SpringHill Suites Chicago O’Hare by Marriott’s 15-minute parking. This girl is well-versed in lateness. Nevertheless, tardiness wasn’t an option because ZAXX’s Greg Zaccagnino and I were on a mission: arrive at Bottom Lounge by 8:30 pm or bust. He’d already missed the boat on comparing apples to oranges, more specifically deep-dish pizza to a slice of New York. Don’t let this Staten Island indigene’s intimidating body art fool you. Zaccagnino’s wholesome personality plus charismatic charm shined through his 21-year-old smile. The Willis Tower, I-90 East—ZAXX’s eyes gleamed with excitement. Greg’s creations emanate an indie electronica essence, which lures listeners into his Los Angeles life and lair. We had a conversation regarding Elephante’s Glass Mansion Estate Tour, ties to Tiësto as well as a Hillary Clinton encounter.
It came together naturally. He [Elephante] hit me up to do the remix, and that’s how the tour came to be. It’s an awesome song. I just wanted to make it sound how I would make this song if I had the vocals; that’s usually what I do with remixes. He loved the remix so much he was like “why don’t you come on tour?” I said “Yeah, let’s do it. That’d be awesome.”
Share with our readers the plane situation you encountered on the way here.
I got on my flight this morning, and three guys with wires in their ears cut the whole line: Secret Service guys, FBI or whatever. In first class, there was Hillary Clinton just sitting there. I was on a plane with Hillary Clinton, surrounded by Secret Service agents, on my way to play a club in Chicago. I felt intimidated by the Secret Service agents. I was taking videos of them because I was so intrigued. I was trying to be very discreet about it because they could see anything. They’re very sharp. I was not going to mess around with them.
Freaky Deaky in Houston, Texas. Who ‘ya checking out for the first time?
I love Chris Lake‘s music. I played some of his stuff tonight, and I’ve never seen him. His mixdowns are awesome. The ideas in his songs flow really well, and all of his songs are different, which is hard to do if you’re making house music. I’m going to check him out and Porter [Robinson]. It’s such a great lineup. I’m so excited to be on a bill with those people.
When are your “Chasing Cars” and “The Great Escape” edits going to make their debut on SoundCloud?
They’re only in Tiësto’s sets and my sets. Tiësto closed out his Tomorrowland set with my “Chasing Cars” and “The Great Escape” remixes. I became really good friends with the lead singer of the band that made the song [Boys Like Girls]. People have been asking me for these two remixes for years, and they still do so well at my shows. I’m going to put them out because why not? Screw it. We’re planning to put them out very soon. I can’t give you an exact date because I don’t even know it—I really don’t know it. They are going to be free downloads.
What about your upcoming Tiësto joint effort tickles your fancy? Who introduced you two, and what role does he play in your life?
We played it together on the main stage for 30,000 people at 2018 Global Dance Fest in Denver. We debuted it there, but it’s unnamed right now. I started the song with Olivera who sang on my song “Dirty Neon” with 3LAU. She sent me over a vocal for the instrumental, and it worked so well. It’s a different kind of song. It’s slower. It’s more emotional. It has a lot of honesty in it.
Tiësto’s a mentor to me and a great person to have in my circle. He’s very supportive of my music. He’s always looking out for me like a big brother. We met when I made a remix to “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay. He started playing it. Then, he signed me. I couldn’t believe it: I was 17, and I quit school to do this. That was the best opportunity ever—work with Tiësto, go on tour with him and play Vegas. Having him guide me, to where I am today, changed my life.
Why is ZAXX’s Hakasaan residency null and void?
I took a hiatus from my what I was making to rediscover what I really wanted to do because I was kind of unhappy with my music. I knew I needed to change something. I took a year off from shows just to lock myself in my room, in Staten Island, to recharge. It’s not that I don’t prefer the setting. I love playing house music. It’s still one of my first loves, but I also have a deeper side of me that I’m turning towards. I am trying to blend the two.
There’s more to my music than big drops. There’s a lot of emotion in it. I make it from a very personal place, so what I’m feeling at the time is generally what I put out. That’s something that should be known. The music I’m going to be releasing is very relative to what I’m actually feeling and enjoying in my personal life. It’s a good reflection of what I actually enjoy listening to as opposed to releasing stuff for the hell of it.
What’s the saga behind ZAXX’s Naruto tattoo collage? Which cartoon will be inked on your body next?
I was very obsessed with that show, and I didn’t watch it as a kid—I watched it when I was a 19-year-old. It sounds weird, but that show really inspired me. I think it’s the art, storyline or genius writing in it. I really loved it. Nothing has ever made me feel that attached. It was a cartoon. It was anime.
My next anime tattoo? I don’t know if I’m going to get one necessarily because I have a gigantic Naruto tattoo. I’m going to save it for maybe one of my other favorite things like Lord of The Rings or Star Wars. Although, who knows? I get random tattoos all the time. My left arm’s empty; that’s the canvas for my next project.
Why is this Chicago event special for ZAXX?
I’ve never been here. Chicago is so close to home, and I’ve always wanted to play here. I have a lot of fans and supporters here. When you don’t play somewhere, you want to tap into that group of people that like your music. I finally got here, did what I had to do and gave people a good show: even after Hillary [Clinton].
How’s reading a room of people sometimes challenging?
The biggest challenge of reading a room of people is when you’re playing a song, and they stop dancing. You assume they’re bored. People don’t always have to be dancing to enjoy what you’re playing. Dance music has a stigma the crowd has to be jumping all the time. Sometimes, you want to chill and appreciate the sounds you’re hearing.
When did you make the realization that your singing abilities extended outside the shower stall?
I started playing the guitar and singing along. I always knew I wanted to sing on my tracks, and I knew I could sing for the most part. Obviously, I’m not the greatest singer ever. Singing on my own songs takes it to another level. A lot of artists are singing on their stuff too. People make it out to be some crazy kind of breakthrough, but it really isn’t. I just know how to make my voice sound the way I want it to. It’s convenient to be able to convey your message as opposed to having somebody else sing your thoughts. It makes it that much more personal. Currently, in the dance music scene, it’s not how it used to be when I was first coming up. Now, you can’t just be dance music. You’ve got to branch out and be different now which is great. I love that. It makes me work harder.