The Chainsmokers: Lighting Up with a Number One Duo

MC: In listening to your arrangements, it becomes evident that the sounds are so immense because of the lack of clutter and the relative simplicity of the melodic lines.

Taggart: That’s one thing I learned from Max Martin and Calvin Harris, both for their––I don’t want to call it simplicity––but their expert use of sound. They find really meaningful sounds. And I find that everything in a Calvin Harris record and everything in a Max Martin record has a purpose. There’s no synth pad, it’s built from the ground up. That’s what I really admire about both of those producers. Everything has a purpose. 

MC: The technique is almost reminiscent of the classic Motown arrangements, where each instrument created a distinctive hook. With your songs, it seems as if each sound is somehow connected to a corresponding emotion.

Taggart: I think about that more when I’m writing lyrics. Every piece of the song has to be a moment. And if you listen to a lot of our records, you can hear that the first line in is where the story started. (Sings) “I was just doing fine before I met you (“Closer”) or “We were living in Paris to get away from your parents.” (“Paris”) Those are lines that came to me at one time and I wrote entire songs around them.

MC: These narratives sound very authentic, almost like diary entries.

Taggart: We started writing about what we saw. And we thought back to our childhoods and relived instances and angst, a lot of things we went through, listening to Blink-182. The whole apathy toward the romance in “Closer” based on the Range Rover you can’t afford? It came from me going to school with a bunch of really rich kids who drove their parents’ cars and it was a culture shock thing for me. We talk about what we’ve seen over the years. We always say that anybody can write a song––there are so many songs happening right in front of you every day

MC: Speaking of growing up, you attended the Martin Bandier Program at Syracuse University. Were you envisioning a career on the business side of the music industry?

Taggart: I was looking at Syracuse to go into architecture. My mom found the Martin Bandier program. It had just had its first year. My parents were really into it, supporting what I wanted, even when I didn’t realize what it was. They thought the music industry would be perfect for me. And although I played music, at that time I never thought about there being an industry behind it. When I found out about that program I was exposed to this industry that I wanted to be involved in.

MC: And as a part of your program you interned also, is that correct?

Taggart: Yes. I interned at Interscope Records. I interned for this really talented executive named Neil Jacobson. He and Nick Groff were really good to me, especially Nick. He knew I was producing on my laptop at every free second I got and he was cool about giving me opportunities. When they had bands that they were sending out for remixes, he would slip me the stems and say, “Let’s see what you come up with. I ended up doing one for LMFAO and the day after my internship ended I gave him the remix, and said, ‘Hey this is what I did.” The members of the band approved it, and it was my first commercial piece of music, really.

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MC: We watched an interview online with your mixer, Jordan Young, better known as DJ Swivel. He observed that in addition to programming and producing, you are a very strong mixer as well. What does he impart to the Chainsmokers’ sound?

Taggart: He’s really good at balance and he pulls me out of my own head. I will overproduce and push the mix too far and it’s really great to have him, especially with this album, because we were getting so many songs done in such a short period of time. He’s really good at getting tracks down that are really high quality. He’s got such attention to detail and not letting anything go. It’s got to be that way about your music even though it can be hard and you are being pulled in a million directions and you are just trying to get it done. And he’s not afraid to tell us, “This isn’t good enough, we need to recut this hook.” He forces me to face the flaws in my own music. That’s one of his biggest skills. So I’ll go back and rewrite a hook or write a bridge if necessary.

MC: How do you track the vocals?

Taggart: We’ll sing until we get it. Swivel’s good at that too, especially when I’m singing. He’ll tell me, “You’ve got the first part of it, but let’s get a comprehensive vocal mix.” We’ll sing something 10 times and then pick the best pieces.

MC: “Something Like This,” the Chainsmokers collaboration with Coldplay, is a very successful project. What was it like blending with a band with such a distinctive sound?

Taggart: Working with Chris Martin was insane. I remember listening to Coldplay songs when they started being a band, from “Yellow” on. When the whole world discovered them I did too. And I’ve been pretty obsessed with them for a long time. Being able to work with Chris is an extraordinary experience in that sense, writing the song with him. I’ve never seen anyone write a song that way that he did. He plugged a mic into a PA in the middle of the studio, and danced around in circles humming something until all the words came to him. He didn’t write them down, he literally sang them. Chris always says that songs are sent down, and I’m starting to believe that too. I actually watched a song get sent down to him in the session.

MC: Will this influence the way that you write in the future?

Taggart: I’ve got a whole notepad of song lyrics. That’s how all of our songs have been written because we tour so much. We understand that inspiration is fleeting, and when a melody or a lyric comes you have to get it down somehow. I write it down on a notepad or a voice note, and when I do have a second in the studio I can pick up from where I left off. I definitely have put on a beat and written to it. And listening to yourself sing into the track rather than playing it on speakers and writing something can be really effective too. I’ve never done what I saw Chris do, but maybe someday when I’ve written songs for 10 years I will be able to do that also.

MC: We like the concept of the song being sent down.

Taggart: We just write songs about the stuff we see. I do believe anyone can write a song. And songs happen in front of you every day. It’s the same in anything: great business opportunities, great songs, great films, great stories great relationships–all of these are happening in front of you every day. You’ve just got to open your eyes and see them.

Contact Greg Cortez, 42West,
greg.cortez@42West.net

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