He starting learning piano when he was a tyke, and certainly deserves the title “classically trained.”
Don't believe it? His iTunes Session EP, released last fall, features him doing acoustic covers of his own songs and otherwise showing off his musical prowess.
We talked with Zedd, who's now based in L.A., about his piano playing, and how it affects his sound as a DJ.
How did you get your start musically?
My parents taught me to play piano and I started when I was about three or four years old. I just did what they told me to do, and then kept doing that for quite a while, and so at the point where I had my own thoughts, I already knew how to play the piano.
Are your parents classical musicians?
They are, yeah. My dad used to play in a band when he was younger as well, so he knows that world, and after that, they both gave lessons on playing piano, guitar, bass, drums and everything, basically. So they both taught me to play instruments when I was really young. And when I was about 12 years old, I was kind of sick of playing classical music, and wanted to do something more contemporary, so I formed a band with my brother. We started off somewhat soft, as a rock band, and ended up being a hardcore metal band.
You're doing more and more acoustic versions of your songs, especially in live performances. What prompted that shift towards playing piano alongside your vocalists?
Well, it started out as just an idea I had when I released the song “Spectrum,” which was one of those songs that started off as a piano version, and then I made it electronic. But the core of the song was just entirely a piano piece, so I asked my manager, “Hey, do you guys think anyone would want to know what the song was like before it became what it is now?” They were like, “Yeah, perfect, we'll record a little video…”
I put it up online, and people seemed to really like it, and were really interested in how those songs actually sound before they become an electronic music song. So I kept doing those kind of performances, just because I thought my fans want to see it, and then TV shows like Letterman and Kimmel wanted me to do that on TV, and perform the songs live. To me, it's not an option to just press play and DJ a song live.
You are, as far as I can tell, one of the only DJs who plays acoustically. Do you think you're blazing a trend?
I don't know, that's a good question. I would love to see more of that…. I think it always helps for music to constantly change and evolve, and I hope that more people will use that method to write music.
You have the musical background to succeed in many different genres. Looking forward, do you see yourself branching out?
I can totally imagine, in five or 10 years from now, making something different. I've made everything from classical music, to jazz, to rock, to metal, I love all sorts of genres. I feel very comfortable in electronic music at the moment, but I can definitely imagine trying to push electronic music into somewhat of a little different, that would still be electronic music, but not sound how you would expect electronic music to sound.
What do you think electronic music will sound like in the future?
Well, I hope it will get a little more focused on the melody and the chords, rather than just the sounds. Electronic music has really focused on this club element – this is the best kind of kick, this is the best kind of sound – and you end up having 10,000 songs that sound the exact same. What I hope that people will almost get tired of hearing a similar thing, and will want to hear some more different, more musical, more abstract sounds, and hopefully electronic music will evolve, just like any other genre over the years.