When the Grammy nominations for Best Dance Recording were announced in December, one name stood out among global superstars Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii and Calvin Harris: Al Walser. While the Liechtenstein-born producer/DJ has, by his own account, "become an international entertainment expert and mogul who has produced, written, and performed in front of millions around the globe before the age of 30," few Americans had ever heard of Walser before last month. ("I Can’t Live Without You," his nominated song, had 1,000 views on YouTube before the nomination.)
But thanks to Grammy365, a social networking site for Grammy members, Walser was able to network and promote his track, eventually securing enough votes to land inclusion into the category. After the announcement, his nomination was greeted with widespread bemusement and mockery by the music press. We spoke to Walser from Los Angeles to get his side about his unlikely nomination, his potential acceptance speech and "having attorneys on auto-pilot."
Were you surprised at the reaction to your nomination?
That’s a very open question so I don’t know how deep you want me to get into that. I was surprised to even get nominated so I’m very humbled for being a nominated artist. I wasn’t too surprised that a lot of people would look into it and be interested like, "Who is this guy?" That’s normal. But I was surprised by how fast people came to judgment and said, "Oh, it’s gotta be fraud."
If you know the way I grew up—a non-white kid in the smallest country in the world—I was used to having fingers pointed at me from an early age in so many regards. People were always looking at me weird and this is not much different. It’s just bigger and more amplified. A lot of people were very biased—and still are—but at the end of the day, that’s okay. That’s how human beings are. But I got tons of great reactions as well. If you have 100 people and 99 love it and one doesn’t, that one will unfortunately always be louder than the rest.
And even you guys, I’m on your website now, you called it a "laughably bad song". If we’re talking about the music video, whether it’s low production, you could certainly come to a conclusion on that. But if people start to judge whether a song is bad or good, you already lost the discussion because I don’t think there’s bad or good music. You ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 different opinions.
Do you have a thick skin about these kind of things?
Definitely. If you can’t take it, you can’t make it. It’s still a process and I’m still a human being and growing as I’m going but overall, I couldn’t care less. If people don’t like it, they’re not paying my bills.
You talk about being surprised, but you told Vice about your "close relationships" and "email newsletters" and "nourishment," so it seems like this was, at least in part, a planned-out campaign.
Let me ask you something: This is called the music business, right? So we have music—whether you call it good or bad. And there is a business there. And you go about the business as good as you can with the tools that you have. If I had millions of dollars to invest, my campaign would have probably been a bit different. If I don’t have the millions, my campaign is the way it is.
Work the angles that you have and as long as it’s in a legal parameter, everything goes and everything is fine. It comes down to connecting your music to the people and that’s exactly what we’ve done. But the way people ask it like, "Oh, there was a campaign. How could you? He was strategizing." You have to be kidding me. Everybody’s having a campaign.
I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just trying to reconcile the two statements.
It’s like, "You’re not supposed to touch this club of a few artists. They’re supposed to play in their golden sandbox. You’re not supposed to interrupt them. How dare you." I don’t care. I’m in there to have my music out there. You listen to the radio and go, "How come I hear the same song over and over again? How come this person got a record deal in the first place?"
If you would continue to investigate as a journalist, you’ll come to the conclusion that there are a lot of things going on in the background, from sexual favors to corruption to money under the table. Everything goes, I guess. I wasn’t involved in this, but a lot of people were. So everybody is moving their career with the best tools they have.
What’s been the most surprising thing since the nomination came out?
Probably learning about the psychic of human beings. I purposely read some of the comments that were posted. I didn’t necessarily read it to find out if people liked [the song] or not; it’s just to read people and read between the lines and learn more about them. I came to the conclusion that certain people, their agenda is so big that they would not look beyond that agenda. I didn’t care too much about the people that don’t like it. Eat it. I don’t care. Just don’t listen to me.
Based on the video, people have compared "I Can't Live Without You" to Rebecca Black’s "Friday." Do you take offense to that?
Of course I don’t take offense to that. If I put my brain in motion, what I’m thinking is they’re parrots. One outlet compared that song to "Friday" and ever since, people are just copy and pasting that comment. Gimme a break. You can get more creative than that. I don’t see the comparison. I think I heard that song once.
