Afrojack Interview: DJ Talks New Album ‘Forget the World,’ EDM + More
DJ Afrojack is a towering presence, both off the stage and on. Off the stage, he’s 26-year-old Nick van de Wall, an easy-going Dutch born man who stands well over six feet tall and admits to being a fan of PlayStation role playing games. As DJ Afrojack, his personality and persona is bigger than the thousands and thousands of fans that fill the hottest nightclubs and EDM festivals just to hear him perform.
He is one of the world’s hottest DJs and music producers that has roots in the electronic dance music genre. In 2010, at the age of 23, Afrojack had already entered the rankings of the top 100 DJs in the world, according to DJ Magazine. He’s collaborated with other major EDM stars such as David Guetta and Steve Aoki and has also produced singles for Pitbull, Chris Brown and will.i.am, just to name a few. His rabid fan base are also followers of his underground remixes of which he still does from time to time. He’s put his own spin on hits by Avicii, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey.
Now, Afrojack is finally putting his name front and forward with his new album, ‘Forget the World,’ due out May 19, 2014. PopCrush had a chance to sit down and talk to Afrojack about his new album, fame and the growing trend that is EDM -- a trend that he helped popularize.
After so many years of releasing singles and EPs, why did you think now was the appropriate time to finally put out an album?
Well, I’ve been working on this album for two years. I’m a producer for fun. I’m not a professional schooled musician or anything. I’m not doing this from the perspective of creating hits, but I always liked making music and doing a lot of different kinds of singles over the years and club tracks, or a hip-hop track here and there, like ‘Give Me Everything.’ All of that together, all of that experience, formed me as a musician with a more obvious vision. I started traveling the world and started to see what I wanted to be, what the message was that I wanted to give the world and what I wanted to do in music. Basically, what I wanted to represent. What do I want to be remembered for? I found that out and that’s when I said, I think I need to do an album. It’s also a more clearer product. Like, right now people think Afrojack is “that song” and “that song.” Now I have something I can say, “This is me.”
Is that a refreshing thing now that you have something you can call your own? Like with ‘Give Me Everything,’ which was a huge hit, people remember Pitbull and Ne-Yo but few really know that you were the brains behind it.
It’s nice to finally have something I get full credit for. I did ‘Pon de Floor’ with Diplo; ’Look at Me Now’ for Chris Brown, Lil Wayne and Busta [Rhymes]; ‘Girls (Run the World)’ with Beyonce; ’Take Over Control’ and [a] shitload of underground dance records, which I still love to do. It’s a part of me. It’s not all of me. There are a lot of different songs coming up that I’m going to be a part of that I had a lot of fun with. But for me, it’s like finally being able to speak directly to my fans.
And what do you want to say to your fans with ‘Forget the World’?
The reason it’s called ‘Forget the World’ was something I came up with three weeks ago. Everyone in this generation has a digital life on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. Anything you like, any kind of art, will receive comments. No matter what you do. If you go to the bathroom, people will leave a comment. This was to me, after a lot of thinking, that if you live your life trying to get positive comments, you won’t be happy.
When I was making the final version of the album, I was going through all the songs and said that I’m not going to try to get positive comments. I’m not going to try to be critically acclaimed. I’m just going to try to make something that I like, my mom likes, and that my fans like and will appreciate but still, up until a certain height. The album is not meant to be a “sensual massage.” It’s meant to open your eyes and open your ears. It makes you experience something new and sounds that you’ve never heard before. The coolest things in life are things that you have not done before. That’s the key to life: new things always.
There's another singer on the album called Shirazi. He did a song and he co-wrote the song with Sting. So we were working on it and stuff and we sent the idea over to Sting. When we were starting out the song, we were like, “Man, it’d be so cool if we could get Sting involved.” And then I was like, “Yeah sure, I’ll call Bono, too. I’ll call Oprah Winfrey right now. Maybe we’ll get Obama to do a verse.” Then my management contacted [his management] and sent it through. Sting loved it. Before I knew it, six months later I was in a studio with Sting here in New York recording. It was really cool.
Was there anything that surprised you about him?
The thing that surprised me most, but also gave me a lot of faith in life itself, was the fact that this guy has been doing this for I think 30 or 40 years. He’s still doing it and he still loves it. I’m 26, so I have at least 30 years to have fun. To me, it’s great to see that you can enjoy this thing for so long.
The first single off the album, ‘The Spark,’ seems like it will be one of those songs that will always have life. Tina Fey was dancing to it in promos for the Golden Globes…
That was pretty f---ing cool!
…and it was used in ads for the NCAA Basketball Playoffs. When you put that track together, did you know you had something extra special there?
Well a lot of people who know me for my underground shit. They were like, “It’s commercial. You’re selling out.” Actually, the reason I did that was because I wanted to make a song like that. No one was really doing it. Everyone was trying to make pop-dance music but they wanted to make it really cool without too much dance.
