May 09, 2016

'Watch The World'

We caught up with Markus Schulz during his Watch The World tour ahead of his show at Soundcheck in Washington, D.C. to learn about what went into his album. Learn about what it was like for him as a first-time songwriter, the significance of the album to him, and how it will integrate into his DJ sets.
Can you talk about some of the highlights of the songwriting camps?
First of all, the biggest highlight for me is being able to write with some of these really amazing and talented songwriters. There are a couple of Grammy nominated songwriters that I wrote with and I think the most important thing about that was when I was working with them, they were really into my ideas, they were asking questions and it just gave me confidence. I used to do creative writing as a kid and I was very good at it, but songwriting is a little different. It was great to work with them and for them to tell me that I have a unique outlook on songwriting and the direction, but that they’re into it. They were asking questions and we were vibing. I think the most important thing that came out of it for me was confidence.
I remember when I was a teenager in Arizona, I worked in a studio where Cece Peniston and some other A&M Records artists recorded, and I didn’t even dare open my mouth, even if I heard something. I was so petrified of even saying anything because I thought I would interrupt the creative process. So, this songwriting camp and working with all of these songwriters, it just gave me confidence - that I can speak up and people are vibing on it.
How does building confidence with songwriting compare to building confidence when producing?
When you first start producing, you’re making a mess. You’re trying to make your music sound like it fits in with the other stuff, and when you play it, you know something isn’t right. So you work very, very hard over the years to perfect your production, but you never are. Someone is always coming out with mixdowns or something else that takes it to the next level. I think that music production is always evolving, so keeping up with that is a constant challenge. I’m not sitting in the studio five to six days a week finding the newest plugins or writing code. I’m touring, so I’m kind of always behind when it comes to production technique, but what I hear in a club or in an arena, and the overall content - that’s what I’ve always been strong at. I’ve been told by people on that side of the industry that I have unique outlook because I’m here and able to get instant feedback. They’re playing it for people when they see them and asking their thoughts. I can get instant feedback and it makes for a unique outlook.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
When you’re making an album, you can’t pick a favorite song. Every time you open up a session, you think, “This is the most amazing song I’ve ever done.” You think that every time. When you’re working on it, it feels groundbreaking, and you think, “This is the one.” You look at all of them finished and they all have that “this is the one” kind of feeling. Each song represents something different in my life. I worked two years on this album, so each one of those songs is a different chapter. It brings back memories of where I was. For example, the song Summer Dream, we did that song right before Coachella. Every time I hear that song, I think about Coachella, and Ferry and me and our teams all in this one white, almost cargo van driving through the California desert to Coachella, and we were having a great time. So when I hear that song, it just takes me back to things like that.
So, each one of the songs represents something for me personally. And that’s the beautiful thing about music. It can become the soundtrack to moments of your life. I know there’s some songs that I listen to, maybe technically they’re not that good or they haven’t achieved something that a song can achieve, but for me they’re special because they were a soundtrack to a special moment in my life. I think that’s the way music is, and people who are detached from certain songs or genres, it’s just because they haven’t had a life connection to that song. There’s music that I would never like, but when I hear it, it takes me back to a certain time, and that’s what’s special about music.

How would you compare the tracks in Watch The World to your previous body of work?
The previous albums, I worked looking for songwriters and would send them a track and they would write on top of it. Maybe I would have ideas, but they were very small. This album, I literally sat down - pen, paper, guitar, and with a singer, maybe some other songwriters in the room - and we’d just sit and hang out and talk. We’d get onto an idea, and it was therapeutic. I mean there were times when we were literally crying, and there were times when we were just bouncing off the walls because we were being crazy because the song is something edgy. For example, In The Night, the whole idea was another stalker anthem, and Brooks, she was like, (in a creepy voice) “I like this idea,” and she started getting into the role and acting weird, and then we’re acting weird. So this album, we really started off with pen, paper, guitar, and crafted the story. I think that’s what separates this album from all the others. It was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I love it because all the lyrics are something that I think can connect with my audience; they’re not empty lyrics - singing about something that I have no connection with.
Does the title Watch The World have any greater significance to you?
It just comes from - I’m always on an airplane and always looking out. The original idea for the album cover was me sitting looking out an airplane window and just watching the world go by. But at the same time, it was to cliché. Not only that, but I’m kind of - Ferry has really inspired me into the whole extraterrestrial thing, and the fact that we’re starting to find planets with water on it. We’re not only watching our world, but we’re watching other worlds as well. And maybe the other worlds are watching us. So that part of it as well started opening my eyes to the bigger picture of watching the world. To me, it’s just a beautiful title because it means so much as far as us watching each other, other people watching us. We’re watching the world go by.
Looking into your DJ sets, how has the album integrated its way in?
Well, that’s always the hardest thing because when you first work on a track - and this is different from when you’re working on a remix. When I do a remix, I can go and play that in the next set, no problem. Boom, here it is, because I’m making it for the dancefloor. When you’re making an album, you’re not really making it for the dancefloor or for the arenas. You have it in your mind, but that’s not your number one priority when making these songs. I always say: Producing and remixing are just as different as writing and producing. Remixing is trying to make something that’s just going to destroy the dancefloor. When I’m producing the album, I want to make something that people can hear at home, people can hear in airplanes, people can listen to with headphones, people can listen to with laptop speakers, or listen to in a club. So, you’re more or less making a story. Once it’s released, the stories can be remixed. For this album, it took me some time to be able to test it on the dancefloors. There were only a few tracks where I felt bold, and knew these were going to go right into my sets. I started playing them as IDs. The other ones, I waited until the album was out and people started hearing the stories. We released the acoustic versions first because I wanted people to hear the stories first. With this album, the stories are what’s most important for me. I can make beats and melodies all day long, but I wanted my stories to be heard first. That’s why for me, putting them in the set came second. First came producing them. A few of them - A Better You, In The Night, Fears - those are some of the tracks that I right away started playing. I even played Watch The World and Soldier a couple of times, but the majority of the album didn’t go into my sets until the album was released and people had heard them.
Taking into context what the album means to you, are you more hesitant to make a mashup or bootleg using these songs to play in your live sets?
Yeah, for sure. These songs represent more to me. And you know, it’s funny - I’m a DJ, and my first instinct with every other song that somebody on my label makes is, “How can I take this, mash it up, and make it even better?” When you’re an artist, especially when you’re a songwriter, I hear sometimes people make remixes, and they’re cutting up the vocals, and I’m like, “...but, the story? The story!” It’s totally different, it’s literally different thought processes to be a DJ and a producer and a writer. You want the story told and you want people to understand the story. That being said, as this project moves on, you start letting go of that idea. Everyone understands the story now, and so let’s start being creative with the music. It’s like when you have a brand new house, just built from the foundation all the way up. The first thing someone wants to do when they move in it is paint the walls purple! And you’re like, “No! This house is new, it’s perfect, don’t touch anything!” That’s kind of the way that I feel about the songs right now. But for example, Destiny, we released the stems and we’ve been getting a lot of amazing remixes and mashups. I envision doing that down the road, but every time I listen to a mashup of Destiny - you know, it’s funny, because every time I look at 1001tracklists, and I’ll see “Destiny vs. blah blah - So and so mashup” and I look at the title of the song that it’s mashed up with, and I’m like, “How the hell does this work? Destiny is in D# and this song is in F#.” Already in my head, I’m cringing and thinking, “Oh no, oh God.” You’re protective of your songs. But that being said, when I’m doing mashups, I just rip stuff apart, so I know where they’re coming from! (laughs)

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