Among the top-tier DJs, the ones who sell out stadiums, the ones who get played on the radio, a good handful of them released albums last year – Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, David Guetta, Afrojack and more. One that was curiously absent was Hardwell, voted DJ Mag’s #1 two years in a row. Fans would have to wait for his album until January of 2015. You can imagine then how absurdly impatient some people were to get their hands on United We Are. Singles started rolling out in December, starting with “Arcadia” all the way back in July last year, then “Young Again” in October, followed by “Don’t Stop The Madness” and then “Eclipse,” finished by the most controversial track on the album, “Sally.”
At its release, it saw generous success. It peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart and No. 85 on the Billboard 200, and of course reached #1 on the Netherlands charts. Billboard had the chance to talk to Hardwell about his album, people’s reactions to it, and how he is utterly unapologetic. The one thing that Hardwell wants you to take away from United We Are is that it was made for his fans, not for radio-friendly airplay.
Here are just a few of the question/answers from the interview.
What does your first artist album represent to you?
I think my album represents what I’ve been working on for the last 10 years, working hard on my own identity as a DJ and producer, and I think this album represents my sound. I didn’t jump on any bandwagon deep house trends or whatever. I just tried to put out an album that is as diverse as possible for an artist album. I’m really satisfied with the result of the album.
Let’s talk “Sally.” It represents a departure from your usual sound and drew mixed fan reactions. What were you trying to achieve there?
I came up with the idea for “Sally” since I’m always playing my bootleg of Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and my fans love it when I drop that. I wanted to do a crossover track with rock and more EDM elements. […] Harrison came up with the lyric, and that’s the shocking part for most people. The thing is, he explains this to me: Sally is not a fictive person. Sally is a term in the rock industry that’s been used by the Beatles and Eric Clapton, and if he says “I’ve been f—ing Sally,” he’s saying he doesn’t give a f— about what’s going on. […] And of course you don’t listen to this track in your living room. Picture yourself getting drunk with your friends at 2 or 3 am, and you play that “Sally” track.
It sounds like you preferred to make the album on your own terms.
[…] I wanted to make this album for my fans and my festival sets. I wanted to show what Hardwell was about and still is about. I didn’t want to shock my fans with something completely different. Now after the album, it’s time for me to reinvent myself, reinvent my sound, and come up with something completely new. Something that’s less safe and experiment a bit more than I did on the album.
Where do you see the balance between DJing and producing going forward in mainstream dance music?
There are no DJs anymore. Well just a few, and I’m talking about the older guys. The newer guys are always producers that made a big hit record and now DJ all of a sudden. […] I think we’re going back to the more melodic stuff and even more downtempo progressive stuff with guys like Kygo and Flume. I definitely think there will be more variety in the festival lineups within a year from now.
This is only a small portion of the lengthy interview, but I believe that Hardwell’s sentiments can be well-enough inferred from these answers. As I said before, he’s unapologetic. And honestly, that’s how it should be. As an artist, especially as big as Hardwell, you must be fearless in your convictions and absolutely confident in your product. I can assume without much trepidation that if there was a song that Hardwell didn’t feel was 100% ready, he wouldn’t have put it on the album.
Image via Rukes