Armand Van Helden talks to Sawyer on everything from Duckzilla Vs Major Lazer and David Guetta Vs Barry Manilow, to Boney M. Vs that song… woo woo woo woo woo woo woo (best V-erse ever).
Interviewing one of the Big Apple’s biggest DJs, it’s…Well, it’s a long interview so let’s just get into it…
In 2010, you came out to Australia for the first time as Duck Sauce for Field Day. In an interview you did with them you made some New Years resolutions, so I’m interested to see if you’ve kept them. Did you learn to drive?
I didn’t learn to drive but I did get my learner’s permit.
Do you own a car?
I don’t, and here’s the funny thing. I would have had a car by now, but all my friends in New York don’t own a car. They can all drive though, but they don’t own a car. And my one friend that owns a car is always like “I’ll take you, I’ll take you” (to get the car). But then I’m like, you know, we need two cars because I’m not allowed to drive. So when we buy the car and go to pick it up, I need another person who can drive. So it’s kind of like this whole thing.
I need one car to go there, right, and two fully licensed drivers and me. And then we can buy the car and all come back, you get what I’m sayin’? It’s an excuse but it’s been the only hold back.
You also mentioned in the interview you were going to release a new album in 2011. Is that finished, is it out yet or is it coming out soon?
Yeah, we finished the album earlier in the year and it will be out soon. I don’t know exactly, I can’t even tell you a date ‘cause I’m pretty much in the dark, but it’s being worked on.
I spoke with Diplo last year when he came out for Stereosonic as Major Lazer and asked him, “if Major Lazer and Duckzilla had a fight, who would win?” So I’d like to ask you the same question.
Oh. Definitely Major Lazer.
Do you wan to hear what he said?
He said Major Lazer as well. He said “Duck Sauce is just a stupid duck. If it be like me and Switch Vs Armand and A-trak, Armand would win because he looks like a crazy muscle head. I’d probably be evenly matched with A-trak but Switch against Armand would just lose.”
See I think quite the opposite. I think Switch is the craziest of everybody and can just handle it on his own. To me, it should just be like all of us against Switch and we’d all lose.
You recently tweeted about your trip to Las Vegas that you were searching for Barry Manilow. Did you find him?
Yeah, A-trak does all the tweeting. I don’t really have an account or anything. He does the Duck Sauce one; him and I think somebody from Fools Gold. The funny thing was, we were in the car as soon as we had landed in Vegas and I saw Barry Manilow, like in a couple of big ads, they almost look like a massive flat screen TV. And I just see Barry Manilow in the Jesus pose and he has that hair and everything. And I was just cracking jokes with A-trak and going “Look! It’s David Guetta”.
So I think he maybe tweeted something about Barry Manilow, ‘cause we were just having a laugh in the back. We weren’t saying anything bad about David Guetta, but it was just about, you know, when you do like the Jesus pose as a DJ? The Jesus pose is when you’re on the decks and you throw your hands up in the air like you’re on the cross, but the Barry Manilow ad looked like the David Guetta ad is all I’m saying. Was just funny.
My friend is a photographer and he often gets some good shots of DJs pulling the Jesus pose. I think it’s becoming sort of a trademark of a rockstar.
It’s grown into the trademark, oh yeah.
Ascetically it’s a really good shot, if you get the light coming up behind you…
Oh yeah, you get the sun going down and everything…
Speaking of Sunsets, you played in Sydney on New Years Day for Field Day. How was that?
It was fun, we had a good time. We did the day time set. You know I like our sets all hours, but sometimes it feels like our sound can translate better in the day time or to that degree. But we’ve done a lot of the festivals. I mean we could do the night thing, it’s not that much of a big difference, but the day time tends to be, for most people, the toughest crowd. Cause everybody can still see thing so good so it’s kind of hard to win over a day time crowd. But our music is so kind of chilled in comparison to most of the dance things that exist, I guess, that our daytime set seems to be just this really warm, happy environment. Cause it’s in the day time! Which is cool…
I’m sort of learning to be a DJ myself as part of a competition at the moment, and they’re always talk about the lost art of the warm up DJ where you’re just building, building, building up for the main act. When you play at a festival, is that something you think about when you are playing in a day slot, or do you just go out and bring out the bangers?
I think most DJs have two or three different kind of runs, set runs if you wanna call it that. Like a regular one if you’re like in a club or even at a festival and you’re on at like 1pm or 2 pm. You know that’s going to be your main kind of run through and you know what you’ve gotta do. When your on early as a warm up there is a different kind of flow, so you kind of want to make sure you have a lot of your big bangers at the end. There is some truth to that, for sure.
I was also very curious to ask you about my set list. I’m going against the trend of everyone else in the comp, who’re playing traditional house and tech-house, with a retro 90s set. What would be you song picks if you could give me some tips?
