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article imageThe Chainsmokers' year of livin' la vida loca Special

By Earl Dittman     Nov 4, 2014 in Entertainment
During 2014, Alex Pall and Drew Taggart were transformed from struggling producer/DJs into global EDM superstars. Touring the world with their mega-hits "#SELFIE" and "Kanye," Pall admits it has been a crazy year but they're digging every moment of it.
It was only a few weeks ago that Alex Pall and Andrew "Drew" Taggart — the ultra-talented New York-based producers, remixers, DJs, songwriters and superstar performers that make up the platinum-selling Electronic Dance Music duo The Chainsmokers — found themselves playing for tens of thousands of enthusiastic EDM fans in equatorial South America. Although he and Taggart have spent the better part of 2014 on their "King Of Me" world tour playing to massive audiences from Australia and Europe to Asia and North America, Alex Pall admits that he and Drew are still humbled by the sheer amount of people, across the globe, in love with The Chainsmokers' distinctive brand of dance music.
"Our shows in Brazil were just crazy amazing," the wickedly witty, handsome and down-to-earth Pall remembers. "São Paulo is such a huge city, and, surprisingly, dance music is really hot there. The way dance music is blowing up there and all around the world is just incredible. I'll never forget the experience, because there was so much energy from the people. We played three shows and the biggest was at the Spirit (Of London) Festival, and I would say there were at least 25,000 to 30,000 people. Now, if you told me we when be playing to that many people a year ago — who knew our music, much less who we were — I would have laughed at you."
Twelve months ago, in mid-2013, Pall and Taggart (who formed The Chainsmokers the year before) were just a pair of dedicated, hard-working EDM producer/remixers in search of a record label deal. While they were waiting for their proverbial big break, the duo had already begun to garner a sterling reputation for delivering top-notch remixes of songs by artists as diverse as Ellie Goulding, Two Door Cinema Club, The Colourist, Phoenix, The Killers, The Wanted and Icona Pop.
"We were working hard on our music," the 29-year-old native New Yorker reflects. "We put out 20, maybe 24 remixes and most of them — I'd say, 90 percent of them — went Number One on HypeMachine. So, we had this really nice organic fan base." Their alluring, energizing and utterly unique style of dance music (which features healthy doses of progressive house, indie rock, hip-hop, blue-eyed soul and pop) came to life on The Chainsmokers' first two singles "Erase" and "The Rookie." Their next release — a musical ode to cellphone narcissism — would not only land Pall and Taggart a seemingly overnight major label deal with Republic Records but a worldwide Number One hit.
In addition to being certified platinum by the RIAA for digital sales in excess of 1,000,000, the single “#SELFIE” soared to the Number One spot on Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs Chart within merely five weeks and reached the Top 5 on iTunes in over 43 countries. Furthermore, the promo clip for “#SELFIE” has made it onto the upper ranks of YouTube's "Top Music Videos of 2014" list (having racked up close to 250,000,000 views in the nine months since it was first posted). It's a list of accomplishments Pall still finds a little hard to fathom at times.
"Honestly, we always imagined we would be successful, at some point," Alex contends. "But, we always figured that there would be a lot more steps that we had to take to get to that point. A year later, we're there, it's just a little bit surreal. Obviously, we had no inclination that '#SELFIE' was going to be the song that set everything off the way it did. Of course, we are really glad it did. When we started together we always knew we do whatever it took to get to the top — we worked really hard at it — but the success has really taken us by surprise. And, we're still not there. It's crazy because there are goals that we set for ourselves that we are starting to achieve and that's very cool.
"More than anything, though, what we learned with '#SELFIE' is how big the world really is and how small we were prior to that," Alex adds, putting their success into perspective. "Again, it's been cool because after '#SELFIE' it's really been an adjustment period of balancing the kind of producer/remixers we want to be and the personalities that '#SELFIE' has made us. It's made us work harder."
Drew and Alex of The Chainsmokers
Drew and Alex of The Chainsmokers
The Chainsmokers/Republic
Proving, with a vengeance, that they are more than simply an EDM one-hit wonder, in August, The Chainsmokers released a follow-up single, "Kanye" [featuring SirenXX)], a stunningly deft and extraordinarily clever dance tune about "owning what you do and who you are" that is quickly becoming another chart-topper across the globe. In more ways that just the obvious, both personally and professionally, "Kanye" stands as a musical declaration of independence for Pall and Taggart.
"The girls from SirenXX sent us a song of theirs called 'Kanye,' and when we heard the line, 'I want to be like Kanye,' it just immediately resonated with us for a number of reasons," he recounts. "After '#SELFIE,' we found ourselves in a really strange position where a lot of people were judging us, everyone had an opinion and there was just a whole lot of attention on us. It was very new for us, compared to what we had experienced prior to that. Kanye West, to us, just represents a person who just does what he wants. He doesn't care what other people think about him. He has his idealistic values, talks about what he believes in and he just does it. That's kind of what the song represented to us and we thought it was a great way to (a) symbolize what we felt like as artists at the time, and (b) production-wise — when we produced it, it felt like a great segue between our older stuff and our newfound popularity with '#SELFIE.' It kind of bridged the gap between the old fans and the new fans."
