meta-script"Let Yourself Be Idiosyncratic": Moby Talks New Album 'Always Centered At Night' & 25 Years Of 'Play' | GRAMMY.com
Moby performing on stage
Moby

Photo: Mike Formanski

interview

"Let Yourself Be Idiosyncratic": Moby Talks New Album 'Always Centered At Night' & 25 Years Of 'Play'

"We're not writing for a pop audience, we don't need to dumb it down," Moby says of creating his new record. In an interview, the multiple-GRAMMY nominee reflects on his latest album and how it contrasts with his legendary release from 1999.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 01:29 pm

Moby’s past and present are converging in a serendipitous way. The multiple-GRAMMY nominee is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his seminal work, Play, the best-selling electronic dance music album of all time, and the release of his latest album, always centered at night. 

Where Play was a solitary creation experience for Moby, always centered at night is wholly collaborative. Recognizable names on the album are Lady Blackbird on the blues-drenched "dark days" and serpentwithfeet on the emotive "on air." But always centered at night’s features are mainly lesser-known artists, such as the late Benjamin Zephaniah on the liquid jungle sounds of "where is your pride?" and Choklate on the slow grooves of "sweet moon." 

Moby’s music proves to have staying power: His early ‘90s dance hits "Go" and "Next is the E" still rip up dancefloors; the songs on Play are met with instant emotional reactions from millennials who heard them growing up. Moby is even experiencing a resurgence of sorts with Gen Z. In 2023, Australian drum ‘n’ bass DJ/producer Luude and UK vocalist Issey Cross reimagined Moby’s classic "Porcelain" into "Oh My." Earlier this year, Moby released "You and Me" with Italian DJ/producer Anfisa Letyago. 

Music is just one of Moby’s many creative ventures. He wrote and directed Punk Rock Vegan Movie as well as writing and starring in his homemade documentary, Moby Doc. The two films are produced by his production company, Little Walnut, which also makes music videos, shorts and the podcast "Moby Pod." Moby and co-host Lindsay Hicks have an eclectic array of guests, from actor Joe Manganiello to Ed Begley, Jr., Steve-O and Hunter Biden. The podcast interviews have led to "some of the most meaningful interpersonal experiences," Moby tells GRAMMY.com. 

A upcoming episode of "Moby Pod" dedicated to Play was taped live over two evenings at Los Angeles’ Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The episode focuses on Moby recounting his singular experiences around the unexpected success of that album — particularly considering the abject failure of his previous album, Animal Rights. The narrative was broken up by acoustic performances of songs from Play, as well as material from Always Centered at Night (which arrives June 14) with special guest Lady Blackbird. Prior to the taping, Moby spoke to GRAMMY.com about both albums. 

'Always centered at night' started as a label imprint then became the title of your latest album. How did that happen? 

I realized pretty quickly that I just wanted to make music and not necessarily worry about being a label boss. Why make more busy work for myself?

The first few songs were this pandemic process of going to SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube and asking people for recommendations to find voices that I wasn’t familiar with, and then figuring out how to get in touch with them. The vast majority of the time, they would take the music I sent them and write something phenomenal.

That's the most interesting part of working with singers you've never met: You don't know what you're going to get. My only guidance was: Let yourself be creative, let yourself be idiosyncratic, let the lyrics be poetic. We're not writing for a pop audience, we don't need to dumb it down. Although, apparently Lady Blackbird is one of Taylor Swift's favorite singers 

Guiding the collaborators away from pop music is an unusual directive, although perhaps not for you? 

What is both sad and interesting is pop has come to dominate the musical landscape to such an extent that it seems a lot of musicians don't know they're allowed to do anything else. Some younger people have grown up with nothing but pop music. Danaé Wellington, who sings "Wild Flame," her first pass of lyrics were pop. I went back to her and said, "Please be yourself, be poetic." And she said, "Well, that’s interesting because I’m the poet laureate of Manchester." So getting her to disregard pop lyrics and write something much more personal and idiosyncratic was actually easy and really special. 

You certainly weren’t going in the pop direction when making 'Play,' but it ended up being an extremely popular album. Did you have a feeling it was going to blow up the way it did?

I have a funny story. I had a date in January 1999 in New York. We went out drinking and I had just gotten back the mastered version of Play. We're back at my apartment, and before our date became "grown up," we listened to the record from start to finish. She actually liked it. And I thought, Huh, that's interesting. I didn't think anyone was going to like this record. 

You didn’t feel anything different during the making of 'Play?'

I knew to the core of my being that Play was going to be a complete, abject failure. There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever. It was going to be my last record and it was going to fail. That was the time of people going into studios and spending half a million dollars. It was Backstreet Boys and Limp Bizkit and NSYNC; big major label records that were flawlessly produced. Play was made literally in my bedroom. 

I slept under the stairs like Harry Potter in my loft on Mott Street. I had one bedroom and that's where I made the record on the cheapest of cheap equipment held up literally on milk crates. Two of the songs were recorded to cassette, that's how cheap the record was. It was this weird record made by a has-been, a footnote from the early rave days. There was no world where I thought it was going to be even slightly successful. Daniel Miller from Mute said — and I remember this very clearly — "I think this record might sell over 50,000 copies." And I said, "That’s kind of you to say but let's admit that this is going to be a failure. Thank you for releasing my last record."  

Was your approach in making 'Play' different from other albums? 

The record I had made before Play, Animal Rights, was this weird, noisy metal punk industrial record that almost everybody hated. I remember this moment so vividly: I was playing Glastonbury in 1998 and it was one of those miserable Glastonbury years. When it's good, it's paradise; it's really special. But the first time I played, it was disgusting, truly. A foot and a half of mud everywhere, incessant rain and cold. I was telling my manager that I wanted to make another punk rock metal record. And he said the most gentle thing, "I know you enjoy making punk rock and metal. People really enjoy when you make electronic music." 

The way he said it, he wasn't saying, "You would help your career by making electronic music." He simply said, "People enjoy it." If I had been my manager, I would have said, "You're a f—ing idiot. Everyone hated that record. What sort of mental illness and masochism is compelling you to do it again?" Like Freud said, the definition of mental illness is doing the same thing and expecting different results. But his response was very emotional and gentle and sweet, and that got through to me. I had this moment where I realized, I can make music that potentially people will enjoy that will make them happy. Why not pursue that? 

That was what made me not spend my time in ‘98 making an album inspired by Sepultura and Pantera and instead make something more melodic and electronic. 

After years of swearing off touring, what’s making you hit stages this summer? 

I love playing live music. If you asked me to come over and play Neil Young songs in your backyard, I would say yes happily, in a second. But going on tour, the hotels and airports and everything, I really dislike it.  

My manager tricked me. He found strategically the only way to get me to go on tour was to give the money to animal rights charities. My philanthropic Achilles heel. The only thing that would get me to go on tour. It's a brief tour of Europe, pretty big venues, which is interesting for an old guy, but when the tour ends, I will have less money than when the tour begins. 

Your DJ sets are great fun. Would you consider doing DJ dates locally? 

