Steve Aoki is singularly focused on making sure your ass is partying. As founder of the now-famous Dim Mak record label, Aoki has built his dance party into an empire. Live, his over-the-top antics range from paddling through the crowd on a raft to tossing cake into the screaming audience. When he's not stage diving right into the heart of the party, Aoki's making electro-house that will keep you sweating all night. We spoke with him about recent collaborations, what's in the works for the new album and just why he wanted to work with the likes of Richard Simmons.
Westword:Let's talk about this new video for "Bring You to Life."
Steve Aoki: I wanted this funny -- I had the opportunity to work with Richard Simmons, and I wanted to do a video with him on this song. It's called "Bring You to Life," and it's about the juxtaposition of us in our own worlds getting criss-crossed. It's just funny, given he was a legend back in the day, and he's just a funny dude. I had to do something with him for this one. I'm glad it worked out.
How did that collaboration come together?
My team was working with him on some stuff, and they always bring up different ideas, and with that one, I was totally down with it. I love doing things out of the box. I like when people say, "That's so weird and random!" I want to do different shit than most people.
What is your draw to working "outside the box?"
I grew up in that lifestyle and community of already being out of the box. I was into punk and hardcore, and we were a bunch of alienated youth that formed our own little niche. We picked up tools as we went along and created our own universe, and I love that ideology. I still hold true to that at 35, and it's those kinds of unique approaches to life that bring the diversity out.
In the video process, how hands on are you involved in the story line?
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It depends on each video. "Singularity" I did with Ray Kurzweil, and in my homage to him, I wrote the story, so I was fully engulfed and immersed in that video. I didn't direct it, and we had a director of photography there, so it was more of a short film. What I did take from that is cinematography lessons and doing more in that world. It's like a whole new world of being creative. It's exciting jumping into something with a team that already knows what they are doing.
Do you use the song for video? How do the video and song come together creatively for you?
It really is case by case. For some, it really adheres to the song title. "Singularity" is about the future and the how it's technologically advanced. With "Bring You to Life," you can take that line and develop any sort of story for that. You can do something emotional and use a lot of different treatments. I wanted to do a video with Richard Simmons, so I couldn't do more of an emotional thing. I wanted to poke fun at ourselves, and love doing that all the time, anyway.
It seems like it just shows the enjoyment of it all.
I like the comedic elements of the video, like me twerking on a girl, and me jumping in a gym. That's obviously me making fun of it. The general theme is exactly portraying that we are having fun, and we sometimes take things too seriously. We are bringing what we want to do, to life.
Do you think that mantra and lifestyle flows through your music, completely?
Absolutely! Most of my songs are about just that. I want to maximize fun. I want to break the fun meter. I want to drive emotions to the ceiling. The great thing about music is that you don't need drugs to get to that level. The sad thing is people do crazy drugs and all of the sudden, they don't know where they are.
I want to drive emotions to the ceiling, whether its raging and dancing hard, or finding meaning in the lyrics... That's the intention when I start a song. I want to change something. I want to be a part of an inspiration for some people that conveys a message, a song or feeling.
What about the balance of all of that? If you are trying to reach the top all the time, there are bound to be some valleys. What is that balance like for you personally?
The valleys, to me, are represented in the next album, which is coming out next year. I have bangers, that are songs that I write, that are very definitive to the Steve Aoki sound, and then on the album is that you are telling a conceptual story, whether all the songs sound different.
I don't want to put our 12014 bangers on an album. I want to take people on a journey, or an adventure. There are some songs that are more of a ballad than a banger. That's a good thing about doing an album; you get to really explore your songwriting and going back to my roots of being a musician and finding different ways to say the same thing.
Are you conscious when writing an album how the story will flow? Comparing an album to a concert, you can't just go hard the entire time. So tell me about the where you'll go with bringing things down a notch on the new album?
I like using different vocalists on songs, and that gives you a complete different emotion on the message, and how it's expressed, and how it will be digested when people hear it. I have instrumentals that goes one way, and then you put a vocal on top, and it goes way deeper. There are some on the new album that really dig deep into the soul.
That's what I'm excited about showing the world. On Wonderland, my last album, I wanted to do some slow songs like "Control Freak." That is a 118 bpm track, which is not something you play in the club. With this one, there are nine club tracks on it which some really rare collaborations.
Care to share some of those rare collaborations?
I worked with Linkin Park on a track, and also a session with Empire of the Sun, though it's not done, so I may not be able to say that. I have finished vocals with Snoop Dogg, Machine Gun Kelly, Waka Flocka Flame, Mac Miller and some other amazing vocalists. I've got Will.I.Am back, but I'm not sure if it's going to be Zuper Blahq or not.
When you are coming up with the collaborations, do you have an idea of who you want to work with right away?
I always know. It's easier for me to write when I have some inspiration. You need an idea of where you want to go. I always have a goal when I'm writing, but it always goes off into another place. That's what so great about writing, whether you are writing a book or a song: You have an idea of what you want, but as you write you start forming new ideas and get inspired by the things around you. Essentially, that's one of my favorite things about making music, and stumbling into a new thing on accident.