The Grammy-winning DJ tells TIME about his biggest musical influences, his upcoming album and musicians he hopes to collaborate with on future projects
Crowds poured into the Sahara Tent at the Coachella Valley Music Festival last weekend to see Anton Zaslavski, better known by his stage name Zedd, put on a high-energy show with big beats and dazzling visuals.
The 24-year-old German-Russian DJ – who has produced hits for the likes of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber – exploded onto the EDM scene after releasing his debut album Clarity in October 2012. The album’s title track won him a Grammy for “best dance recording” earlier this year.
Before taking the stage, Zedd spoke with TIME about his musical influences, upcoming album and the musicians he wants to collaborate with most.
You’ve played a lot of big venues, a lot of festivals. What’s special to you about Coachella?
Coachella is one of the most important festivals in the world. I played here two years ago, and it was an incredible experience, but I played very early on. Obviously, you kind of want to have a nighttime slot, and now I have one of the best slots I could ever dream of. I love the Sahara tent and the vibe in there. From the first moment people get in there, there is an energy that I haven’t seen on any other stage of the festival.
You won a Grammy for Clarity. What was that moment like?
It was entirely unreal. I brought my family out. I was kind of nervous because I thought maybe they expected me to win, and if I didn’t, it might be kind of awkward. It’s the first time they’ve ever been to America. My whole team was there also…
So I saw the names on the big screen and then somehow everything started moving in slow motion… I didn’t even realize they called my name until everyone around me screamed in my ear, and I’m like ‘alright, I got to think of something to say now.’
I had nothing prepared. I would have felt weird if I prepared a speech and didn’t win, and at the same time, I thought that if I didn’t prepare something, at least it will be really honest and real, and it was.
How did you get to work with Lady Gaga?
I remixed songs for [Gaga’s] label, and I told the label that my dream would be to one day to make a song for her… And then one day, there was a point where they wanted to take my remix [of one of her songs] as a single version. They wanted me to meet her, so I played a show in London, and she was there. I got to talk with her for a minute, and she was like “lets make music together.”
Then I wrote this little song – it was a minute and a half – and she heard [it] and called me immediately and basically wanted me to make the album. So it was a lucky thing. I wrote this piece and I didn’t even think she would love it, but I thought it was really good and different and didn’t sound like anything else out there. And then we slowly started working, and been working on tour together in Asia and after the shows we sat down and started writing songs. And then we were in the studio for months. So it’s been wild.
Are there any other artists you would love to work with?
There are a million. There are people like Adele, and I love Katy Perry. There are also all the artists that inspired me to write music that I write today, like Radiohead, so I would love to work with and see what that would be like. Empire of the Sun is a band I love – I got to make a remix for them. Feeder is another one.
Who is your biggest musical influence?
Tough question. Daft Punk was a huge inspiration for getting started in electronic music. Queen has been one of the most inspirational bands for me over the course of the last years…because I’ve listened to their music and realized how much we don’t do in electronic music and how big the field is to bring in ideas from other worlds. Radiohead is a band that has been very inspirational for me. Silverchair is another one. Mostly not electronic music acts to be completely honest.
Do you find yourself trying to incorporate those artists into your music?
I do. I’m working on my new album now. There’s a song I started writing 2 and a half years ago, and I loved it, but I didn’t have the right spot for it [on Clarity]. Now I’ve come back to it. I took all the synths out, and replaced them with guitars. That’s something I would not have done a year ago. I think other genres definitely inspire me and make me do things I usually would not do or maybe that other people in the genre do.
What can you tell me about the new album?
It will sound a little different. I have a lot of song ideas, and I’ve started slowly producing and picking singers, which for me is the most important part. I think it will be similar to Clarity, but wider [and] more inspiration from other genres.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I’m not the kind of person who says when I see a beautiful landscape I’m inspired to write about song. To me, it’s music that inspires music. Whenever I hear a chord progression I haven’t heard before, I’m always like, ‘damn, why didn’t I think of this?’ That’s why I love Queen so much. One song of theirs has as much range as an album of other people’s music. When I hear something I didn’t expect to hear, that’s what gives me a push.