- The inexhaustible Ti?o is to most DJs what marathon runners are to novice joggers.
It seems like everywhere in America except Miami, New York, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles is flyover country for big European DJs. Compared to the tens of thousands they draw elsewhere, Cleveland must look like Dubuque, Iowa, does to the Rolling Stones.
But not for Dutch DJ Tiësto (born Tijs Verwest). He's been touring all over the country for several years -- not merely cherry-picking major cities, but actually playing middle America. He's currently on an eight-day stretch that takes him through Nashville, Atlanta, and Hartford, Connecticut, among other cities. Back in July, he did another jaunt that took him through Dallas, San Antonio, and even Park City, Utah. This is pretty unusual for a DJ who could limit his appearances to coastal cities and weekends. But DJ Tiësto has never shied from work.
Part of what allowed Tiësto to rise so quickly through the crowded ranks of DJs is his populist appeal. His sets can be downright Springsteen-ian. He first gained notoriety in Holland for epic six- to eight-hour sets. These were outdoor raves for over 25,000 people. He built so much buzz that he was voted DJ Magazine's no. 1 DJ an unprecedented three years in a row (2002-'04). He capped that final win by playing at the Olympics in Athens, Greece.
In a conversation with the 38-year-old three years ago, he said he enjoyed the relative anonymity that the U.S. affords him. But when we talk a couple weeks before his upcoming Cleveland gig, he notes that, in the past year, he's played the main stage at Coachella, sold out Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and twice spun at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.
"I don't know if I'm really anonymous in the U.S. anymore," says the amiable DJ, speaking from a tour stop in Canada. "I'm more famous in Europe, but it still happens here, just on a smaller scale."
Tiësto recently took up part-time residence in L.A., which helps explain his higher profile in the States. The move was something of a culture shock at first, but it has afforded him new opportunities.
"Being in L.A. for a time, it's really interesting. You meet a lot of people and work very hard there," he says with a modest accent. "If you want to work and be creative, it's tough to beat. You have everything from movies to bands to video games."
While on the West Coast, he's done a lot of work with producer Brian Transeau, otherwise known as BT. "He's amazing. I've learned a lot from that guy," says Tiësto, noting BT's contributions to "Break Your Fall" and "Bright Morning Star" off his new disc, Elements of Life. "He's very enthusiastic, which makes him a very easy person to work with. Plus, he's so talented. We would just start with the groove, and then we philosophize about the lyrics and put that together. It was very smooth. We'd make a track in two or three days."
Elements, his third artist album, follows up 2004's moody Just Be. It finds Tiësto continuing to broaden his horizons. While always a trance DJ, Tiësto has demonstrated a wide palette in concert and a growing confidence in his explorations on disc. Tracks like "Everything," with elegiac singer Jes, and the goth-tinged "In the Dark," with Christian Burns, both move like pop songs.
"Again, BT had a big influence on me with that. They really aren't traditional songs yet, but I think it's a nice combination between the songwriting and still being dance tracks," says Tiësto.
He's also preparing to release the sixth In Search of Sunrise album. The compilations are recorded in different locales -- recent volumes included Panama and Los Angeles. Each one conveys commensurately different vibes. On the latest, he traveled to Balearic dance mecca Ibiza, which infused the music with a warm, summery ambience. In Search of Sunrise is just one of several mix series he's been responsible for, including Forbidden Paradise, Space Age, and Magik Muzik.
"In the beginning I was more famous for my DJ mix comps than my productions. The 'Silence' track turned that around," explains Tiësto, referring to his enormous 2000 hit remix of Delirium's "Silence," featuring Sarah McLachlan. "There was already a dance mix out of it, and I didn't really like it, so I wanted to improve the mix. And that's how I came up with the idea, and then it blew up everywhere around the world."
He may have another hit on his hands. Selling over 11,000 copies in the first week, Elements opened at no. 71 on the Billboard when released in April. That's his best showing ever. Certainly it's his most commercially accessible release. Meanwhile, he's busy pressing the flesh with the real people in the heartland. He expresses a lot of appreciation for American audiences, which stand out compared to their European peers.
"It's pretty different," asserts Tiësto. "I've noticed that people here are definitely more open-minded to all styles -- dance music or trance music. You can drop in dub and breaks -- even a hip-hop track would work fine."
Perhaps that's why he's made America his second home.
When asked about his biggest musical influences, he doesn't give the response you'd expect.
"I've been more influenced by pop music in general, like rock bands," he says. "Iron Maiden, Metallica, Judas Priest -- I think that music was very special and probably influenced me in the form of it and the emotion of it, the seriousness of it."
A world-beating, America-loving, head-banging Dutch trance transplant -- Tiësto ought to feel right at home here.