Interview: Felix Jaehn Isn't Afraid of Being the 'Cheerleader' Guy
"Oh I think I found myself a Cheerleader." Those are lyrics that everyone knows by now whether or not you have turned on the radio, gone out or have watched television in the past six months. Though the original mix of Omi's "Cheerleader" has been lying around for the better part of a decade, it is the Felix Jaehn remix that has taken the track and both artists from relative obscurity to global phenomenons in just a year.
This week, it sits on top of the Billboard charts in the United States. for the fifth week, after crowning the charts in nearly every single country in Europe during the fall and winter. It has also gone platinum in many of those countries, including the U.S. However, as we found out sitting down with Felix Jaehn last week during a quick visit to his vast Casablanca Records offices in Midtown Manhattan and then seeing him perform that weekend at Webster Hall, there is much more to the 20-year-old German then just a single remix.
The DJ/producer comes from a musical background, starting with the violin when he was just 5 years old before leaving that behind for turntables in his teens. He started DJing his friend's parties when he was 16 and now the Hamburg-native is playing for crowds of thousands on festival stages all over the world. At 17, he moved to London to study music production and business at Point Blank Music School and really got into clubbing culture in one of the EDM capitols of the world.
Beyond the "Cheerleader" remix, Jaehn has a growing discography of tunes like "Ain't Nobody," "Shine" and the soon-to-be-released "Book Of Love," which he hopes will help dispel any notion that he is a one hit wonder. An upcoming album, which hopefully should be released early next year, will also give Jaehn a platform to explore new sounds and showcase more music beyond his one large hit.
Music Times: How crucial was going to school for you in terms of your production?
Felix Jaehn: That's actually a tough question. I guess I learned all the basics after finishing high school I went to London for a year, studied at Point Blank so I did sound engineering, music business, music production. It was like a crash course, a bit of everything, and definitely helped me a lot to get started. But I guess I could've also learned everything on YouTube, there are so many tutorials and you can teach yourself a lot of things. But yeah, to get kickstarted it was definitely really crucial.
MT: Do you think the school was better than the tutorials?
FJ: I guess because it's more hands on. You just sit on the computer all the time and actually work and then you have a tutor who is actually really good at what he's doing and you can just quickly ask him a specific question instead of watching a two-hour tutorial and still don't know the answer. Plus one of the best things is that there are a lot of young people who want to learn how to do it and who are really dedicated. Just from that surrounding you get really inspired and you meet people and with some of them I still work today sometimes.
MT: You used to play instruments like violin when you were younger, how has that been helpful for you now?
FJ: It's been really helpful because that's where I got my musical background. I got some of the basic music theory and also played in an orchestra for a while so you just get a better ear I guess for music and you hear things differently. So even though I'm producing electronic music today, it's really, really melodic and having an understanding and a good ear for classical music I guess helps with that a lot.
MT: Do you play on any on your own tracks?
FJ: Unfortunately not, no. I stopped playing the violin when I was 14. I dropped it because I had soccer tournaments and orchestra on the same day and that just doesn't work out. So I decided for sports at that time and got back into music when I was like 15 or 16 for DJing and then later producing my own stuff. But I do play basic keys just to play in the chords and you can manipulate it on your program. I do that but I don't actually play live instruments.
MT: Would you want to?
FJ: Yeah, of course. I mean I was always thinking about bringing back the violin but it's not like you can just pick it up and play. I would have to practice a lot to get back into it I guess. And yeah, time's getting shorter.
MT: Does it feel weird to have so much success from one song?
FJ: Yeah, I guess. I feel it's a bit weird but at the same time it doesn't because I feel like it was only the beginning and it opened up many doors for me, but I'm already following with the Ain't Nobody" cover, which is big in Europe and hopefully is going to hit America too. And I have my new single "Book Of Love" lined up as well. So it's not weird, it's more that I'm really thankful and grateful that it's opening up so many doors because it secured me the time to keep doing music instead of going to university or something else.
MT: Are you afraid of being the "Cheerleader" guy to casual music fans?
FJ: No, not really to be honest. Because as I just said, I'm quite confident that I can bring a follow up single. Of course it would be really bad if I'm just the "Cheerleader" guy but I think I can do more than just one song.
MT: Do you feel like there's pressure to have a big follow up?
FJ: In a way, the pressure is not to be the "Cheerleader" guy. So that's the only pressure there is but everyone is just really motivated and cool. It's not that someone from my team is pressuring me like, come on you're the hit machine make more. I just do what I like and it happens to be popular.
MT: WIll there be more tracks like that on your album?
FJ: Style-wise, yeah. I'm of course going to keep doing melodic house music and tracks similar to that. But on my album I won't have any remixes because my album should be my songs. So, I'm working on that at the moment. I worked a lot in studios in Europe - in Oslo, Stockholm, London, Amsterdam, anywhere really - actually meeting with singers, songwriters and then starting from scratch, writing the lyrics, writing the song, everything. That's what I'm up to at the moment really.
MT: Is it going to be diverse? Are you going to branch out from what you're doing?
FJ: I want it to be a mix. I want to have some of the songs that sound like the songs I have right now, the "Cheerleader" remix or "Ain't Nobody" but I might also do some more clubby vibes with less real instruments, more synth based. I might also do a slower track. I don't know, I'm still figuring it out. But I definitely don't want it to be boring so I guess it has to be a bit diverse.
MT: How did you link up with Polina on "Book of Love"
FJ: We actually met at a nightclub. I was playing a show in Paris in October last year, and after my DJ set she just approached me. She was there for songwriting and just had the night off. She really liked my DJ set and just talked to me and exchanged emails.
MT: What do you expect from this U.S. tour? It's your first time here.
FJ: It is, and I'm really, really excited. And I hope a lot of people will show up because you can't really tell, it's the first time so I don't know. But many other DJs especially from my genre I talk to say that the crowd is amazing in America and people just love the music and go for it. So I'm really excited for that.
MT: What is something people may not expect about you?
FJ: Now we're getting into it. I guess in my DJ sets I'm not only playing tropical music, like you would expect it all to be chill and like "Cheerleader" but I also love to play stuff like Oliver Heldens for example, which is a bit more bass driven, a bit heavier, a bit faster. I just think you need to get the crowd going and mix it up a bit.
MT: But personally?
FJ: Oh, personally? When I was about 15 I played golf for half a year and I dropped it pretty quick.
MT: Were you good?
FJ: No. I did it for like six months how could I be good? That's why I dropped it.
MT: What else do you have coming up?
FJ: So there's, "Book of Love," we're going to shoot the video for that one really soon. So that will be something new as well.
MT: When do you shoot it?
FJ: We don't know, unfortunately. Time's getting shorter on that one. We have to shoot it but we haven't decided yet. But there will also be a live video coming soon, I had a videographer with me weekend in Finland and Estonia at Weekend Festival, which were two of my best shows yet. I played main stage right before David Guetta, so that was quite big. So people can look forward to that video. Then I have the album hopefully going to be released early next year. And after my North American tour in September I'm also going to go to South and Latin America for Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. So that's also really, really exciting and something coming up really soon. I did a remix for Ed Sheeran and I also did one for Giorgio Moroder and Sia and they've been released in Europe already, but they didn't quite hit America yet.
MT: How'd you get approached for those?
FJ: It goes via the record label, they just send remix requests and I listen to the song and decide if I want to do it or not. And since both Sia and Ed Sheeran are my favorite singer-songwriters, I didn't really think about it a lot.