Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Deadmau5 on Anger Management, His New Album and Collapsing Onstage

Deadmau5, Joel ZimmermanChelsea Lauren, WireImage
Although he wears cute, cartoonish mouse heads when he performs, Joel Zimmerman is not the cuddliest guy on the music scene. Judging by his various online spats with DJs, promoters, fellow electronic music producers (and even their fans), the artist known as Deadmau5 can seem ornery indeed.

On the other hand, his interaction with his own fans on Facebook and via good ol' fashioned snail mail (he just set up a P.O. Box for fan mail), his "playful pet" pictures of his cat (aka Professor Meowingtons), and his loved-up tweets to his girlfriend, Playboy playmate Lindsey Gayle Evans, would suggest that he's mellowing out some.

"I've learned not to say certain things that I shouldn't, [but] do anyway, 'cause it's the nature of my personality," Zimmerman tells Spinner. "I'm still learning! One little back-end comment can get you in a lot of s---, and not just s---, unjustified s--. I'm more aware of my anger on and offline."

So perhaps he'll be happy, then, to talk about his new release, '4x4=12,' which is being billed as his first full-length "artist album"?

"I wonder who's billing that?" he muses. "They need to be shot." Errrr... that would be his own record company, Ultra.

"It's another compilation," he asserts, "along the lines of [debut long player] 'Random Album Title' and [sequel] 'For Lack of a Better Name.' It's more of a culmination of s--- I got done this year in between touring. People are saying, 'What about an artist album?' What about three months off, buddy?"

Watch Deadmau5's 'Ghosts N Stuff' feat. Rob Swire

But as quickly as he bristles at the demands and expectations placed on him, he backs off: "I'm not knocking the album at all. I think it's a good compilation of the tracks I've been doing for the show -- I'm not against any of it; I like some of it."

Zimmerman's manner is an intriguing combination of bravado and self-deprecation, with the two traits often inseparable from one another. One moment he'll be vigorously championing an idea, and the next he'll be dismissive. It's as if his life is moving at such a pace, he hasn't had the time to fully form his opinions -- just as he's been too busy to sit down and record what he would consider to be an "artist album" worthy of the name.

Although Zimmerman started making electronic music as a teenager, apart from a collaboration with Tommy Lee in 1999 when he was just 18 years old, he wouldn't catch a break until his late 20s. In 2007, just as he was despairing of succeeding in the industry, friends put his single 'Faxing Berlin' in the hands of UK super-DJ Pete Tong, who brought it to prominence through his live shows and radio play. With its shimmery, moody 'Twin Peaks'-goes-trance chords and progressive house stomp, it introduced a hard, crossover sound he would become known for. Zimmerman's rise to fame as Deadmau5 was sealed by the collection of self-designed mouse heads he started wearing soon after.

"I'm very meticulously on top of my brand and my merch," he says. "Maybe sometimes not 100 percent when I'm touring – EMI kind of butts in, and sometimes f--- it up and do lame shirts, but they have to do something when I'm doing other things. I like to retain as much control as I can of images and artwork, and how things are put together presentation-wise."

This desire to control all aspects of a brand that's rocketing to A-List proportions -- with sold-out tours of large clubs in Europe and North America, and more than 1.7 million followers on Facebook -- has lead the all-star DJ to work himself into the ground, quite literally. In July, he collapsed during a gig at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, and was forced to cancel nine subsequent shows.

"Everyone wants to pin it on, 'Oh yeah, he tried acid for the first time,' or whatever," he says. "But no -- it's just straight-up exhaustion. That's what happens when you just have a cup of coffee in the morning and spend all day rigging a stage, helping out with this, and taking care of that, while running a business on the side. 

"I felt dizzy and I had to put my head down for a sec, and then when I got back up, I started seeing stars all over -- I learned a pretty valuable lesson right there," Zimmerman says. "I'm not Justin Bieber, so I don't have a health advisor or a personal chef following me around. It's like, take care of yourself basically, and see what happens."

Listen to 'Chords' off Deadmau5's '4x4=12'

That said, the superstar professes that he won't scale back in any way. He's planning the release of "boutique" merchandising items -- although he won't sell his mouse heads, preferring to see fans' own homemade facsimile "crafts of love" -- and is set to ramp up his live show to a huge scale. "We're not getting a big-ass arena and putting a picnic table up there," Zimmerman says, adding he's thinking of ways to work his more experimental leanings into his brand, or release them under "a different moniker."

For now, '4x4=12' offers some of the variety found in his pre-'Faxing Berlin' work. 'Animal Rights' -- recorded with Wolfgang Gartner at Tommy Lee's house -- is bouncy house laced with computer funk; 'Raise Your Weapon' is a moody ambient track that grows into a progressive house anthem before morphing into a squelchy dubstep prowler; and the multi-layered closer, 'Everything Before,' seems designed to soundtrack a journey into space.

A proper "artist album," he says, would feel "more fluid." And perhaps he'll find the time to make one of these when he stops responding to fan mail -- not that he's complaining. "So far, it's been pretty harmless -- drawings and letters, and simple little requests that are all very manageable. The first one I opened up was the word 'FIRST' printed up on a big piece of paper. I was so pissed off, but it was such a good troll that I couldn't deny it.

"It's important to keep your fans updated on what you're doing -- besides taking a crap. Just so they know that you're still alive and not dogging it."

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