DJ White Shadow on new music, A Star Is Born, and his funniest Lady Gaga stories

by Katharine Styles-Burroughs     September 19, 2018

I sat down with DJ White Shadow aka Paul Blair to sip the TEA on his new album, his collection of works on A Star Is Born, exactly how handsome Bradley Cooper really is—and discuss his most memorable moments working with Gaga over the past decade.

If you ever get to meet him, don't be shy to come up and say hello. Though he's tatted like a tiger and sports an intimidating 24k gold grill, Paul has an easy, welcoming warmth about him and a truly genuine care for other peoples' wellbeing. I witnessed his kindness firsthand—he is equally friendly with everyone from hotel workers to stars, and quick with a hug or an encouraging pat on the back.

Paul has just wrapped a DJ gig at the W Hotel in Hollywood, and has taken me down to a pioneering invention he built in that hotel: the Sound Suite for traveling musicians. A soundproof, fully-equipped studio, the space is ready for any musician staying at the hotel to mix music on the fly. Paul has cut tracks in it and jams there whenever he's in town. Intriguingly, a copy of Terry Richardson's GAGA sits on his coffee table, as do vinyl records and colorful VICE magazines. As we chat, Paul laughs a lot, smiles even more, and periodically feasts on yellow gummy fish candies from his backpack.

You've worked on six songs on the A Star Is Born soundtrack. Do you have a favorite out of those?

Yes, I do. First of all, it wasn't just me that did any of those. That was a pretty collaborative effort. Amongst a lot of people. Me, and Nick [Monson], and Mark [Nilan Jr.], and Gaga worked together on everything. So I can't take credit for all of it.

I like "Look What I Found." It's my favorite. It's probably my favorite out of all of them. I don't think it's a better song than any of them, but I have this very sentimental thing in my brain when we wrote it. I actually recorded it when we were writing it. I listened back to it recently and it made me happy. It's a cool song. And it was in Ally's notebook in the trailer, which is way cool. It's like, "We wrote that." It's pretty cool to be a prop in a movie. When you write songs, you never think they are gonna be a prop in a movie. I'm pretty lucky to have a song—well, a bunch of songs, that are props in a movie. You write stuff, and all of a sudden it's part of a dialogue, and you're like, "What the fuck am I doing in life?" This is rad. I should be, like, digging ditches. Or cleaning up poop somewhere. [laughing]

All of a sudden, Bradley Cooper's talking shit about the shit I wrote! Which is fine. Because he's wildly handsome. Nice solid bones. [laughing]

You produced "The Cure" in 2017.

I did.

Was it a leftover from the A Star Is Born sessions?

No. The way that played out was we were writing stuff without intent for some things. There's like a period where you go through, it's like a… for lack of a better description… like an exploratory phase? Where you are just trying everything, and seeing what sticks to the wall. So that song, like, things were running concurrently. We didn't have an exact agenda at the beginning. If we were working on songs for the movie, or... Because stuff wasn't exactly all written out either. Do you know what I mean?

Yes. In the conceptual phase.

Because the movie develops like a snowball, going down a hill, right? You got the idea, all these things, and you know the first iterations of the movie, and here's the characters, and the songs you'll be writing—but that doesn't always stick exactly as it progresses. So, we were writing songs for things we knew about, writing songs for fun, writing songs about certain concepts, and then that kind of melody came out of whatever—and then it just sat as an idea. Specifically for nothing. Then we started honing in on the work for A Star Is Born. Things started becoming more realistic and more definitive—more defined for the film. There were not leftovers, there was just stuff we were working on for no specific reason. So it was never like, "Oh, let's put this in the movie, oh, we don't need it for the movie, let's put it out." It was more, "Boy, this is a really good fucking song!" She was going to do Coachella, and I was doing the stuff for, what do you call it… Interludes with BeazyTymes, aka my favorite producer on the whole planet! He is literally the best producer I've ever seen in my time.

BeazyTymes! He's rad.

No, he's the greatest producer of all time. I want everybody to understand that. Anyway, we had been working on the interludes for that, kind of going back through stuff that we'd created, and I was like, "This song is fucking awesome. We gotta finish it." We put it out, we finished it, and turned that motherfucker in.

It was incredibly good.

Thank you.

What can you tell us about what your role producing the A Star Is Born soundtrack versus producing a Gaga album?

