On Tuesday night, the Russian-German artist brought 50 fans (including skating pro Tony Hawk and his son, below) to Alcatraz – San Francisco’s infamous prison island turned National Park – to play them new tunes, including “Transmission” (featuring Logic and X Ambassadors), his first song to feature a rap.
PEOPLE had exclusive access to the bash, where Zedd mingled with fans and shared his music. We spoke to him about his upcoming record, how he’s evolved and some of the big stars he’s worked with.
Your album’s dropping soon. What can we expect this time around?
The same vibe as what I had in [the debut record] Clarity. The songs are connected; elements will flow into each other, so it will be a real story, like a movie that you are watching, just in music form.
I branched out into a little more genres this time. There is one song that’s almost fully acoustic – and I love making acoustic music. There is one song that is slightly slower than my comfort zone. And I think people can expect what they have always known me for, which is a lot of attention to detail, beautiful vocals and chords that I try to make that I know no one else would ever do.
You’ve found success with hits like Stay the Night and Clarity. Are you nervous about your newfound fame?
I’ve never wanted to be famous, ever. I would still say I don’t want to be famous. I always wanted everyone to hear my music. When I started, I was kind of the underground. Then at some point you reach a point where people think you’re mainstream and that comes with kind of a negative. Like when people hear mainstream, they don’t think of something good; they think it’s kind of bad.
But for me personally, I’ve always wanted everyone to know my music, so that means I wanted to be mainstream in a way. I wanted everyone to know my songs. The parents and their kids. For me, it was all about making my music speak instead of making my face speak.
You’re from Germany, but are you living in the States now when you’re not touring?
I just moved to L.A. permanently. I got a place there. For the first time I feel like I have a home here. So, switching, I would say home is now L.A., but my heart is still where my family and friends, are which is Germany.
How have things changed since you were first starting out?
I think it is a little more difficult to meet people that are there for the right reason. Whenever you meet someone, you kind of go in with a thought, “Well, they only want to meet you because they know who you are.” I love meeting people that don’t know who I am – that is the best. It is the best conversations.
But there are a lot of great things. All I wanted to do my whole life is make music, and there is a lot of music I love to listen to, and now I am able to reach out to those people and collaborate with them, which is exciting and all I wanted to do. So, the more music I make, the better my chances are to work with more people I love.
Where’s the weirdest place someone recognized you?
At “Holy Ship,” which is a festival on a cruise ship, I had to go to the bathroom, and I had to get to the show, and there was no time for me to go back to my room. So, I had to go to the public bathroom, and someone recognized me there and started a conversation while I was peeing and wanted to take a picture. And it was not the best time to take a picture!
You’ve worked with some huge artists! What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about these artists?
Extremely talented and opinionated.
Selena Gomez (The reported pair teamed up on current single I Want You to Know)
Incredible at taking directions, because I actually was in the studio with her. Singers don’t always take direction well, because sometimes they feel like you get in their zone and I don’t have to be there. She was great, you know, trying to emulate exactly what I wanted to hear and didn’t take anything personally. When I would say, “Try this instead of that” or “Give me more vibrato on this one, and a straight note of this one,” she was exactly precise like I asked her to be.
Incredible singer with an insane vocal range.
Very collaborative, responsive, communicative person or artist. Writes back immediately and a lot of back and forth. Replies quickly and a lot.
• Reporting by JAMIE FROEHLING