Starting off by making mashups for his college friends, Justin Blau (aka 3LAU) has risen quickly in the EDM scene. His work quickly gained exposure from big guys like Tiesto
, and as part of the Elektro Freshman Class of 2013, he has been touring relentlessly. Along the way, his original productions (“Escape” and “How You Love Me”) have crossed over from the clubs to radio. 3LAU also deserves praise for his philanthropic efforts in support of Pencils of Promise for which he helped raise over $35,000 to build schools in Guatemala. Not a bad achievement for a college student who started DJing to get money to buy alcohol.
RS: So I hear you’re real big sneaker head?
3LAU: : I am, I have become a big sneaker head lately and I’m obsessed.
RS: How many blue ones do you have?
3LAU: : I don’t think I even own a pair of blue shoes, mostly just red and black and weird crazy colors.
RS: Your name is pronounced blue although it is spelled Blau. Are you of German background?
3LAU: : I am half-Austrian.
RS: I want to give you props for doing one of the best mashups of all time.
3LAU: : Which one is that?
RS: “Bitch City” with R3hab
3LAU: : Awesome, I am glad that you liked that one. R3hab actually sent me the instrumental of that a long time ago and told me I should do something with it. My manager Ross said that I should do something classic and throw in older, recognizable a cappellas and so that is how “Bitch City” was born.
RS: So producers and artists actually reach out to you to do mashups?
3LAU: : Back in the day when I was only doing mashups, R3hab reached out, and so did a couple of other people like Krewella. Now that I am coming out with my own stuff I have a lot of collaborations with those same people that were supporting me back then.
RS: That’s awesome. What made you move from mashups to productions?
3LAU: : I started DJing as a hobby, it wasn’t meant to be a career by any means. It was just something that I was doing in college to make some side money to buy alcohol. When things started taking off, I started to think that maybe I could be good at it and that if I started to work a little harder that I could be the person that someone else was mashing up. It’s funny because Tiesto is releasing a mashup of one of my tracks that is coming out at the end of April. For me, it was just a long three-year process of learning the trade and figuring out the science behind making dance music. I am really glad and lucky to be where I am right now.
RS: You say science, is it the software that you are talking about or the musical side of things?
3LAU: : It is not so much the music, I grew up playing guitar and piano and I sing so I have a musical background, but I didn’t know what a compressor or an equalizer did and I didn’t have any technical knowledge of production. It has taken me quite a bit of time over the last three years to perfect it while touring and doing social media and all of the other things that are involved in a career. Trying to balance learning the trade and managing a career was really difficult. I ended up calling all of my best friends in dance music who I thought were way better than I was and ended up learning from them and developing my own sound from that.
RS: Is that how a lot of the collaborations came about?
3LAU: : Yeah. I was such a big fan of Paris & Simo that I flew up to Montreal for the weekend to learn from them and make music with them and that was how “Escape” was born.
RS: Was Bright Lights in the studio with you?
3LAU: : No, she wasn’t. We sent “Escape” to her right after we finished it and they passed on the record and didn’t want to record over it. Literally 8 months later I resent it to her, I was a big fan of her voice ever since “Language” and she was like “wait, this is awesome.” She recorded a demo in a couple weeks and all I knew that she was going to be someone that I was going to have a long term relationship with.
RS: That’s awesome, are you working on more tracks with her?
3LAU: : Yes, “How You Love Me” just came out 2 weeks ago on Beatport and a week ago on iTunes. It was literally another example of a track that I tried to find a vocal for but couldn’t. Heather wanted to take a crack at it because she loved it and nailed it and that is our second record together. Our third record together is a collaboration of mine with Dash Berlin that is coming out on his album at some point.
RS: That’s really cool. Now as opposed to working with a singer, what was it like working with Botnek, he seems like a crazy guy to me.
