First the Midwest, Then the World: The Rise of Paul Blair
“We’re sitting in my brain,” says Paul Blair, flashing his gold-plated smile and gesturing at the control boards and brightly colored walls of W Hollywood’s Sound Suite. “This is what’s inside my strange brain, and we are sitting here doing the interview about it.”
Paul Blair, aka DJ White Shadow, is always on the go. In a few hours, he’ll perform at the inaugural Wake Up Call festival at W Hollywood. Later this month, he’ll help his “sister” Lady Gaga put the finishing touches on the soundtrack for her heavily buzzed about acting debut A Star Is Born. But at the moment, he’s reflecting on the journey that had made him one of the most popular DJs and producers in the world, as well as the North America Music Director for W Hotels Worldwide.
Blair first teamed up with W Hotels for the Burn DJ Lab, a mentorship program that gave aspiring DJs a chance to learn from dance floor maestros like Blair or Paul Oakenfold for a week. “It was super fun, lots of energy,” he remembers. “Everybody was really dedicated to the idea of this being this incredible music program that ran parallel with the brand’s mission.”
Blair also played a hand in the development of the W Sound Suites, a series of private lounges and studios that artists can use to write and record music when they are on the road and inspiration strikes, as each suite is equipped with line sound systems, recording equipment and instruments.
“This is a space to feel comfortable and safe and creative and beautiful,” he says. “I don’t care who you are, it’s hard to find a studio. I want anybody who’s creative to be able to walk into any city, look up at the skyline, see the W, and walk into the hotel and be like, ‘Where’s the creative space? Where can I make a record? Where can I draw this painting?’”
Blair laughs off the suggestion that he took the W gig so he’d always have a place to stay. Nevertheless, he’s always on the move. His career is a nonstop whirlwind of forward motion, and he’s always working on an unexpected project, from remixing the iconic Pac-Man theme song for an Anheuser-Busch SuperBowl commercial to executive producing the soundtrack for last year’s My Little Pony: The Movie. He gestures broadly with his arm and singles out one of his many tattoos to demonstrate how much the project meant to him.
“I actually have a tattoo of Rainbow Dash on my arm that I got right here after I did it. I got to write cool songs with my friends about being friends and having a happy day,” he says. “I’m a happy day kind of guy.”
After making a name for himself as a hard-touring DJ, Blair released a series of online EPs (I’m Killing Me, Pussy Drugs Fear and The Clock Is Ticking) on Decon Records from 2011 through 2013. Since then, most of his production work has been in collaboration with artists such as Pitbull, Rachel Platten and, most prominently, his good friend Lady Gaga; he produced many songs on her albums Born This Way and Artpop and also toured with her. Before getting together, the pair had been hoping to collaborate, but somehow always missed each other. Then, one day, he got a message from her saying “Come meet me.” They’ve been bonded at the hip ever since. “We met and I left on tour that day and didn’t come back for 10 years.”
He’s always had a knack for making the most out of every opportunity. Or creating his own opportunity. He studied Japanese in high school and then got the chance to study abroad there for a year.
“I think that travel is important for people to understand themselves and to understand the world as a whole. My parents instilled in me very early that you need to just seize as many different things as you can while you’re alive,” he says. “All my friends were just getting out of high school and going to college and going to frat parties and drinking out of kegs and making out with girls and driving. I had no friends, no car, nothing but work all day long. It made me grow up really fast.”
It was while he was in Takamatsu, Japan that he first began to take music and DJing seriously, scoring his first residency and honing his skills. “I literally walked into a bar, and this guy had a huge set of vinyl and I was just like, ‘Hey, can I DJ?’” he says. “And I’m a 6 foot 4 goofy looking q-tip and the guy was like, ‘Sure.’ I think it was just because it was an oddity. He let me do it, and I just did it every week and got to hone my craft, I guess, for that year. It was awesome.”
Paul Blair, aka DJ White Shadow, at the W Sound Suite in Hollywood
But while Blair might have honed his skills overseas and plays out all over the world, he still considers himself a Midwesterner through and through. He grew up in Detroit, lived in Chicago as a child, attended college in Michigan and later cut his teeth in the Detroit techno scene.
“Being from the Midwest is 100% key to my success because I show up when I’m supposed to and I work harder than anybody else that’s doing anything at any time. I grew up on a farm. We used to go pick chicken eggs,” he says. “Then, we moved to Detroit when my dad moved jobs, and then when I heard a DJ playing on the radio, I was like ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ Being in Detroit, going to techno parties, hip-hop parties all that shit you see in 8 Mile, we did that. Being a part of that thing really builds up the fervor for music for me.”
He’s quick to clarify it wasn’t just the dance music of Detroit that inspired him, citing everything from Motown to techno to rock ‘n’ roll to Eminem. “I was there the whole time sneaking into parties, invading buildings and doing all that stuff. It burns in your soul. Detroit rock city, but it was also the techno capital,” he says. “That’s 100% that’s why I live there still. It would be easy to move out here and not fly here every week,” he says of Los Angeles, “but I still live in the Midwest.”