Justin Blau, better known as rising-star DJ 3LAU, has spent half his life in Las Vegas, graduating from the Meadows School before pursuing his passion as an EDM producer. When he isn’t traveling the world on his current 3LAU Haus tour, he’s back in Vegas, performing at Hakkasan Group venues or working on new music. We caught up with him before his next gig at Jewel to talk Bon Jovi, Ariana Grande and his upcoming EP.
What separates your residency in Las Vegas from other shows you play all over the world? I actually change my Vegas set pretty frequently to test different concepts. Vegas is a transient market, so you have people from all over the world coming in who listen to all different styles of music. When I’m touring, the fans know my stuff [and] I can play whatever I want. It’s a lot more of a challenge playing Vegas than playing anywhere else, but it’s also a really fun challenge because I get to test out lots of different things. I’ll play a lot of throwback stuff. I’ll play straight-up Bon Jovi, which is not something I usually do on tour, but it’s fun for me because I get to experiment with combining new dance music with stuff that everyone’s familiar with, whether it’s pop or throwback or anything like that.
What other throwback stuff works really well here? You know, [recently] for the first time I played some throwback dance stuff. Normally I’ll play Bon Jovi or Incubus, but I actually started playing some huge throwback dance records, records that were really big years that no one really plays anymore, from older Avicii to Swedish House Mafia. Instead of playing them straight-up, I combined the vocal with something that’s newer. I combined one of the biggest Swedish House Mafia songs, “Save the World,” with one of my newer songs and it was probably the highlight of the whole set.
How much time do you actually spend in Vegas these days? I usually spend most of the weekdays there when I’m not on tour. I’ll split some of my time in LA, but Vegas has always been home. I love my city. I love it because it’s dry, and the weather is predictable, and it’s clean and new. I live in the mountains and I can get away from the city and the craziness to make music. All that being said, I’m not home nearly enough, and I think that’s why next year I’m going to take a lot more time to focus on my residency and making music at home as opposed to being all over the word, because I’ve been all over the world for the past five years.
Do you make all of your music from home? I have my home studio that I built when I first got my condo. It’s been developed for the past three years and now it’s kind of in its final form. I make all my music in that studio.
You recently teased a new track with Said the Sky called “Fire.” How did that collaboration come about, and when will it drop? That is slated for October 14. I’m very excited about it. It’s coming out on my not-for-profit label called Blume. We launched it with my first single on the label called “Is It Love.” We’ve actually only had one song on the label, and that single record has made us about $89,000 for charity, which is beyond our wildest dreams. We expected it to hit that number in maybe a year, but not five months.
The way the collaboration came about is actually related to the label. I was in Denver, which is where Said the Sky is based out of, and I had just heard one of his songs and loved it. He sent me this fantastic piano riff, and we built the song out of that and I happened to have a vocal that fit it perfectly, which is a very rare occurrence, where you just have something that fits that’s already in your possession … So this record kind of came together organically. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to make the drop … and now it’s ready to go.
Why did you decide to launch a nonprofit record label? I’ve always been involved in a lot of charitable projects. When I was in high school, I started a microfinance institution out of my high school, and was awarded a scholarship to college based on the charity work I had done in high school. When I became a musician, I really wanted to use my platform to give back in a bigger way than I could as a student. In 2013 I partnered with Pencils of Promise, and we raised $25,000 to build a school in Guatemala that I visited, which was an incredible experience for me. It was the first time I saw my work in action. Ever since then, I wanted to do something bigger, something that was a really big statement. Building one school is one thing, but getting fans involved in a new way would be something revolutionary.
You’re working on an EP, too. It would just be a compilation of a bunch of the different songs I’ve been working on—whenever I finish all four of them. One of the songs on the EP is scheduled to come out in November, right after “Fire,” and that one’s called “You Want More” and it’s featuring Max, who is a very well established YouTube cover artist.
You recently remixed Ariana Grande’s “Into You,” but you broke onto the scene doing mashups. Do you have a preference for one over the other? I’m pretty ADD. I started out doing mashups because it’s all I knew how to do at the time. I wasn’t a very good producer. I’ve always been a musician—I play piano, I sing, I play guitar, I play drums, but I [had] never spent much time in the studio. When I started, I just made these mashups for fun, and that’s kind of what started my career. I still do make mashups, but when I hear a vocal that I really like, like the Ariana vocal, I get really inspired to make a remix. When I hear a vocal that I want to be an original track, I get inspired to make an original track. Whatever I’m inspired by in the moment, that’s what I focus on. 3LAU at Jewel at Aria, October 14.