We were all writing a song for somebody else. So, you know, obviously, it's like, her, but it's a character. So you're writing for somebody from a different background. We might as well have been writing for another artist. I mean, she's singing the songs, and she wrote the songs, and there's some connective tissue between the character and her. There's a lot of things that you could say run parallel. You're sitting there thinking like, "What would be the song that you would write for this person, if they were writing a song in this situation?" and this was what it was.

So there's a little bit of a different way to approach that. Which was fun. It was kinda cool to be writing songs. Her and I had never written a song for anybody else but her, you know. So to write songs for somebody else that actually IS her… whatever. [laughing] It's kind of like a...

Reverse Warholian Experience?

[laughing] I feel like I'm talking about myself in the third person. It was fun! But that's what I'd say the difference was.

One of your earliest mixtapes was Pussy Drugs Fear. Is your new work War Sex Drugs a sequel to that? Or does it stand alone?

All the stuff I do that I put out for myself or have put out for myself over the past… whatever… time, has always been like an art project. More or less. I make stuff that I know nobody's gonna like but me, so I can fucking figure out what sounds sound crazy. It's not supposed to be commercially palatable for a mass audience. But some of the sounds that I discover while I'm being an asshole by myself I end up translating into stuff that is innovative for pop stuff. There was a period of time where I would just like, wake up every morning, and like, drink coffee and fucking try to be as weird as humanly possible. When I finally got to the point where there was like a stack, sitting in the corner, of shit, I was like, "Ah, I should put this out!" That's kinda what it was.

So it's not that overthought?

It's not. It's like these fucking bullshit tracks.

I thought those three word things were pretty interesting.

So: It is, and it isn't. It's kind of the last art project that I'm gonna put out for a while, it was kind of the remnants of stuff, and the things that I worked on with other people. This last one, it's just War—the website's warsexdrugs.com, because I just wanted everybody to listen to it while I was figuring out what to with it, but I'm putting it out on iTunes and Spotify next month. Just for the fuck of it. It's all just like stuff that's in my brain that exists somewhere, and I just don't know where it's supposed to go. So I just put it out there, and if people like it, they like it, and if they don't… they don't. The world is like your external hard drive. You're putting stuff out there! Yeah, yeah, yeah! It's just for fun. You could make up whatever you want as the meaning, but it's basically just me being a fucking really strange human being that has weird shit laying around. If I let it sit in my room too long I get weirded out about it so I just put it out.

In a recent interview you mentioned weird gutter hip-hop. When you are writing your weird gutter hip-hop and trap, where do you get the inspiration for those interesting sounds? Are you just noodling on the keyboard and something clicks?

That's my go-to. My go-to is weird gutter sounds. That's my original shit. That techno shit I used to make? It sounds like a bunch of fucking donkeys running through a fucking duck farm. It's fucking crazy shit. That's just the way that I think. It's like, I gotta tone this shit down to get stuff on the radio, but that's my first instinct. It's like, emotional. So if you sit in a session with me, I'm always, like, "Everybody fucking get angry!" Everything should sound like anger.

All good music is fight or fuck music. You should either want to fight a motherfucker to it or fuck a motherfucker to it. That's all good music. Not to be to a dick, but I'm not listening to like, fucking Don Ho or, you know, Jason Mraz, no offense to Jason Mraz, but it's just not my genre.

If I don't feel like I want to punch somebody or fuck somebody, then that's not really my scope. All of it is like that. Like, the new shit—I intend on putting out stuff that is strictly Paul Blair, like White Shadow shit, and it's all gonna be gutter weird. I'm actually kinda, like—it's been such a long time of [me] listening to people say, "That's a hit. That's not a hit. That's a hit! That's not a hit!" that I'm frankly, like, I don't give a fuck anymore.

I've picked a lot of really good songs. We've done a lot of really good songs. And they've all done pretty well for themselves. Part of this whole thing is like, trusting your instinct. When I went into this whole new phase, I wanted to put out a record that represents Paul. Myself, White Shadow, what that is—before I get too old or get hit by a bus. Or a plane engine drops on my head or from the sky. I want to do something that represents me. And I struggled with it for the last year almost. Should I make a pop record? Should I make a fucking instrumental record? Should I make some electronic shit? And then, just like the last two months, I think—I scrapped everything that everybody was telling me. "You should do this, you should do that." Like fucking with my head. I'm like, "I'm just gonna go in, and fucking make shit that I like. And if nobody else likes, it, then they can go fuck themselves."


And it's gonna be really good! And everybody's gonna like it. Because I'm fucking good at what I do. [laughing]

Yes you are, sir!

Wait, redact that last comment! I sound like a dick! [laughing]

I'll run this by you before I…

I'm just kidding. I hope people won't think I'm THAT big of an asshole.

When you describe it as gutter hip-hop… what is that exactly? Is that from your experience in Tokyo, or LA, or Chicago? What is gutter hip-hop?

I mean, I think that like now, it's exciting, because, like I said, back to raw emotion. With songs, you attach, you imprint emotions on to songs. You know, the first time you make out with somebody. The first time you get a new car. The first time you and your family went on a vacation. Those things—you imprint them on things. And in turn, you start to like other things that sound like those because you have an emotional attachment to those things. And that's how you formulate your catalogue of music that you enjoy in your brain. Sometimes that's a big catalogue, sometimes it's a very specific catalogue. You know what I mean?

For me, I grew up listening to Public Enemy and N.W.A., like really "fuck everybody" types of stuff. That was the first thing I fell in love with. Really hard techno, really antiestablishmentarianism-type music. So, over the years, that's kind of bled through into other areas. And being able to create stuff that was a little bit left of center, like fuck-the-system type stuff, but like, I don't want to say that I'm pulling punches because I put everything I had into those kinds of projects, but… My friends say I'm good with metaphors from time to time, and I'll put it to you like this: You can drive a Ferrari all day, and everybody knows it's a badass car, and you fucking pull it up and everybody says, "Oh my god, it's a great car!" and everybody wants to have a Ferrari. But this is a fucking Mack semi truck that gets like two miles a gallon that could fucking kill everybody, right? So I will run that fucking Ferrari over and drive it right into your living room and then fuck everybody up in your house. That's the way that I think to begin with. So it's not the prettiest truck. But it's the most bad motherfucking truck that is on the road. It'll fuck a Ferrari up! [laughing]

When can we expect your personal new album to drop?

I'm gonna put out the War stuff out. I'm trying to figure out how to package it. Originally when I did it I wanted it to be a 30-minute long song. That was my first thing. Just like visuals of weird shit. And now it's like I just want everybody to have it. I don't give a fuck about making money. I'm gonna sell it for the lowest amount humanly possible. Just so it's there. So people can stream it. Or have it. Or whatever. I just want it to exist in the universe. Part of this stuff is, you're writing down your own story. I want there to be extra facets to this story. This is something that I made. This is something that I like. I want it to exist in the lexicon of what I got done. So'll put that out soon. The soundtrack for A Star Is Born comes out on October 5. I'll probably have a single before the end of the year, with like a feature, that I'm going to pay strict attention to, that I'm very stoked about. I'll play it for you once we turn this off.

What music do you listen to on an average day? When you're cooking in your kitchen or going out for a run?

It's funny! I go through waves when I don't listen to music at all. And then I go through waves when I don't do anything but listen to music. When that happens, everything's very situational. If I'm in the car, I'll listen to hip-hop. Or like, old funk stuff. But if I'm cooking, I listen to classical music! I have a very wide range of stuff I listen to. But most of the time, the stuff that I like is like super soulful, or super emotionally charged. I'll listen to Tool, or to Radiohead, or The Misfits, the same way I would listen to Triple X or A Ferg. I just like really nasty shit! I'm not very particular about genre. There's times when, I listen to fucking country music. Doesn't happen all the time, but I went to a country music festival. I was listening to fucking country music! I'll listen to anything. It's kinda mood based. Right now, I'm in the not-listening-to-anything phase.

What advice would you give to people starting out DJing or mixtaping or even just adulting?

I feel like you should just make sure that you love whatever you do, because there's like, really bad times that happen. And there are really good times that happen. The good times take a really long time to get to. And the bad times are super-frequent at the beginning. And they continue. Forever. [laughing] Like fucking bad times—continue forever. So it's like, no matter how far you go along, you have to be able to take a fucking shot. To the face. Like, oh, a ton. Accepting rejection is a permanent happening. You have to. My advice now will be different than my advice five years ago and it will be different five years from now. The whole thing is: you just have to love it. If you love cooking, or fucking playing chess, or weaving baskets—I don't know—whatever it is, you should just do exactly that. If you're getting into music to try and get laid or make money, fucking quit right now. None of those happen. Ever. [laughing] They'd take forever. It's a terrible idea! Don't get into something for the wrong reasons is what I'm saying.