People who judge the song by the video are really not understanding the message here. I am an independent artist and an independent artist is not necessarily supposed to have a million-dollar music video. I am proud to call this an independent production because that’s what independent artistry is all about; to make the best with the tools that you have. I’m not trying to compare my video production with Rihanna and Lady Gaga. But that’s not a problem at all. I’m the total underdog.
You’ve said before that "this is the rendezvous with destiny for all the independent artists." Do you see yourself as the champion of the underdog?
At the moment when the light is shining on me, I see myself as a hero for the independent artist absolutely. And when another one comes in, I will champion that guy or girl. The rendezvous with destiny is meant to give them a kick and say, "Look, the impossible is possible. Go out and do it. I’m doing it right now. You can do it tomorrow."
Do you think you have the best song among the nominated acts?
Well, that’s a very biased question. [Long pause] I think whoever wins deserves to win. That’s all I can tell you. The question with deserving: by what do you judge that? Do we go by numbers? Then I personally think that "Gangnam Style" should win everything.
You said that you’ve been misrepresented. Can you be specific? What do you think has been the biggest lie or misunderstanding you’ve read about yourself?
That it was fraud and these people are being sued right now as we speak. We’re going after anyone that is trying to do anything defamatory. My attorneys are on auto-pilot right now.
I’ve been reading a lot of different articles on you. Would you mind if I read you some headlines and get your response?
Sure, that’s fine.
Vancouver Sun: Meet Al Walser, This Year’s Unlikeliest Grammy Nominee
That’s fine with me.
Vice: We Spoke With Al Walser, The Euro DJ Who Trolled The Grammys
English is my second language and the first time I heard this word "Troll," believe it or not, was during this process. My answer to that is this is a very one-dimensional portrait in a three-dimensional world. If we knew everything that was going on behind the curtains in the music industry, that person would probably retract that phrase.
It’s still unknown if the Best Dance Recording category will be televised, but if you do win, have you thought about your acceptance speech?
[Laughs] Oh my God. So now and then when I‘m driving on the freeway here, some things popped in my mind that I just want to put out there into the world and that obviously would be the perfect stage to do so. I have some thoughts but it’s not like I’m prepared. If I’m even able to speak, should I get up there, I would want to say something that makes sense and brings the whole debate to a bigger platform.
I think the most important thing for them to know is that the EDM community will not embrace that no matter what. The only thing that that can do is introduce dance music to a mainstream audience. This will not be a show for the EDM community because they’re, for some reason, hating everything that goes mainstream. They’re saying, “He took a spot from another guy” but at the same time, they don’t want to be too mainstream. I try not to get too lost in it.
You wrote a book in 2011 entitled Musicians Make It Big: An Insider Reveals—The Secret Path to Break in Today's Music Industry that promised to reveal "secret industry loopholes." What’s the biggest loophole?
It’s a bit different for each artist but some of the things that are important for every artist are SEO and you want to be very smart about it. One easy trick is to go on iTunes, try to find some of the biggest songs that are not on iTunes, do a cover and put it on iTunes. And get the rights for it. You can find out the exact steps to legally sell a cover song on iTunes.
There have been stories written about cover bands calling themselves "Call Me Maybe" to get ranked in the search results. Isn’t that misleading?
I think you need to read the rules and if the rules say you’re not allowed to do it, don’t do it. If the rules don’t say anything, go and do it. I root for you. You need to break the common way of doing things while staying within the law. I will always look for these kind of opportunities to break in and get heard.
So let me ask you a question: what do you think of this whole thing?
Um, I think this shows that there’s a fine line between a shrewd marketer and bloodthirstiness and after 45 minutes, I’m still not any closer to knowing the answer.
[Laughs] But Jason, people need to love the song. You cannot put a gun to their heads. They need to connect with the song; otherwise they would not vote. There’s no "deals." I don’t even ask them, "Did you vote?" But let’s say someone said, "I love it. I’m going to vote for you," I have no way whether to find out whether he did or not. All you can do is, over a period of months, just nourish it and, in my case, let them be a part of the process.
I started with a "Making of" video way before it was voting time. But I’m telling you, it wasn’t like, "Yeah, I like you and your story, Al. I’m going to vote for you." They really liked the song. And a lot of people told me, in specifics, what they liked about it. That’s the truth.
The social network on the Grammys: everyone is doing it. I just happen to be that guy that was very successful and in a category that was very looked at from the mainstream media. That’s why people that vote on the GRAMMYs are totally not surprised.
So there’s an army of Al Walsers out there we don’t know about?