To kick off their new imprint Deadbeats, Zeds Dead finally gives their fans what they've been waiting for: a full-length project. On Northern Lights, the duo does what they've done best, collaborating with the likes of Diplo, Jadakiss and Styles P from The Lox, along with a collaboration with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and Pusha T. Yes, that happened.
This is nothing new for the duo from Toronto, though. Over their career, which has spanned seven years and included releases on Mad Decent, Spinnin Records, and Dim Mak, has featured everything from dubstep to straight up house music. With a rich hip-hop background, these two have never neglected in keeping that aesthetic to their tracks, as well as never shying away from trying something a bit different or leftfield if it worked.
To get you amped for the release of Northern Lights, they hit us with a moody, piano-driven collab with Charlotte OC entitled "Symphony" that delves into heavier dubstep territories. As you play this track (and run it back to back), check out our recent conversation with the duo, who talk the formation of their Deadbeats imprint, working with Jada and Styles, as well as that time they got a drop from Dave Chappelle.
What was the decision behind starting your Deadbeats label with your album as the big leading project on it?
Hooks: We've been wanting to make a label for a long time and it just seemed like the right time to do it since we were putting out our album. We've always done things ourselves, [and] it seemed like our debut album should come out on our label.
DC: They were both things we wanted to do since we pretty much started. In our beginnings in Toronto, we had our party Bassmentality, which was kind of like training ground for us and some of that we built off, and it always made sense, with our world continuously expanding, to broaden it further to the label.
Do you guys have any rough ideas of what artist people can see on Deadbeats in the future?
Hooks: We'll let you know real soon, we're gonna put out our album and then the second is going to be a compilation of artists that will be on Deadbeats.
DC: Just like one track from lots of different producers. I think we'll want something of our own there, too.
Hooks: To name a few…it's not finalized. Nebbra, Memorecks, Hunter Siegel… We want it to be more than just electronic music, too, and have hip-hop too in there, because that's kind of like where we came from and another aspect that we'd like to put our fans into because it's kind of interesting how we came from like hip-hop to electronic but a lot of people that are fans of us might have just started in electronic, so we've got an opportunity to show them what we think is good in other worlds.
It's always been cool to see that while you're making dubstep, you've got Omar LinX on there, on the album you've got Jadakiss and Styles. It's good to see that stuff come back, bouncing off of each other, and I thought it was crazy that Jada dropped a "listening to Zeds Dead" reference like right in that first verse. I'm assuming you guys were Lox fans, but was it hard to get them to understand what you guys were trying to do with the track?
Hooks: I think a few years ago it would've been hard for some of them to understand, but I think old school rappers and stuff are warming up to the idea of electronic music, some of whom probably for the wrong reasons.
Trying to maybe cash in or something?
Hooks: Yeah, exactly. But I think once people hear what we're about they get interested on a different level.
DC: We actually got hooked up with them through DJ Green Lantern, so that kind of bridged. They seemed ready, they went hard on it, they dropped like three verses on it back to back the whole time, trading off lines for every line. They didn't half ass it.
Was that a situation where you guys had an idea for a track and gave them a little feel or did they just spit whatever they wanted?
Hooks: I always thought that Jada and Styles would sound dope on the right kind of hybrid songs. I think we might've had a couple but we were like, "ok, let's try this one," and that was it and they just went in.
I also thought it was interesting you got Rivers Cuomo and Pusha T on the same track. Was that something where you guys had a song that you thought they both could fit on, or did you have an idea to have them both on a song?
Hooks: Not initially; we had that song and we were put in touch with Rivers. We went to his place and played a bunch of music and he liked that one and he wrote that hook, which we thought was great and then it just seemed like the song needed something else, a verse, so we went to Pusha T, and he liked it, so it came together.
DC: Originally when we thought Pusha, we thought, "OK, obviously let's get him something kind of grimy and dark," and this was the opposite in that sense.
Hooks: He came with a very unexpected verse that was awesome just not a typical verse of his. We're big fans of his, too. And Weezer.
Talk about the idea behind the title of the project, Northern Lights, which you guys have discussed as dealing with light coming out of the darkness.
Hooks: That was kinda the feel that we had been going for but the name an the actual concept didn't come out until later on in the album process, but we had always been sort of toying with that idea.
DC: Once we actually started grouping the tracks together, we're like, this makes sense conceptually and cohesively and that just seemed like something that had a lot of different meanings, something vibrant matched with something kind of dark, not that all our music is dark, it's just more… kind of like the night sky is kind of ominous, you know? And then having something vibrant from that. We go all over the place but there's a lot within that.
When did you guys start working on Northern Lights?
Hooks: We had never put out an album; we had always been saving songs for an album. So ever since we started, every time we had a song it was more of a deep cut or not a single, it was like, "Maybe this will be on the album someday." And it never really worked out that way, a lot of the songs would come out on different projects here and there, but a couple of them did remain until the time that we were putting the album together and one of those songs ended up on the album. I think since about two years ago, realistically is when we were like, we're making an album and everything we did was for that.
I thought it was interesting that you guys have two tracks with Twin Shadow on the album after dropping "Lost You" a few years back. Was there a plan to make sure there were x amount of Twin Shadow tracks on the album?
DC: No, we just work well together. When collabing with someone it's dope when they can bring something to the table that you don't have in your repertoire. With him, he's got his own sets of sounds, his singing is dope, and he's got his own bag of tricks he can pull from and it seems to match well with ours. So we were like, "Does it make sense to have two Twin Shadow tracks on the record?" But we liked them both so much we wanted to keep them on.
Are there any bucket list acts that you guys would still want to pursue working with at some point?
Hooks: We just did a track with Redman, that was one of our bucket list people, definitely.
DC: He also did a Zeds Dead shout out in the verse. Crazy. We got one from Dave Chappelle, too.
Is he a fan?
Hooks: Now he is.
How did you meet Dave Chapelle?
Hooks: Really randomly at the Comedy Cellar.
Hooks: Yeah. Huge fan of his.
DC: Just ended up hanging out with him and got him to do a shout-out. It was pretty crazy.
You don't really hear people doing that, that's like an old school hip-hop, college DJ thing…
Hooks: I never do that, but it was Dave.