The Wolf is back! After working tirelessly on his new album for the past 3 years, Wolfgang Gartner has returned to make a profound statement once again. The return marks what could be the biggest year yet for dance music, with Wolfgang leading the way with what is sure to be a masterful collection of tracks in 10 Ways to Steal Home Plate. It's been five years since his last album, Weekend in America, changed how Electro House is viewed and interpreted. Since then, fans have been anxiously awaiting new material, eagerly anticipating his progressive motif. Now the wait is finally over and a sigh of relief has washed over the music industry as 10 Ways to Steal Home Plate marks the return of one of dance music's innovators.
How does it feel to have a big release coming up?
"Honestly it's really exciting because I didn't think it would be a big release. Then I posted about it and I hadn't really been on social media for a while, cause I'm taking a break, and then there was all this feedback and it was good, so I'm pretty excited."
Sounds like this was a surprise even to you. Were you working in this for a while?
"Yeah I've been working on this for three years. I had it mostly finished about a year ago and I've just been mastering it and mixing it down and re tweaking all the tracks this year. Trying to figure out how to get my small record label to release it effectively and at the right time, it's taken a long time. I had been working on it for so long, it was almost old to me and I was just surprised that people liked it so much."
So was there a lot of second guessing along those three years?
"Yes, because the album wasn't originally 10 tracks, it was narrowed down from like 16 or 20 tracks, so that's also been a part of the process the past three years. Narrowing this down to a very specific and intentional body of work to make sure all these songs were here for a reason."
What do you think was the biggest difference between this project and those you've done in the past?
"Well the last album I did was in 2011. For dance music it's like 5 years equals like two decades. A lot of stuff has changed n 5 years. Back in 2011, Electro and the whole like Grunge Electro and whatever complex electro names they wanna put on it was so big while I was kind of a pioneer with that stuff. That was my sound that i liked doing and that's what i was into. Shortly after that things started to change dramatically in the club landscape with regards to what people responded to in those venues and that sound didn't really resonate anymore. You couldn't really play most of the songs off of my last album and by the time 2013 hit, the general sounds that were coming out in the mastering had changed so dramatically that it just didn't work in a club setting. So my style, my sound, everything is different now. 5 years in dance music is a lifetime compared to other styles of music, so it's a very different album than the last one for sure."
On that same note, how do you usually best deal with the kind of struggle between what people wanna hear and what you want to make?
"I decided in 2015 not to deal with that struggle anymore and to not worry about what people expected of me. That's evident in the fact that there's not a single track that I would call Electro House on this album or anything close to what hardcore Wolfgang Gartner fans of yesterday would've expected. There's none of that. I decided I don't have any desire to pander to people so I'm just going to make what i feel like making. We want to take the best of it and put it out and hope for the best."
That's kind of the thing, you want to evolve and if you just keep doing the same thing people are going to start to hate on you for that and also hate comes with trying something new.
"That's the thing! It's such a catch 22. You do the same thing, you please that small group of people but everybody else is going to hate you for doing the same thing. Nobody that keeps regurgitating the same sound over and over never really goes anywhere big. You have to do things differently and change and evolve in order to really have longevity in music."
That's what I'm really noticing in the past two years with Trap and these "future" styles is that all these artists are blowing up overnight out of nowhere based on sounds that are already popular. Then the question gets raised regarding where these guys are going to be in a year from now and it seems like they just drop off the radar or are doing something else.
"Yeah I haven't been clued into the past two years to all the different nuances of dance music, like what's happened to Trap. I've always liked Flosstradamus, they're very original but I guess I stopped listening to that stuff and a lot of dance music in general in 2015 and just stepped away. I don't really know where it's gone."
That's kind of a good thing, you haven't really missed much.
"That's what everybody's saying! (Laughing) They all say I haven't missed anything."
What was the most challenging aspect of creating 10 Ways to Steal Home Plate and on a side note, the most challenging part of being in the industry for you today?
