We Spoke with Al Walser, the Euro DJ Who Trolled the Grammys
Yesterday, everyone started collectively freaking out while trying to uncover how Al Walser – the dark horse candidate alongside more famous douchebags like Avicii, Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia – managed to score a nomination for Best Dance Recording at the Grammys… even though nobody has any idea who the fuck he is.
Al’s “hit song”, which currently has 5,000 views on YouTube, is a low-budget carnival of cheese that you’ll have to endure for three minutes to understand what the hoopla is all about. Even then, it may be hard to grasp the collective sum of human atrocity happening before your eyeballs. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d rather listen to Skrillex’s vapid screeching for an hour than have to play that video again (so please, guys, let’s not make this a meme?).
I don’t need to tell you how horribly embarrassing this debacle is for the Grammy Academy, which has lost most of its relevancy anyway. While they haven’t commented on it officially yet, an “anonymous source” told House.net that: “This kind of thing doesn’t happen. [The Grammy Academy] takes this really seriously. They are super embarrassed that this happened.”
Meanwhile, Spin dug up the fact that Walser also runs a record label/PR firm called Cut the Bull – which has an incredible logo of a pissed off bull flaunting its anus, behind a pile of shit being cut by a pair of scissors (seriously). He offers consultations to aspiring musicians, but only after they provide their Paypal or credit card details. These are some of the DJs signed to Cut the Bull:
As if this story couldn’t get any weirder, a bizarre Barack Obama cameo pops up in a video posted on Walser’s Myspace page, in which circa-2007 Obama asks Walser about Liechtenstein – the tiny country that he grew up in.
Nobody seems to know what the fuck is going on, so I decided to give Al a call and let him explain himself a little. The “DJ” I talked to was slick (con artist kind of slick, not put-your-dinger-in-me-now kind of slick) when he wanted to be, like when he was harping on about how EDM shouldn’t be just about the the big-time artists. Or when he was recounting how he “hit it off” with Obama and Michael Jackson.
But as soon as I mentioned anything about a “hoax”, he got super agitated and started yelling about suing people for libel. So if you’re reading this, Al, fine: I don’t think you hacked the system. I think you’re a very capable self-promoter who took advantage of the fact that most Grammy voters are hopelessly out of touch with the state of contemporary music. And you
networked spammed the shit out of them until they circled your name on the ballot sheet. So congratulations! You’re now as respected as Skrillex. What an achievement.
Anyway, here’s what he had to say for himself:
VICE: Hey Al, congrats on your nomination.
Al Walser: Thank you so much, Michelle. But first can you give me a rundown? What is VICE magazine exactly, is it about dance music?
Sure. But we also cover a lot of other stuff – movies, sports, politics…
So, what everyone wants to know right now is how you got nominated alongside Avicii and Calvin Harris, who are pretty much household names at this point, yet no one has really heard about you until today. How did that happen?
First of all, I’m a big fan of all the guys that were nominated by me, I’m very inspired by them, and I’m a huge fan of some of them that did not get nominated.
I think it’s a long story. I’m going to have to start with the fact that the Grammys consist of people who are half-time musicians, and sometimes have a day job. These are people, maybe in their 40s, who are not too familiar with EDM music. I just have very close relationships…I met all these people – my fans – and I have email newsletters that let them be part of the process. I send these newsletters out to thousands of people, some of whom are also maybe voting members. So they become a part of the song, and I nourish that environment.
When someone emails me, I email them back. They appreciate it, and I don’t think that some of the other guys in that category would even have the time to do all that. So there’s a nourishment going on that the other guys probably can’t even handle because they’re too busy doing other things. That puts me at an advantage with the voting members.
Second of all, I think the voting members, and the US in general, is probably not too familiar with a DJ being behind a DJ booth and just putting their hands in the air and fist pumping to his own music. So maybe they appreciate the fact that I’m doing everything from A to Z. I’m producing my own music, I DJ, I’ve been around for decades. I performed in Japan in ’97, in front of a hundred thousand people. I’ve been in this game for a really long time. This is not a joke.