I've heard you and Drew come up with several explanations about the naming the group. Be a pal, Alex, and give me an exclusive about why the two of you decided on The Chainsmokers as a moniker, would you? "I wish there was a really great story, but honestly, it's just that all the domain names on the web were available for 'the chainsmokers.' (laughs) Seriously, we didn't have to use any underscores or buy the name from any kid in Middle America. When we said it, it just sounded very familiar already. So, we went with it. Although, I will admit it was almost shocking that there wasn't an '80s punk rock band with the name. Also, we don't actually smoke or anything and we are aware that it is kinda misleading. I was thinking, just yesterday, there is a group that are friend of ours, and their music is really popular right now, and they smoke a lot of weed and their name has nothing to do with it. I feel like the weed is a huge part of their brand and their popularity, and I was like, 'If we just smoked weed we'd be ten times more popular.' (laughs) I could make up a better story if that would help?"
I really appreciate the offer, but I guess I'm cool with the explanation. Okay, I have to confess that the first time I actually saw you and Drew perform was on American Idol. The two of you did this incredibly engaging performance of '#SELFIE.' I use that term because it was entertaining but a wee bit over the top. The even greater aspect about your appearance is that I could tell by the devilish grins on your faces that you felt like tourists in a strange land. Look, it was really fun performance, but I can only assume it was like a baptism by fire? (Laughs) "It was a lot of fun. It was an opportunity that we could not pass up on, but we understood that it was going to be a very strange thing for us to do. So, we tried to approach it the best way possible. To us, it was more about entertainment than an actual performance. We actually offered to do it live. We were like, 'If you want to do this, we can put together a full band and do a really cool parody of the song.' But, they didn't want that. But, it was really cool. Ryan Seacrest is the man, and it is certainly a memory we will never forget."
I just love the wickedly keen sense of humor the two of you possess. It pretty much invades everything you do. It's very self-deprecating, though, wouldn't you agree? "Of course, but you have to be a little self-deprecating nowadays. But, we've always been like that. That's kind of the cool part of having a channel to voice each of our personalities and thoughts. That's the great thing about Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Moving forward, we want to do more stuff that is not just based on the music or figure out ways to point people in another direction. Because, for us, it was always so cool when you got to know your favorite artist — you had an idea of what they were about and what they were up to on a day to day basis. Obviously, with social media has made it all easier. We don't try to put up a facade or front, we are very much doing what we want to do and being exactly who we are."
Alex and Drew s #selfie with  American Idol  host Ryan Seacrest
Alex and Drew's #selfie with 'American Idol' host Ryan Seacrest
The Chainsmokers/Republic
Speaking of favorite artists, who were some of your and Drew favorite artists growing up? I certainly hear a lot of disparate influences in your music. "We both went through the different phases that we always talk about. For instance, Drew loves Death Cab For Cutie, and I was a big Tupac fan. He loved Lil' Wayne ,and I really dug the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's funny, because when we met and we talked about all the different phases we had gone through, we thought it was amazing because we loved practically every different genre. I really think that shaped our abilities to be flexible."
Since "Kanye" has become a hit, have you heard anything about Kanye West's reaction to the song? Did you seek him out to ask? "We didn't want to, so we had the heads of Republic Records and CAA send it over to his time to get his opinion, early on in the process. And, he was like, 'Yeah, it's cool. Just don't make fun of me.' (laughs) We are really big fans of Kanye, so I have a pretty good idea what he likes. I'd like to think so, at least. We decided that we weren't going to use his face on the cover art or try to capitalize off his image or his success. It was more about the idealism behind what he represents. To be honest, I don't know if he has heard the song or not, but I have to imagine someone has brought it to his attention. We're praying that we wake up one day and there's a Kanye version of one of our songs on the doorstep."
The Chainsmokers/Republic
Haven't you or Drew run into him at a random red carpet event? Wasn't Kanye and Kim at the VMAs this year? You didn't have the chance to hook up with him there? "No, and I'm not going to lie, I'm a little bit bitter about all that. For the VMAs, we thought that...okay, at no point do we think we are entitled to anything, but when we were watching the credits of the show, we were like, 'Holy shit, the Video Music Awards were tonight!' We kind of looked at each other and asked, 'Why were we not invited to that?'"
Really, who in the %&#! forgot to invite The Chainsmokers to Video Music Awards? "Not only that, but why wasn't our video for '#SELFIE' nominated for something? Maybe not Video of the Year or anything major like that, but something? When you think about it, it was two dudes who came together and did a video for $406 dollars and it has become the fifth most-viewed video of the Internet — of the whole year. And, for it not be recognized for that at all — I mean, I know that it's just MTV, and it's silly, but it was like one of those rare opportunities that we missed. So, we just drank more whiskey and got on with it." (laughs)
Okay, for people who are reading this, you are saying all this half-jokingly and a bit tongue-in-cheek. I don't want people to think you have a real hard-on against the VMAs or anything. "No, we still love MTV and it's really no big deal. It was one of those funny things where we didn't even think about it until it was happening, and we were like, 'Wait a minute! It's not like '#SELFIE' doesn't represent the current MTV generation or anything.' It's cool, we get a couple VMAs next year."
