Believe it or not, it has been 10-plus years in the making for Steve Aoki’s debut album Wonderland to release. Quite astonishing considering the success he has had with music over the years with his live set tours, and notable works as a DJ and producer. It should be noted though that his new album pulls together a groundbreaking lineup of features that include KiD CuDi, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Lil Jon, Travis Barker, and LMFAO – all of which he points out are close friends of many years. The Wonderland album is out now and he has embarked on his North American tour (which will soon make its way to Europe, more details here). We met up with the time-tested artist and conversed about his new record, his visions, and plans for it.
You have a new album Wonderland out that was 10 years in the making. Can you give us some background on it?
I look at my album as an eclectic labor of work as every song gets a unique push, since every song is unique and important to me. I’m also planning to drop a video for each single on the album. The next visual that will be unveiled is for "Cudi the Kid" – my collaboration with KiD CuDi and Travis Barker. We have completed the shoot, so expect it to drop real soon.
Quite an ambitious undertaking.
Yes. Soon after we’ll have something for “Control Freak” with Kay and Blaqstarr and one video for my song with Tiësto. The vocals for this tune are done, so I intend to release it by April along with the visual. And that’s really big for me, given his stature in the game. So with this album we had a lot of fun, and we were always filming on the road.
You mentioned some of the featured artists on your Wonderland album, and they’re quite diverse musically. How were you able to gather everyone and make it work cohesively?
The majority of the people, well actually all the people I know personally and they’re all old friends of mine. So it’s a very personal album for me, I didn’t like get a manager to shout at an artist or something. I’ve known CuDi for years when he started out, and I’ve known will.i.am for a long time. He’s been coming to my parties to support Dim Mak for years. LMFAO as well, they grew up in my parties during the DJ AM and Dim Mak parties back in the day. I’ve known dudes for a long time and they’re very close friends of mines.
So we have to ask, 10 years deep into the game, what made you release your first album now?
I actually started the process of putting the album together 18 years ago. Although the album took three to four years to be perfected to my liking, I really made a warranted effort to get it all done in 2010. In 2011, I spent almost the whole year off working on this album, and before then, it was just kind of like “I’ll work on it when I work on it.” When you only have so much time, it’s sporadic and it’s hard. In my life it’s what's current and what’s eclectic, and this album showcases more of the eclectic side of my songwriting instead of the usual bangers.
Outside the studio, how’s your touring coming along?
I’m wrapping my tour in three weeks, and will be doing Ultra at SXSW and then heading out to Europe for five weeks to push my album. When I come back it’ll be summer, and that’s when lots of festivals take place. So it's quite likely that I will be playing in those as well.
What influences who you are and what you do?
Everything influences me. When I was a kid growing up, I was listening to punk and hardcore, playing in bands, playing guitar doing songs. I’m influenced by all kinds of people who come into my life.
So when I work with will.i.am, there’s like a certain kind of energy that brings a new sound out of me – the same goes with Blaqstarr. Everyone and everything brings something new, and I’m constantly learning, and also learning everyday as a producer working with all these different people. It’s really exciting to be in this time of music, so many different influences, and so many different people coming in and actually working together.
You mentioned “it’s real exciting to be in this time of music.” Can you elaborate on that?
Three years ago in the dance music world, you would never even think of an Aoki and Tiësto collaboration, you know. Let alone experiencing KiD CuDi on a dubstep song. You would never even think about that, so it’s a very interesting time in music when all these genres are merging and experimenting with each other and having fun.
When did you discover the turntable and realize you could make a living out of it?
Probably in 2003 when I started my first Dim Mak party in Los Angeles. This was before Serato, so it was all vinyl at these hipster parties.
Hipster parties you say? So tell us, what were hipster parties like back in the day?
At that time in 2002, 2003, 2004, the concept of the hipster was still so f*cking fresh in people's minds. Like in that period of time, this was even before EDM was even a blink in my eye. I was absolutely part of a hipster community and I was making between 100-150 dollars every time I would DJ. I would play these two parties a week. So I was making about $1,200 a month, my rent was $500 and then the other $600. I was just pay off all the other bills because Dim Mak wasn’t making any money for me at the time. So I was really relying on that cash flow to get by. Eventually, when I got more known, I started to earn $300-400 dollars a gig playing four times a week in the city which obviously equals $6,000 a month so I was raking it in (laughs). So at that time of course I was like I can’t stop, this is amazing you know. For a local DJ, I give it up to them, it’s a hustle, but you know what, if you can even get to that level it’s like a solid 9-5 job.
How’s your fashion line going? Do you have any non-music projects coming?
We’re still going strong with the Dim Mak clothing line which is continuing to do well, and I have a menswear line coming along with my sister Devon and she’s been in the fashion world for a long time. We’ve created a whole range of clothing and there’s been a lot of creative input put into it to make sure people care about what we do.
What do you see happening in five years from now in the life of Steve Aoki?
I believe in the same thing Bruce Lee used to say. You’re not necessarily going to get there, you’re going to go somewhere else and you’re going to have to ride with it. In my life, everything has kind of been a curve ball. In the long-term spectrum, I can easily say that I have never expected to become a DJ, let alone a successful touring artist/producer. When I was 21 years old, I did not expect that to happen in my life. I could say though, in five years Dim Mak will be expanded into different areas because we’re constantly evolving.
Any final words?
Always stay authentic and love what you do. As far as being an upcoming producer, don’t worry about what other people think, otherwise you’ll sound like everyone else. Just always love what you do first, because if you love it, it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. You can create your own genre of music at this point. That’s what's cutting about this day and age of music, new genres are popping up from artists.
Steve Aoki's Wonderland album is out now.