Q&A with Darude
Finnish dance-music producer Ville Virtanen, better known as Darude, scored a giant hit with his first release "Sandstorm," a track that's sold close to two million units worldwide since its release. While he's never managed to replicate the success of that initial monster track, he's managed to carve out a respectable niche for himself among the world's top trance producers and DJs. His third artist album, Label This!, was released earlier this year. We caught up with him via e-mail on the eve of his appearance at the Church this Thursday, June 5, to get his views on his own success, music and his taste in sunglasses.
Westword (Cory Casciato): Do you feel any pressure to replicate the success of "Sandstorm," not from the record company or critics, but internally? Are you frustrated or disappointed that you've been unable to match that early effort? Do you think the cause is the material, or the audience -- in other words, in your opinion is the material you've written and released is as good or better than Sandstorm and people just haven't "got it," or do you feel you haven't created anything as good?
Darude: The thing about "Sandstorm" (or any other big club record) is that there are so many variables in the making or breaking [of] a track that it's pretty impossible [to] just decide and make something like that. If only I knew why this track became the huge success it did, I'd surely make another or five more. There's luck, contacts, hard work, the cycle of the industry internationally -- is trance hot? is house hot? is R&B hot? -- direction of the wind, position of the moon, etc., etc.
I've let go of the idea of trying to replicate the success with a similar track, because I didn't plan the success in the first place, I just made music that I liked. I've realized that the "phenomena" that happened with "Sandstorm" was something more than just a piece of music that I created. The success snowballed, the track had a life of its own for some reason.
I call it a happy accident and I'm looking forward to coming up with another one, but that'll just happen when the circumstances are right, when enough people hear the same thing I hear the same way. Until then I'll just make the best music I can, loving every single minute of it! I've got three albums full of tracks which a lot of people have told me they love, and that, and being able to make my living out of making music and touring around the world, to me is the success that I'm after.
WW: Tell me about the first time in your memory that music really struck you as something special and important, and how did this affect your musical development?
D: One morning when I was about three years old, I refused to get out of bed because I didn't hear the song that I had heard two previous mornings... I didn't understand that it had been on the radio, and my parents didn't have control over what was on. They gave me a tape player a little later so I could listen to songs again and that way they avoided my morning tantrums.
WW: I've read that you were a pioneer in using the Internet to launch your career, via MP3.com. Tell me a little bit about that and how it helped you or affected you. Also, do you think it is harder or easier for new acts to use the net to launch their careers these days and why?
D:The Internet could be someone's lucky break, but there's gigazillions of websites full of unsigned MP3s of different quality. Uploading a track somewhere doesn't mean you'll get signed the next day... If the record companies or crowds don't know you exist they don't know to come and listen to your track. Self-promotion, having high quality standards and being really active is the key. I had tracks on MP3.com before I got signed to my Finnish label 16 Inch. Someone tipped Neo Records in UK about my track, which was great, but we also had sent a 12 inch to Neo and to many other companies. Surely I had good luck, but I think that good luck sometimes is really closely related to hard work, too.
WW: Compared to many dance artists, you haven't done a huge amount of remixes. I also understand that it is just recently -- relatively speaking -- in your career that you've embraced deejaying. Is that a conscious decision to focus on your own compositions, or something else?
D:I've been busy with touring and with my personal life, that's why the third album Label This! took quite long to finish, and that's why I haven't done too many remixes in the last couple of years either. These days I produce my own music, but getting to a place where I don't need help production-wise took some time. Jaakko "JS16" Salovaara was my producer earlier, he helped me with very many aspects of my career, but he also had a lot of other stuff to do, other stuff to produce, so I couldn't hog all of his time.
Not being my own producer sometimes hindered me from being quick and spontaneous, and that has definitely reflected on the amount of remixes. I'm quite sure that I'll be doing more frequent releasing in the future, I've got a lot of stuff I'm working on right now, Darude tracks, Darude remixes and other production as well.
WW: Do you prefer playing live to deejaying? Can you tell me a bit about how they are similar or different and how you feel about either? Also, which will you be doing this Thursday at the Church?
D:I started as a live act, but these days 95 percent of my gigs are DJ sets, and so will be the Church one as well. I first started extending my live sets with little DJ sets after the live show, every now and then if the crowd was up for it. At first, I didn't really consider myself being a DJ, but the more I "spun," the more I loved it. It's hard to say which one I prefer... I guess I could say that deejaying is in a way easier than doing live shows, there is so much more planning and practicing to be done before a live show, and the level of technical involvement is also higher when playing live.
On the other hand, the build of a DJ set is a little different because there is less "show," so the interaction and presence of the DJ is a key element, which is very similar to the live show, maybe even more important. The music and the audience is not that different, so I don't mind either. I still like to do live shows for special occasions, like album release parties, big events and festivals, and even when I only DJ, I usually have a laptop with Ableton Live and Traktor and a midi controller with me, so I can do some live stuff on the side if I feel like it.
WW: Can you please share an amusing anecdote from your extensive touring and traveling that illustrates the life of a superstar producer/DJ?
D:I was in very deep sleep, my tour manager calls my hotel room at eleven, telling me the crew is waiting for me downstairs ready to go. I answer him that "I'll be right downstairs; I'll just take my stuff." Ten hectic minutes later, I'm downstairs and wondering why the guys look at me in a funny way... I had packed all my stuff and was ready to go to the airport thinking it's the next morning, and not even realized that it was 11 p.m. and we were going to the venue, and I still had a gig to do that night.
WW: I've read several places of your desire to work with Madonna. Do you still hope to do that and why? Is she still relevant? Who else in the pop/mainstream world would you like to produce for and why?
D: I certainly hope to work with Madonna one day. I respect her ambition and business savvyness, and I think she'll always be relevant -- though I have to say that I was a little disappointed when I listened to her latest album Hard Candy. I wish she'd stayed in the 4/4 dance style instead of going more in the R&B way.
There are several people ranging from my good buddies to big names and people in very different genres I'd like to have the chance to make music with. I'm still learning about collaboration, to be honest. It's a very delicate situation sometimes, especially if you're with someone you don't know well. People have different opinions of stuff, and almost everyone has some secret hang-ups and that makes it so interesting and sometimes very fruitful. Right now, I'm in the middle of a very exciting collaboration with a quite well known young American male singer-producer and I think we might have more than this one track to do in the future.
WW: Finally, I've noticed that people seem to be really interested in your sunglasses. Any idea why that is?
D: Hahahaa... In my first music videos and promo pictures as well as while performing I wore shades, and I guess that image has stuck. I haven't worn shades while performing in several years now, but people still ask me about the brands and where they could get them. I have directed hundreds of people to Örgreen and Electric websites and stores, I should get a hefty sponsor deal one of these days from one of them... ;)
Darude appears this Thursday, June 5 at the Church, 1160 Lincoln Street in Denver.