When Daft Punk won the Grammy for album of the year in 2014, there were some faces on the stage unfamiliar to young pop audiences: Paul Williams, Nile Rodgers and a number of acclaimed recording engineers among them. But house music fans were especially pleased to see one Daft Punk collaborator also hoisting that trophy: Todd Edwards.
Edwards is an electronic music veteran, whose hard-kicking house cuts have spurred club floors since the 1990s. For much of his career, he was a producer’s producer — a virtuoso of vocal sample editing, influential in the U.K. underground and best known stateside for his soulful vocals on Daft Punk’s 2001 single “Face to Face.”
But after working with the duo on the sprawling “Random Access Memories” track “Fragments of Time,” on which he sang lead, his profile has soared in the music business. Edwards has moved to Los Angeles to capitalize on the new opportunities since “Random Access” and to take part in a changing L.A. club scene that has never been more vibrant.
In an interview with The Times, he discussed how winning the top Grammy changes a producer and where L.A. nightlife is going next.
— You’ve been a fixture in underground dance music for years, but “Random Access Memories” hugely raised your profile. What kind of doors has that experience opened for you?
(Daft Punk) inspired me to think beyond just creating music, that it’s possible to develop a world around one’s art. They expanded into scoring and directing film. They developed a live show that inspired the next generation of electronic music producers to do the same. (“Random Access Memories”) was a return to more organic musical composition, a recording process that has almost become extinct in electronic music.
I’m working on an album right now that focuses on my songwriting and my vocals, (and) scoring has been a lifelong goal that I haven’t been able to focus on until now. Being on “Random Access Memories” may have gotten me more attention professionally, but more importantly, it’s been the personal doors that Daft helped me open, leaving a small comfort zone where I was stagnant.
— Around the time of working on that record, you moved full time to L.A. The climate for interesting dance music in L.A. has changed so much in recent years. Tell me what you’ve seen happening here, and why this city is such a compelling place for you to live.
My first introduction to the music scene in Los Angeles was in 2009, when I got to play the party A Club Called Rhonda. It reminded me of the best part of the early ‘90s in N.Y.C. With further visits to Los Angeles, I got to meet other DJs and music producers who reflected the area they were living in — positive vibes, laid-back personalities, hippies of electronic music. I loved it.
When I was younger, I was only familiar to the scene in N.Y.C., and that unfortunately disappeared when the mayor cleaned it up and turned it into a tourist Disney World. I know I wasn’t the only one that was compelled to move to Los Angeles, because soon after I was finding out that other dance music producers from the U.K., France and N.Y.C. had made their way there as well. It’s a vibe: the perfect blend of artistry and seediness.
— It feels like there’s so many more places for artists like yourself to play than, say, five years ago. Do you think crowds here are growing more receptive to challenging material?
That’s hard for me to say since I’ve only been living here for two years. I love the fact that there are warehouse parties on one end and proper clubs at the other. There are people that love a great live show, and there are those that have very low expectations for what’s being presented onstage and are as equally as happy. Los Angeles is open to niche music. It’s obvious by listening to the radio stations here like KCRW, which in my opinion should be what all pop music should sound like across the country.
— After years of mainstream EDM ruling in America, it feels like there’s a groundswell of attention on more interesting new sounds and twists on classics. Do you tune out most of that popular attention as you write, or are you conscious of where the musical conversation’s going?
I am most definitely aware of what’s going on. I love intricacy and complexity — if you listen to what I’ve composed over the last two decades, you understand this. However, in more recent times, I’ve grown to look at music as not only an art form but also a communication with audience. You must be able to speak the language or what you say will fall on deaf ears. The language in house music right now is the art of minimalism and simplicity, an art form that I’ve been embracing.
On the other side, my ears have been opened to a world of independent electronic music and pop and rock which I didn’t even realize existed. I don’t just want to make a dance album. I can do that in a minute. That is my comfort zone. I’ve unintentionally lived there too long.
— There’s been a shift toward analog and modular synthesizers lately that feels like a reaction away from the ease of digital production. What are some of the guiding principles for how you’re creating sounds now?
It’s funny that people are moving toward analog, and I am just now embracing digital. To be honest, I don’t think it makes a difference. It’s all how an artist uses his or her instruments. You can have $100,000 worth of analog equipment, and if you don’t know how to use what you have, then it’s going to sound mediocre. The same with digital technology. Character comes from the mind, not a CPU.
— You’ve earned such underground renown as a producer and DJ, but some of your best-known musical contributions have been based around your vocals. Do you have bigger ambitions as a songwriter and singer, for yourself and for others?
Thomas (Bangalter) and Guy-Man (de Homem-Christo) of Daft have encouraged and inspired me to sing more. I used to love to sing when I was in high school, but I was an insecure kid and I let a couple of friends teasing me affect my confidence to sing more. It wasn’t until the last couple of years, after having people tell me how much they loved my singing on “Face to Face,” that I revisited the idea of singing.
Self-confidence plays such an important role in how we develop. Fortunately, I have the opportunity now to show what I can do both musically and vocally. I’ve been making music for almost 20 years, and I’m just getting started.