: Deanna Rilling
Las Vegas native Justin Blau—better known as 3lau to electronic dance music fans—has been garnering more and more attention on the national and international level in 2013. In addition to jet-setting the world for gigs, spending any free moment he can in the studio and then balancing all that with his charity work, he also found a few minutes to chat with us about what’s going on in the 3ooth and 3eyond with 3lau.
How did working on “Escape” with Paris & Simo come about?
The quick back story is myself and Paris & Simo were all in a Tiësto remix competition and were the No. 1 and 2 winners in the contest. So that’s how I met them in the first place. That was a year and a half ago. I actually met them in person at EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival] last year and we just hit it off; we hung out at the festival the whole time and I was like, “Hey guys. Why don’t I just come up to Montreal for a weekend and we’ll work on some music.” So I flew up to Montreal and that’s when we made the track. That was 10 months ago. Finally we found the right vocalist, Heather [Bright Lights
]—who is my dream vocalist that I ever could have worked with—wanted to sing on my song and that was it. Hardwell picked it up [for his label Revealed Recordings], he loved it, and it’s been going unbelievably ever since.
What mood or experience were you going for with "Escape"?
My style is on the epic side; I really love epic chord progressions. I grew up listening to a lot of post-rock music like Sigur Rós, Caspian, Explosions in the Sky, that kind of music. And that was what I listened to in high school. Then dance music hit and my thought was, “Well, everybody’s raging out on the floor. Either they want really hard club-y or they want really epic feeling stuff.” So that’s where my style has evolved from and I really wanted to create something with “Escape” that was just epic—epic, but still hard-hitting. So that was the inspiration. … I’m also going to do an acoustic version. We’ve got the music video being worked on now. It’s going to be out on iTunes very soon. I could not be happier with where the track is going: Tiësto’s playing it, Kaskade, Dash Berlin—obviously Hardwell because it’s signed to his label. It’s just been doing me so well as an artist and we’re really excited about when it comes out on iTunes. We’re really stoked.
For those that aren’t familiar with your work, tell them how your music background comes into play production-wise.
I guess I would say that I’m a trained guitarist, piano player, singer. I think that my influences come from outside of dance music because of that background. I didn’t grow up listening to dance music; a lot of European DJs grew up listening to it and so the music I make I feel like might be a little bit different because I have those outside influences. Obviously piano is my main instrument—it’s the key instrument in dance music when you’re producing.
A lot of people may not realize you’re from Las Vegas. What’s it like for you to play the top-ranking club in Vegas as well as the country, Marquee, on a Saturday night in your hometown?
A lot of my high school friends are coming tonight, it’s really cool, at least 100 of my friends are coming. A lot of my manager’s friends are coming in from L.A. to party with us. Vegas is great because the scene is really here—it’s in L.A., but it’s here. It’s just great to live here.
What have you learned from your travels and gigs around the world that you can bring back to your Vegas sets?
That’s interesting. Vegas is very different. It really depends on the weekend and the people that are here. Crowds can be a lot more difficult or they can be a lot easier. It just depends. I think from playing Vegas and other places I’ve learned that, honestly in Vegas, people have the most ADD than anywhere else. I play to that style anyway, that’s my favorite style, to play really fast. What I’ve learned here is people like fast, they like knowing the music, and they like the hard, hard stuff, so I’ve definitely adopted my style when I play here compared to when I play anywhere else. What I love about playing here is that people go out, they’re staying in the hotel and don’t have any worry and because there’s less worry and more party here, everybody’s going crazy here—even more here than Miami I would say.
What type of live rig setup do you use, because some people might be confused that you don’t use headphones a lot during your sets?
I use headphones on occasion, but the headphones are only to check the mix level. I don’t need to cue another track and get it to match the beat of another track; Ableton does that automatically, a lot of the software these days do. And the old school DJs are always like, “Yeah, well that’s DJing,” and the truth is, it isn’t. The art of DJing is the song selection and how you can mix different things more so than getting the beats to time up together. If technology can take care of it for you, why not focus on the more complicated stuff which is the musical aspect of DJing: Changing keys, layering a cappellas, layering music. So yeah, I don’t need headphones when I DJ. It’s literally a matter of pulling tracks and I have all the keys of songs labeled so I know how to mix between keys and whatnot.
Do you have any pregame rituals before you step into the booth?
Nothing in particular, but 30 minutes before my set I’m always really calm, I get into a state and people are like, “Are you alright?” I’m like, “No, no, no. I know I’m about to go crazy so I’m just zoning out for a second.” I’ll drink before I go on, I’ll drink Red Bulls throughout my set, but right before I go on for some time I just need to zone out because when I do go on I’ve got to be 120 percent.
Shot of choice?
I’ll do tequila; I’m a tequila guy. Just not too many. I’m always about the Patrón; Milagro is pretty good.
You listen to a lot of non-EDM. Who are you digging right now that you think people should check out?
Honestly I’ve been such a huge fan of Cashmere Cat lately. Cashmere Cat does a lot of hip-hop-y, melodic stuff. He’s from Norway. On the pop side: Miguel. Oh my God. That dude’s got serious talent and it’s such a hybrid of pop and soul and everything. I’ve been really into Miguel lately.
Who are some producers that you’re always sure to check out to include in your sets?
My friends Paris & Simo. I play five of their songs every set. They just kill it. And Carnage. Carnage is a good buddy of mine, too. We’re touring together in October: Banger, banger, banger all the time.
How’s your work with the charity Pencils of Promise going?
I was just at a charity event with Pencils of Promise and Justin Bieber in Chicago. I did get a picture with Bieber [laughs]. We have about $10,000 towards the second school so far, but we’re going to be doing some serious work in the fall, a lot of free shows with suggested donations. We think that’s going to do even more than song sales—that worked out well—but doing a show and having it be free; having a suggested donation and giving people an LED bracelet if they make a donation. Stuff like that we think will do really well. Our goal is to build at least three or four more schools within the next two years.
What’s coming up next production-wise for you? Is there an album in the future?
Album is very far in the distance, only because you need time and I don’t have any time. So it’s always single, single, single, single—I have five, which is great, two more collabs. The next one’s going to be called “Infectious.” I’m really, really excited about it. I play it in my sets already, but I play it with Ellie Goulding because I don’t have the final vocal yet; I play it with the “Lights” a cappella. But it always goes over so massively when I play it live. Really excited for that track. Then a collaboration with my friend Paris Blohm, a really hard-hitting track. I’ve also got some remixes that I have to finish up. —Deanna Rilling
To learn more about 3lau, visit his website at 3lau.com and follow him on Twitter @3lau.