In August, you and Drew launched your live radio show on SiriusXM's Electric Area called "Nice Hair with The Chainsmokers." (LISTEN HERE). The show is unlike anything else on the air. How's it going? "Oh, my God, it is so awesome. It is like our most favorite thing right now. We have such a good time doing that. It's an opportunity to play our own music, play other people's music that we've think you've heard and then talk about the nonsense that interests us. SiriusXM is really cool to let us have the show because you can say whatever you want. It is like the perfect outlet for us. We've only done a couple of episodes so far, but they have been great. Ask me in ten months how much I still love it and we'll see." (laughs)
The Chainsmokers/Republic
I understand the two of your do a lot of social media interacting during the show. So, I have to ask you if the rumor is true: are you and Drew are really big closet Tweeters? “Yeah, we are. But, it is one of those kind of things where you have to remind yourself to do it. I think the difference is with solo artists, they are alone all the time with their fans and that’s what they do — they Twitter alone in their hotel room and stuff. Drew and I are always together, so I don't always feel like I have to have conversations with other people on Twitter. We don’t like to be on Twitter too much or read a lot of YouTube comments, because sometimes you just don’t want to know and see what is going on out there. It’s like a very scary place. (laughs) We do interact with our fans on a regular basis. I would say that nine out of ten times if you Tweet at us you’ll get a reply or acknowledgement. That’s just how it is with us. We’ll always been available and interested in what people have to say.”
Come on, Alex, it's more than that. You guys love your fans. How are you dealing with all the attention now that you are the poster guys for EDM? “You're right, we do love our fans. As for the attention, it’s always so cool when you get recognized by anyone, anywhere. Even in Brazil. When we go to these other countries, it is such a shock to see that our music is reaching people in so many different, faraway places. And, the fact that people know much more about our music than just '#SELFIE,' is incredible. That never really gets old for us. It is just so cool. So, we appreciate our fans for all that. Just the other day, we did this contest because we just to take several fans out to dinner in New York. We ran this small hashtag contest on Twitter, picked seven people and ended up playing this big prank on them when they came to meet us. Then we took them to dinner. Now, the footage from the prank, we are going to turn into a video for the Insomniac Festival at Halloween. That stuff is so cool to us, and they had the best time. Now, they are a part of something and they are stars. That’s what it’s all about.”
The lyric goes, "I want to be like Kanye," but there are a ton of people out there who are singing to themselves, "I want to be like Alex and Drew." What is the best advice you would give to someone who wants to have a career as a deejay and/or producer like yours? “First, I'd tell them to get some help if they want to be like us. (laughs) Seriously, we always say three things, they are our golden three rules: (1) Don’t hold on to any of your music too closely. Just put it out there for the world and let people judge it. It is important to get other people’s opinions, because you evolve that way. (2) Don’t ask, because the answer is always ‘No!’ So, take the time to find out how to reach those artists that you really want to work with. And, finally, (3), the third most important rule is to understand that we are all contributing and busting our asses to do something, so be empathetic and try to understand what it would be like to send the artist — that you are interested in remixing or recording — that email and what they would really want to hear from you. And, don’t hammer them with 50 other emails if they don’t reply. Send your best work when you think it is ready. That’s really the way to establish a rapport. I think if you follow these rules, you will definitely make progress. We didn’t realize it when we started, but they were rules that have certainly served us incredibly well.”
The Chainsmokers/Republic
You only have a couple more dates left on The Chainsmokers' "King Of Me" tour, what's next for you guys? "We have a lot of projects in the works right now. I think we had a pretty solid reputation prior to '#SELFIE,' about what type of music we were into. But, when '#SELFIE' became a hit I think that a lot of people — rightfully so, probably — didn't really take the time to dive deeper into the type of music we were really about making. When 'Kanye' came out, people were like, 'Oh, okay, these guys are actually like dope.' So, now, they look and listen to see what we are all about. We are working on a lot of cool projects with a lot of great and interesting indie artists that we really dig, artists like Smallpools, Ellie Goulding, NO!NO!NO! Vérité and a whole bunch of other people. I think, moving forward, it’s going to be to a really interesting to come up with the next couple of releases for us. We want to make really good music. The whole dance music thing is still really popular but it’s all shifting a little bit and becoming a lot more inclusive of all types of music. We just want to make good music, that’s the overall package to us and hopefully, people will like it.”
The Chainsmokers
The Chainsmokers in the flesh:
November 6 - San Francisco, California - The Warfield
November 7 - Denver, Colorado - The Church
November 8 - Reno, Nevada - Life In Color
November 14 - Mumbai, India - TBA
November 15 - New Delhi, India - TBA
November 16 - Bangalore, India - TBA
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