The biggest DJ in the world talks about his debut album, United We Are, and what the future holds.

The biggest DJ in the world talks about his debut album, United We Are, and what the future holds

Few artists in electronic music have become as accomplished as dutch superstar, Hardwell, in such a short space of time. Still at the youthful age of 27, Robbert van de Corputm, has been crowned the World's Number One DJ by DJ Mag for the second year running, he's headlined every major dance music festival in the world and earlier this year he just released his debut album. 

A few weeks ago when he was on a stop over in London, I had a rare opportunity to sit down with the superstar and shoot the breeze in Sony Music's West London headquarters.

So your debut album, United We Are, has just come out. Do you want to talk me through the process of making it – how long have you been working on it?

Hardwell: I’ve been working on the album for over two years. With that said, tracks like "Let Me Be Your Home" and the track with Tiesto, "Colours". I started working on a track with Tiesto four years ago. We never had the time to finish it – we both have crazy schedules, of course.  We never found the time to get together in the studio and finish it. But there was always a special feeling about that song. Then we decided this summer to re-do the whole track. We only kept the vocals and then made a completely new instrumental and now it’s ended up on the album. So I’m really happy we found the time to finish it. But some of the instrumental tracks – I started working on them about two years ago.

And whenever you were working on those instrumental tracks, were you thinking – these are album tracks?

Yeah, definitely. What I did back then, I only released singles. As a DJ people only expected me to make dancefloor material, not album material. This was the right timing for me to finish the album and show the world what I’m capable of. There are definitely some tracks on there, that when you hear them, you don’t think “yeah, that’s a Hardwell track”.

I was surprised at how many different genres you managed to fit on there. The Mr Probz one is quite chilled, then "Sally" is almost like pop punk. Was this you wanting to showcase your influences, or more you trying your hand at a bunch of different genres?

Yeah, I’m a big fan of a lot of different music myself, that’s definitely something I wanted to showcase on the album. For example, a track like “Sally”, I used to play this bootleg I did of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and everyone loved it. So I thought why not make an original rock track and combine that with an EDM track. Even with the track for Mr Probz, of course I started working on that track with a build up and a drop, but that track is so beautiful the way it is, I didn’t want to touch it at all. It’s not an EDM sounding track, it’s more laidback. Maybe we’ll do some noiser remixes, but for now, I think it was the perfect way to end the album.

When you’re approaching a dance music album, obviously they’re quite different from a rock album. Did you see it as an important thing to do?

It’s kind of a showcase. I think the album is capturing everything that I’ve been doing for maybe the last ten years. A track like "Where Is Here Now" with Funkimen and Funkerman and I-Fan is a more groovy track and reminds me of the remix I did of “Man With The Red Face” and the more groovy stuff I did back in the day. So yeah, I looked for every piece within the hardwell spectrum. I definitely wanted to showcase what I can do as a producer. The hardest part was to work on an album for myself that felt timeless. That’s why I decided to work on a lot of vocal tracks, the instrumental tracks they come and go with the hype. I think vocals in general make a track more timeless. It means you’re writing songs rather than dancefloor tracks. So that’s what I wanted to create with the album.

A lot of artists view albums as sort of bookmarks in their life. How important for you was it to make an album? Was this something that was on your bucket list?

Yeah, definitely. It was definitely always on my bucket list. For a long time, for about five or six years I’ve wanted to create an album one day. I’ve always tried to develop myself sound-wise and dJ-wise and at this point I was completely satisfied with the sounds I picked for my album and the way I produced it. It’s kind of a bookmark in my life. As a DJ I’ve achieved basically everything I could’ve achieved in the past two years. So it was literally time for me as a producer, to keep up with my DJ side. So this was definitely the right time to focus on my producing side and finish up the album.

There are a lot of collabs on the album. Did you have a list of people you wanted to work with, or did it happen more naturally?

Most of it was pretty natural. I’d say about 90% of the artists on there I’ve known for years. Bright Lights we did “Never Said Goodbye” together. Amba Shepherd, we did “Apollo” together. Tiesto, of course, I’ve known for years. I’ve done tracks with W&W before, so yeah it was all very natural.

Probably the most surprising name on there for me, was Fatman Scoop. How the hell did that come about?

That’s a good one! I actually started out as a hip hop DJ, when I was 14. Obviously back then he was on every single hip hop record. When I finished the instrumental track with W&W, we felt it needed a vocal. Just something before the drop. It was kind of boring to have just a small shout-out, so I wanted to get a voice that works all the time. His voice – it works! You can say it’s corny or whatever, but it works! It doesn’t matter where you hear it: in a bar, in a festival, on the radio - it always works. People always recognise it, they always know it’s Fatman Scoop. And since everyone in EDM was working with Lil John, we thought, lets get Fatman Scoop.

Who was the artist you were most excited to work with and who did you enjoy working with the most?

There were no struggle on the whole album – which is really rare! It’s so hard to pick one artist because I really enjoyed working with them all. Amba Shepherd was so great. I pitched her the idea for the track and, literally, I woke up the next morning and all the parts of the vocals are sitting in my inbox. That’s how I like to work! And of course Tiesto, it’s always a pleasure to work with him. Even though I don’t get to see him that often, it’s always great to get in the studio with him.

Tiesto was a big hero of yours in the early years...

Yeah, definitely. He’s always been a big inspiration for me music and DJ wise. People used to say to me they can really hear that I’m a Tiesto fan. I’ve got that trance influence in my music.

I saw you do the Back to Back at Tomorrowland with Tiesto last summer, how was that?

That was really incredible. It was really one of my favourite ever moments in my career. I actually have a picture from that gig framed in my living room. That was seriously a special moment for me. Even being discovered by your role model was incredible. He took me on his world tour to open up for him and now we’re so close, almost like brothers and we're sharing a stage like Tomorrowland! It was great and I hope definitely we can do this more often. 

What is the ideal scenario for fans to listen to your album in?

I think you can experience it in different ways depending on where and how you listen to it. If you come see the live show it’ll be much different than if you listen to it in your car or wherever. Some tracks are suited to different situations. The Mr Probz track is a great one to chill out to and I wouldn’t recommend listening to “Don’t Stop The Madness” just before you go to bed. That track is definitely better listened to before a night out. Some tracks are definitely more relaxed and others are definitely more festival-minded.

So you're the No.1 DJ two years running, have your own Label, headlined all the biggest stages, completed your album - what’s next?

I want to develop myself more as a producer, try to innovate and recreate my sound. I’ve built a completely new studio, so I’m starting totally fresh. At this point I’m going to focus more on club tracks and maybe I want to do a second album, but I don’t know when. I definitely want to focus more on the label side and developing our other artists. I’m still enjoying all the aspects of what I’m doing right now. As long as I’m still enjoying it, I’m still getting the butterflies, then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

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Written by Matthew Francey

11 Mar 2015