Joining forces with Maren Morris and Grey for ‘The Middle,’ Zedd has cracked the code for the perfect pop song. How did he manage it?
Anton Zaslavski has a knack for pitch-perfect dance-pop. Starting first with his breakout hit ‘Clarity’ with Foxes and moving on to work with the likes of Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Kesha, Zedd’s discography is full of moments that crystallise a specific moment or feeling in time.
Nowhere is this more potent that his new single, ‘The Middle’ which features country music star Maren Morris and regular collaborators, the duo Grey. The single takes more than a few cues from Zedd’s biggest hit of the last few years, ‘Stay,’ but tells the story of a struggling relationship, with Morris begging her other half to compromise and meet her in the middle.
The single is Zedd’s first statement of intent for the year, so we jumped on the line with him to discuss ‘The Middle,’ his exhaustive search for the featured vocalist and how streaming has changed his approach to releasing music.
“I’m very slow when it comes to creating music,” Zedd admits. “Because I’m a perfectionist, and also because we try out so many singers.”
His newest single is no exception. In the effort to find the perfect voice to match ‘The Middle,’ Zedd says that “over 14 singers, from people we asked to record the song to people who asked to record themselves,” had cut a vocal for consideration as the feature.
“I’m pretty open about the fact I like to try voices out,” Zedd says. “I don’t know exactly whose voice will fit, and a lot of people know that, if they cut [vocals], there’s a chance I might go somewhere else. It can take a while to find it, and ‘The Middle’ is not easy to sing. it was hard to find somebody who could carry that emotion.”
The search for the perfect voice ended when country vocalist Maren Morris cut a demo. Already a star in her native States, the single was Morris’ first real move into the pop sphere, and her raspy, gritty vocals fit Zedd’s perfection like a glove.
“She sounds incredible on it,” Zedd agrees. “And what drew me to her was her voice. We were looking for a voice of power but also equal parts emotion. There’s a grit to it and some raspiness.”
Morris’ inclusion on the song also meant that Zedd and Grey travelled to Nashville to record her vocals, which was an experience new to them.
“I’d never recorded there [Nashville] before,” Zedd adds. “It was awesome. They had a hotel with a recording studio, which makes me wonder why no-one else has thought of that.”
Zedd says that Morris was the perfect choice for the single, and that “people had heard the song before, but when they heard Maren on it, they really reacted to the emotion it it, it was a side that they hadn’t heard before.”
Being a perfectionist also means that the song itself went through many different itineration before we arrived at the mixed and mastered version that we hear today. Zedd admits there were “a lot of changes” made to the song before it was released, but it was all worth it in the end.
“The verses we have today have nothing to do, either lyrically or melodically, with how the song started,” Zedd explains. “There was no bridge at first, but now i think it’s one of the strongest parts.”
The song also sees Zedd collaborating with Grey again for the second time in as many years, after they both featured on Hailee Steinfeld’s ‘Starving.’ What is it about Grey that Zedd keeps returning to again and again?
“We’re both very similar,” Zedd says. “In terms of both our taste, sounds and compositions we like the same things and that’s really hard to find. We share our sample libraries with each other so we all have the same sounds, which is cool because I’ve never done that with anybody before.”
‘The Middle’ is Zedd’s first big release of the year, following both ‘Stay’ with Alessia Cara and ‘Get Low’ with Liam Payne last year. Zedd says there are no current plans for his third album to be released this year, he just plans on releasing singles as and when they’re ready.
“I decided when I released ‘Stay’ that I was just going to see how it feels to release it song-by-song,” Zedd says. “I finish a song, and then I put it out. You can never say what makes things successful, but my career’s doing really well ever since I made that decision. That, being said, I do get hungry for an album.”
On the topic of new music, Zedd lets slip that he has “two songs that I’m working on that I’m very excited about.”
We suggest to him maybe he should try to pull a Beyoncé and just drop the two songs at once. We think he’ll laugh it off, but he seems pretty convinced.
“I might try that,” he offers.
So, you heard it here first.
Zedd’s new single ‘The Middle’ featuring Maren Morris and Grey is out now via Interscope. Watch the video below:
Words by George Griffiths