DJ White Shadow talks sacrifice, self-destruction, working with Lady Gaga

caitlinhardee

Bass pulsed through the arid earth. On Saturday, Sept. 10, IDentity Festival turned The Gorge Amphitheatre into a giant subwoofer, the scenic sweep of cliffs vibrating with sonic power. A sea of tie-dye shirts, glistening skin splattered in neon paint, and girls in fishnets and furry backpacks engulfed the breathtaking venue from the crest of the cliffs to the floor of the moshpit. While the ecstatic masses partied, famed DJ and producer Paul Blair, known as White Shadow, took a moment to chat with The Pioneer backstage.

When you were seventeen, you moved to Japan to DJ. How did that come about?
I didn’t move to be a DJ––I was the youngest kid in my class. When I graduated high school I was seventeen. In September when I went out to Japan I was still seventeen, but I wanted to take international business, because I grew up in an automotive community.

Did you speak Japanese?
Yeah, I took it for nine years!

Kakko ii desu nee! [That’s so cool!]
Totemo kakko ii! [Very cool!]

Were you in Tokyo?
I was in Osaka. I literally walked into a bar, it was like an expat bar, this guy who’d lived in America a while and was hip to DJ stuff had a set of turntables and some records, and I was like, ‘Can I DJ?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah.’ So I ended up DJing, he just gave me a couple beers, but it ended up being cool. I didn’t grow up as a rich kid, so I couldn’t afford to buy turntables, so when I went over there, it was kind of, like, the magic that happens when a 6’4″ white guy walks into a Japanese bar and gets to ask for whatever he wants. So I ended up playing records there and learning how to DJ a little bit, so when I came back, I took out a bunch of credit cards and bought turntables.

At what point did you move away from business and decide to make DJing your profession?
DJing is a business! Life is a business, no matter what you decide to do. It was more moving away from a cubicle, than moving away from business. Choosing your own adventure, as it were.

So these days, you’ve played all over the world – what’s your favorite club?
I love the Midwest, you know? My residency at Hyde in L.A. was killer, because it was only like eighty people and they only let people in that love music. So it was fun, because you could play whatever you wanted, it could just be good music. But in my hometown of Chicago, everybody knows that I only play good music, so it’s not even electro or techno or hip-hop or eighties or whatever, I just play good music. So my home––it’s like wearing a pair of house shoes and eating a beef sandwich on your La-Z-Boy. It’s like––best feeling of all time. So when I’m at home, I feel the most comfortable. And the hip-hop DJs and the electro DJs, we have a mutual respect for each other, and we’re all just trying to play good music. I love the Midwest, I love Chicago, I love Detroit . . . I love Washington too! This was the most amazing drive I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s beautiful! This is shit compared to what it was on the drive here, just big mountains and trees, I got to eat a piece of cherry pie where Twin Peaks was filmed, most amazing day of my life, it was crazy.

Do you prefer working as a producer with other artists, or touring?
It’s like one hand fitting the other, you know? If you don’t play in front of people and see people’s reactions––being a DJ is like getting to the base level of what people like. That translates into being a producer. If you made ice cream for somebody for fifteen or twenty years, you would know what the best flavor of ice cream was, right? And you would try and make new and different flavors of ice cream to try and impress people. But really it’s just about having fun and making people have the most fun they possibly can. One can’t exist without the other for me.

What was it like working with Lady Gaga?
Have you ever met somebody that you really admired, like a super smart person that you learn from every day? I get nervous when she’s not around, she’s like my little sister, but like my big sister. I’m ten years older than she is, and she gives me advice on life. She’s so smart and amazing at playing music, such an amazing songwriter. I feel really lucky to have worked with her, because it only comes around once in a lifetime. I make songs for a lot of people, and they’re all great, she’s so above and beyond the norm. And she’s awesome, she’s fun to hang out with, and she’s my friend. So you get to make music with somebody who’s a genius, that you respect, and admire, and consider a friend––how do you get better than that?

What inspired the title of your new EP, I’m Killing Me?
You know how hard it is to do this every day? It’s like––traveling, and drinking, staying awake for forty-eight hours, it’s not good for your health. So my whole thing about life is that, in order to achieve something, you need to really . . . everybody who’s ever been great––Keith Richards looks like shit, because he was working 24 hours a day. I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke weed, I drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. I just want people to know that, in order to do something great, you gotta sacrifice everything. Including your own well-being. People are not lazy, but complacent. It’s really easy to go out and get a normal job. You can survive like that, watch the news and let them tell you what to do, but since I was a kid, my life has always been trying to get to do something that nobody else could do. Sometimes it takes a sacrifice. You sacrifice your relationship with your friends, you sacrifice your health, you sacrifice your relationship with your parents, and it’s tough. So all those records were me staying up till four o’clock in the morning when I should have been sleeping, or drinking when I should have been eating, or being on the road when I should have been sleeping. We’re all killing ourselves in one way or another. I’m just trying to kill myself in the best way possible.

Check out audio of the full interview with DJ White Shadow below: