I have interviewed a lot of artists during my time here at EDM Sauce. I thought I had finally gotten over being starstruck when meeting celebs of the dance music world. But as I was taking the elevator up to Don Diablo's hotel room for an interview I felt that now unfamiliar nervousness creep up in the pit of my stomach. Maybe I was out of practice, considering since I took over as Editor in Chief I have not been conducting as many in-person interviews. Or maybe it was because, on many levels, I truly respect Don Diablo.
I walked into his room and was warmly greeted. Immediately his presence makes one feel welcome. For once it was away from the chaos of Miami Music Week. There wasn't a line of other bloggers tapping their feet waiting their turn to ask the same five questions. There wasn't a publicist staring at me, making sure I didn't ask that one question they wanted me to avoid while simultaneously covering the talking points they emailed me minutes beforehand. It wasn't staged for cameras. It was real conversation.
Putting a smile on peoples faces – that is the most important thing to me.
Within a few moments of our conversation starting, I understood why the setting was so drastically different. Don's candid answers to my questions were real. They carried depth and weight; they weren't just rehashed PR approved explanations. Don Diablo has an authenticity that is severely lacking in the dance music industry in this day and age. That authenticity, mixed with incredible innate talent has helped him build an empire.
When I asked about his candid nature with fans, and how he has never been afraid to stand by his beliefs. Don took a moment to think. He gazed off pensively for a second before returning with an answer I could have never of expected. “The breaking point is when I lost my father a few years ago.”, he said. I think he saw the surprise on my face but he continued without missing a beat.
“I made a song with JP Cooper and it was such an opening. The record was a letter to my father about since…well….you know. You can’t just go up to your father and tell him a bunch of things you feel, there is rarely that kind of relationship. So I felt that I wanted to make a song for him, telling him all the things I felt, but it was just a little bit too late, I finished it when he had just passed.”
I just realized I need to be 100% me, with no filter between Don Diablo the artist and Don Pepijn Schipper my mother’s son. I haven’t looked back since.
I knew all too well the sentiment he expressed. Talking to your father about emotions can be a daunting task. It was a connection that I struggled with for many years. Luckily I was able to cross that bridge while I still have my father. But the weight that Don carried in his response connected with me on a deep level. He continued…
“The track ended up being the main campaign song for a campaign against cancer in The Netherlands. And I started getting letters from people. Literally hundreds of letters, but one sticks out — A girl sent me a picture of her with her father on a holiday somewhere, and the note said, “thank you so much for the song, as we haven’t spoken to each other in 10 years. I heard ‘The Artist Inside' and sent the song to my father and he knew what I meant by it and we decided to move past our differences. Now, this is the first holiday we have spent together in 10 years. We wanted to send you this picture because it’s thanks to you.” I also remember one from a young guy whose father was ill, and he spent his last night with his father, didn’t know what to tell him so he just put the song on and looked him in the eyes. He said that was the last night they spent together, and the song said everything he wanted to say. I was just like wow that was powerful.”
For any artist, the intention of their art might be different. Some might create in hopes of obtaining fame and fortune. Others do so as a creative outlet. Talking to Don though I saw that he creates because it is his innate calling. It was almost as if the world gave him no choice but to be an artist.
“I remember having a conversation with my father and him saying “Don’t try to do everything perfectly”. I was being too tough on myself. I was trying to make records that would end up sounding like they were 3 different tracks in one. They were like seven minutes long, and I remember him saying “you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Just follow your heart as you will always get criticism, and it is what it is”. I released my first record when I was 14 and I have been criticised ever since then. He really sort of opened my eyes, and that is when everything became more personal to me. I just realized I need to be 100% me, with no filter between Don Diablo the artist and Don Pepijn Schipper my mother’s son. I haven’t looked back since.”
In regards to criticism, Don Diablo experienced an interesting reception from his last album, Future. While here at EDM Sauce we rated it a cool 5 stars and absolutely loved it. Many of his fans were surprised that it contained a lot of different sounds than they were expecting.
“It has been a process that has been in the works for a few years, it wasn’t like the album just feel out of the sky. Some of the records on there are like 6 years old! A lot of the records on the album weren't like radio hits nor were they like club bangers. I felt like somehow it is an artist's calling to make something from the heart. To create an album which isn’t meant to have a fuckload of streams or meant to be played out at a big rave. It just felt like I wanted to make a collection of songs that I would be proud of. With a lot of the records on Future, I wanted them to have a motivational message. I think that was the main thing for me. What’s the point of making an album if it is just a collection of songs? Therefore, you have records like ‘Everybody is Somebody’ that says “everybody is somebody, nobody is nobody”.”
Again for Don the inspiration for his last album came straight from his fans. He crafted the long-play with them in mind. It wasn't about getting paid or topping the charts. It was about connecting with the ever-growing army of Hexagonians that continue to find meaning in their lives through his music.
“I started to get a lot of letters over the past couple of years from people who got a lot of hope and life from my records, and that was kind of unintended. So now I felt like it worked backward: I got inspired by my fans and the letters they were writing. I wanted to make records that I would be proud of in five to ten years. I think a lot of people were expecting some big features since I had just released a lot of high profile remixes, but I didn’t want to make it a difficult process. I just wanted to make records that were the best possible songs rather than try to figure out that one big feature that would blow up.”
For The Fans…
Throughout our conversation, it was clear that Don Diablo has a deep and heartfelt connection with his fans. While he never expected to blow up and appeal to a global audience, he has not taken his fans appreciation for granted. Don has actually has gone quite out of his way to accommodate his fans.
“Right now I am in the middle of something. I said to my agent that I don’t want to just put out this album, I want to create something more. So I am doing this thing now called “A Better Future”. Life kind of flies by. You know – play a party here, get on a plane there, make a bunch of money left, spend it right – so I said that I just want to play for free for a whole month. I get so many letters from fans saying like “We love you, we love your music. We go to bed with it, wake up with it but unfortunately, we cannot afford tickets to your big shows.” So I said, why not just play for free for a month and then everyone has a shot to get a ticket. Make the ticket price as low as possible, but if you want to, you can pay more and all the money will go straight to the cancer charity. That way [the fans] can feel good about themselves. Basically, if you want to contribute more than it’s karma, but that is totally up to you.”
In a way the “A Better Future” project turned out being an unintended look at humanity for Don Diablo. He wasn't sure if people would end up making voluntary donations. Of course, in the end, he just wanted to share his music, but if the cancer trust could benefit then why not go for it? The results blew even him away, and naturally, to say thank you, he went above and beyond for his fans once again.
“[…] There were countries where people donated 50 euros or more! And literally nobody is seeing what others have donated, so people are doing it just from their heart. So without announcing it up front, we invited some of these people into the dressing room and spoke to them, and again they had personal stories. Everybody has a story and I try to get inspired by those stories. It has become so much more than just releasing music – it has become a movement, having found a way to make people happy in more ways than just one.”
Don Diablo is a rare breed of artist in this day and age. While so many are focused on topping the charts, and receiving the most streams, he is focused on listening to his heart. The crafting and releasing of his art has been a natural process for Don, one that continues to leave him in awe everyday. He is living proof that when we are able to listen to others, and be true to ourselves truly amazing things will happen.