The Chainsmokers' Alex Pall talks 'Don't Let Me Down,' Coachella guests, Sunset Music Festival and more
For a superstar DJ, Alex Pall didn’t do much to celebrate his birthday.
“Just low-key dinner with friends and family, nothing exciting,” the elder half of the Chainsmokers said by phone the day after turning 31.
What he really sounds amped about is his trip this weekend to Tampa, where his band will join Jack U atop Sunday’s lineup for the fifth annual Sunset Music Festival.
“Tampa goes super hard,” he gushed. “This’ll be our third year, so it’s a special festival for us. You can see the progress. We can feel it ourselves, which is really exciting.”
The Chainsmokers have a lot to do with that. A couple of years ago, Pall and cohort Drew Taggart were best known for their viral, semi-novelty single Selfie, a jab at digital narcissism that struck a nerve with the festival set. Then last summer came Roses, a much more textured and emotive EDM anthem that became a huge crossover hit. In January they released Don’t Let Me Down, which is poised to be even bigger — it’s the biggest electronic hit of 2016, and a top early contender for this year’s Song of the Summer.
“It’s incredible to see how people are connecting with the song,” Pall said. “It’s still getting bigger and bigger. It sold more records than it did last week, than it did the week before, and the week before that, and the week before that. I don’t know when they expect it to peak.”
Still, Pall and Taggart are already working on newer — and potentially even bigger — singles.
“We’re so far ahead of that song in our studio minds,” Pall said. “What people hear right now is stuff that’s a year old. So you have to imagine where we are right now. And it’s really exciting. We can’t wait to show people.”
Before coming to Sunset (click here for details on the fest) and playing Sunday's after-party at the Ritz Ybor, Pall talked about Don’t Let Me Down, the group’s star-studded Coachella set, unreleased singles and more.
At this point, how are you working to build up Don’t Let Me Down and make it stay strong throughout the spring, so it can become a Song of Summer contender?
Well, it’s Top 5 on iTunes right now, and Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 10. We’re just trying to keep pushing it into the power rotation (at pop radio). Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to do with it from a global standpoint. I think we’re going to do some live performances of it on TV, some late-night stuff, and obviously just playing it on the festival circuit gives it a lot of life. And then who knows? That stuff, the label probably has a better idea of what to do. We’re just going to keep making music.
You guys do a lot of stuff in terms of promotion that other DJs haven’t traditionally done, like sit down with Larry King or go on late-night TV. What’s the strategy behind that?
You always want to separate yourself, you know what I mean? And we’re not thinking like, “We gotta separate ourselves from the DJs.” We’re thinking, “We gotta separate ourselves form other artists in general.” We enjoy letting people into our story, and this journey that we’re on, and mixing it up with people like Larry King or doing a late-night performance adds a lot of dynamics to how people perceive you as an artist.
While we came into this scene as EDM artists, we want to be known as more than that. We want to be known as real artists. We want to be up for Song of the Year and Artist of the Year and Producer of the Year and all that stuff. The more you can give people to hold onto — as long as you pick and choose what that is — I think people will get to know you better. We’re still fairly new and unknown artists, relatively speaking, so doing those things is super helpful for anyone.
Was all this at the forefront of your mind when you were plotting out your Coachella set? Because you brought out Tiesta and G-Eazy, and it was like, “Okay, cool, these guys make sense.” Then you have Walk the Moon and Third Eye Blind come out, which is awesome, but not necessarily something a big DJ might do at a festival like Coachella. So what was your mindset heading into that set?
There’s only many electronic artists on that festival, so we wanted to make our mark. We’d been thinking for a long time about potentially who we’d be bringing out, but we didn’t want to bring out people just because you could bring ’em out. Walk the Moon are good homies of ours, and we’ve been playing Shut Up and Dance for so long, how are we not gonna have these guys come out?
Third Eye Blind, honestly, we were drunk two nights before in a bar, listening to Third Eye Blind. Our good friend’s brother was the bass player in the band, and I’m going, I’m gonna text him! We’re huge Third Eye Blind fans, and we just thought it would be one of those Coachella moments that people don’t expect. That’s what Coachella’s all about, creating those moments that you don’t see coming. And it was really fun. Stephan Jenkins killed it, and it turned out to be a great call. That sort of thing is what kind of sets us apart, is our sick, twisted minds coming up with those weird things.
The Third Eye Blind thing was perfect, because we seem to be at a point where late-’90s, early-2000s music scratches a particular nostalgic itch for people. The crowd must’ve gone nuts when they heard you guys play Jumper.
Yeah, I think they didn’t even know what was happening for the first 20 seconds. I wouldn’t blame them. We didn’t know whether to do Semi-Charmed Life or Jumper; that was the hardest decision. But it worked out great.
The new song you played at Coachella — is it gonna be called, “We Ain’t Never Getting Older?” That’s how I’ve seen it referred to online.
It’s called Closer. That’s about as much as we’ve given away. We’ve spent a lot of time taking down links and rips and stuff offline. I’m sure there’s still tons. But that will probably be our next single coming out when the time is right, hopefully not too long. It’ll definitely be out before summer ends, that’s for sure. If we had it up to us, I’d release it tomorrow, but Don’t Let Me Down is a freight train right now. Releasing another song that we’re really excited about would only interfere with that. You’ve gotta let everything go through its own cycle.
But we’re really excited about it. This is one of our more interesting songs, firstly because Drew’s singing on it, and secondly because this one feels a little bit more personal in nature. I think that’s kind of the direction our music’s going.
It’s a really good song. I hope you guys play it in Tampa.
It’s always an on-the-spot call: “Should we do it? Should we not?” I don’t know. You always have this fear that you’re going to do it, and then people are going to get tired of it, but you forget how big the world is.
You’re one of the headliners on the second day at Sunset. Do you know yet what you’re going to do? Are you going to have guests? Are you going to try to get other DJs on stage?
We are coming in kind of hot from Europe (into Tampa). Obviously we’re going to plan this set accordingly to Tampa, which goes f---ing hard. But we only have an hour, so it’s kind of tough. I don’t know what tricks we have up our sleeve yet, only because if we think about it super hard, we’d never come up with anything. But it should be sick. I looked at the lineup for Sunday, and it’s probably one of the best lineups I’ve seen this year, between Jauz and Marshmello and us and Jack U. Disco Donnie does a fantastic job. The fact that we’ve been invited three years in a row to this festival, it’s incredible.