Every now and then I’ll do something. But there’s two problems. As I've become very old and very sober, I go to sleep at 9 p.m. This young guy I was helping who was newly sober, he's a DJ. He was doing a DJ set in L.A. and he said, "You should come down. There's this cool underground scene." I said, "Great! What time are you playing?" And he said "I’m going on at 1 a.m." By that point I've been asleep for almost five hours.

I got invited to a dinner party recently that started at 8 p.m. and I was like, "What are you on? Cocaine in Ibiza? You're having dinner at 8 p.m.  What craziness is that? That’s when you're putting on your soft clothes and watching a '30 Rock' rerun before bed. That's not going out time." And the other thing is, unfortunately, like a lot of middle aged or elderly musicians, I have a little bit of tinnitus so I have to be very cautious around loud music.

Are you going to write a third memoir at any point? 

Only when I figure out something to write. It's definitely not going to be anecdotes about sobriety because my anecdotes are: woke up at 5 a.m., had a smoothie, read The New York Times, lamented the fact that people are voting for Trump, went for a hike, worked on music, played with Bagel the dog, worked on music some more went to sleep, good night. It would be so repetitive and boring. 

It has to be something about lived experience and wisdom. But I don't know if I've necessarily gotten to the point where I have good enough lived experience and wisdom to share with anyone. Maybe if I get to that point, I'll probably be wrong, but nonetheless, that would warrant maybe writing another book.

 Machinedrum's New Album '3FOR82' Taps Into The Spirit Of His Younger Years 

 

 

Ryan Tedder Press Photo 2024
Ryan Tedder

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

interview

Behind Ryan Tedder's Hits: Stories From The Studio With OneRepublic, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift & More

As OneRepublic releases their latest album, the group's frontman and pop maverick gives an inside look into some of the biggest songs he's written — from how Beyoncé operates to Tom Cruise's prediction for their 'Top Gun' smash.

GRAMMYs/Jul 15, 2024 - 03:46 pm

Three months after OneRepublic began promoting their sixth album, Artificial Paradise, in February 2022, the band unexpectedly had their biggest release in nearly a decade. The pop-rock band's carefree jam, "I Ain't Worried," soundtracked Top Gun: Maverick's most memeable scene and quickly became a global smash — ultimately delaying album plans in favor of promoting their latest hit.

Two years later, "I Ain't Worried" is one of 16 tracks on Artificial Paradise, which arrived July 12. It's a seamless blend of songs that will resonate with longtime and newer fans alike. From the layered production of "Hurt," to the feel-good vibes of "Serotonin," to the evocative lyrics of "Last Holiday," Artificial Paradise shows that OneRepublic's sound is as dialed-in as it is ever-evolving.

The album also marks the end of an era for OneRepublic, as it's the last in their contract with Interscope Records. But for the group's singer, Ryan Tedder, that means the future is even more exciting than it's been in their entire 15-year career.

"I've never been more motivated to write the best material of my life than this very moment," he asserts. "I'm taking it as a challenge. We've had a lot of fun, and a lot of uplifting records for the last seven or eight years, but I also want to tap back into some deeper material with the band."

As he's been prepping Artificial Paradise with his OneRepublic cohorts, Tedder has also been as busy as he's ever been working with other artists. His career as a songwriter/producer took off almost simultaneously with OneRepublic's 2007 breakthrough, "Apologize" (his first major behind-the-board hit was Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love"); to this day he's one of the go-to guys for pop's biggest names, from BLACKPINK to Tate McRae.

Tedder sat down with GRAMMY.com to share some of his most prominent memories of OneRepublic's biggest songs, as well as some of the hits he's written with Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift and more.

OneRepublic — "Apologize," 'Dreaming Out Loud' (2007)

I was producing and writing other songs for different artists on Epic and Atlantic — I was just cutting my teeth as a songwriter in L.A. This is like 2004. I was at my lowest mentally and financially. I was completely broke. Creditors chasing me, literally dodging the taxman and getting my car repoed, everything.

I had that song in my back pocket for four years. A buddy of mine just reminded me last month, a songwriter from Nashville — Ashley Gorley, actually. We had a session last month, me, him and Amy Allen, and he brought it up. He was like, "Is it true, the story about 'Apologize'? You were completely broke living in L.A. and Epic Records offered you like 100 grand or something just for the right to record the song on one of their artists?"

And that is true. It was, like, 20 [grand], then 50, then 100. And I was salivating. I was, like, I need this money so bad. And I give so many songs to other people, but with that song, I drew a line in the sand and said, "No one will sing this song but me. I will die with this song." 

It was my story, and I just didn't want anyone else to sing it. It was really that simple. It was a song about my past relationships, it was deeply personal. And it was also the song that — I spent two years trying to figure out what my sound was gonna be. I was a solo artist… and I wasn't landing on anything compelling. Then I landed on "Apologize" and a couple of other songs, and I was like, These songs make me think of a band, not solo artist material. So it was the song that led me to the sound of OneRepublic, and it also led me to the idea that I should start a band and not be a solo artist.

We do it every night. I'll never not do it. I've never gotten sick of it once. Every night that we do it, whether I'm in Houston or Hong Kong, I look out at the crowd and look at the band, and I'm like, Wow. This is the song that got us here.

Beyoncé — "Halo," 'I Am…Sacha Fierce' (2008)

We were halfway through promoting Dreaming Out Loud, our first album. I played basketball every day on tour, and I snapped my Achilles. The tour got canceled. The doctor told me not to even write. And I had this one sliver of an afternoon where my wife had to run an errand. And because I'm sadistic and crazy, I texted [songwriter] Evan Bogart, "I got a three-hour window, race over here. Beyoncé called me and asked me to write her a song. I want to do it with you." He had just come off his huge Rihanna No. 1, and we had an Ashley Tisdale single together.

When you write enough songs, not every day do the clouds part and God looks down on you and goes, "Here." But that's what happened on that day. I turn on the keyboard, the first sound that I play is the opening sound of the song. Sounds like angels singing. And we wrote the song pretty quick, as I recall. 

I didn't get a response [from Beyoncé after sending "Halo" over], which I've now learned is very, very typical of her. I did Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé "II MOST WANTED" [from COWBOY CARTER] — I didn't know that was coming out 'til five days before it came out. And when I did "XO" [from 2013's Beyoncé], I found out that "XO" was coming out 12 hours before it came out. That's how she operates.

OneRepublic — "Good Life," 'Waking Up' (2009)

["Good Life"] was kind of a Hail Mary. We already knew that "All the Right Moves" would be the first single [from Waking Up]. We knew that "Secrets" was the second single. And in the 11th hour, our engineer at the time — who I ended up signing as a songwriter, Noel Zancanella — had this drum loop that he had made, and he played it for Brent [Kutzle] in our band. Brent said, "You gotta hear this drum loop that Noel made. It's incredible."

He played it for me the next morning, and I was like, "Yo throw some chords to this. I'm writing to this today." They threw some chords down, and the first thing out of my mouth was, [sings] "Oh, this has gotta be the good life." 

It's the perfect example of, oftentimes, the chord I've tried to strike with this band with some of our bigger records, [which] is happy sad. Where you feel nostalgic and kind of melancholic, but at the same time, euphoric. That's what those chords and that melody did for me.

