Felix Jaehn Talks New Album, Drawing Inspiration From Major Lazer

Billboard

How do you follow up a massive worldwide hit? In the case of the German producer Felix Jaehn - whose remix of Omi's "Cheerleader" claimed the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 last year - you use the success as a license to experiment. He's been working with a variety of new collaborators and making songs at different tempos; he's also plotting a new live show that will debut in Germany, where he'll have both a marimba and a drum-set at his disposal. At the same time, he's still working on his debut album, which he hopes to release "early next year."

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Billboard Dance spoke with the producer before his recent set at Electric Zoo; here are edited excerpts from the conversation. 

How is the album coming?

I keep postponing it. I have a lot of songs ready - 12 that are already finished and ready to go. The last past months I've felt like it was more important to constantly release new singles and try out new things. So I did a track called "Cut the Cord" at 140 b.p.m., and I just released a single at 111 b.p.m. I've been trying out a lot of new things, figuring out where to go after the huge success of "Cheerleader" and "Ain't Nobody." 

Do you have to approach songs at those speeds differently?

You have to get in a different mindset and mood. But it's also the people I work with - just by the people you work with, you're already taking a new direction.


Which of the singles that you've put out so far will make it onto the album?

The one with Alma will probably be. It's doing well, it's already a big hit in Europe. Obviously the songs you know like "Ain't Nobody." I had a single called "Book of Love" that most likely will be on the album. I'm not too sure about the collabs because they're not my very own singles. And there are a lot of new tracks that I already play live sometimes but people just don't know yet.

How did you connect with Alma?

I just got to know her via a producer team that I also did "Can't Go Home" with. They are currently producing most of the album. They've been in the studio for months with her already, and they sent me some stuff. I was like, "wow, she's amazing!" Her voice is cool; her energy is amazing. She's from Finland, and last year I played the biggest festival over there, and she was in the audience, and she really loved it. "Ain't Nobody" was her song of the summer, so she was like, "great, I really want to work with you." It was a big coincidence.

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Do you find a lot of people hitting you up for collaborations after "Cheerleader?"

Of course. It's helping. I did the track with Adam Lambert and Steve Aoki, but most of my new songs are with rather unknown artists. It's not about the name - if the song is right and there's a good link and it feels good musically, it doesn't matter if they're big or not. 

"Bonfire" with Alma has a new feel in the drum programming compared to your previous work.

I've been getting a lot of different inspirations. "Bonfire" is quite a lot inspired by Major Lazer as well. I've been really into their stuff lately.

Do you think "Bonfire" will crossover to American listeners?

I don't know to be honest. I definitely wouldn't mind. But you can't plan those things. 

What's the biggest difference between listeners in Europe and the U.S.?

The main difference is in the mainstream in the U.S., there's a lot of hip-hop and R&B influence. That's super strong. We don't have that in Europe. European radio at the moment is all about dance. You don't hear a lot of hip-hop records on the radio.

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Do you worry about the "Tropical House" label?

I guess I've proven that I'm not just coming from a niche genre 'cause I'm doing so many different kinds of stuff. I've always preferred the term melodic house. Tropical house is painting a great picture, but I feel like it's quite limiting - a niche genre of a niche genre. 

Is it hard for you to find time to write with all the touring you've been doing?

It's busy, but it's good. It's a lot of fun, we always make time for the studio, and also I'm involved in a lot of strategic decisions. And we're rehearsing for my very first live tour right now, working on a full new show concept at the same time. 

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Why did you decide to build a live show?

It's something I always wanted to do. I love DJing, and I think DJing is great, but you're kind of limited musically - just because you're playing out songs that are already finished. You can't change them when you're playing them. But when you're live and you have musicians onstage, it's becoming a concert. I might do both - definitely still going to DJ. 

Have your DJ gigs helped you figure out what records work and what doesn't?

Seeing what works live in general is influencing me. While I'm doing a lot of pop songs, I always wanted to do some dark clubby tracks that work on the dance floor even though people don't have a clue which song it is. A lot of times with the melodic tracks they come through radio first and then go back into the club. It used to be coming from the club scene and then crossing over. Let's do both! Let's be everywhere.