When I first heard the demo version [of ‘The Spark’] with just the guitar and verses, I heard it like a B.o.B. song. I said, “Oh my god, it’s like a B.o.B. song! Imagine, a B.o.B. dance song! It would be really cool!” That’s when I sat down with Spree [Wilson] and we finished the record. Even though the sound is really happy with a little bit of cheesiness, I wanted to make a song understandable for everyone. I wanted to make a happy song and an uplifting song. For me, it did its job.
Watch DJ Afrojack's 'The Spark' Video
Is that the kind of sound we can expect from the album?
Well, the main reason I did ‘The Spark’ the way it sounds is to make sure everyone knows that I’m ready. I didn’t really release anything since ‘As Your Friend’ [with Chris Brown]. That was nine months earlier. I wanted to have a product that basically everyone from around the world could see that I’m back. This is the start of what I’m going to do. I’m going to take all genres and change the s--- out of them. The record I did with Snoop isn’t a dance record. It’s more a hip-hop record and that s--- goes HARD! I want to show people that you can do whatever the f--- you want. You don’t have to be bound to any kind of comments by anyone. I’ve seen this a lot of times in my life. I used to be in a situation where you thought you had to follow what everyone else was doing to have a normal social life and be fun and accepted. Over the last five years, six years, I learned that you can do whatever the f--- you want and be happier.
You’re one of the first EDM artists who have crossed over into the mainstream and we’re starting to see this trend where it’s happening more and more. It started with David Guetta, then you, then Avicii and now Zedd and Martin Garrix. Some EDM purists are worried that the genre might become too commercialized and lose its edge. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s bulls---. The reason they say it’s too commercialized is because it’s too popular. I’ve seriously seen tweets by people that said, “I used to love ‘As Your Friend’ but now it’s getting played on radio. It’s too commercial so I won’t listen to it anymore.”
Purity in EDM is like a fear of having something that you identify with and then [something] degrades the music. But the music itself is already a great thing. All of the festivals, happy people come together, no one dies, no one gets killed, there’s no fights. These people come together for this and they’re happy.
Like ‘Le7els’ by Avicii. It works because people like the song. It's like a magic button. Play ‘Le7els’ and everybody is happy. You play three hours of drum and bass, techno and trance and the weirdest, most underground cultures and genres in the world and if there’s 100,000 people in front of you, they might look around for three hours and say, “Oh, I don’t understand this music.” But you play ‘Le7els’ and they’ll go, “Oh, it’s my song!” It’s a weird culture if something is over popular, then it’s not cool anymore. But people have to understand that all DJs or producers are not doing it to be cool. They just want to make music to enjoy themselves to.
Do you feel like the media made too much out of your relationship with Paris Hilton? Some of your fans were upset about you producing her album.
Of course the media makes a big s--- out of everything, but you have to imagine: If you have a really good friend and she wants to get into music and she asks you, “Can you help me?” What kind of dick would I be, if I said, “I want to help you but it wouldn’t be good for my brand. I’m not going to help you.” Then you’d be a sellout for not helping your friend and trying to keep the value of your friendship established. And for me, it was the other way around. I thought about it: “Huh. Yeah it could come out really cheesy because you’re helping a pop diva do something with music.” On the other hand, I could also not do it but then you’re just a dick. You’re just a bad person.
What is the one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t drink as much as everybody thinks [laughs]. I only drink during work. For me, it’s really important to be one line with people in the crowd. So when everybody is at a listening session, for example, I’m not going to have anything to drink. But if I’m playing at a party, I’ll say, “Yeah, I’ll have a drink.” I want to party with the people. I’m not just the DJ performing. I’m not performing, I’m not doing a show, I’m not doing a production. I want to party with the crowd.
With all of the success you’ve had, at what point did you take a step back and say to yourself, “I made it”?
I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything yet. I feel like I’m on the road to accomplishing something. I feel like I accomplished something when I spoke to a fan and he’s like, “I have two jobs and kids and I’m working hard. I want to make music and I have no time.” Speaking to the same guy six months later, he’s like, “Yeah, I quit one job and I still put food on the table. I put some effort into it. I really started studying how to make music.” And now he’s a full-time producer. And he’s happy and everything’s going better. For me, the most cool thing that I can see that I can feel like I accomplished something is when someone realizes that they only have one life, and they can get way much more out of it than they originally thought. When you open someone’s mind, and you give them double vision, and now they suddenly start seeing everything. To me, that’s the greatest thing.
What advice do you give to young aspiring DJs or producers?
Don’t be a wuss and just do it. If you really want to be a music producer, stop watching ‘Friends’ when you get home from school. Start trying to make music. If you’re not going to try, then it’s impossible. When you try, it’s always possible.
Do you get the same rush now spinning in front of an audience of 50,000 people like you did when you first started in small clubs?
Yes. People always ask me, “How does it feel to be so successful now?” I’ve been successful since I was 17 when I first started DJing. When I had my first gig, I was 18 in January in 2007. My first gig that I got paid, I was playing for 10 people in a 250 people capacity venue. The promoter wanted to book me because he liked my music. I played a couple of songs that made people dance. To me, that rush has always stayed the same.