I was like, "Hey guys, would it be weird if I made the hook a whistle?" And everyone was like, "No! Do not whistle!" They're like, "Name the last hit song that had a whistle." And the only one I could think of was, like, Scorpion from like, 1988. [Laughs.] So I thought, To hell with it, man, it's been long enough, who cares? Let's try it. And the whistle kind of made the record. It became such a signature thing.

Adele — "Rumour Has It," '21' (2011)

"Rumour Has It" was the first song I did in probably a four year period, with any artist, that wasn't a ballad. All any artist ever wanted me to write with them or for them, was ballads, because of "Halo," and "Apologize" and "Bleeding Love."

I begged [Adele] to do a [song with] tempo, because we did "Turning Tables," another ballad. She was in a feisty mood [that day], so I was like, "Okay, we're doing a tempo today!"

Rick Rubin was originally producing the whole album. I was determined to produce Adele, not just write — because I wanted a shot to show her that I could, and to show myself. I stayed later after she left, and I remember thinking, What can I do in this record in this song that could be so difficult to reproduce that it might land me the gig?

So I intentionally muted the click track, changed the tempo, and [created that] whole piano bridge. I was making it up as I went. When she got in that morning. I said, "I have a crazy idea for a bridge. It's a movie." She listens and she says, "This is really different, I like this! How do we write to this?" 

I mean, it was very difficult. [But] we finished the song. She recorded the entire song that day. She recorded the whole song in one take. I've never seen anyone do that in my life — before or since.

Then I didn't hear from her for six months. Because I handed over the files, and Rick Rubin's doing it, so I don't need to check on it. I randomly check on the status of the song — and at this point, if you're a songwriter or producer, you're assuming that they're not keeping the songs. Her manager emails my manager, "Hey, good news — she's keeping both songs they did, and she wants Ryan to finish 'Rumour Has It' production and mix it." 

When I finally asked her, months later — probably at the GRAMMYs — I said, "Why didn't [Rick] do it?" She said, "Oh he did. It's that damn bridge! Nobody could figure out what the hell you were doing…It was so problematic that we just gave up on it."

OneRepublic — "Counting Stars," 'Native' (2013)

I was in a Beyoncé camp in the Hamptons writing for the self-titled album. [There were] a bunch of people in the house — me, Greg Kurstin, Sia — it was a fun group of people. I had four days there, and every morning I'd get up an hour and a half before I had to leave, make a coffee, and start prepping for the day. On the third day, I got up, I'm in the basement of this house at like 7 in the morning, and I'm coming up with ideas. I stumble across that chord progression, the guitar and the melody. It was instant shivers up my spine. 

"Lately I've been losing sleep, dreaming about the things that we could be" is the only line that I had. [My] first thought was, I should play this for Beyoncé, and then I'm listening to it and going, This is not Beyoncé, not even remotely. It'd be a waste. So I tabled it, and I texted the guys in my band, "Hey, I think I have a potentially really big record. I'm going to finish it when I get back to Denver."

I got back the next week, started recording it, did four or five versions of the chorus, bouncing all the versions off my wife, and then eventually landed it. And when I played it for the band, they were like, "This is our favorite song."

Taylor Swift — "Welcome to New York," '1989' (2014)

It was my second session with Taylor. The first one was [1989's] "I Know Places," and she sent me a voice memo. I was looking for a house in Venice [California], because we were spending so much time in L.A. So that whole memory is attached to me migrating back to Los Angeles. 

But I knew what she was talking about, because I lived in New York, and I remember the feeling — endless possibilities, all the different people and races and sexes and loves. That was her New York chapter. She was so excited to be there. If you never lived there, and especially if you get there and you've got a little money in the pocket, it is so exhilarating.

It was me just kind of witnessing her brilliant, fast-paced, lyrical wizardry. [Co-producer] Max [Martin] and I had a conversation nine months later at the GRAMMYs, when we had literally just won for 1989. He kind of laughed, he pointed to all the other producers on the album, and he's like, "If she had, like, three more hours in the day, she would just figure out what we do and she would do it. And she wouldn't need any of us." 

And I still think that's true. Some people are just forces of nature in and among themselves, and she's one of them. She just blew me away. She's the most talented top liner I've ever been in a room with, bar none. If you're talking lyric and melody, I've never been in a room with anyone faster, more adept, knows more what they want to say, focused, efficient, and just talented.

Jonas Brothers — "Sucker," 'Happiness Begins' (2019)

I had gone through a pretty dry spell mentally, emotionally. I had just burned it at both ends and tapped out, call it end of 2016. So, really, all of 2017 for me was a blur and a wash. I did a bunch of sessions in the first three months of the year, and then I just couldn't get a song out. I kept having, song after song, artists telling me it's the first single, [then] the song was not even on the album. I had never experienced that in my career.

I went six to nine months without finishing a song, which for me is unheard of. Andrew Watt kind of roped me back into working with him. We did "Easier" for 5 Seconds of Summer, and we did some Sam Smith and some Miley Cyrus, and right in that same window, I did this song "Sucker." Two [or] three months later, Wendy Goldstein from Republic [Records] heard the record, I had sent it to her. She'd said, very quietly, "We're relaunching the Jonas Brothers. They want you to be involved in a major way. Do you have anything?" 

She calls me, she goes, "Ryan, do not play this for anybody else. This is their comeback single. It's a No. 1 record. Watch what we're gonna do." And she delivered.

OneRepublic — "I Ain't Worried," 'Top Gun: Maverick' Soundtrack (2022)

My memory is, being in lockdown in COVID, and just being like, Who knows when this is going to end, working out of my Airstream at my house. I had done a lot of songs for movies over the years, and [for] that particular [song] Randy Spendlove, who runs [music at] Paramount, called me.

I end up Zooming with Tom Cruise [and Top Gun: Maverick director] Jerry Bruckheimer — everybody's in lockdown during post-production. The overarching memory was, Holy cow, I'm doing the scene, I'm doing the song for Top Gun. I can't believe this is happening. But the only way I knew how to approach it, rather than to, like, overreact and s— the bed, was, It's just another day.

I do prescription songs for movies, TV, film all the time. I love a brief. It's so antithetical to most writers. I'm either uncontrollably lazy or the most productive person you've ever met. And the dividing line between the two is, if I'm chasing some directive, some motivation, some endpoint, then I can be wildly productive.

I just thought, I'm going to do the absolute best thing I can do for this scene and serve the film. OneRepublic being the performing artist was not on the menu in my mind. I just told them, "I think you need a cool indie band sounding, like, breakbeat." I used adjectives to describe what I heard when I saw the scene, and Tom got really ramped and excited. 

You could argue [it's the biggest song] since the band started. The thing about it is, it's kind of become one of those every summer [hits]. And when it blew up, that's what Tom said. He said, "Mark my words, dude. You're gonna have a hit with this every summer for, like, the next 20 years or more." 

And that's what happened. The moment Memorial Day happened, "I Ain't Worried" got defrosted and marched itself back into the top 100.

