Long before The Chainsmokers became hit-makers, the DJ duo was a fixture of the summer party scene. Since those hazy nights in sweaty clubs and shared housing, Alex Pall and Drew Taggart have risen to the forefront of electronic dance music’s pop crossover movement. The group topped the Billboard chart for 12 consecutive weeks with 2016 megahit “Closer,” featuring Halsey, and released four other top 10 hits in “Roses,” Grammy Award winner “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Paris” and Coldplay collab “Something Just Like This.”
Fresh off their third album, World War Joy, and accompanying arena tour, The Chainsmokers announced a social media hiatus in January to hunker down and work on their fourth album. What they didn’t anticipate was the rest of the world joining them in an unprecedented lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Pall and Taggart have kept a low public profile, they’ve been active on the philanthropic front. When wildfires ravaged Australia in January, they gave $100,000 to the Victoria Country Fire Authority. At the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, the pair donated 20,000 KN95 masks to hospitals in New York and Las Vegas, participated in an ALL IN Challenge to raise funds for relief and held a USO video chat with U.S. military service members in the Middle East. In May, they received the Key of Hope award at the Youth Emerging Stronger virtual gala in support of homeless youth and donated $50,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union following George Floyd’s death in police custody. The group has also found time to work on new music, while branching out into spirits with their JAJA Tequila collaboration and into TV and film with Kick the Habit Productions.
On Taggart: Blazer and pants by Z Zegna; T-shirt by Theory; and shoes by Jimmy Choo. On Pall: Blazer and pants by Todd Snyder; T-shirt by COS; and shoes by Vans.
What inspired your recent charity efforts?
Drew Taggart: We have always supported the causes that felt closest to home, and we have always tried to use our platform and our audience to help those suffering around the world. We can’t stand by and watch events unfold without action. Whether it be the Australia wildfires, homelessness, COVID-19 or equal civil rights, we cannot sit idly by. Being off the road and holed up in the studio watching what happened to George Floyd and others like him and what is going on in the world has amplified how disgusting systemic racism is in this country. We must do everything we can to encourage people to vote and make a change. Donating money is the least we can do. We must act.
You had already planned to lie low and work on new music during this period. How has the pandemic affected that?
Alex Pall: Obviously, life is different with shelter-in-place and horrible news every day. We feel for everyone who’s hurting and know we’re very fortunate to be able to treat this as a time to be creative. As an artist, I’ve always wanted a vacation where no one bothers me and there’s literally nothing going on. It’s usually impossible, but this bizarrely timed up with the world stopping in a lot of ways.
On Pall: Blazer by Ralph Lauren; T-shirt by J Brand; pants by Levi’s; and shoes by SeaVees. On Taggart: Shirt and shorts by Onia; and shoes by Kenneth Cole. Grooming by Florido Basallo
DT: Even before the world paused, we went to Hawaii for two weeks at the beginning of the year to reset. We ended up writing 15 songs, which is the most we’ve ever written at one time. You don’t have that existential pressure to come up with something soon, so you can be a lot freer to mess around… which is what really helped us find our sound in the first place. It gave us a whole new creative confidence.
How do you think the current situation will impact artists going forward?
AP: I feel really bad for the artists who are going to miss out on their moment right now. I know how important the “Closer,” “Roses” and “Don’t Let Me Down” era was for us. I can’t imagine if “Roses” came out and we couldn’t promote and play it. Instagram was barely a thing then and now there are more tools at artists’ disposal to still have a presence, but nothing replaces getting out and playing for your fans.
The World War Joy Tour wrapped in December and featured your most ambitious stage production to date. Any lessons learned?
AP: Spend less money. [Laughs]
DT: It’s crazy. … You’ll do a 42-date arena tour and break even. It was very hard and got very Groundhog Day, but being able to play for half a million people was awesome. We’re very blessed to have been able to do that whole tour. … Imagine you were playing Coachella this year and spent half a million dollars building a stage for that one show. You can’t get that back.
Any standout stories from DJing during your early days?
AP: Oh, my God, so many. We got our start DJing clubs like SL East [in the Hamptons]. I remember going out to RdV East, and they were booking these huge EDM acts like Avicii, Calvin Harris and deadmau5 in this barn that fit 500 people. You’d pay a small amount of money for a bed in these share houses with, like, 40 strangers. It was so fun. I’d literally leave my gallery job and sit in traffic for four hours.
DT: It’s like the drive to Coachella. [Laughs] I grew up in Maine, and I’m not from an affluent area, so I remember it was a whole culture shock for me. Like, what is this place?!
Tell me about your JAJA Tequila partnership.
DT: Tequila has been such a big part of The Chainsmokers culture. For every arena we’ve played, we previously played four shitty clubs in that city, and tequila has been the fuel of all of those friendships and parties. We went to Wayne Chaplin [CEO of distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits] and he told us about JAJA, which was started by Martin Hoffstein and Maurice Tebele. We’d worked with Maurice’s brother Elliott [aka social media star FuckJerry] a bunch in the past and we got along philosophically. We wanted to create a brand for our generation that was fun and welcoming—not stuffy and pretentious.