Mega DJ and producer, Felix Jaehn, speaks candidly about his evolution over the past few years and makes an exclusive mix for Notion.
Decked out with two German diamond certifications and multiple gold and platinum records in the US, Felix Jaehn is without a doubt one of the most successful German acts in history.
At just 26 years old, Felix has already had a slew of megahits – including a remix of OMI’s “Cheerleader” and “Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better)” ft. Jasmine Thompson – that have allowed him to travel the world. And yet, out of all places he could possibly be, he’s actually in his house by the sea in Germany, finishing up his new album. Because aside from COVID-19 restrictions, it’s not just travelling the world that has certainly been a journey for Felix – so has his own personal life. He’s dealt with mental health issues, has come out as bisexual, and while he’s in a happy place now, it hasn’t always been that way.
We talked about how his personal evolution has affected his music, why his latest single “No Therapy” has an accidental hidden meaning to it, and much more.
Dive into the interview and check out the exclusive mix Felix Jaehn made for Notion below!
How are you doing? Where are you currently staying?
I’m good – really good, actually! I just got back from a workout, so I’m pumped and full of energy [laughs]. I’m back in Germany, spent the last few weeks in Berlin, but I’m back now in my place by the sea. It’s where I grew up, and where I’ve spent most of my quarantine time here. It’s nice and in the middle of nowhere, beautiful and very quiet. I’m good at being alone, I meditate every day and try to really live in the moment. But it can be very isolating, so that’s why I spent my last couple of weeks going to see some friends in Berlin and feel different energies, you know?
I’ve heard congratulations are in order, becoming the youngest German artist ever to reach diamond status twice!
Thank you, yeah, it’s crazy. I can’t really wrap my head around all these numbers, it’s kind of surreal. I try not to think about them too much, I feel like my happiness and success isn’t based on my numbers. But when I do look at those numbers, it’s like – Diamond in Germany is one million downloads, and I try to visualize one million people in front of me, and that’s a lot of people! I don’t know, I’m just really happy that my music has reached so many around the globe, and I think that’s pretty cool.
How do you put your recent work in perspective, having started out your career with such big hits already – longevity must be important for you?
Yeah, definitely. Starting off with two massive hits has been great because I didn’t really have a lot of time struggling. I only really had one year where I was in between music, college and trying to succeed as an artist – that was tough, cause I had a lot of pressure from my family and surroundings. So then it was nice to have that success, but then again – the success brought along new struggles and new pressure, so it’s been a rollercoaster, to be honest.
You mentioned that you meditate every day, is that a habit born out of those struggles – a way for you to have a sense of normalcy, and achieve balance?
Yeah, for sure! I couldn’t really imagine a life without meditating, to be honest. It’s become such a crucial part of my daily routine. It just really helps me to stay present and to appreciate the little things and feel the wonders around me, to not use my mind really. Because I did have a bit of a darker time, with a lot of anxiety and I had panic attacks. I was overwhelmed a lot and just couldn’t handle everything. And on top of that, being young and insecure about certain things, it’s been a bit wild. Luckily I found meditation which helped me to calm my mind and understand myself better, so yeah I’m really grateful to have this practice.
It’s kind of ironic that this new song is called “No Therapy” because it was written after you’d gone through therapy yourself because of these darker times you mentioned.
It is a little bit, yeah.
Did you also see your music changing as you were going through the process of going through those dark times, and then going to therapy?
Hundred per cent, I’m glad you noticed! The past two years were all about songwriting for me. After releasing my debut album, I was kind of seeking a new purpose. I managed to turn my hobby into my profession, but then I needed a new goal. I discovered that I myself was struggling a lot with my mental health and earlier on with my sexuality, for example. I realized I had such an amazing platform as a pretty successful DJ, to inspire a lot of people. So I decided to co-write all the lyrics and put my personal story and development – from being emotionally sick to now dwelling happily in the present moment – into my music. And I also wanted to release songs directly linked to my personal development. So as I was getting happier, the music was getting happier too. And now with “No Therapy”, it’s a crucial turning point in my life where finally I can leave all that behind. Because I did do a lot of therapy to help figure myself out, and with this song, it’s nice to be able to say that I don’t need no therapy. I can actually receive all the love around me and feel the vibes, and that I’m back to feeling good now.
