Recently voted the number one DJ on planet earth – and the known universe – Armin Van Buuren recently made a bold move. Instead of tagging on a slew of globetrotting gigs to bask in the collective appeal this magazine’s placement would undoubtedly bring, he went to the studio to create his latest full-length, Imagine. While the effort is admirable, and his Internet radio show continues to broadcast weekly to 6,000,000 trance listeners, those yearning to hear him live rejoice.
Earlier this month, Van Buuren returned to the United States for a nationwide tour, including stops in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Phoenix. We got a chance to sit with him at the Hotel on Rivington to pick his brain.
clubZone – In Holland, your album debuted at number one in the charts. It took that long for this to happen?
Armin Van Buuren – Dance music has always been bigger in Holland than in the United States, maybe. It was never that an electronic album entered the album charts at number one. It was pretty amazing. I know I’m a trance DJ and I won’t walk away from the fact. That is my overall sound and I’ll always make trance, because that’s what I’ve done. But I don’t want my music to become formulaic in any way.
clubZone – What style did it replace? What’s usually taking up that slot?
Armin Van Buuren – The same as here: Amy Winehouse, Duffy, that kind of sound. We’re pretty much up-to-date with everything; for my album to hit number one is big news.
clubZone – Sure. You’ve remarked that the album is inspired by Ibiza. How has the culture and music progressed over there?
Armin Van Buuren – What’s stayed the same is the Balaeric sound – the Spanish call the three islands there Mayorca, Minorca and Ibiza. They have a certain sound about their culture. When I first arrived there, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a load of crap. This is not true.’ But after a couple of years coming there every week, I started to feel the vibe of Ibiza and why it’s so special. It really is a magical place. What has progressed in Ibiza, particularly, is the club scene. There is still the same set of superclubs within a close distance of each other. The overall sound has changed along with electronic music of today, but with a Balaeric touch. I’ve always played and produced trance, since 1996, when it wasn’t popular. I’m trying to keep the shit real – that’s what I’m trying to say to America.
clubZone – When you compiled your collaborators, were you keeping them in mind for your live sets?
Armin Van Buuren – No, not really. First and foremost, what counts for me is the music. You can be the most brilliant artist [whose] won several Grammy’s; if the sound doesn’t appeal to me, I can’t work with it. Second of all, one of the reasons to do collaborations for the album is it gives you a total different perspective on dance music. A lot of the artists I worked with on this album aren’t even dance artists. I haven’t even worked with them before. For example, [I worked with] Sharon den Adel – she’s the lead singer of a very famous [Dutch] gothic rock band Within Temptation. They’re like the European equivalent of Evanescence and have sold more than 10 million angles. She wrote the core of a brilliant song, which we translated to a dance music format. I like to break boundaries. I know I’m a trance DJ and I won’t walk away from the fact. That is my overall sound and I’ll always make trance, because that’s what I’ve done. But I don’t want my music to become formulaic in any way. I know trance has very recognizable elements, but as an artist, you have an obligation to reinvent yourself with every track you make. You can’t make a copy of the track you’ve already made. People expect you to make something new.
clubZone – So they want you to go back to a base sound they know you for?
Armin Van Buuren – To be honest, I’m sitting here talking with you and I’ve had quite a few hit, chart records: “Sound of Goodbye,” “Born with Desire,” “Yet Another Day,” “Communication,” “Blue Fear” and “Love You More.” But for me, it’s a challenge to make a good record that doesn’t sound like the previous record, but still has the recognizable Armin sound.
clubZone – Ok. What kind of technology are you using?
Armin Van Buuren – The album was done with Ableton Live and Logic Pro 7. We didn’t use a lot of external or internal plug-ins. We used a little bit of outboard keyboards, because it’s so hands on. A couple of the tracks we wrote didn’t even start with an eight-bar loop. Dance music is made by an eight-bar loop, which you loop; add a bassline, chords and several elements. A couple of those tracks were made with a guitar and a piece of paper, in the kitchen, over a cup of coffee.
clubZone – How long did Imagine take?
Armin Van Buuren – The album was written over the course of two years, because I used songs I had already produced. I DJd less over the last six months, which was a hard decision because they voted me number one DJ in the world over at DJ magazine. It was a dream come true, but it was a hard decision. My manager was in-between. He said, “Well, a) I can book you everywhere and make big bucks for you; or b) you deliver a great album, you’re the number one DJ in the world and artistically, it’s a lot more interesting. I cancelled a lot of gigs and I locked myself up in the studio for six months. I did take some gigs still, because they were booked; they were important and I couldn’t cancel them. I already had vocal takes done. When I was on tour, for example, I had a very good contact with Jennifer Rene, who is a very good singer. I flew her to Washington D.C., which is cheaper than flying her to Holland. I booked a studio and we spent a couple of days hanging out. That’s how the song “Fine Without You” came about.