Tate McRae — "Greedy," 'THINK LATER' (2023)

We had "10:35" [with Tiësto] the previous year that had been, like, a No. 1 in the UK and across Europe and Australia. So we were coming off the back of that, and the one thing she was clear about was, "That is not the direction of what I want to do."

If my memory serves me correct, "greedy" was the next to last session we had. Everything we had done up to that point was kind of dark, midtempo, emotional. So "greedy" was the weirdo outlier. I kept pushing her to do a dance record. I was like, "Tate, there's a lot of people that have great voices, and there's a lot of people who can write, but none of those people are professional dancers like you are. Your secret weapon is the thing you're not using. In this game and this career, you've got to use every asset that you have and exploit it."

There was a lot of cajoling. On that day, we did it, and I thought it was badass, and loved it. And she was like, "Ugh, what do we just do? What is this?"

So then it was just, like, months, months and months of me constantly bringing that song back up, and playing it for her, and annoying the s— out of her. And she came around on it. 

She has very specific taste. So much of the music with Tate, it really is her steering. I'll do what I think is like a finished version of a song, and then she will push everyone for weeks, if not months, to extract every ounce of everything out of them, to push the song harder, further, edgier — 19 versions of a song, until finally she goes, "Okay, this is the one." She's a perfectionist.

OneRepublic — "Last Holiday," 'Artificial Paradise' (2024)

I love [our latest single] "Hurt," but my favorite song on the album is called "Last Holiday." I probably started the beginning of that lyric, I'm not joking, seven, eight years ago. But I didn't finish it 'til this past year.

The verses are little maxims and words of advice that I've been given throughout the years. It's almost cynical in a way, the song. When I wrote the chorus, I was definitely in kind of a down place. So the opening line is, "So I don't believe in the stars anymore/ They never gave me what I wished for." And it's, obviously, a very not-so-slight reference to "Counting Stars." But it's also hopeful — "We've got some problems, okay, but this isn't our last holiday." 

It's very simple sentiments. Press pause. Take some moments. Find God before it all ends. All these things with this big, soaring chorus. Musically and emotionally and sonically, that song — and "Hurt," for sure — but "Last Holiday" is extremely us-sounding. 

The biggest enemy that we've had over the course of 18 years, I'll be the first to volunteer, is, this ever-evolving, undulating sound. No one's gonna accuse me of making these super complex concept albums, because that's just not how my brain's wired. I grew up listening to the radio. I didn't grow up hanging out in the Bowery in CBGBs listening to Nick Cave. So for us, the downside to that, and for me doing all these songs for all these other people, is the constant push and pull of "What is their sound? What genre is it?" 

I couldn't put a pin in exactly what the sound is, but what I would say is, if you look at the last 18 years, a song like "Last Holiday" really encompasses, sonically, what this band is about. It's very moving, and emotional, and dynamic. It takes me to a place — that's the best way for me to put it. And hopefully the listener finds the same.

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Steve Aoki press photo
Steve Aoki

Photo: Jana Schuessler

interview

On 'Paragon,' Steve Aoki Keeps Pushing: "This Is By Far The Most Innovative Dance Album I've Ever Done"

From techno to electro, 'Paragon' runs the gamut of dance sounds.Out June 28, the LP is decisively for the dance floor and reflects "a newer sound of Steve Aoki."

GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 01:24 pm

The title of his ninth studio album is an apt description of Steve Aoki himself.

The cake-throwing DJ/producer — best known commercially for his 2012 remix of Kid Cudi, MGMT, and Ratatat’s "Pursuit Of Happiness" — can very well be called a paragon of longevity in dance and electronic music. And like his stature as one of the world’s highest-paid DJs (Forbes regularly cites him on its annual list), this status is hard-won.

"[The dance music industry] is…not forgiving," he tells GRAMMY.com on a Zoom call from his home in Las Vegas. He appears in quintessential Aoki fashion: shirtless, his long, dark hair cascading down his shoulders. "Yes, I have a safety level where I can continue to play shows based on old tracks, but that doesn't last very long. You have to constantly stay ahead." 

 Akin to HiRO — the protagonist of the HiROQUEST graphic novel series that he created to pair with his last two studio albums, HiROQUEST: Genesis and HiROQUEST 2: Double Helix — Aoki is on a quest of his own. HiRO (a genetically augmented meta-human) is tasked with traveling into the multiverse 400 years into the future to save Earth from an unavoidable disaster. Aoki’s charge — continuous innovation of his craft to sustain his longevity in dance music’s ever-saturated and rapidly-moving market — is no less dire nor significant to the Dim Mak Records founder.  

"I've always had this starvation complex where I have to keep doing my s—, or else I'm going to die," he muses casually, phone in hand as he paces around his house, as he’s done since he joined our call. Judging by the deadpan manner in which he delivers this line and the laugh that caps it off, this is not a revelation for Aoki. As the Greek maxim goes, "know thyself." Assuredly, he does, and well enough to know he has to keep doing his thing, hence Paragon.

Read more: Steve Aoki Connects Music & The Card-Game Metaverse On 'Hiroquest': "It's About Telling The Story Of The Future Cryptid World"

The 18-track project, out June 28, harkens back to Aoki’s dance floor roots following 2023’s Latin-influenced HiROQUEST 2: Double Helix and 2022’s alternative- and punk-guided HiROQUEST. It teems with high-profile crossover collaborations, like "Heavenly Hell" (Ne-Yo), "Electrowavebaby 2.0" (Kid Cudi), and "Get Lower" (Lil Jon). Most importantly, though, it reflects "a newer sound of Steve Aoki" — a compelling and contemporary means of extending his "safety level" in the dance space.

Ahead of Paragon’s release via his own imprint and an international tour, Steve Aoki spoke with GRAMMY.com about the album’s relationality to his artistic identity and HiROQUEST and why, even after nine albums, he’s still "very excited and very hungry to get back in the studio and continue to write music that matters." 

 This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Why was now the right time for you to go back to your true dance roots?  


An album is always about where I am at that moment. I look at each album in a way where I don't want to think too deeply about it. I want it to be more of a timestamp that, in 10 years’ time, reflects that moment in time for me.   

This time, a lot of the collaborations I was doing just fluidly became more of the same synergy. It’s a flow, and Paragon is also directly reflective of the kind of music I'm playing at my shows.  

Dance music is certainly on a rise, especially the newer sounds of dance music. Sonically, the climate's changing a lot, which challenges me as a producer who was more dominant in the 2010s. I was putting out a lot of music then, and those songs were more prolific in the electronic dance music community.  

Now, I'm challenged to stay ahead of my own production. The DNA of your sound stays with you, but you’ve got to always innovate, and this is by far the most innovative dance album I've ever done.

What, in your opinion, makes 'Paragon' so innovative?

When I go back into Paragon and I listen to each song, it's a newer sound of Steve Aoki; it's very dynamic and diverse. There’s house records, there's techno records, there's different beats-per-minute ranges — it's not just hard-hitting festival records.   

I think it's forward-thinking for me as a producer, and I'm already working on the "Part B." I distinctively made it shorter than my previous three albums, which were over 20 songs each. This is more of a traditional album length because I look at it as a two-part story musically. 