For some people, music can play a really healing and cathartic role in that process – but mental health can also keep you from being able to create at all. What was that like for you?
As soon as I started writing about those topics, it was actually super easy for me. It was a bit like therapy to open up like that and talk about it in these songs. Being in the studio – my co-writers – I usually would prefer for them to hear about those thoughts that were going on in my head. So just talking about it sometimes already helps a lot, and then putting it into a song also means that I have to promote the song and I get to play it live – I’m living with it. So it’s almost like music has been my friend on this journey with me, pretty much. It’s been really cool to have the opportunity to do that.
The song was written right before lockdown…
Yeah, it was actually early March. We wrote it at my place where I’m at right now, I have a home studio here. I invited Nea, Bryn and the other co-writers that all worked on “Some Say” to come here and work together. We’d done the remix and that was so amazing, that we decided to bring the dream team back together. We had a bunch of beautiful days and made a lot of wonderful music, and then two days after they’d all left we were told to go into lockdown. So it’s crazy to think we had that chance right before the world stood still.
I can imagine that working remotely on songs that are so personal isn’t the most productive – especially when you prefer a more intimate setting where you can first share your story. Have you done sessions with other musicians in the past few months?
I’ve tried doing some sessions via Facetime and Zoom – just some songwriting, but I really didn’t like it, to be honest. The energy just doesn’t flow, I think it’s so important to physically be in the room together. Out of those moments together, the inspiration happens. Sometimes I had a topic – like with the song “Love On Myself”, I knew that I wanted to write about self-love, in this instance. So I went into the studio with that vision and shared it with everybody. And then we found an angle to write about. But often, there’s just an overall mood, where it just clicks in the moment. That type of magic just doesn’t happen over the phone. I’ve been focusing on finishing the songs that I’d already written. And also I’ve just been focusing on living – to be honest. I’ve been using this once in a lifetime opportunity with a completely cleared schedule to just spend time with family and friends. I’ve been focusing on myself, working out a lot, did some gardening – I rediscovered biking for myself. There are so many things that I enjoy a lot that I just didn’t take the time for because I was always touring and chasing the next record.
Do you think you’ll try to keep those habits up in the future?
For sure, I’ll try to find a better balance. I feel like if I look back on the past couple of years, that I didn’t really enjoy them enough. I was always so caught up and just chasing. I just wasn’t really present, and at the time I had a lot of anxiety problems too. Right now, I just feel so good – I never wanna feel different again. I want to try and maintain this, I know it’ll be difficult once I’m travelling again. But I’ll find the right balance, I’m definitely hungry again to play shows and I miss the adrenalin of being on stage and sharing songs with fans, I miss seeing their faces. But I’ll see, I think I’ll just step up my game slowly again once it’s possible, and then I’ll just keep monitoring my feelings and see how fast I want to go.
It’s so good that you mention this because one benefit of having had therapy is also having the tools to monitor your own wellbeing, and knowing where your boundaries are. Especially in the music industry – I can imagine that, in the moment, if you’ve still got that rush after a performance, it takes a while for you to come down and actually process everything.
Yeah, definitely, especially if you’re doing two shows a day and during the weekend – you just lose track. It’s fun, but it’s just a lot. But it’s also important that you’re just in the right mindset. As you said, I now have the tools and I definitely feel better. When I have a bad day or a negative emotion, I can feel it rising and I know the triggers. I’ll know where it’s coming from and I can return to my breathing. I have ways of not getting lost in negative thoughts anymore.
When it comes to your musical collaborations – I noticed that you’ve recently worked with other LGBT creators, like Calum Scott and Bryn Christopher. Is that something that’s important to you and actively take into consideration in the creative process, because you’ll have that shared experience?