What do you think of some of the new young pop stars that are up and coming, like Dua Lipa, Camila Cabello, or Shawn Mendes?

I think all of it's good. I think that what's crazy now is like, pop music has got really good again. Like we got out of that fucking phase where everything was like [making noises that sound like a fire alarm] Whatever the fuck THAT was! [laughing] Now it's like, fucking Bazi is dope, Charlie Puth is dope, Shawn Mendes is dope. And Dua Lipa, and Cabello, and Post. I hear pop music, over the last year, and I'm like, "This is killer. This is killer!" I feel like it's really a good time for pop music. And pop music—is just popular music, right? So whatever's popular is popular. For me now to see a Drake, a hip-hop song getting played behind a Latin song, getting played behind an acoustic song, getting played behind a whatever song -- the diversity of what's on the radio-- I'm about that.

The diversity is good. People's willingness to not have to hear the same thing. Because back, five years ago, like when we were doing ARTPOP I guess, right? You'd walk in with a song, and it would be like a fucking killer song, and they'd be like, "But… There's no drop." I was like, "Fuck your drop, man… This shit is gonna fucking suck in five years. And, I don't want to make a song right now that I gotta fucking go pick melons at the store when I'm 60 and it's going like… [singing a repetitive whiny ambulance noise] and I'm like, "Oh, what the fuck did I make that for? Because it sucked!" [laughing]

Even though it was panned by some of the mainstream critics, ARTPOP connected strongly with fans on levels most of the public failed to see. Would you change anything on it if you could?

What is that quote… "Art is never finished, it's only abandoned." That is like, everything. If I could go back, I'd change eight hundred things. Do you know what I mean? But you can't go back. You just fucking... turn it in. It's like saying, if I could stick myself back in my mom's vagina, would I want to come out with straight hair? [laughing] Of course! Like, I would love to have to have a fucking cool haircut, but I don't, because it's impossible. But of course there are things. I listen to it and I'm like, "Man, I remember this part, I remember that part."

But also, fuck those critics! You know what I mean? I remember reading something, when the anniversary of "Applause" came out. It was like... "Lady Gaga's lackluster ‘Applause' song aims to be a mediocre"... whatever and I was like, "Fuck you, man! We sold 4 million copies of that record!"

Speaking of ARTPOP, I know that you see this on a daily basis: "Leak Act 2 Of ARTPOP! Leak "Tea"!" Do you think we might ever be able hear those someday, the right way, not by hacks? Do we have to wait till she's 60 and it's a retrospective?

You know, I actually don't know. That's all like, business stuff. You know what I mean? Obviously, I would love to play that stuff. I would love everybody to have what they wanted. It is not my ambition to keep things to myself.

It must be so complex.

Yeah! We worked on that shit. I probably have pieces to 400 songs. And some of them are, really good! They just weren't the right time. I don't know, man... It's not up to me. If it were up to me, everybody could come to my house right now, and we could have a big barbecue, and I'd play you all the songs and everybody would be... whatever! But it's a business. I'm just like, I'm not the owner of the team. I'm just like the fucking water boy. [laughing] I'm the guy everybody throws the jockstraps in his face and he slings them in the fucking laundry bin. [laughing] In the locker room. In mid-game!

I want to explain it to the kids: Everybody, I am a fan. I understand what you are saying. I get it. I totally want to. And, I mean, I tried. I played part of it, at the beginning of like the sets, or whatever, just so people can say, "Oh this is dope."

You played like, the "Tea" teaser.

It had like a baroque vibe to it. The song was cool. And it's actually a good song.

Very harpsichord-y.

Indeed it was, my friend. There's a lot of songs. And I don't even know how, I like I forget, how people even know about that.

Oh they have a list, and they're checking it it twice.

Like, it's probably because she said something about it, and it was supposed to be something, and somebody from somewhere said no, this is different, and we gotta do this for that, and then it ends up sitting in a vault somewhere. And yes, somebody could revisit that song. And reproduce it. Or reimagine it in ten years and it would fit perfectly.

