Lady Gaga’s Right-Hand Man, DJ White Shadow, Makes More Than Just Pop Music: Interview
It may seem to Lady Gaga's average Little Monster that Paul Blair (a.k.a. DJ White Shadow) has been keeping a low profile since his Grammy nomination for Born This Way and a follow-up string of Artpop records. It's possible, though, you just weren't paying close enough attention.
Blair has since partnered with companies like Hasbro and Namco for production work on marketing campaigns and animated films (2017’s upcoming My Little Pony, for one); he’s continued working with pop’s heavy hitters, among them Pitbull (Climate Change’s “Sexy Body” and “Dedicated”); he’s opened hot-spot Chicago restaurant, Honey’s, with Kanye West creative director Virgil Abloh; and perhaps most notably of all, he’s signed on with W Hotels Worldwide as the company’s North American music director and headed the launch of W Sound Suites out of Seattle.
“I think this W thing is the coolest thing ever. I’m super proud of it,” Blair tells PopCrush, sipping a whiskey cocktail and leaning back in a plush love seat. We’re sitting in a W Seattle guest suite in the downtown high-rise’s 25th floor. Having just wrapped an official unveiling of the hotel’s luxe new recording studio, his excitement for the latest W Hotels initiative is clear, and it's easily contagious. “It’s something that at this particular moment feels really right to me to be able to give back and do really cool stuff.”
This W Sound Suite — the hotel chain’s second space following the international launch in W Bali (third and fourth suites in Los Angeles and Barcelona are to debut later this year) —is custom-made for the musician on-the-go. Launching in the heart of the northwest’s musical hub, which is perhaps best known for birthing 2017 Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Famers Pearl Jam and Grammy winners Macklemore (among others), the Coca-Cola-sponsored space is outfitted for comfort and convenience while also boasting the latest in sound recording technology from Native Instruments.
“If you can be in this kind of environment, you can kind of feel like a superstar, which makes you write better stuff, which makes you feel better. Comfortability is the seat of creativity,” Blair says. “If you’re starving to death, you don’t want to paint a picture. You have to be comfortable in order to create. The W had the comfortability; I find the creative stuff. It meshed together really well.”
Blair felt compelled to explore W Sounds Suites’ many possibilities after spending years on the road with Gaga, whom he says is like his sister. If she had a sudden stroke of genius mid-tour while the two were writing, they wouldn’t always have the means to properly record or produce anything. But today, if if you’re a touring artist staying at a W Hotel, or if you find yourself in a city where a suite is available, having a spot right upstairs or down the street to write and record is an easy solution. The suites, which pair recording studios, writing rooms, lounges and event spaces, amount to a middle ground between comfort and creativity.
“The reason why I thought of this idea was when [Gaga and I] were on tour, so she’s an integral part of my life as I am of hers, I guess. I’m going to be creatively fulfilled for the rest of my life just having worked with her and all the little sparks that come off of it that turn out to be this kind of awesome stuff,” Blair says. “It’s a testament to [her].”
“Having worked with her,” doesn't mean the relationship has expired, though. Blair, who’s consistently collaborated with Gaga, tells PopCrush that he’s been on-hand for most musical moves Gaga’s made since Artpop.
“When she did Joanne, I was there all the time,” he recalls. “I was there listening to stuff and going over stuff. She was making a record that I knew I couldn’t really contribute to, but I was there and listening and talking about what it was and trying to figure out how to do things. I couldn’t contribute, but that didn’t stop us from being friends.”
He also reveals that just before the W Seattle Sound Suite launch, he’d wrapped six weeks of studio work with Gaga, and says they were fruitful.
Blair has more to toast, too: The Sound Suite celebrated its launch April 13, and the next night, his public hiatus from working with Gaga effectively ended when he unveiled her Coachella headlining performance's intro. Gaga went on to perform new song-of-summer contender “The Cure,” which Blair helped write. Produced by Detroit City, the tropical-tinged single’s studio cut dropped the morning after.
Many are citing the radio-friendly “Cure” as a throwback to Gaga’s earliest Fame days, which just highlights how much Gaga has evolved and shape-shifted since her 2008 debut. Reflecting on the many incarnations of his longtime collaborator (particularly on the Cheek to Cheek and Joanne projects that didn’t call for his in-studio assists), Blair says he relishes Gaga's reinvention. And lucky for fans, it sounds like there's more new music right around the corner.
“You can’t expect somebody to stay stagnant,” Blair says. “If one day, I wear a superhero outfit and everyone says, ‘Oh my god, you look so hot today,’ I don’t put the same outfit on every day for the rest of the week. You’ve gotta try and do other stuff. But I still have that outfit; I’ll still put that on and look dope. Hopefully, I can come up with a couple other ideas between now and next month, but what I’m saying is people are a little too quick to judge about things like that. And I guarantee you you’ll see some really cool s--- happening again that you’ll like and it might not be what the next person likes, but the idea is to hang around and do things that you think are cool and put them in the universe.”
Lady Gaga's Very Best Live Vocals: