Since 1993, producer-DJ veteran Markus Schulz has made great use of the art of story-telling through a series of records, mixes, and live shows. His fifth studio album, Scream 2 (out today via Armada Records), is no deviation from the moment capturing method Markus has used throughout his career. The 17-track “synthony” is the perfect balance of serene melodies with strong leading vocals that transition to 125-160 BPM short stories. On “Destino” – a track named after a hotel in Ibiza – Markus takes a progressive approach to the trance record by implementing a tasty dose of drum patterns found in house music. Not to go unmentioned is the high energy “Make You Fall” that features vocals from dance music legend, CeCe Peniston. Here, Markus gives Life+Times insight into the inner workings of Scream 2.
Life+Times: I’m really excited to talk to you about Scream 2. I had a chance to listen to the entire album and view the behind-the-scenes video. One thing that really struck a chord with me is when you said music should speak to emotion and the importance of a legacy. Sonically I can hear the difference between this album from your other releases. Creatively and emotionally how do you think the new album differs from the past albums – from your vantage point?
Markus Schulz: Well, first of all it is definitely more of a continuation of my first Scream album because all the ideas kept rolling after I finished that first album. I think the biggest thing about this album – out of the Scream series – I envisioned being up on stage or in a DJ booth or in different rooms and trying to make tracks that just kind of captured an amazing moment in time. Moments, I guess, is what I really tried to focus on. When I talk about legacy and everything, legacies are remembered by moments – whether it’s sports and an athlete does something amazing and that amazing moment he becomes a legend or a legacy because of those moments. When I was making these tracks, that’s what I was really hoping to achieve was these moments that people would remember on the dance floor or wherever they’re at that they’ll remember for the rest of their life.
L+T: That makes complete sense. This album tells a story. All 17 tracks completely flow and you can “see” the album in moments. Nine of the tracks feature vocalists. That’s a pretty integral part of the album. What was a determining factor as to who would be the vocalist for each of the tracks?
MS: It came down to songwriting. A lot of these vocalists I’ve worked with we wrote the songs together. I enjoy working with new vocalists – trying to discover new talents. I find a nicer challenge to work with somebody who doesn’t know what the experience is like to be in front of 20,000 people or doesn’t know what it’s like to have their music be able to be understood by 20,000 people at an event. So, for me it was very important to work with people that are open-minded and help them understand what it’s like. That was the idea of the first Scream album because the title came from imagining being on a stage and I can’t scream any louder – I’m just trying to get my message out and getting on top of a mountain and screaming to get my message out. So, with all of the singers it was kind of the same idea. I’m trying to teach them how to get their message heard over the clutter and to 20,000 people out there.
L+T: That’s cool. Now Markus, for someone that may not understand how that process works, do these songwriters and vocalists pitch songs to you or do you get recommendations?
MS: I think half and half. There’s been songs that I have found and I’ve gone to the artist. The Liz Primo track (“Blown Away”), for example, I heard a demo version of her track and it was a totally different song. It was downtempo, it was almost like a chill-out track. I loved her voice and I loved the song and I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I have an idea. Why don’t we re-record the song, but make it this way and basically take the idea and start it from the ground up again?’ So, there was that idea. Then, there’s some artists where I just got in the studio and I said, ‘You know what? Here’s a blank canvas. Let’s just create something.’ It’s a little bit of everything. When you’re active in music producing, things just come in all shapes, forms, and all different stages of completion.
L+T: That must keep things interesting. You’ve been DJing since ’93, so that has to be a challenge for you, right?
MS: Well, not really. I just feel like I’m just evolving and I always live in the moment as well. I never try and get stuck in the past because I think that’s what happens with a lot of people. They get stuck in this “magical era” and that era is the best and nothing else compares to that. I mean, you see this all the time with people talking about how this music or that music is not the same anymore. I’ve always tried to evolve and not get caught up in those kind of things. I’ve always tried to, I guess, live in the moment and try to move on from those moments and live in the next moment.
L+T: I appreciate that about you. I agree that people get caught up in nostalgia and it has to be a “pure” form of trance or house or whatever genre and that really prevents the fan or music listener from progressing.
MS: I think a lot of people talk about trance from ’99 and that was the “golden era” of trance. That’s great and everything; but you know what? Right now this is this generation’s 1999 and they’re gonna look back at this era as the “magic” and “golden” moment. You know, who’s right and who’s wrong? You can’t get caught up in that. You have to evolve and be part of the evolution or else you’ll get left behind.
L+T: You’re right. One of my favorite songs – and it kind of ties in with what we’re talking about – is “Destino” I love how rapid the kicks are to go with the melody. It’s so different and a progressive track.
MS: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Actually, that was a lot of fun making that track. It was just me, my laptop, and headphones in Ibiza and I had a nice table that kind of overlooked the Ibiza town at this hotel called Destino. So, the project file was called “Destino” and then I just kept the name of the track “Destino.” Now it’s funny because I can play this track on stage at a festival or wherever, but in my mind I’m back in Ibiza at that table with my laptop and my headphones.
L+T: Oh! That’s so cool. I’m not going to look at that song the same now that I have the story behind it. Now this, I’m really excited about: You collaborated with CeCe Peniston on “Make You Fall.” How did that come about?
MS: It’s funny because that is a track I thought would be overlooked and that’s the track that everybody is the most intrigued by. When I first started in the music industry, I just did whatever I could in order to get into the scene and into the industry. I got a job at a studio and I was taking out the trash, I was picking up dry cleaning. I was cleaning up after people – anything just to be around the studio and be around the music. During that era is when I met CeCe Peniston. As a matter of fact, one of my friends that I knew at the time –he helped write “Finally.” So, I’ve known her all these years.
I remember I was playing at Avalon – I think it was last year or the year before – and I turn around and CeCe was up on stage in the DJ booth area with her manager. I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ We got to chatting after and talking about old times. We were like, ‘Why don’t we just try and make something? No pressure, let’s just see what happens.’ That’s what’s so great about that track. We just worked on it for fun and kind of just old times and it really turned out to be a very special project. For me, to be able to work with somebody that was making hit records when I was taking out the garbage and now have them be featured on my album – it just makes me smile.
L+T: That’s a surreal moment. You’ve been producing for over a decade, so tell me, do you think a DJ is a musician?
MS: The art of DJing has many different categories. You’ve got your DJs that are performers and some of those DJs will just play tracks and they’ll bounce around doing cartwheels, throwing cake into the crowd. Then, you’ve got your DJs that are more elite. They don’t look up [and] they’ve got their heads buried in their laptop. Both of them are playing sounds that have already been recorded. I think that’s what DJing is nowadays – just playing sounds that have already been recorded [and] putting them together. So, I would say ‘yes,’ DJs are, but most of the work is done before you even go on the stage. When you get up on the stage, you’re basically performing the music. The real artistry happens before you go on stage. The real artistry happens when you’re finding the music or finding the sounds to play. Whatever type of DJ you’re talking about, that’s how I feel about it. It’s about the art of DJing.
Scream 2 is out today. Click here to get it now.