Photo Courtesy Universal/Spinnin' Deep
Exclusive: Felix Jaehn On Collaborative Songwriting, Working With Marc E. Bassy
German tropical house producer/DJ Felix Jaehn's career took off on a rocket in late 2015 when his remix of OMI's "Cheerleader" shot to the top of the charts in the U.S., U.K. and in at least 12 other countries.
Since then, his creative output has remained strong, clocking in another five Top 10 or higher charting singles and remixes over the next three years.
Then, on February 16 of this year, Jaehn released his long-awaited debut studio album I. The record is a massive double-album collection of 25 tracks comprising a variety of genres and many years of work, all tied together by Jaehn's signature blend of bouncy Caribbean melodic elements interpolated into modern dance music with a decidedly island-influenced aesthetic.
Jaehn took some time to chat with the Recording Academy in advance of his spring tour of Germany in support of his debut album, which kicked off in Hamburg on April 5.
The album has a lot of tropical/Caribbean sound – where did a guy from Germany discover and fall in love with that sound?
Jaehn: I started doing this kind of sound when I was in London, after high school. I went there to study music for one year, and I was just starting to experiment with new sounds. That's when I first used the marimba on my early bootlegs, just because I felt like it's a great sound. There's no strategy behind this or something, it's just that when you produce – when you're working on a song – you try so many different elements and sounds. As soon as I love it, when I'm emotionally connected to that sound or that vibe, then I'm going to stick to it. So I'm not quite sure why I love the happy, tropical sound so much. It's just something that happened really naturally.
What was your songwriting process like? Are you a sit-and-write every day kind of guy, or do you write when you are inspired?
Jaehn: Mostly I write with other people. I love doing songwriting sessions. "Don't Say Love," for example, I was in a session with Bruce [Fielder] and Rob Harvey in London. "Millionaire" was in Copenhagen with Tim Schou …so I love doing those songwriting sessions, just because you're in the moment doing it together and it's really fun working with others.
And then of course there are songs as well where I produce the instrumental before, and then we try to find the right top line for it. Or sometimes songwriters send ideas of songs they have written and then we finish them together.
Can you choose a song and tell us the story of where you got the inspiration?
Jaehn: I think track three, "Don't Say Love," is probably the most personal song on the album. It was also [from] one of my first songwriting sessions. It's like, you [have] a voice telling you, "No, just don't say love." The song goes like, "I'm afraid of what I feel/ you are ready/ am I ready?" I think a lot of people – and me specifically – have a lot of doubts when it's about love. You might be dating someone, you might find them attractive, but going the next step into a relationship and committing yourself is really a big step emotionally. This was a topic that was driving me a lot when I was younger, and I was thinking about it so much. So when I did my first songwriting sessions, it was something that I really wanted to write about and get out there and put into words.
What collaboration were you most excited about and why?
Jaehn: I think it's got to be Marc E. Bassy. Just because he's such and amazing singer, and a great songwriter as well. I love his album Gossip Columns. We're label homies, so it was really easy for me to reach out and check if he liked the song and wanted to work on it. Luckily he did. When we met at the video shoot, it was a really cool vibe as well. He is so humble and chill. I think that's one of the coolest collaborations on the album.
Music is all about moments, and it's really cool to create those moments with others. – Felix Jaehn
What did the actual production of the album look like? Do you have a studio space at home or somewhere you like to work?
Jaehn: I have a studio at home now, which is great. I moved into my new place about a year ago now, and finally I have the perfect. Before, I was quite often working on headphones on my laptop. But also, [the album] was done in studios all around the world where I went for songwriting sessions, and where I went to work with the engineers, for example in Berlin, of Vienna, or L.A. as well.
What is some of your go to gear or plug-ins you cant live without?
Jaehn: I pretty much do everything in the box. I like synths and plug-ins to be easy and handy to use, because when you're in your session it just has to go quickly and easily. I think the Valhalla Room is one of my favorite reverbs to use. I love the FabFilter EQ. There's a synth that I use quite often called Chromaphone – it has great mallet sounds. One of the only actual hardware synths that I used on the album was the Prophet 6. The pluck mallets on "LOV" (feat. Sondr, Andrew Jackson) were from that synth. But yeah, most of the stuff is just happening "in the box."
This is a massive album track wise, why was in important to release so much music amazing music on your debut album?
Jaehn: Well, first of all, when I did an album I wanted it to be a lot of new songs. So the first 15 tracks is like the new album, with all the new material. [It has] a really diverse sound – there's an acoustic song on it, there are clap songs on it, there are pop songs on it like "Cool" (feat. Marc E. Bassy and Gucci Mane) or "Hot2Touch." Then the last 10 tracks are kind of like a Best Of: "Ain't Nobody," "Cheerleader," "Bonfire," "Photograph" (Remix). All of those songs I also wanted to include in my debut album, because it's part of my story, part of my music career and part of where I came from. I wanted to have both an all-new album, but also the classics. So that's why it's 25 songs in the end.
Felix Jaehn's debut album I is available now wherever music is sold or streamed. For more information about him or his upcoming tour dates, please visit his official website.