For his first full-length release since winning the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, multi-platinum artist Zedd decided to deliver an album that shows the complete extent of his musicality. A classically trained musician who began playing piano at age four and whose background spans from metal to electro-house, the Germany-bred musician born Anton Zaslavski explored everything from alt-rock to pop to soul to hip-hop to create an entirely new breed of electronic music. Both frenetic and graceful, intricately composed and raw with emotion, True Colors takes its title from the album’s showstopping centerpiece, a stunning and stripped-back epic inspired by Zedd’s “finally getting the courage to show the world who I really am as a musician.”
With True Colors‘ lead single “I Want You to Know” (feat. Selena Gomez) having spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, the follow-up to Zedd’s 2012 debut Clarity brings its central theme to life by connecting each song on the album with a specific color. “I hear color in all the music I write, and for this album I wanted to really focus in on that concept and take it to a new level,” says Zedd, who executive-produced True Colors and co-wrote each track. “Addicted to Memory” (feat. Bahari), for instance, opens True Colors with a hypnotic piece of electro-pop that Zedd sees in purple, the color of passion and mystery. The follow-up to “I Want You to Know” (a synth-laced and shimmering track co-written with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder), True Colors‘ second single “Beautiful Now” (feat. Jon Bellion) unfolds as a sensual and summery anthem that Zedd perceives as “magenta, since that’s the color of youth and energy.”
To build on the album’s color-centric component, Zedd geared up for True Colors‘ release by presenting a series of fan-only events designed to give each track its own spectacular debut. Dubbed the #ZeddTrueColors campaign, those events included an outing in Austin’s Longhorn Cavern State Park, where Zedd lit up the park’s caves in glowing purple to unveil “Addicted to Memory.” At an orange-themed event at the Integratron in Joshua Tree, Zedd premiered “Straight into the Fire” by igniting a giant wooden “Z” to reflect the song’s fierce and feverish spirit. The dizzyingly futuristic “Bumble Bee” had its yellow-hued aura harnessed with a boating trip under the full moon at Phoenix’s Lake Pleasant, while the sprawling and gloriously melancholy “Illusion” (feat. Echosmith) made its debut at a Denver event where the Stanley Hotel was illuminated solely by blue lightbulbs. For “Transmission”–a bass-heavy, darkly charged powerhouse featuring alt-rock band X Ambassadors and rapper Logic–the #ZeddTrueColors campaign hosted a pitch-black party on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island. To unleash “Done With Love” (the album’s teal track), Zedd and fans boarded a fleet of private helicopters in Las Vegas and flew out over the Grand Canyon to listen in on teal Beats by Dre headphones. And to close out the campaign, Zedd took over the Empire State Building with an acoustic performance of “True Colors,” accompanied by a majestic light show bathing the top of the building in ever-changing pulses of color.
With #ZeddTrueColors events created for ten out of the album’s 11 tracks–and with only 50 fans invited per party–each gathering was conceived with the intention of taking listeners on a once-in-a-lifetime musical adventure. To continue that tradition, Zedd’s upcoming tour will immerse concertgoers in a multisensory experience that hones in on True Colors‘ visual elements. “I want people to feel transported to another place for two hours, and for each song to feel like it’s taking you into another world,” Zedd notes. While each track on True Colors is indeed a world unto itself, complete with gorgeously crafted textures and mesmerizing rhythms, the album also bears a classically melodic sensibility that hints at the simplicity of its origins. “For this album I wrote every song on piano, because I wanted the core of each one to have a timeless feel to it,” says Zedd. “After writing the first few songs I realized how different from each other they sounded, and from there I got inspired to bring in all these diverse genres and combine them in a way that I never had before.”
To achieve that deeply eclectic sound, Zedd carefully mined his rich and varied musical history. Born in Russia and raised in Kaiserslautern, Germany, he began playing music in the first few years of his life. “Both my parents are musicians, and from a very early age they encouraged me to make classical music,” Zedd recalls. “I kept up with that until I was about 12, and then my brother and I started a rock band. From there I went in a more post-hardcore/metal direction and really developed my sensibilities as a drummer–so I was sort of constantly moving into different styles of music.” Upon hearing Justice’s 2007 album † in his late teens, Zedd was inspired to try his hand at electronic music and learn the art of production. By 2010 he’d won two Beatport remix contests, and soon started drawing raves for his remixes of tracks by the likes of Skrillex, The Black Eyed Peas, Fatboy Slim, and Lady Gaga.
After signing with Interscope Records in 2012–the same year he found himself featured in the New York Times, who praised him as an EDM prodigy and noted that “his talent is extraordinary”–Zedd released Clarity and soon saw its title track shoot to No. 2 on Top 40 radio. Along with nabbing a Grammy Award, “Clarity” earned more than more than 126 million Vevo views, while its platinum follow-up hit “Stay The Night” (ft. Hayley Williams of Paramore) racked up more than 105 million Vevo views and won the 2014 MTV Clubland Video Music Award.
In creating True Colors, Zedd made a point of limiting his listening to artists from outside the realm of electronic music, such as Radiohead, Queen, and ’60s/’70s progressive rock band King Crimson. “I get a lot of inspiration from artists who work in genres whose rules are very different from my own genre,” he notes. “It really helps me break down the boundaries of what can be done with things like song structure and melody and rhythm.” Not only essential in expanding his creativity, that boundary-breaking ultimately serves a higher purpose for Zedd. “One of my goals in making this album was to bring the focus back to the music, not just production and sounds and the whole club element of whether it’s going to make people jump,” says Zedd. “It’s important to me to make something that’s complex and in-depth and that leads the culture into a new direction, and hopefully ends up pushing the barriers of what’s possible with EDM.”