Zedd Talks Collaborations, New Album, What's Taking So Long

iTunes Festival at SXSW
ZEDD performing at the iTunes Festival at SXSW, Friday March 14th 2014

Vice and Absolut Vodka teamed up Friday to host a high-glam industrial rave on a pier in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood that featured performances by electronic hip-hop producer AraabMuzik and Washington, D.C. DJ Alvin Risk, as well as a surprise headline set by Zedd. The event was part of a series called "Nights by Absolut" that will continue with stops in South Africa, Germany and Brazil. Each stop will be filmed for the vodka company's advertisements next year.

The Grammy-winning German house producer -- whose electro-pop hits "Clarity" and "Break Free" have hit the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 -- revealed himself in a climactic arrival, climbing out from a shipping container that was lowered onto the stage. And as the crowd erupted in excitement, cameras rolled for an Absolut advertising campaign documenting the rave dream scene: Long entrance corridors shaped by storage containers opened into a neon-lit stage with food trucks, sprawling bars, selfie-photo booths by the Phhhoto App, colorful drinks served in mason jars and above the dance floor hovered a gigantic mirrored disco ball designed by the Vita Motus, which designs Coachella's Do Lab. (In other words, it should make for a pretty cool commercial.)

Zedd LIVE at Lollapalooza 2014

Billboard caught up with Zedd before his surprise set to find out when we can expect his long-awaited second album. 

Billboard: You have a partnership with Bud Light Platinum. Does working with Absolut compliment or compete with that? How did it come to be? 

Zedd: I don’t see it as competitive. Both brands are very involved in this cultural space of dance music, and they allow me to be very involved in the concepts. For me, that’s super important. Major events like these take a lot of hands, and Absolut sent me sketches of how it might look and asked how I thought the reveal should go, and so on. When I showed up here tonight, the final product blew my mind. I’ve never done anything like this before.

How’s your hearing? I read you had a hearing-loss scare in one ear.

Being constantly around noise is obviously not great for you, but I am always wearing earplugs. Ironically, it actually happened when I had a few days off and hadn’t been around any noise at all. The doctor said it was a combination of stress and not getting enough sleep and so on. Go figure. But it’s all good now.

You’re one of the few EDM producers to have serious success on the pop charts. Do pop stars hit you up all the time now? 

A lot of people are asking, for sure, but I barely have enough time to finish my own stuff. Whenever I do something, I have to love it. Ariana [Grande] is a great example of that. We played a show together a few moths ago and I just loved her voice. It was amazing. So when the opportunity to do something came up, we jumped. That was a no-brainer.

Zedd Discusses Ariana Grande's "Break Free" Single

What do you take into consideration when sorting out collaborations?

When it’s about getting a singer for my tracks, it is strictly about the voice. I will have created a song and have a specific idea in my head about what kind of vocal texture I want on it. From there, I dig through iTunes and listen to everything until I’ve nailed down examples of the type of voice I want. I tell my manager who I’m aiming for and we’ll search for artists that have similar voices. 

For artists that ask me to produce for them, the rule is I have to love it. Sometimes, it happens that I'll have made a great track that doesn't quite fit my own album, so I open it up for other people to work with. I tell my A&R that if they have someone who might fit this song, I'm open to it. I’d always rather have someone else benefit from a song than throwing it away.

What's the status of your next album? Who are you working with and who do you want to work with? 

The honest truth is that I don’t know yet. I talked to Hayley Williams about doing another song together and we definitely want to, it’s just a matter of finding the right one. Aside from that, I’d love to work with Muse and Silverchair, because I grew up in bands and they really inspired me. But nothing is confirmed, that’s just my wish list.

Pardon the phrasing, but what’s taking so long?

No it’s true, it’s taking forever. It’s hard to find time to sit down and focus on it. I’ve written most of the songs but the production process is long for me – making them sound the way I want them to sound, finding the right vocalists, and so on. I might put out a single or two in the next six months or so, but I need to get off the road for a little while. The plan for the second half of this year was to play less shows and do more studio work. I do a lot of Vegas shows and I literally stay in the studio until 9 p.m., hop on a plane and fly over to get on stage by midnight. That way I can still get a full studio day in. Anyway, I'm hoping that by early next year, it will be wrapped. But we'll see.