Born in Russia and raised in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Zedd began playing piano at age 4. “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 when 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 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 rave reviews for his remixes of tracks by the likes of Skrillex, The Black Eyed Peas, Fatboy Slim, and Lady Gaga.
This theme of experimenting with different musical styles has remained a constant for Zedd, who recently teamed up with Alessia Cara for his latest single “Stay.” Zedd explains, “I’m always working on bigger projects, but for the moment this track isn’t necessarily part of anything bigger than just me making music. I’m trying not to look at genres, and the songs I’ve been working on are really all over the place – from a complete chord progression to “Stay” to a song that I never would have done before. I just like to close my eyes and make the music that I want to hear.”
It is with this spirit of openness and inclusion that Zedd organized a fundraising concert with 100% of its profits benefitting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The concert, aptly named WELCOME!, was started as a call-to-action on Twitter in response to the immigration ban and resulted in a lineup including Bebe Rexha, Camila Cabello, Daya, Halsey, Imagine Dragons, Incubus, Machine Gun Kelly, Macklemore, Miguel, Mija, Skrillex, Tinashe and Zedd. These musicians span the spectrum of musical genres, emphasizing that everyone is welcome. The impetus behind the fundraiser is near to Zedd’s heart; Zedd confides, “As an immigrant myself I feel the need to stand up against the tyranny that threatens our basic human rights. I’m thrilled to come together with all of these incredible artists to help raise money for the ACLU, an organization that works daily to defend and preserve the rights guaranteed to us by the constitution.”
Zedd released his debut album Clarity 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.” The albums’ title track shot to No. 2 on Top 40, nabbed a Grammy Award, and sold 2.6 million copies. Platinum follow-up hit “Stay The Night” (ft. Hayley Williams of Paramore) racked up more than 400 million streams and won the 2014 MTV Clubland Video Music Award.
For True Colors (2015), the follow-up to Clarity, Zedd made a point to limit his listening to artists from outside the realm of electronic music, such as Radiohead, Queen, and King Crimson. “I get a lot of inspiration from artists who work in genres whose rules are very different from my own genre. It really helps me break down the boundaries of what can be done with things like song structure, melody, and rhythm.” 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.
The album was a resounding success, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, No. 1 on the Dance/Electronic Albums chart, and in the Top 10 in eight countries worldwide. True Colors also earned Zedd a 2016 Billboard Music Award for “Best Dance Album.” Its lead single “I Want You to Know” (feat. Selena Gomez) spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart and has been certified Platinum, while the second single, “Beautiful Now” (feat. Jon Bellion), has been certified Gold. In support of the album, Zedd hit the road for a 53-date global headlining tour, which included shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles’ Staples Center.
True Colors was launched with an ingenious series of fan-only events that brought the album’s 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. Dubbed the #ZeddTrueColors campaign, the events included outings in Joshua Tree, Alcatraz, and the Grand Canyon. Fans were taken to these color coded locations, got to spend time with Zedd, and heard the new tracks before anyone else. For the finale at the Empire State Building, Zedd took over for an acoustic performance of “True Colors,” accompanied by a majestic light show bathing the top of the building in ever-changing pulses of color. These events were captured in the True Colors documentary, which also explored the process behind the music through high-voltage performance footage and revealing interviews with Zedd, his family, and industry supporters. The film premiered at The Los Angeles Film Festival.
In 2016, Zedd teamed up Aloe Blacc to create “Candyman” — a modern reinterpretation of Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1972 classic “The Candy Man” that kicked off M&M’s 75th anniversary celebration, attracting over 40 million impressions nationally and selling 1.5 million copies. Over the summer, he followed up with “Starving,” the smash with Hailee Steinfeld and Grey that broke the top 10 on Top 40 radio and racked up over 240 million plays on Spotify alone in just four months.