And guess what, Michelle? They connect with me because I communicate, so there is a close relation right there. Are you still listening?
Yep. I’m here.
The other thing is, why should this always be about the big production with a lot of money spent? Why is it OK that the big corporations spend a lot of money all over the place, why should that always be better than an independent artist? And if you would have to quote me in one phrase, I would tell you that “this is the rendezvous with destiny for all the independent artists.”
Right. But the question here is that Avicii and the rest have thousands, if not millions of fans on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but your numbers don’t really compare…
You would have to ask this question to the voters. They vote. There are, like, 15,000 people voting. I’m not sure if you’re familiar about the difference between the Grammys and the American Music Awards, for example. The Grammys are not about popularity first. That’s just a fact. And if you believe otherwise then you should be even more concerned that "Gangnam Style" wasn’t nominated – the most seen music video in the history of planet Earth, I’m guessing. Besides "Thriller". Shouldn’t that shock you?
Well, I think…
No, listen, that tells you that it’s not popularity first. Don’t forget! I have a weekly radio show that’s broadcast in over 70 radio stations! Most of them EDM stations. It’s called Al Walser’s Weekly Top 40. You can google it! They’re all over the place, and that probably played a big part as well because obviously I played my own music in there. I would really love for you to mention my radio show, because it is one of the biggest dance music radio shows, and it’s syndicated. That is a fact.
Are you a member of the Recording Academy?
I absolutely am.
So you voted for this year’s Grammys?
Did you vote for yourself?
I’m not going to get into that. [laughs]
Some people have noted that your name isn’t listed as a member of the Recording Academy. Are you listed under a different name?
Michelle, if you’re going to bet with me, you’re going to lose the bet. I’ve been a voting member since 2006. It’s possible that my profile is under private. Anyone questioning that, I’m sorry, is an idiot. Why would I lie?
How do you respond to people who are saying that this is a hoax, and that you somehow managed to hack the system?
[short silence] If they say that, they will hear from my attorney. Because that’s just ridiculous. Are you kidding me? That is a very, very, very deep accusation, and people need to be very careful when they say that. We will not hesitate a second to really aggressively pursue that. In fact, if I get to see or hear or read that somebody is calling it a hoax, they’re in trouble because that’s absolutely garbage. I just explained to you the parameters.
I’m not God. I don’t know how many people voted for me. But I can tell you that none of the people in my category, except for Skrillex, is a voting member. There’s a nourishing going on – a connection that I have with a lot of people in the music community. I live in Los Angeles. I’m here most of the time. So that’s the major impact of why I got nominated. And everything else… “hacking”?! Are you kidding me? Who’s saying that I hacked the system? If I see that… who said that??
Um… I just saw it in the comments sections of various websites.
You have to be very careful. I will go to the Grammys myself and tell them to react to that. That is defamation at the highest. That is absolutely garbage.
Anyway! I noticed on one of your websites that you posted a video of President Obama. What’s your connection to him, exactly?
I don’t know if you know, but I happen to be from one of the smallest countries in the world, Liechtenstein. And I happen to be the first bi-racial from that country. I met Obama the first time at a fundraiser and we hit it off. He couldn’t believe I was from Liechtenstein, and you know, my mom was white and my dad is black, just like with him, and I grew up with my white family, just like him. There was a connection over being bi-racial. We hit it off. We had a really cool chat. It was great, he’s a great guy, I loved him.
When did you get to meet him?
I don’t know exactly. A couple years ago.
And where was the fundraiser? Do you remember what it was for?
It was somewhere in LA, I think. I don’t know, I meet so many people. I’ve been with Michael Jackson back in the day, I met him… so I don’t know.
What was your connection to Michael Jackson?
