate.’ So, that’s kind of why I started making these 3LAU HAUS episodes. They were basically 30-minute mash-ups that people could go absolutely crazy to when they’re at the gym, when they’re pre-gamming for a night somewhere – and then they kind of evolved. I try to make each episode have a certain style. It’s become a really, really big staple for my fans.
L+T: I’ll play Devil’s advocate a bit. I can see how someone would say, ‘Oh, he’s doing mash-ups. That means he’s not producing his own stuff.’ But you look at tracks such as “How You Love Me” and that’s something fully produced by you.
3LAU: Right. (Laughs)
L+T: People are people.
3LAU: Everybody wants to say something!
L+T: Exactly. I think that with some of these other artists that might come out doing mash-ups and bootleg remixes – when they catch flack for it what kind of advice would you give them from an optimistic perspective versus saying they’re not producing their own stuff?
3LAU: At the time that I was doing it (mash-ups), there weren’t that many people, but now I think the popularity of kids being a DJ is just so widespread. There’s just an overload of mash-up content out there and usually it’s not very good content. Unless you’re doing something that’s absolutely crazy and different, it’s pretty difficult to do that. Anybody who’s trying to be a DJ or be a producer, I’d definitely suggest focusing on creating a new sound.
L+T: So no bootlegs, right?
3LAU: Well, no, not no bootlegs. I play them and I still release them. I have a whole mash-up album that’s coming out. I just think from an advice standpoint it’s extremely difficult and nearly impossible to break in that way when everybody is doing it now. I think that’s the main thing I would say.
L+T: Yeah, it’s a challenge. I think as a springboard for someone that may not know how to go about formulating ideas and so forth, that might be the way to go.
3LAU: Oh yeah, it’s definitely valuable to do. If anybody was like, “Hey, I’m a 16-year old mash-up artist. How do I get paid?” My answer to them would be, ‘You can’t if you keep doing that. So, I would evolve.’ Not to be a harsh critic. I did it back in the day and honestly I’m very lucky to have broke in that way. I think that if I would have did it now, I would have no chance.
L+T: Absolutely. That’s the reality of it. It’s not even harsh. If you want to make it, you have to make your own content and have a distinct sound for yourself. I totally agree with you on that.
3LAU: For sure.
L+T: I feel like I already know how you’re going to reply to my last question, but I could be wrong. I ask every DJ-producer this. So Justin, do you think a DJ is a musician?
3LAU: No, I don’t. I think that a DJ is a DJ. There are many people that can make things sound good, but they’re not necessarily musicians or writers. That’s why a lot of enormous artists whose names may not be said in this conversation – some of the best DJs are phenomenal producers. They can sit in the studio and make everything sound perfect for the club [and] for pop radio, but they might not even know how to play a piano or how to write music. That’s why a lot of these bigger artists have lots of credits off their records of all these other people that have worked on them. So yeah, I don’t think a DJ is a musician. I don’t think a producer is a musician. I think there are a very select few number of producers who are also musicians. Calvin [Harris] being one of them, Kaskade being one of them – and even these people have help on their records. I’ve had friends give me tips on my records all the time – musical tips, production tips, and everything. The perception of a DJ or a producer as a musician though is wrong because they’re not. (Laughs) That’s also me being a harsh critic.
L+T: (Laughs) Well…it’s not harsh. It’s your opinion. I never get the same response. I grasp the validity in the statement you just said. Also, that’s humble of you to admit that you receive help. That’s huge.
3LAU: I’ve been helped by a lot of producers who have taught me a lot. I would credit Nom De Strip.
L+T: Really? I love Chris! We’ll talk about this later.
3LAU: Yeah! He’s a good friend of mine. Chris and I met through Chris Lake actually. Back two years ago I wasn’t the best producer and Chris Lake suggested that I go sit in with Nom and kind of watch what he does and get his perspective and learn his tips. He’s like one of the best producers I know. Literally I spent two weeks in the studio with him and he taught me pretty much everything that I know. So, I credit a lot of what I do to Nom.
L+T: See. That’s insane. I would have never put you two together at all.
3LAU: Yeah, we don’t make the same music at all. We actually have a collaboration coming out. It’s funny because he helps me with a lot of production ideas. I actually have given him some really good advice on musical ideas. He trusts my musical judgment and I trust his production judgment. It’s been an awesome relationship to have.
L+T: I know I said that was my last question, but now that this new story has unfolded a thought of something else. You started deejaying when you were in college and now you’re doing so many different things – releases and residencies. I’m sure you’ve had some really fun parts of your journey as a producer so far. If you could pick out one snapshot that you appreciate and the one most important thing that you have learned so far from your career, what would it be?
3LAU: (Laughs) I like that question. That’s a very good question because it makes me think a lot. The one thing that I’ve learned throughout my career? Like the one most important thing? It’s a hard thing to answer, but it’s almost good to think about it because I can identify some really good things. Umm, one most important thing that I’ve learned. (Pause) Honestly, the #1 correlated force towards success is busting your ass and you can’t expect anyone else to do something for you no matter who they are. If you want something you have to like literally sit down and do it for as long as it takes to get it done – even if you fail. And I failed many, many times in my career. Of course those go unperceived by my fanbase, but they’re internal failures. There have been a lot of remixes that have come across that I haven’t gotten right. Actually I’m doing a remix for a #1 record right now – I can’t talk about it – that I’m very excited about and that the label’s very excited about it too. That took me five times to fail to get it right and to know exactly how to go about it. I guess the number one thing that I’ve learned is that it’s important to fail to become successful.
L+T: It sounds so cliché, but you’re speaking from experience.
3LAU: It’s a typical answer, but there’s so much personal context in that it’s a reality.