I have a bigger story that I've been attaching to my albums, like HiROQUEST and HiROQUEST 2. I wrote a book that joins those two albums into a full-length science fiction fantasy anime storyline with art and cards and collectability factor, all that fun stuff outside of music. 

Paragon is going to be an Easter egg or precursor to what's to come — the continuation of HiROQUEST. I just wanted to not use the name HiROQUEST because I wanted to do something different.

How does the album’s title fit into this larger narrative?

The Paragon Aura is a huge theme of Book 2 of HiROQUEST — it's what brings HiRO back from the "lost world" where he's been stuck. He essentially dies at the end of Book 1 and gets stuck in this lost world. This aura brings him back.

The HiROQUEST is a quest of 10 rings and HiRO is trying to obtain all 10, so he gets this power that’s going to be discussed in Book 2.  In order to forge the 10 rings to this omnipotent god ring, he has to use the Paragon Aura. The Paragon Aura is an extremely powerful tool and it's a big theme of the second book. 

You’re certainly a paragon of longevity in the dance space, which is rare. How have you maintained such an enduring and continuously expanding presence? 

The hunger needs to be there. It doesn't matter how successful you might be to the world. Yes, I have a safety level where I can continue to play shows based on old tracks, but that doesn't last very long. You have to constantly stay ahead. 

I think dance music is a bit different from rock or other genres where you can tour off your old catalog. Blink-182 never has to make another new song if they don't want to; they're going to sell out stadiums based on their catalog. Radiohead, Coldplay, they never have to make another new song — they're going to sell out.  

There's certain artists in the dance world that are veterans in the space. They’re household names. Like Tiësto or David Guetta…they don't have to release any more music, but they do. When they drop new music, it's still consistently part of culture, which is so exciting. I think that's exciting about the dance world; we still have a strong fingerprint. 

Do you count yourself among the veteran dance acts who don’t have to release more music if they don’t want to?  

There are definitely people who might think I'm in this category, but I don't personally think about myself like that. Not doing so keeps me fighting for it. I'm still very excited and very hungry to get back in the studio and continue to write music that matters.  

The baseline has to be that you're giving all of yourself to this. I still remember touring in a band with four sweaty dudes, showering once a week, and staying at people's houses. Not once in those 14 tours did we ever stay in a hotel. All the money went to gas and feeding ourselves.

We’d be broke by the end of the tour, and I’d be ready for the next one. I still remember the feeling of okay, we’re broke, we’re stinky, and we’re back in our town. Now we gotta write more music to get back on the road again, and I loved it. I did like 14 full tours by the time I was 21. It's a lot more luxurious these days but doing what you love has to be the foundation or else you can't survive the hard. 

I've been doing my record label, Dim Mak, for almost 30 years now. The people who have worked for Dim Mak…it's a lifestyle. Yes, they're working to get a paycheck, but they're working first and foremost because they believe in the culture. You have to be down with the culture first and the paycheck second. 

What can fellow DJ/producers take from the example you’ve set?

I think the most important thing is to never stop making music and leveling up your shows because those are the two most important things as an artist in any space. The live experience is really important. Your music is number one, though, because if your music's not good, no one's even going to go to your live show. You need to build your sound to a point where people know your music as you, and then you better show up and make your show really good. And not even just good — you’ve got to make it your own show.     

A Steve Aoki show is a unique show, and in some cases, it's outperforming my music. People will talk more about my cakes than my new album. I'll take it though, because I just want people to have a great experience. 

There are a lot of artists who find their sound, develop it, people latch onto them, and then they just fizzle out for whatever reason. When it fizzles out, that's when the real test comes and it’s to go back to it. If you really care about the long game, you’ve got to keep putting more cakes in the oven. 

Nine albums is a tall tally, especially for the dance genre, where the album is not the dominant format. Why is it important to you to continue making albums despite this dynamic?

I've always been an album guy because I was a band guy. When you're in a band, the most important thing is to make an album, not a song. You have to make a collection of music that defines you. 

When I was in bands, I listened to albums, and I’d listen to every single song. I know people don't do that anymore, but I still like to follow that, I can't help it. I collect vinyl; I do certain things in the old-school sense that you can't kick out of me.

Read more: 8 Times Dance Stars Channeled Their Inner Punk Kid, From Deadmau5 & Gerard Way To Rezz & Silverstein 

I know people aren't listening to the full album. I know they're listening to the song that's probably the main song of the whole album. And even if one one-hundredth of my fans listen to the full album, I don't actually care. I'm still going to make the album. It goes back to the most important thing: I'm doing it for myself first. 

I love telling a story. All the attention to detail and my intention to create this moment in time means so much to me. I know one one-hundredth of the people are going to be there for it, and I'm totally fine with that. I've grown a community of fans because I care so much about the detail; I go so deep into the story. I do it for them too. And the people who are in and out and come just for the quick hit, that's fine. They're absolutely welcome and invited to be part of it. 

That one one-hundredth appreciates the concept-driven approach to album-making, especially because this genre isn’t exactly known for that compared to other genres.

Yeah, and I think a lot of stuff that I'm doing, especially with HiROQUEST, has not been done before, like bringing in anime culture, card culture, comic books, and manga. No one's doing that in [dance music]. The Weeknd did a comic book and so did Kid Cudi. I'm following the same practice of combining these worlds.

And I went deep in HiROQUEST: Book 1. It's 50,000 words. I spent like 16 months writing this book; it’s 250 pages. That’s a big ordeal, but what's great is we’ve already sold out two printings. We're already in our third printing now, which is incredible for a story that had never been heard before.

I love my fans for that. It allows me to have the courage to keep going. To step out like this is a lot of work and a lot of time, and you don't want to fall on deaf eyes and ears. I'm already writing Book 2 

Tove Lo & SG Lewis Crafted Sweaty New EP 'HEAT' In Celebration Of Their Queer Fans 

Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023.
Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023

Photo: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

feature

The Environmental Impact Of Touring: How Scientists, Musicians & Nonprofits Are Trying To Shrink Concerts' Carbon Footprint

"It’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour," singer Brittany Howard says of efforts to make concerts more sustainable. From the nonprofit that partnered with Billie Eilish, to an MIT initiative, the music industry aims to curb climate change.

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2024 - 01:30 pm

Beloved by fans around the globe, yet increasingly unaffordable for many artists, concert tours are central to the world of entertainment and local economies. After the pandemic-era global shuttering of concert venues large and small, tours are back, and bigger than ever.  

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is smashing records, selling more than four million tickets and earning more than $1 billion. But that tour made headlines for another reason: as reported in Business Insider and other outlets, for a six-month period in 2023, Swift’s two jets spent a combined 166 hours in the air between concerts, shuttling at most a total of 28 passengers. 

Against that backdrop, heightened concerns about the global environmental cost of concert touring have led a number of prominent artists to launch initiatives. Those efforts seek both to mitigate the negative effects of touring and communicate messages about sustainability to concertgoers. 

A 2023 study sponsored by Texas-based electricity provider Payless Power found that the carbon footprint of many touring bands was massive. In 2022, concert tours in five genres — country, classic rock, hip-hop/rap, metal and pop — were responsible for CO2 emissions totaling nearly 45,000 metric tons. A so-called greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide contributes to climate change by radiative forcing; increased levels of CO2 also contribute to health problems.  

