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Van Buuren: I’d say one day you eat steak, and then the next you eat fish, and the day after you eat vegetarian—it’s all different. Honestly, it doesn’t have a lot to do with technical skills when you’re playing a show like Good Morning America because you’re only playing two tracks. If you’re playing a longer set [like later that night at Pier of Fear], I really have to think about how I want my set to progress the mixes I want to do, and the stuff I want to try technically. The surprise set at ADE was a one-hour set—that’s kind of easy because you can just grab your biggest tracks and play them all in a row. Anything longer than an hour… you just have to go out of your way, which for me is great because that’s what I love. That’s when it becomes real DJing.

DJ Times: It’s quite a balance.

Van Buuren: I’m not consciously trying to cross over into the mainstream. Playing on a show like that is obviously to a mainstream crowd, but I just hope that I reach new fans that way. Tonight, I’m going 138 [beats per minute] all the way. It’s sort of like luring those people into the dark side of things, to keep it more interesting. A lot of fans now know me through “This Is What It Feels Like.” They come to my show and I play that, but they hear other stuff as well. You use that as a first step toward the more interesting and dark side of trance. I’m not going to play a really commercial set tonight with all my hits. That’s the way I view things: I’m a DJ and I want my set to be heard by as many people as possible. The way that I do that—and I know some DJs who might disagree with how I do that—is by reaching a larger audience and having more people listen to my music.

DJ Times: You don’t seem like the type who would feel creatively stifled by that success.

Van Buuren: I used to! I know for a fact that there are a lot of fans out there who disagree with the choices that I make creatively; they’d rather see me still in that safety zone of my trance world. Please don’t forget: I consider myself a trance DJ and I still love trance. I guess it’s all about the definition of trance and how you perceive it. For me, a track like [“Looking for Your Name”] with Gavin DeGraw is a trance track, very much so. It has that emotion; it’s very uplifting and emotional, driving music. I couldn’t play that in a 138 [BPM] set, obviously. I can’t limit myself to one style because it gets boring for me. And I’ve never done that. If you look at my past sets from 2004 to 2009, you’ll see that I’ve always played a little bit across the board. The main sound is trance, but I’ve always played a little progressive and techno. I’m not defending myself, but I’m trying to say that I’m trying to keep it interesting for myself because I don’t want to be a copy of anyone else. I want to be myself and do what excites me.

DJ Times: When did work on Embrace begin and what kicked off your creative process?

Van Buuren: The real work actually began during the [Armin Only] Intense tour. I had some studio sessions already in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York when I was touring with the crew. It was really strange: I was recording with other artists when I was still with my crew [from the tour]. I’m always working on music, even now to this day. Today, I was emailing with vocalists saying that we could work on this or that. The idea with Embrace came in 2014. I had a different album title that just didn’t feel right. The idea of Embrace came from literally embracing different sounds and different cultures. I had a few ambitions before that, mainly the track with the trumpet. That was just an ambition. I was like, “You know, let’s try this.” Actually, a lot of the tracks on the album took more than a year to finish, from initial idea to completion. The “Embrace” track, I think the trumpet player Eric Vloeimans was in my house four times. We were constantly changing things. I think I have hours and hours of him playing trumpet on my hard drives, and I think we ended up using only two minutes. That’s the creative process: you throw away more than you keep. That’s the beauty of it. You don’t really know what you’re doing with a trumpet in a trance track.

DJ Times: What’s so striking about the album is how there are so many disparate elements, like jazz on the title track and hip-hop on “Old Skool.” What ties it all together in your mind?

Van Buuren: Embrace! I think you can listen to some sort of “Armin sound” all over the tracks. For me, the mission of this album is literally to go on a journey through different styles. It’s the way I approach a DJ set, as well. Keeping it interesting. I can really see myself in the future making a dance album that is just one BPM and limiting myself to one genre—that could be interesting as well.

DJ Times: So the creative limitations can make you even more creative.

Van Buuren: Exactly, yeah. So within that genre, I can really see myself doing maybe an Armin van Buuren album like that or helping the GAIA guys like that, but that was not the mission on Embrace. There it was just to go all the way and do everything and do what excites me.

DJ Times: What went into selecting your vocalists this time? What were you looking for? Was it different from what you were looking for on Intense?

Van Buuren: Throughout the years, the doors have been opening more easily for me now, especially working with big acts. I guess I was looking for more of a meaning into the lyrics. I thought that the lyrics on Intense weren’t as meaningful as they are on Embrace.

DJ Times: Do you work with the vocalists on the lyrics?

Van Buuren: Absolutely. Not on every track, but most tracks I co-wrote.

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