Like just 90s?
Oh god. Man that’s a big decade. I mean the 90s was just a massive decade of debauchery – but also amazing music. I mean it’s just like triple what the 80s was in terms of information. But um, for me on the dance level, I was spinning house back then so if you’re trying to play like 90s house I would say, wow. Something that always gets them… actually I’ll give you stuff that’s not normally as known and that could be better for you.
Play Underground Solution’s Luv Dancin’. Play Bobby Konder’s Nervous Acid or The Poem. Play Hot Music by Soho, or Earth People – the songs called Dance. I mean I could go on and on and on, 90s is a big era. That’s a big era man! I mean you’re talking… there’s a whole bunch of stuff!
I’m a big Boney M. fan. My favourite track, probably almost of all time, is Rasputin, so I have to say I really love what you’ve done with Barbra Streisand, just the simplicity of it and how you’ve turned it into something that has over 61 million YouTube views. How do you know when you’re on to something big like that?
Um, you don’t know. In short. That’s about the easiest way I can answer it. ‘Cause when you’re doing the kind of music, like when me and A-trak are together it’s very stylised, it’s not something you can predict. We are as much as in the dark as anybody else as to what’s gonna work and what’s not gonna work. Duck Sauce music is propelled by good will, basically. That’s how it works.
Are you going to be taking Duckzilla around Australia, like tweeting some pictures of him? Where are some places you would like to see him at?
I would say we would get down at Bondi and just put him out there in the middle of Bondi. Put him on top of the Opera House. In Melbourne, put him out on that bay thing or whatever that is. Put him on Ayres Rock. I think that would be the key. That would be the top spot to put him on, Ayres Rock. That’s the one. That’s what we’re shooting for.
Do you get to do the tourist thing when you come out on tour, or is it all just work, work, work?
Um, no. I mean I do a pretty good job. I mean sometimes even solo I just go into the towns on my own. I literally go to the hotel concierge and go “where’s the main street, like the hang out block or for sitting outside for some cappuccinos or maybe some shops”. And they just go “oh good!” and then they break out that map and I just kind of go on my own, my little own adventure. I like to do that when I can and I love to be alone in a new city. It’s like one of the funner things I can do.
It’s all loose. I don’t know any of these people too well, I do know one of the Mishka people, but I was wearing it before I knew them. I’m not in contact with anybody. I mean if I just like something I just buy it I guess. It’s on that kind of a level.
I’ve been vintage my whole life, but I’ve really been vintage these days. I might wear like a cap, that might have a name brand or something but the rest, I dunno. I definitely love vintage ‘cause you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be unique. And I think that’s the thing I like to project the most.
Are you into movies at all? A lot of the music I like to source comes from film. For example the movie Uncle Buck has a pretty amazing 90s soundtrack, it had house of Pain and Wild Thing by Tone Loc.
Um, yeah. There’s a movie that I’ve been kind of a big fan of since it came out and I think it’s one of the more genius ways to use a movie soundtrack. Iit’s this movie called, Hot Rod. It’s with Adam Samberg from Saturday Night Live. It’s a stupid comedy movie, I think it’s hilarious. But the one thing he did in it, which I thought was genius was about 85% of the movie soundtrack was from this one album, from this one band called Europe (yes, the one with Final Countdown).
This album came out in like 1987 but he used 6 or 7 songs off that album in the movie. And it’s a shit album, like there’s no classics on it nobody cares about this album, but he put 6 or 7s songs from this album that was not anything in this movie. And it’s so good. ‘Cause you won’t believe how it matches the scene. So I thought that to be quite genius. And I know it’s him controlling the music. It’s a genius idea.
When you and A-trak got together, was it kind of natural or did you sort of poach him, like ‘he’s too good, I’ll either have to join with him or battle him to the death”?
Nothing like that, we had mutual friends and he had kinda just moved to New York. He’s a newbie from Montreal. And it was either bound to happen or to a degree as we kept seeing each other in the same circles. In a way, it was like the forces that be were putting us together. That’s the easiest way I can explain it.
In Australia we have this massive rivalry with New Zealanders, and I guess it similar between Canadians and Americans. Do you kind of hang shit on him for being from Canada?
Actually I don’t. What’s weird with my personality is that I’ve never been that way, because I grew up all over the place. So I never had that thing or vocational fun poking aspect. I don’t know why, but it’s just not in my personality. I mean I have my other funny sides, but that one, I don’t know why. Just never cared about where people came from. But I do find it funny when people come from super rural areas and they tend to be amazingly creative, like from a small farming town. That blows me away. How in the hell did something like this come out of a town like that? That I find interesting.
Michelle Sawyer, September 2011