I wouldn’t say that I only want to work with LGBT people, but it’s definitely a big element – we have a connection right away. It’s been such an important topic of my own personal journey that I also want to address it in my music. That’s also why I made the song “Love On Myself” with Calum Scott, which was specifically about self-love, and I was wearing a shirt with the Pride flag on the cover art for that track as well. And now with “No Therapy”, it’s definitely in there too. “Love me, crazy / We be who we wanna be,” it’s all about empowerment and individuality, and about love. Doing it together with Bryn feels great.
Knowing that you’re helping other people as well, and make them feel heard and represented.
Yeah, 100%. And actually, this wasn’t even the main idea when we wrote the song. But Bryn and I talked about it later, and it’s just crazy that there’s still people out there who want to make therapy for gays and convert them into straight people. Even though it’s not the main meaning of the song, I feel like that’s still in there – this idea of “we don’t need no therapy” meaning we don’t need to be changed, I don’t need therapy, I just need to be myself and live and be free, so it’s all good.
You got together to create this track after having done the remix for “Some Say” – how does the process differ from creating an original song for you? Do you often work with the same team for both type of tracks?
For a remix, I just need to love the song a lot [laughs]. It just needs to touch me and I need to feel it, I need to be able to hear and visualize it in my style – in a dance tempo. There’s also songs that I love but I wouldn’t want to remix them, because there’s nothing I can add to it. For “Some Say”, it just really touched me. It was beautifully written, and it’s genius to take the song from Eiffel 65 and turn it in a new song with new lyrics – it’s a really smart way of covering. But it’s also family – I’ve worked with Nea before, as well as the producers. They actually sent me the song before it was finished, they were originally pitching it to other artists. Nea was completely focused on songwriting, but it took too long and they decided to release it by themselves. It was Nea’s first-ever lead as an artist, so I feel like I just also wanted to help friends and give them a little platform.
I actually haven’t been doing a lot of remixes in the past couple of years. I think because I was getting cornered too much into just being a remix or cover artist. And I felt like I have a story to tell too, and I wanted to focus on writing my own songs and releasing those. But now I’m open to it, and I really enjoy both – it’s a completely different process, but both are fun!
Listen to a mix Felix Jaehn created exclusively for Notion below:
How do you ensure though that the artist you’re working with accurately reflects the story you want to tell through their vocal delivery? How do you translate what you have in your head to someone else?
It’s been one of my challenges, as a DJ/producer of a concept album. I need to find people who have a similar story or who can relate to the lyrics. Because of that, the lyrics can’t be too specific about me, we need to always find an angle that makes it relatable to people in their own way. I like it when it’s a bit more open so everyone can have their own interpretation. That’s the same for the featured artist. For “Love On Myself”, for example, it took us six months to find the right feature. We sent it around to so many people, trying to find someone who can completely relate to the lyrics, who is on board with the message and can sing it well. It’s not always easy. But on the other hand, for “No Therapy”, I wrote it together with Nea and Bryn which was perfect – they were all there since the beginning.
You just mentioned that the album is a concept album, and I definitely get that vibe too from the material that it’s a bit lighter – specifically compared to “SICKO” that’s much darker.
Yeah, it definitely is! I’ve spent so much time figuring out what I want to say and how I want to say it. I think it’s been 3 years of writing – 4 weeks in London, LA, 3 weeks Stockholm, 6 weeks at my home studio. Just because during the writing process, my personal development also continued. There’s a lot of songs from the darker times that were a bit more serious and sad, and they won’t even make the album anymore. Now I feel good [laughs], and it was going to be just a sad album, but now it’ll be a sad and happy album. And I decided that now I feel so good about life again, I also don’t want to get too many negative vibes in my music. As I said earlier, one of my main goals is to spread good vibes and happiness. So I feel like it’s important that while I’m opening up about the darker times and making these issues a topic of conversation, the best thing I can do to actually make people happier is to be happy myself and to spread good vibes.
It’s good to remind people that it’s okay to have these dark moments, that they aren’t alone in that experience, but also that it can and does get better.