"Navigating the ever changing and evolving landscape of dance music and the music industry in general. In other words, the hardest part of making this album had nothing to do with the music or the creative side and had everything to do how to get it out to as many people as possible. Doing that as an independent label, which is literally just me, my label manager, who I pay, and my manager, and all the money going into the album is literally coming out of my bank account. It costs a lot of money to release an album and to get people to actually hear it. I'm not talking about chart spots and getting it on the radio, but just to release it and do some mild advertising in order to make sure it gets into people's ears costs quite a bit of money. That's been the challenge, trying to navigate through the music space in an independent way with just a small team of guys and to do it organically."
Along this process, did you ever consider going in a different route along the lines of a major label?
"Yeah there was point where we thought about it. There was a number of different options there. This was at least two years ago I think when we were running around LA and having all these meetings with the "Big 5" or whatever. I think what it came down to was major labels won't sign a DJ unless there iss a touring clause saying you have to tour as much as we say or you have to play no less than a hundred shows a year or there's always a 360 element to a major label deal now and especially with dance artists. They know touring is the primary source of income in electronic dance music, so when you sign to a major label these days as a dance artist, you really run a high risk of selling your soul and your freedom to that. It might be a nice check at the front but from my experience you can end up regretting taking that check in the long run. I realized I didn't want to commit to that. First of all I didn't need the big check, which was so freeing to be able to make that decision. I didn't want to be a slave to a record label, which is essentially a giant corporation now. I don't want that in my life. I don't want that element in my life. And that's what it sort of came down to."
That's very insightful. Has that been the biggest obstacle in your career? Trying to get your music released on your terms without a major label?
"Yeah it has and it's also been a big obstacle trying to get the music to the most people. For me, when I decide I'm ready to release a song, I don't release everything I make, but when I finally do, I really believe in it. I have to really believe in it to release it. So my main goal is to make sure as many people as possible can hear it because I feel like if they can hear it, then they are going to like it, buy it or download it. That's the hardest part, the balance between releasing stuff on my own label and dealing with Ultra gaining more exposure than we did. On the flip side there were some things that we released ourselves and we did a better job than Ultra, so it's a constant challenge because things change so fast in the music industry. You have to keep innovating the way you release your music. There's people who put out free releases, there's people that do really creative things like Pretty Lights making his albums for free, but also put them on iTunes too and people will still buy them. You have to look at all these people doing things in different ways and figure out how to get your stuff out too. Even if you're an established artist, which I feel like I am, it's still a challenge."
It's safe to say that most people really believe this year is going to be bigger than ever for dance music, especially with bringing your quality of music back to the forefront. The new album is definitely getting a lot of fans excited. How does it feel that you're kind of responsible for that?
"If that's a real sentiment that's being felt then that's amazing. I'm blown away by that. I've seen comments like that on my own Twitter timeline with people being excited for this year because I'm putting out my album. I've also seen that for Eric Prydz and Steve Angello. I think people are grouping a few things together. There's Steve Angello, there's Eric Prydz, there's my album coming out and that's just what I've seen people commenting that they're excited about those three albums and yeah honestly I'm really honored that people mentioned me in that trio."
It's interesting with what you were just talking about how even established artists still struggle to do things their own way. With that in mind, the same thing goes for the little guys and how much of a hard time they are having as well.
"I know, and I can't even imagine trying to come up from ground zero these days, but then again I came up from ground zero and it took me 10 years of literally sending out demo tapes before I got something signed. Part of me, you know the 13 year old of me that kept getting rejected, I feel like it's good that it's hard again now. There's quality control again and not everybody can get in the door. On the other side I really do empathize because there is so much digital noise out there right now it's impossible to want to do."
And with all that it comes down to the fact that there is so much saturation, you have to find your own sound like the guys you just mentioned. As well as deadmau5 and Skrillex a few years back. How do you see things evolving this year the way things are going now?
"I don't have any predictions because I feel like I haven't been 'in the loop' enough on the dance music scene to have any clear predictions, I'm more just curious. I guess since I don't know how it's going to go I'm just going to do my thing. This year will be more about just watching it and seeing what people are responding to, what people are feeling, what people are tired of. Let's stretch this out and inject a breath of fresh air into it."
So that goes along the lines of what you kind of hope to gain from this year as well?