3LAU: : Botnek is actually 2 guys, Gordon and Eric. I worked with them in the studio, most of the collaborations that I do I like to be with the people and don’t really like to do it over the internet. My girlfriend lives in Montreal and when I was there hanging out with Botnek they made the “Animals” remix. It has been huge all festival season, Martin Garrix plays their “Animals” remix more than he plays the original. I loved the style and it was so unique and no one was doing it, so I wanted to make an original release that was just like it. What ended up happening was they made the drop to a track called “Vikings” and I made the chords in the break down. The record came about just by working in their small studio in Montreal.
RS: Last year you were the freshman class of ’13, was there any extra pressure you felt because of that?
3LAU: : Not directly, I didn’t necessarily feel any pressure or that I had to blow up so quickly, but I think it’s really cool that so much has happened in a year. I hope that the next year yields way more buzz around the dance music community.
RS: When you are touring are you playing on CD or laptop?
3LAU: : I am playing on a laptop with Ableton; I don’t know how to use CDJs. I definitely need to take some time to learn, it was honestly just because I started doing live mashups in Ablton. Ableton is really flexible and the only reason why I would ever switch would be for ease and flexibility to do back-to-back sets and to be able to walk up and put my USB drive in. I think that Ableton as DJ software by itself is way more advanced.
RS: Let’s go back to touring, you are playing a lot on the road and you are also at home working in the studio, how do you balance all that with your real life and staying healthy as well?
3LAU: : That is the challenge, to be honest I don’t watch television and I don’t really go out and I stopped the crazy drinking unless I am hanging out with my friends, and I don’t really drink at shows anymore. It is really about keeping your head on straight because when you are doing what we are doing you end up in the hospital if you are drinking too much. I have always tried to balance everything by focusing everyday on the three main things that I need to get done and then after that just trying not to worry too much. It’s tough and any DJ will tell you that the combination of touring, music, pressure from fans, family, and personal relationships is a lot which I think a lot of fans and people in the industry don’t quite understand. I honestly think that being a DJ and the life that we live is what brings all of us DJs to become best friends because we understand the lifestyle.
RS: Another big issue this week has been that people are saying that all of the tracks are starting to sound the same now. Are you experiencing that also and how are you reacting to it?
3LAU: : 100%. I think that a lot of the stuff that is coming out right now is exactly the same and that’s because it all works live. They are very high energy and they make a crowd want to go nuts. It is a DJ’s favorite thing to watch a crowd go nuts and not necessarily just chilling out and loving the music. My response to that is the record with Botnek which is a big room and big kick track but we kind of made it as a little bit of a joke. “Vikings” was literally a whatever track that we decided to put out because we knew that it was going to be played everywhere and people were going to go crazy. The difference between “Vikings” and all the other big room tracks is that it has a crazier drop and something that no one has heard before with the same big kick that works. We kind of did that as a joke but half-knowing that it would be effective given the trend right now. All of my future releases are more musical, and it is really about the kick bassline. I think that is where the dance music community is going to move towards because there is so much saturation in the big room, big kick market right now.
RS: You are working on more musical tracks right now, what collaborations should we have to look forward to?
3LAU: : I have a collab with Dash Berlin that I am really excited about and I have a project that I have been working on with Tiesto that is going to be out at the end of April, and the Botnek collaboration comes out next week. I have one other collaboration that I shouldn’t talk about yet, but it is with one of my biggest inspirations in music and I am really excited.
RS: Who is your ultimate dream collaboration?
3LAU: : Thom Yorke is my favorite person in music, and any of the Radiohead guys would be mind-blowing.
RS: What is the strangest pronunciation of your name that you have ever heard?
3LAU: : 3 Law instead of 3-lau which I get all the time. It’s definitely something that I don’t hear all the time but when I do I’m like ugh.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
3LAU: : Thank you guys for supporting all of my recent records, without all of you “How You Love Me” wouldn’t be doing anything so I am so thankful that you love the record and that it is getting all the support that it is. Keep an eye out for all of the new music.