Justin Blau grew up surrounded by music. Whether it was playing piano, guitar or singing, he was always musically inclined. It wasn’t until he turned 20, however, that he discovered dance music. A trip to Sweden in 2011 opened his eyes to the world of DJs and producers and shortly after he got back home to the United States he was producing his own mashups.
Taking the stage name 3LAU, it wasn’t long before his work caught the eyes and ears of both the blogosphere and the industry. From there, he continued to refine his craft and in 2014, he struck gold with his second single, “How You Love Me.” The track was a bonafide hit for the producer, earning ample support in both DJ sets and on the radio.
Now, only five years into his career, 3LAU is already one of electronic music’s most sought after acts, known for throwing some of the best parties out there and continually impressing us with releases that clearly demonstrate his talents as a musician.
During Miami Music Week this year, we had the chance to catch up with Justin for an interesting and lengthy discussion, where he spoke about the importance of mashups, what new music he has coming up, how he gets the energy to keep going with his rigorous tour schedule and more.
Check it out below and enjoy.
You haven’t been putting out too many originals lately, it’s mostly been mashups. Why is that?
3LAU: I have about 8 originals in the works, actually. I’ve been trying to put together an album for a while but I think I may just separate them into EPs instead. I’ve got a new single coming out in a few weeks though. It’s called “Is It Love.” I’ve got a lot of groovier records coming soon as well.
I’m a perfectionist though. I do everything myself, and a lot of people don’t. So when I’m touring, it’s hard to work on new music. I have to be home. It’s very difficult to produce on the road for me. I can make ideas, but I can’t finish them. But I have all these records that are finished now and the next release is coming in April.
A lot of your originals jump around between different sounds and styles. What can we expect from the next few tracks?
3LAU: They’re a lot groovier, and they’re all going to be different from one another. I like trying new things, and I’ve been kind of trying to figure out what I want to do, you know? I’ve been trying a lot of different things.
“Alive Again” was a bit of a departure but I was really happy with it. Working with Emma [Hewitt] was amazing. And “Runaway” was really Heather’s song, she just asked me to produce it. That’s why I’m a feature on that record. It was me just being the scientist in the studio.
I’m really picky, though. After “How You Love Me” I wanted to be very careful with what I released. “Alive Again” is really the only single I’ve had since. It’s been hard to find the time.
When you have a track blow up like “How You Love Me” did, does it put more pressure on you to deliver with your next release?
3LAU: Definitely. I had like three progressive records I did after “How You Love Me” but I’m never going to release them, because they’re just not as good. I don’t want to dilute my creativity. People tell me they love me because I never put out garbage. A lot of artists will just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, and that may work for them, but it’s not how I do things. For me, everything that I release is a representation of my creativity and my work and I want it to be perfect.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve put out some records in the past that I don’t think were perfect, like “We Came To Bang” with Luciano. It was good, but it was an idea I definitely could have developed more. Ever since then though, most of my records have achieved the goals I had for them. After “We Came To Bang” I realized that I needed to be more careful. I want people to run to my SoundCloud every time I release a new track because they know it’s going to be good.
One of the things that’s working really well now in the industry is what people like The Chainsmokers are doing. Drew [Taggart] is such a fantastic musician and he just does what he wants to do. To me, that kind of versatility is what gives artists longevity and breeds fans.
Do you think it’s better to be really well known in one genre or spread yourself out over several genres?
3LAU: I think a lot of the artists who are associated with one genre are certain kinds of artists. People like Armin, Oliver Heldens, Hardwell. But then there are people like Diplo and Skrillex. All of their music has been kind of similar, but it’s grown in such an interesting way.
Skrillex is still Skrillex, but his sound has developed into something where you know it’s him, but it’s still completely different than the stuff he used to make. And that’s kind of what my next records are like. It’s like if you took “How You Love Me” and made it groovier, that’s what these new songs sound like.
You got your start with mashups and did a lot of them early in your career. During that time, did you feel any pressure to start making originals since a lot of people don’t take DJs seriously unless they produce their own music?
3LAU: Absolutely. When I first got into dance music I started making mashups, and I loved them. But then I realized that if I wanted to survive in this industry, I needed to learn the science behind production, and I did. It was difficult, to go from making mashups to producing my own songs, but I learnt from some of the best. Botnek, DallasK, Paris & Simo, a bunch of my friends helped me and taught me so much. And from there I kind of just developed my own style. Without all that though, I would have just been stuck in that mashup world, which I didn’t want to be in.
That being said, there’s obviously nothing wrong with mashups, and there’s definitely a market for them. Look at my SoundCloud, the play counts on my mashups are crazy. Honestly, at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if it’s an original or remix or mashup or whatever. It matters if people like it, right? However it’s created doesn’t matter, as long as people like it.
So why aren’t more artists still doing mashups then? You’re kind of the only one.
3LAU: Well there was a big credibility issue with it, like you mentioned before, and it scared a lot of people away from it. But it’s who I am, and I made myself from mashups. It’s one thing to put up a mashup that’s just one vocal track and one instrumental, but that’s not what I do. I interweave things in a unique way and make it more complicated than just a basic one on one mashup. Honestly, I don’t think many other DJs are going to be making mashups anymore, but I’m going to continue to do it because I know my fans like it. And that’s what’s important.