No serious discussion of climate issues suggests a worldwide halt to live music touring, but there exists much room for improvement. Both on their own and with the help of dedicated nonprofit organizations, many artists are taking positive steps toward mitigating the deleterious effects that touring exerts upon the environment.  

Smart tour planning is one way to lessen an artist’s carbon footprint. Ed Sheeran’s 2022 European run minimized flights between concert venues, making that leg of his tour the year's most environmentally efficient. Total carbon dioxide emissions (from flights and driving) on Sheeran’s tour came to less than 150 metric tons. In contrast, Dua Lipa’s tour during the same period generated 12 times as much — more than 1800 metric tons — of CO2 

In July, singer/songwriter and four-time GRAMMY nominee Jewel will embark on her first major tour in several years, alongside GRAMMY winner Melissa Etheridge. During the planning stage for the 28-city tour, Jewel suggested an idea that could reduce the tour’s carbon footprint.

"I always thought it was so silly and so wasteful — and so carbon footprint-negative — to have separate trucks, separate lighting, separate crews, separate hotel rooms, separate costs," Jewel says. She pitched the idea of sharing a backing band with Etheridge. "I’ve been trying to do this for 25 years," Jewel says with a laugh. "Melissa is the first person who took me up on it!" 

The changes will not only reduce the tour’s carbon footprint, but they’ll also lessen the cost of taking the shows on the road. Acknowledging that there are many opportunities to meet the challenges of touring’s negative impact upon the environment, Jewel emphasizes that “you have to find [solutions] that work for you.”

Sheeran and Jewel aren’t the only popular artists trying to make a difference. A number of high profile artists have become actively involved in creating the momentum for positive change. Those artists believe that their work on sustainability issues goes hand in hand with their role as public figures. Their efforts take two primary forms: making changes themselves, andadvocating for action among their fans.  

The Climate Machine 

Norhan Bayomi is an Egypt-born environmental scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a key member of the Environmental Solutions Initiative, a program launched to address sustainable climate action. She’s also a recording artist in the trance genre, working under the name Nourey 

The ESI collaborates with industry heavyweights Live Nation, Warner Music Group and others as well with touring/recording acts like Coldplay to examine the carbon footprint of the music industry. A key component of the ESI is the Climate Machine, a collaborative research group that seeks to help the live music industry reduce carbon emissions. "As a research institution, we bring technologies and analytics to understand, in the best way possible, the actual impact of the music industry upon climate change," says John Fernández, Director of the ESI.  

"I’m very interested in exploring ways that we can bridge between environmental science, climate change and music fans," Bayomi says. She explains that the tools at the ESI’s disposal include "virtual reality, augmented reality and generative AI," media forms that can communicate messages to music fans and concertgoers. Fernández says that those endeavors are aimed at "enlisting, enabling and inspiring people to get engaged in climate change." 

The Environmental Solutions Initiative cites Coldplay as a high-profile success. The band and its management issued an "Emissions Update" document in June 2024, outlining its success at achieving their goal of reducing direct carbon emissions from show production, freight, band and crew travel. The established target was a 50 percent cut in emissions compared to Coldplay’s previous tour; the final result was a 59 percent reduction between their 2022-23 tour and 2016-17 tour.  

A significant part of that reduction came as a result of a renewable-energy based battery system that powers audio and lights. The emissions data in the update was reviewed and independently validated by MIT’s Fernández.  

Change Is Reverberating 

Guitarist Adam Gardner is a founding member of Massachusetts-based indie rockers Guster, but he's more than just a singer in a rock band. Gardner is also the co-founder of REVERB, one of the organizations at the forefront of developing and implementing climate-focused sustainability initiatives.  

Founded in 2004 by Gardner and his wife, environmental activist Lauren Sullivan, REVERB  began with a goal of making touring more sustainable; over the years its focus has expanded to promote industry-wide changes. Today, the organization promotes sustainability throughout the industry  in partnership with music artists, concert venues and festivals.  

REVERB initiatives have included efforts to eliminate single-use plastics at the California Roots Music & Arts Festival, clean energy projects in cooperation with Willie Nelson and Billie Eilish, and efforts with other major artists. Gardner has seen sustainability efforts grow over two decades 

"It’s really amazing to see the [change] with artists, with venues, with fans," Gardner says. "Today, people are not just giving lip service to sustainable efforts; they really want to do things that are real and measurable."  

The Music Decarbonization Project is one tangible example of REVERB’s successes. "Diesel power is one of the dirtiest sources of power," Gardner explains. "And it’s an industry standard to power festival stages with diesel generators." Working with Willie Nelson, the organization helped switch the power sources at his annual Luck Reunion to clean energy. At last year’s festival, Nelson’s headlining stage drew 100 percent of its power from solar-powered batteries. "We set up a temporary solar farm," Gardner says, "and the main stage didn’t have to use any diesel power."  

Billie Eilish was another early supporter of the initiative. "She helped us launch the program," Gardner says. Eilish’s set at Lollapallooza 2023 drew power from solar batteries, too.  

With such high-profile successes as a backdrop, Gardner believes that REVERB is poised to do even more to foster sustainable concerts and touring. "Our role now," he says, "isn’t just, ‘Hey, think about this stuff.’ It’s more how do we push farther, faster?"  

Adam Gardner believes that musicians are uniquely positioned to help make a difference where issues of sustainability are concerned. "When you’re a musician, you’re connecting with fans heart-to-heart. That’s what moves people. And that’s where the good stuff happens."  

Small-scale, individual changes can make a difference — especially when they’re coordinated and amplified among other concertgoers. Gardner provides real-world examples. "Instead of buying a plastic bottle, I brought my reusable and filled it up. Maybe I carpooled to the show." Conceding that such steps might seem like drops of water in a giant pool, he emphasizes the power of scale. "When you actually multiply [those things for] just one summer tour, it adds up," he says. "And it reminds people, ‘You’re not alone in this; you’re part of a community that’s taking action."  

Gardner understands that REVERB’s arguments have to be framed the right way to reach concertgoers. "Look," he admits, "It’s a concert. We’re not here to be a buzzkill. Our [aim] now is making sure people don’t lose hope." He says that REVERB and its partners seek to demonstrate that, with collective action and cultural change, there is reason for optimism.  

"There’s a wonderful feedback loop between hope and action," Gardner says with a smile. "You can’t really have one without the other."  

Sustainable Partnerships 

Tanner Watt is Director of Partnerships at REVERB; he works directly with touring artists to develop, coordinate and implement initiatives that bring together his organization’s objectives and the specific personal concerns of the artists. "I get to come up with all the fun, big ideas," he says with a wide smile.  

Watt acknowledges that like every concertgoer, each touring artist has a certain level of responsibility where sustainability is concerned. "And everyone can be doing something," he says, noting a number of straightforward actions that artists can put in place while on tour. "They can eliminate single-use waste. They can donate hotel toiletries that [would otherwise] hit the landfill."  