Similarly, with you coming out as bisexual, do you feel like that’s brought upon a change in terms of your environment – particularly in the DJ world, where I don’t think there’s that much representation?
I’m not too sure about the DJ world, to be honest, but I think that gay culture is club culture as well. But I agree on a mainstream level, that if you look at DJs that are also on the radio, I personally don’t know about anyone else at the moment. It feels a little bit weird, like, there must be someone! But who knows, maybe there’s not. I didn’t really have any discussions or something, everyone’s been super open and supportive. I had a little bit of discussion when I did a show in Dubai because it’s still illegal to have gay relationships in Dubai. But I still really wanted to go, because I feel like – just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean there’s no gay community there. I wanted to be there for them as well. I think you can only make change happen if you happen and peacefully go and represent. But other than this Dubai stuff, it’s just been all love, so I’m really happy with that.
Talking about gay and club culture, have you ever considered also doing like a smaller venue tour?
Yeah, actually – in 2018 I did a smaller tour through Europe where we stripped it down. We didn’t have major graphics, everything was in black and white, and I only played deep sounds. I didn’t play any of my own songs – only if it was part of a mashup. It’s been really cool, I’ve heard many really enjoyed it. I struggle a little bit with those tours because the audience just doesn’t expect it from me. I’m always in the middle between being a club and pop concert artist, so it’s been interesting. But I’m just taking people on a journey. Even now, I had a couple of shows in Germany already again this year – some promoters had cool ideas to do small corona-safe performances. I just try to introduce people to new sounds at my shows and not just do what people expect me to play.
So do you prefer having another massive radio hit, or a club banger?
I think I’m working towards that club banger – if you compare “No Therapy” to my previous songs, you can already hear that. It’s a lot darker, more bass-driven. It’s definitely a direction I want to go in more. Currently, I’m still always looking at pop too, just because I’m coming from the story-telling side. I love the songwriting aspects, so I’m not going to focus on just-instrumental club tracks at the moment. But let’s see – it’s a journey! Right now I’m making pop songs more club, but I can totally see myself doing just club songs as well.
What about the album as a whole, is that also leaning more towards club sounds?
A little bit. The album as a whole will have a bit of everything, because it’s also a journey, lyrically. I found that I never want to stop a song from being what it’s supposed to be. That’s someone else’s quote – Nasri, the lead singer from Magic! once told me that. And some of the albums, there’s one we just made in LA that’s at 100 bpm, and I have played with making it a club record, but it just didn’t feel right. But everything I’m working on right now will be more house-y.
That sounds dope – do you feel like the album’s finished or close to completion?
I do have all the songs now. I just need to finish more production, and layout a plan – one or two featured artists are still missing. But I do have the songs, the concepts, and the art. I feel like we’ll just take our time to finish everything properly and release it next year. We were going to release it this year, but we did lose a couple of months due to corona. The industry was kinda off for a bit, people are just starting to work again at the label so it just got pushed back. But that’s fine, I’m not in a rush.
Plus, you can always just drop another single in the meantime.
It’s gonna be – a lot of the songs that are on the album are already singles before anyways. The idea of what an album is supposed to be has changed so much with streaming. It just doesn’t make sense to drop an album today with 20 tracks on there, and only have one single. It’s so hard to then to make songs a single later on, people will already be streaming them. It’s way more interesting to release a story track by track and have people be part of the journey. In the end, they can then piece the puzzle together and see the whole story.
Finally, you’ve also created a special mix for Notion – how did you go about it?
Well first of all, I add my own single [laughs] and then I see what key it’s in, what tempo and vibe. Then I’ll look for songs that fit in, I go through new tracks each week and save the ones I like. I use a tool called Mixed In Key to analyse them by key, which is super helpful. A small tip for all DJs who might not have it yet. Basically it helps you then mix the songs harmonically, and then I build the mix from there. No matter if it’s a prerecorded mix or for a live show or festival, I keep in mind that it’s a journey. The set tells a story always – the energy level should be going up and down. Sonically, it has to fit the story, but that story will differ depending on the set. But it definitely needs to be a journey.