"Yeah I mean I'm at a point right now where I'm revamping my studio, I changed the color of the lights in my fixtures, I move things around, I'll repaint things, move my synths around. This is basically putting me in a new head space and that's when I'm getting ready to start on a new project. I just finished the last project when I finished this last album. Now I'm getting ready to be in a new head space to start making something new. It's a really exciting place to be and I have no clue what that will sound like. I've been exploring a lot of side genres, I made a lot of instrumental rap beats this past year, I also made a lot of R&B and Soul stuff too. I literally went all over the board last year and I wanna do something new in dance music. I don't know what it is yet but I'm excited about the prospects of what it could be."
In the past couple years of making this did you ever come to a point where you were like "Fu** I'm bored of this, it's becoming repetitive," or was it excitement the whole way?
"I never tire of producing dance music but there did come a time in the past couple of years where I would go through the Beatport charts and say I'm bored of this, yes. I became very bored of what was out there and what was being produced. The thing that really killed me was there wasn't really anything out there that blew my mind anymore. At some point throughout my career there was always at least one artist or somebody that just always blew my mind and that was enough to keep me going. What happened in the last couple of years was there weren't many of those artists at all. When an artist doesn't have enough really strong outside inspiration it becomes more difficult. When I did get into the groove and I started writing these songs and making them, yeah I loved them as much as I always did, but it was harder to start songs and to find grooves these past couple of years in dance music because I couldn't find inspiration in many places. I started looking outside into pop music honestly the past couple of years or so I found more inspiration in Max Martin pop productions than I have in dance music and that's what's propelled this album and what I've been making."
That's really interesting because of what Jack U did last year with making dance music even more so into pop and they're so intertwined now. Dance is pop and pop is dance music.
"That's the thing really, pop IS dance music now."
On that same track as finding inspiration, it's admirable how you can take a step back from things and disconnect from the industry and whatever sounds have come out during those times. Do you see that kind of being a way of you just watching the "show" from afar or do you find it necessary as part of your creative process?
"This past year was kind of the first time I sort of stepped away from dance music mentally and stopped paying attention since 2003 when I first started doing this for a living and touring internationally. I was going to Miami every year for WMC, bringing my crates of records and doing that for 12 years. I think you should definitely take a year off after 12 years straight of doing something as grueling as touring and as in depth as the music industry is. I would encourage more people to do it. I think not enough people take a step back and kind of refresh their brains and reset everything. It truly is refreshing"
At some point did you feel that while taking a break you might lose some steam?
"Yeah I know what you're saying. I was totally prepared to lose whatever steam I had. For me it was career momentum and trajectory. Was I worried that by taking some time off, stepping out of the scene and not being as active or physical that it might hurt my profile? Yeah absolutely. As an artist I think you have to know that it's a possibility, but in this weird way it seems to have had almost an opposite effect on my career. When I came back and started posting again I feel like there's more demand for this album now than if I had put it out a year ago. And that's because I took a step back, so in some weird way I feel like it's helped my career No matter what effect it had on the trajectory of my career as an artist, from a business standpoint I don't care because I feel so much better and more refreshed. I'm in a much more of positive state of mind now coming back. So whatver happens, it's cool with me because at this point I'm just doing my thing. You have to just relax and do your thing and slow down."
Without giving away any unannounced surprises or anything, how is the rest of the year looking for you as far as the festival circuit or a tour?
"I've got no idea about festivals and we don't have a tour planned around this album or anything, but I'll probably just get out and play gigs as I feel. The theme this time around is flip flops and short sleeved shirts for me, taking it easy. Having fun and going out when I feel like going out and playing when I want instead of going out and playing 300 shows. I think I'll get back out there this year, but we haven't scheduled any crazy tours or anything like that yet."
Well I know the demand will definitely be there so you'll have your pick of the litter.
"That's the thing too! When I announced this album people started hitting us back up again, all the same guys that I used to play for started hitting us up and it was like 'woah, this is still out there. So let's do this again, but this time let's really do it for fun.'"
Do you still enjoy producing more than DJing?
"I think I might enjoy the 90 or 120 minutes on stage a bit more than producing. It's a hell of a rush, but then with being a touring DJ, there's another 22 hours in the day and generally those 22 hours tend to consist of being in hotel rooms and airplanes. It's really hard to say but for the 90 or 120 minutes I'm on stage, I think I might actually like that rush more than finishing a track. It's a hard rush to beat."