Watt stresses that artists can lead by example. "Nobody wants to listen to an artist telling them what to do if they’re not doing it themselves," he says. "But we believe that everybody cares about something." He suggests that if an artist has cultivated a following, "Why not use [that platform] to be that change you want to see in the world?"  

Each artist has his or her own specific areas of concern, but Watt says that there’s a base level of "greening" that takes place on every REVERB-affiliated tour. Where things go from there is up to the artist, in coordination with REVERB. Watt mentions Billie Eilish and her tour’s sustainability commitment. "The Venn diagram of food security, community health, access to healthy food, and the impact on the planet is a big cause for her," he says. "So there’s plant-based catering for her entire crew, across the entire tour." 

Speaking to Billboard, Eilish's mother Maggie Baird said championing sustainability starts with artists. "If artists are interested, it does really start with them telling their teams that they care and that it’s foremost in their thoughts." In the same conversation, Eilish called the battle for sustainability "a never-ending f–king fight."  

Watt acknowledges that with so many challenges, it’s important for a concerned artist to focus on the issues that move them the most, and where they can make the biggest difference. "Jack Johnson is a great example," he says. While Johnson is a vocal advocate for many environmental issues, on tour he focuses on two (in Watt’s words) "cause umbrellas": single-use plastics solutions and sustainable community food systems. Each show on the tour hosts tables representing local nonprofit organizations, presenting concertgoers with real-world, human-scale solutions to those specific challenges.  

Four-time GRAMMY winner Brittany Howard is another passionate REVERB partner. "Knowing that I wanted to make my tours more sustainable was a start," she tells GRAMMY.com, "but working with REVERB really helped me bring it to life on the road. REVERB has helped us with guidelines and a green rider to keep our stage, greenrooms and buses more sustainable." 

After listing several other specific ways that her tour supports sustainability, Howard notes, "By supporting these efforts, I am helping ensure future generations have access to clean water, fish, and all that I love about the outdoors." A dollar from every ticket sold to a Brittany Howard concert goes toward support of REVERB’s Music Decarbonization project. "I’m also excited to see industry-wide efforts that are reducing the carbon pollution of live music," Howard continues. "Because it’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour." 

There’s a popular aphorism: "You can’t manage what you can’t measure." From its start, REVERB has sought not only to promote change, but to measure its success. "As long as I’ve been at REVERB, we’ve issued impact reports," says Tanner Watt. "We include data points, and give the report to the artists so they understand what we’ve done together." He admits that some successes are more tangible than others, but that it’s helpful to focus on the ones that can be quantified. "We’re very excited that our artists share those with their fans."  

Watt is clear-eyed at the challenges that remain. "Even the word ‘sustainable’ can be misleading," he concedes, suggesting that the only truly sustainable tour is the one that doesn’t happen. "But if folks don’t step it up and change the way we do business in every industry — not just ours — we’re going to get to a place where we’re forced to make sacrifices that aren’t painless." Getting that message across is REVERB’s aim. "We can’t stop the world," Watt says. "So we find ways to approach these things positively."  

Watt says that the fans at concerts featuring Jack Johnson and the Dave Matthews Band — both longtime REVERB partners — are already on board with many of the sustainability-focused initiatives which those artists promote. "But there are lots of artists — and lots of fan bases — out there that aren’t messaged to, or have been mis-messaged to," he says. "I’m really excited to find more ways to expand our reach to them, beyond mainstream pop music. Because these are conversations that are meaningful for everyone, regardless of political affiliation or other beliefs."  

Reimagining The Planet’s Future 

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adam Met does more than front AJR, the indie pop trio he founded in 2005 with brothers Jack and Ryan. Met has a PhD in sustainable development and is a climate activist; he's also the founder/Executive Director of Planet Reimagined, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability and activism through its work with businesses, other organizations and musicians.  

"I’ve spent years traveling around the world, seeing the direct impact of climate change," Met says. He cites two recent and stark examples. "When we pulled up to a venue in San Francisco, the band had to wear gas masks going from the bus into the venue, because of forest fires," he says. AJR’s road crew had to contend with a flash flood in Athens, Greece that washed out their hotel. "And in Rome, some of our crew members fainted because of the heat."  

Encouraged by representatives from the United Nations, Met launched Planet Reimagined. Met’s approach focuses on tailored, city-specific actions to empower fans and amplify diverse voices in the climate movement. Through social media and live shows, Met strives to galvanize climate activism among AJR fans. And the methods he has developed can be implemented by other touring artists.  

Met points out that one of the most climate-unfriendly parts of the entire concert tour enterprise is fans traveling to and from the concerts. And that’s something over which the artist has little or no control. What they can do, he says, is try to educate and influence. Working closely with Ticketmaster and other stakeholders, Met’s nonprofit initiated a study — conducted from July to December 2023, with results published in April 2024 — to explore the energy that happens at concerts. "In sociology," he explains, "that energy is called collective effervescence." The study’s goal is to find ways to channel that energy toward advocacy and action.  

Polling a quarter million concertgoers across musical genres, the study collected data on attitudes about climate change. "Seventy-three percent of fans who attend concerts believe that climate change is real, and that we need to be doing more about it," Met says. "Seventy-eight percent have already taken some sort of action in their lives." He believes that if his organization can activate even a fraction of the estimated 250 million people annually who attend concerts around the globe, "that’s the ballgame."  

Met’s goal is to do more than, say, get concertgoers to switch from plastic to paper drinking straws. "At scale those things make a difference. But people want to see actions where there’s a track record," he says; a return on investment.  

AJR will be putting a plan into action on the second half of their upcoming arena tour. Part of the initiative is encouraging concertgoers to register to vote, and then actually vote. Beyond that, Met has specific actions in mind. "At every single stop, we’re putting together materials around specific policies that are being debated at the local level," he explains. "We give people a script right there, so they can call their elected representative and say, ‘I want you to vote [a certain way on this issue].’"  

He believes the initiative will lead to thousands of people contacting – and hopefully influencing – their representatives. With regard to sustainability issues, Met is convinced that "the most impact that you can have as an artist is when you give fans ways to pick up the mantle themselves." 

Artists Who Are Going On Tour In 2024: The Rolling Stones, Drake, Olivia Rodrigo & More 

 

L'Impératrice press photo
L'Impératrice

Photo: Manu Milon

interview

On 'Pulsar,' L'Impératrice Are Guided By Vibes: "Expressing Your Feelings Is Really Infused In This Album"

On their first self-produced album, L'Impératrice employed new methods of communication. Whether that was deciding what language to sing in, or offering a song to rapper Erick The Architect, 'Pulsar' indeed has a new beat.

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2024 - 04:14 pm

Back in 2011, the Parisian artist Charles de Boisseguin was making funky music by himself. But he knew that his music was too groovy to restrict to recordings. He wanted to do more than be a DJ; de Boisseguin wanted the chemistry of a full band.  

He formed L'Impératrice, a six-piece modern disco and funk project featuring de Boisseguin on keys, Hagni Gwon on keys and strings, drummer Tom Daveau, bassist David Gaugué, guitarist Achille Trocellier, and vocalist Flore Benguigui. The group released their third album, Pulsar, on June 7.  