It's kind of like an assembly line for cars. You're creating cars, right? Once you make the 2018 version of a Buick, you don't go back to the 2000 version of the Buick, and put it back out.

Until it's like a retro thing. Like in 2040, it's like, "Aw man, that was a cool design, we should let everybody see it at least. Just because it's so rad." To release an idea that they had and go, "Oh, look how this is!" But as far as like a commercial release, it's probably not gonna happen, as far as I know, anyway.

For a while you went dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Did the fanbase push you too far? With demands?

No. Everybody thinks I'm super sensitive. I'm like the least sensitive motherfucker on the planet. I'm definitely weird! But you could like literally say to me: "Fuck your mom! Suck my dick! Everybody fucking… da da da da da." Whatever. I don't care. You're on Twitter. If you show up at my house then we can talk about it. But on Twitter, do whatever the fuck you want. I don't care what you say.

Well said.

That whole thing was like, I just wanted a refresher. Like a lot of stuff that I had, in my head in 2011, wasn't in my head in 2018. So I was like, "Let me reset this whole thing. Let me say this is what I'm gonna do. Let me be more concise with my messaging and what I want put into the universe. Nobody needs to research it. I was wearing the same shirt as I was in 2011, and I just got tired of it.

But yeah. I encourage everybody to tell me to fuck off. Like it's totally dope. I'm under no illusion that I'm Max Martin. So if you want to say, "Paul, you suck, and Max Martin rules" I get it. I agree, I concur.

Is there something that we as fans could do better, to treat Gaga and you better online and in person?

I would prefer you treated each other better. I can hack it. I'm a grown-up. If you feel like you need to be mean to somebody else online, be mean to me. I can take it. Stop insulting your peers. Insult me.

The Fame album just turned ten, and incredibly we are coming up on the five year anniversary of ARTPOP—time is flying. What does it feel like, looking back, having been part of this explosive cultural significance that is Gaga?

I feel really lucky. She's a nice person to be partners with on stuff. I think, and I don't even know if this is true or not, but I think we've probably done more records together than she's done with anybody else. I probably have the most writing credits on any of her songs.

You probably do.

It's nice. To be able to do cool shit with your friends.

Is there like a funny story, an unbelievable moment, or an inspiring moment that happened during your journey with Gaga over the years?

I think it's like a collection of moments. It's really hard to just pick one of them out. I think the first time I saw her crawl over a fucking fence to get to fans, to be able to sign stuff when they wouldn't let her do it. We almost got kicked out of South Africa because she wouldn't take no for an answer, to walk through the right part of the airport. Because all the fans were over here, and the guys were trying to get us to go over there, and she was like "Fuck you." And I was like, "You can't really be like 'fuck you' to a bunch of dudes with rifles in an airport." But she's got her own thing going on. It's cool to watch. A lot of things that I've learned about being a good person in this particular rodeo, I've learned from her. How to treat people. How to survive. Like the chicken and the wolf did. I have like 800 fucking bazillion million stories. That are all funny. And stupid.

I like the one about not pissing off guys with rifles!

This is a funny one! She went through a phase, during Born This Way, where she just fucking wore metal over everything. She had like a fucking Hermes bag that had like spikes driven through it. She had gloves with spikes all over them. Spiky leather shoes. A hat with a metal chain… [laughing] So we go through the fucking commercial airport in Toronto... and she pulls up in this fucking gladiator outfit. And I'm like, "What are you doing? You have to go through security." And she's like, "They're gonna let me through security." And of course, they did not let us through security. So we are like standing there, for a fucking hour, and there was no way to get rid of everything, unless you took her clothes off. So I was like, "C'mon man…" I don't remember if we were late for our plane or not. But like, she looked like something from Mad Max, walking through the fucking airport. And we made it through, but… Yeah. It took a minute.

I can visualize this too: "But I'm Lady Gaga, for fuck's sake!"

Yeah! Right! But she was literally full of metal. Like if you would have rolled her across somebody she would have punctured them to death, she had so much shit sticking out of her. [laughing]

Thank you so much Paul, for sharing your work, your life and your time with us.

Yeah! I love you guys. Fire off questions whenever you want! I'll be here.

Do you have a message for your fans on Gaga Daily?

Be nice to each other. Be kind.

Thank you, Paul.

Go to warsexdrugs.com to get a taste of DJ White Shadow's new project WAR, out later this year.

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