Oh, what a difficult way Zen Freeman has found to make a lucrative living.
He’s a popular DJ to the stars who specializes in playing big private events around the world. Freeman is currently riding a wave of success with his EDM hit “Dance Bitch,” featuring “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul and a new song, “Switch.”
“All the big guys — monster producers David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Fedde LeGrand — are playing ‘Switch’ at the moment, my last track,” said Freeman, “at massive festivals, which is good for my credibility.”
The man at www.reverbnation.com/zenfreeman has to catch himself when he’s on the verge of complaining to his wife-and-mother-of-their-children about being tired or jet-lagged.
“She thinks my life is so easy,” Freeman told me, with a pleasant chuckle, during his recent appearance at Minneapolis’ W. “I like to do a week or two tour and then go back, spend some time with the family [in L.A.],” said the Brit. “I get so tired sometimes. She’s like [not hearing it]. I don’t get my shoulders rubbed or to put up my feet on the couch.” His wife expects him to pop into parenting mode, not talk about how rough he has it hanging with Sean Penn. I told Freeman I agreed with his wife, whose thoughts on this matter were not even known to me when I came up with my first question.
Since Freeman is an Englishman, I asked him to apply that lovely accent to the poetic (sarcasm) lyrics from the most absurd song I could think of off the top of my head — EU’s “Da Butt,” from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze.” Freeman’s reading plus a few frames of his backfield in motion are viewable on my startribune.com/video.
Q: Being a celebrity DJ looks like one of the biggest scams of a career.
A: [Laughter] It is a dream job but there [are] lots of musical, mathematical, scientific things that go into mixing music; the key and the tempo. Even the energy level of the song and knowing how to cut everything pitch perfect. There’s definitely a method to my madness.
Q: If you had to have a real job, what would it be?
A: [Extended laughter] I do a lot of music supervision for brands, where it’s completely different. As a producer you can score music, which is the same elements of when I make my own tracks. I do a lot of sourcing music where I am like digging through for TV, film and a lot of fashion brands I find for other people’s music. If I had to pick a real job [laughter], I’d be a music supervisor. [Laughter] Long-winded answer.
Q: How often do you have to switch out the needle?
A: Not that often anymore. I buy a lot of vinyl. I still have record players in the studio, but on tour it’s all digital now. The hardware in the clubs is quite universal.
Q: Your big hit is “Dance Bitch.” Say it with me! Is that an entreaty that has ever worked for you in your personal life, with your wife?
A: Yeeeenoo. [Laughter.] And the fact that I’m so English, we just don’t say the word “bitch” unless possibly referring to a female dog. It is very definitely, uniquely not an English thing to say, you know. Hey, bitch! [Laughter and a hand gesture.]
Q: What are some other songs with ridiculous titles in the opinion of Mr. “Dance Bitch”?
A: There are so many. Maybe I can research this.
Q: Who are your famous parents, as I see that Tom Cruise’s son Connor and Tom Hanks’ son, Chet, are also in the DJ event party game?
A: Yeah. I think that’s really interesting how a lot of kids are kind of getting into it now. Me, I had to fight my way. I didn’t get the [famous] parents. Oddly enough, I just got offered a gig over the weekend to play a Hard Rock launch in Mexico and I was already booked and the job went to Tom Cruise’s son.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: On and off for 20. There were some times when I’d be on a roll and then I’d move to another country or want to travel. I was just young and silly. The time I got the most momentum was in L.A.
Q: You’ve done some stellar private celebrity events?
A: Yes a lot of that’s hired by celebrities, hired by the studios, their production companies. Interestingly, an event producer booked Katy Perry to play an event and brought me on as the DJ. Once I had a really fun time; I was deejaying at an event and Justin Timberlake came on and started deejaying with me. He took the mike. He was using the left deck and I was using the right. He’s very talented; even [with] something he doesn’t know that much about — deejaying — he was really good.
Q: When Boy George was deejaying at Glamorama a few years ago, the crowd was complaining loudly about the music he was playing and he showed them what he thought of their griping by flipping them the bird. Do you have a Boy George story?
A: He’s on a comeback. He’s been doing it for a long time. I went to see him deejay at a party when I was 15 years old, when he was just finding his legs.
Q: And you’ve been sneaking into nightclubs since you were, what, 13?
A: Yeah. I think 15 really was the first. You know what, yeah, 13. [Laughter] First time I ever played in a club, I was 15. I had a show, had to show the promoter a fake ID. Eighteen really [is how old he needed to be].
Q: How did your parents come up with Zen?
A: It took them a month to settle on it. I was “the baby” for 30 days. Then one day, “Zen.”
It was the late ’70s, hippy [times].
Q: When people are given names like Zen, I always wonder if their parents’ creativity extended to naming the other children.
A: [Extended laughter]. Well, that’s a funny question. My eldest brother is Marc. My little brother is called Saul, a biblical name.
Q: Do you ever find yourself rolling your eyes, at least in your imagination, at how easily American women are seduced by an English accent?
A: [Laughter] I’m a married man with kids, I don’t tend to really notice it that much. I notice it a lot more with my friends actually, how well they do in L.A. compared to how well they do in London. Their stocks go up every time they get on that plane to LAX.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Buzz.”