Prior to Benguigui's arrival in 2015, L'Impératrice were purely instrumental. "Vocals were another instrument we wanted in our music, but we discovered we had to change our way of composing,"says Gwon. "When you don't have any vocals, you're free to put everything you want as a musician. Sometimes too many things. But when you have vocals, you have to be very balanced. It wasn't easy at first." 

However, L'Impératrice's creative process coalesced and, soon, their floaty, dance-forward style  had garnered a passionate international fanbase. In support of their second album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, they played all over North America, Europe, and the UK to sold-out crowds and packed festival stages at Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands. "It's not usual for a French project or band, especially a band, to be known abroad. So, it’s like a dream coming true all the time," Gwon notes. 

Pulsar L'Impératrice's first self-produced effort —was inspired by these international travels, and showcases the band's diverse backgrounds and interests. "It's kind of paradoxical, because it's the first album we made ourselves. But it's the first time we collaborated with that many people," Benguigui says. 

On Pulsar, Benguigui writes and sings in three languages; Neapolitan vocalist Fabiana Martone sings in Italian on the joyous dance jig, "Danza Marilù." Hip-hop/neo soul singer Maggie Rogers' somber and soulful tones are a harmonious addition to the seductive "Any Way." The Flatbush Zombies’ Erick The Architect increases the velocity of his rhymes to accommodate the band’s upbeat funk on "Sweet & Sublime." 

"We wanted to bring back the raw energy of the live shows. To make it a bit rougher, uptempo, more representative of what we are doing live," Gwon says, adding that no producer outside the band would truly know such intricacies. "That's something that only we could think about."  

With Pulsar out in the world, L'Impératrice is putting renewed focus on their live show. They'll begin a tour of North America and Europe in September, and are ready to give their international fans everything they have. Following a tour rehearsal at Coopérative de Mai in Clermont-Ferrand, members of the band chatted with GRAMMY.com about working with different collaborators, writing in multiple languages, and the legacy of funky French music. 

One of the songs on the album is called "Love from the Other Side." What is it like for you to have love from the other side, i.e., from fans all over the world? 

Trocellier: It feels amazing. We’re very lucky. 

Benguigui: We don't really know why. I sing in French most of the time. In the beginning, they wanted me to translate the French lyrics and do English versions. The first album actually was also released in English which really didn't work abroad.  

Gwon: At the first concert we did in New York, people were telling us, "Why are you singing your songs in English? The original ones are in French, and we like them better than the ones in English." So just be yourself. 

Benguigui: So we decided not to be worried about it and just let this happen. And actually, it's very surprising how much people love the French language abroad. 

You shouldn't change your original intentions in order to satisfy the audience. 

Benguigui: Exactly. I think it also really changed the emotion of the vocals. If it's in a different language, it can really be a different song. It’s too important to change. 

When I sing in French, I'm more likely to use metaphors and images. For example, the song "Pulsar" is a very metaphorical song about the state I was in when I was writing it. When I'm singing in French, it's somehow closer to me; because it's my language, I need to hide behind some images. In English, I'm way more straightforward because it's not my language. I'm a bit more first-degree in English. Sometimes it’s nice to be first-degree. 

Gwon: I think we are lucky to be at the right period of time. Thirty years ago or 20 years ago, that [interest in foreign language music] wouldn't have been possible, even in the U.S. But now everyone is much more open to other languages. It's not a handicap. It's something that is great.  

Funky French music has always had a huge audience in America: Daft Punk, Justice. Kavinsky. What is it like to continue that legacy? 

Trocellier: It's an honor to be close to these guys. 

Gwon: We don't even know how to place ourselves compared to them, because for us, they’re big influences. We grew up with their music. We are very happy when people tell us that we might be in the same circle. 

Benguigui: There's also a bit of pressure to feel like we represent France abroad. It's nice to be able to spread French culture in countries that might not have heard loads of French music before.  

This album has more English vocals than either of your past albums — both from Flore and your featured artists. Why was it time to explore that language? 

Benguigui: We really rarely say, "Okay, that should be in English or in French." It happened, actually, once on this album. But it was for the Italian song. These guys made the demo, and they were like, "We feel this like an Italian groove." It should be Italian. 

Daveau: An Italo-Disco groove. 

Benguigui: I happened to be in touch with [Fabiana Martone] at that moment. So we made it happen. But it's really the only case. When I make the melody, I'm mumbling over an instrumental, and that’s when I can feel the language I'm gonna use. It was the same for the guests we have on this album: We knew these people liked our music, and so they happened to be English-speaking, or Italian-speaking for Fabiana. It was a nice coincidence, but it could have been a French guest if it was the right one at the right time for the right song. 

Gwon: It's more about the vibe of the track; the vibe that Flore feels when she composes her melody. Maybe one or two times you started with another language. 

Benguigui: [Lyricaly] I can't say the same things in my native language and a foreign language. It's a different way to show feelings. That's why I used the Spanish phrase in "Me Da Igual." I felt I needed this language to hide something or to present it in a different way.  

On "Any Way," before we had Maggie Rogers, you guys were saying we needed something kind of dramatic in the vocals, and it's not really my thing being dramatic. So we were thinking of some vocalists, and all the references that came into our minds were English. So that's also why we had the huge honor to have Maggie on this track. 

Honestly, I was a bit paralyzed when I was with her because she's so talented. She was making the melody and lyrics at the same time. We had just met, and she was just so confident. She knew how to do her job. She's so on it. I was just in the corner watching and being absolutely amazed.  

I added my vocal parts afterward. So that was not a magical moment of the two of us singing together, because, honestly, I was petrified. But it was very interesting. I learned a lot watching her. 

"Sweet & Sublime" with Erick The Architect is on the faster side for a rap song. Were you intending to have a rapper on this track, or did that unfold later? 

Gwon: Flore made a demo where she was semi-rapping, and so we kept that. But we are also very fond of hip-hop. We thought it might be time to ask someone to add this little touch of hip-hop. 

Benguigui: But it was tricky because we didn't have much time. And so, as a security, I recorded two verses. There was a bit of space after my first verse for some rap if someone was interested. And so we sent it to Eric, who we really like. We had not met him before, actually. We met him through FaceTime, and we explained the vibe of the song. 

I remember telling him this is not another love song. It's a song about friendship; it's a song about your gang, but in a very non-violent and positive way. He came back to us with one verse after my first verse. We listened to it, and it was too good to have him just at the beginning. So we asked him, "Okay, man, we're gonna remove my second verse. Can you please just come back in the song later?" He did it. And it sounds super cool.  

This was your first album you produced on your own. What was it like to experiment in this way without the limitations of another producer? 

Trocellier: It was a big relief. We were very happy about trusting ourselves, and at the same time, it was a bit scary because we never worked like this on albums. 

Gwon: For the instrumentals this time, we made small teams. And then we mixed up all the teams. So, during the whole process of the album, everyone worked with everyone. That was the first time it was so well balanced between everyone.  

It has been 12 years now that we’ve worked together. We know what we can do. And we know what we can't do. If we want things that we can't do, we know that we have to ask other people, but for what we can do, let's try to do it ourselves. 

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