The first time I came to LA, I stayed at Katherine Jackson’s house. Whenever they were in Switzerland or in Liechtenstein, they would stay at my place. Be it Jermaine, some of the kids… there’s tons of family footage, and we’re going to release it maybe one day.
Originally it was my father who met Joseph Jackson in Africa, in Congo, like 20 years ago or so. And they talked about their sons and they invited us over. And Jermaine came to Lichtenstein many times, and we travelled around the world together. And because Jermaine at the time was living with his mom, at Katherine’s house, I automatically was “inside”. Michael would call in and I’d be at the table with Katherine, alone. Believe me, it was a very interesting time for me and I learned a lot. I’m forever thankful to the Jacksons.
You know, we benefitted on both sides. I did a lot of things for them as well, and they benefitted from me. It was a great time.
Did Michael ever impart any nuggets about the industry to you?
Yes he did.
What did Michael tell you?
Well, he was fascinated with my country, that’s how we first hit it off. You have to know, I didn’t really meet Michael through his family, but that’s just how the family functions. Like, if you’re close to this family member you’re not necessarily close to the other one. But he’d heard of me, and he called in sometimes, and I met him at his 45th birthday in Los Angeles. He told me a lot of stuff about the industry. I told him I wanted to move to Los Angeles and he told me to be careful, to keep your privacy very private, and some other things that I’ll share one day.
Oookay. So tell me about your book, Make It Big: The Secret Path to Break In Today’s Music Industry. What’s it about?
I’m on TV in Germany – Germany is a huge market for me, and they portray me a lot here in Hollywood. Whenever I’m on TV there, I would get tons of emails from artists wanting to be in the music business. Asking, "how can you help me? What do I need to do?" Some of them are really, really talented. Sometimes I have time to talk to them and respond and sometimes I don’t. So I decided, since it’s always the same questions they ask, to put an e-book out there for an affordable rate, and give them knowledge that doesn’t really cost them money. A lot of it has to do with SEO practices adjusted to artists' needs.
What do you mean exactly?
Oh you know, to make sure that you put your song out there, the right way, that you make sure you don’t annoy your fans with emails, you know, what I do: nooouuuurish the relationship. Be honest and let people be a part of your creation. Don’t treat music people who are buying your music just as customers. And the other thing is the drive. Drive is really important.
What were you saying about the SEO optimisation though?
For YouTube, you don’t want to put your name on there. You want to put the singer of the original song, so that when people are searching for that, they find you. Stuff like that. You can always change it later. Those are things every artist should know, but most of them don’t.
Do you think your nomination this week is a demonstration of how the methods in your book work?
It really comes down to drive. It’s the most important thing. And good quality music.
[I accidentally make a noise blowing air out of my nose.]
Yes, I do believe I have good quality music, absolutely! Is it the biggest high-budget music video? Absolutely not! But there’s a storyline in there that people relate to, and why should music have to come to the highest paid productions? It’s the emotions! We don’t sell productions, we sell emotions.
What do you think is the future of EDM?
I want other people to see, and say "Wow, it’s possible." I’ve been doing this for a long time… maybe people haven’t heard of me, but the future of dance music is going to be more mainstream.
Which DJs are you most influenced by?
It’s not just the DJs, I listen to everything from Mozart all the way to Skrillex. I am very savvy of the music history. From Little Richard to Fats Domino, country singers like Mark Wills, I LOVE Mark Wills. I would use some of the harmonies that the country singers use. I love David Guetta. I think him and Will.i.am are the most instrumental for the EDM scene today.
Oh. Awesome. I think that says a lot.
Well maybe I’m the Robin Hood of EDM, but like I said, this is the rendezvous with destiny for the independent artist.
Well, thanks for your time.
I have a question for you Michelle. What do you think of the whole thing, what happened?
I think everything you said was very illuminating on how something like this happened.
Okay. I can’t wait for the article.
Follow Michelle on Twitter: @MichelleLHOOQ