‘#Selfie’, the 2014 song that glorified, as well as subtly mocked, the practice of taking selfies, was such an unexpected hit that the Chainsmokers, the single’s creators, likely would have opted for a different group name.
During this weekend’s VMA pre-show, Alex Pall, casually resplendent in a black blazer and black button up shirt, told Charlamagne Tha God, “In retrospect, when you are picking a name, you don’t really think you’re going to be on MTV talking about where it came from.” His cohort, Drew Taggart, looking equally as casual in slim fit slacks, chimed in, “If we had known we were going to be this big, we probably would have named ourselves something else.”
The Chainsmokers first VMA appearance and performance merely emphasized how far the group has come during the past two years. Four of the Chainsmokers’ eleven songs have cracked the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and three of those were ranked in the top ten. That list includes ‘Closer,’ a track featuring Halsey, which they played Sunday night. The ballad is about lost (and then rekindled) love that charted atop Billboard last week—a first for the group.
We spoke with Alex and Drew about how they stay fit and in shape amidst constant touring and late nights at the club.
MF: How do you both have this insanely busy lifestyle and still manage to stay in what seems to be relatively good shape for jumping around a stage two hours a night?
Drew Taggart: That’s part of it. It’s an exercise in itself. The hardest part is not drinking. We never don’t drink. We also both try and get to the gym as much as possible. If we just go for a half hour a day at a hotel gym or even just do 100 push-ups, 100 crunches, a five minute ab routine or whatever. We just feel so much better about ourselves and are more motivated. Who knows if it’s actually making a difference in our fitness, but mentally, it definitely helps me get my shit together.
MF: Well, let’s back up. When you guys were in the studio, what times are you there? What times are you working for? Do you have a set routine?
Alex Pall: When we started working together, our routine was always meet at nine or ten AM and work till six or seven PM, so we treated it very much like a day job in that sense. If we want to wake up extra early and go to the gym, then do that, otherwise we need to work out after, but we always have been very much on this day job routine schedule.
In the last year and a half though, we haven’t necessarily stopped the scheduling, but we realized that it is good to get out and get inspiration from other places. What we did isn’t not the best thing to do—you need to get your mind out of just such a one dimensional schedule.
What’s funny is, we’ve tried to do sessions with hip hop artists and other artists, and they’ll get in the studio at 11 PM, and we’re just like, “What the hell?” I don’t want to be in the studio at 11 PM. I want to be at home with my girl or going to dinner or doing other things. We really try to maximize our day and get the most out of it and stuff.
MF: With that in mind, do you have a set time now that you guys try to go to the gym? Do you guys work out together, or do you do it separately? Do you have different routines? Drew, are you one way, and Alex, are you another way, when you go to the gym in terms of when you’re working out?
DT: I used to be in really, really great shape. In college, I did a ton of lifting, like every college kid that goes to a big school. You go through that phase. I used to be a scrawny kid. I’m a scrawny kid now, but there was a time when I was benching two plates on each side. I promise. I’m not lying. Looking at me now, you’d never guess that. I was obsessed with it.
I have a lot of those workouts still ingrained into the way that I work out now, but knowing the fact that you’re probably not going to get to a proper gym four days in a row or four days out of a week, every time I go to the gym, I try to do a little bit of everything. I’ll do bi’s, back, running, and then the next day, I’ll do chest, tris, abs, and shoulders and whatever. I’ll just break it up.
AP: I’m a little bit older than Drew now, so I feel like I have a different priority. I hate running, but I know that’s what I need to do. I’m at that point where it’s like, yes, I’m not pounding creatine. One of our video guys is this fucking 20-year-old, 12-pack-having tan motherfucker, and I’m just not that age anymore. It would take me a serious diet and serious workout schedule to try to look like that again. For me, it’s more staying in a healthy state of mind—run two or three miles every day, just staying fit.
I quit smoking three years ago, and I went super hard at the gym for a year. I was drinking Muscle Milk and protein shakes, but I was drunk one night, and I remember catching myself in the mirror, looking at my profile and being terrified. I had full on boobs. They were muscles, but they were man-boobs. I was so freaked out. I was like, “I don’t want to always have to go to the gym in order to look like this. I don’t want to take a month off and suddenly all this muscle turns to fat.” Since then, it has been more about staying skinny and healthy, lifting weights so you’re toned and you feel sharp.
MF: Do you both have dietitians, or do you just know how to take care of yourself on the road?
DT: First of all, no, we do not have dietitians. Since we are doing some kind of cardiovascular jumping around onstage performing every night, we just need to eat as much as possible. We’re both really skinny and we need to eat anything and everything. My mom is super health conscious—my family is from Maine. I grew up eating all organic, mostly vegetables, really well-balanced diet. Even her, she says, “Just make sure you’re eating a ton. I don’t care what you’re eating, as long as you’re eating.” We both probably need four meals a day. Alex can eat more than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s insane.
AP: It’s funny, actually. Both our managers are really big health freaks now, out of nowhere. I don’t know what it is, if they just realize that they’re in a position where they can date hotter women or something, but they’re eating coconut oil out of the jar. Our manager is on a no carb diet, only eats one meal a day, all this weird shit.
I get a lot of my pleasure from when I get to eat, and being that our schedule is so demanding, it really is important for us to just eat what we want. I think we’re very conscious about that. It bothers us if we have to eat McDonald’s because that’s the only thing we have time for, but sometimes it’s that or nothing, so it’s this interesting balance of trying to do that.
We have a rider, which is essentially what you request to have the promoter buy you before a show, and obviously there’s a lot of booze on it, but there’s also a vegetable platter and vitamins and things like that that we try to make sure we have in the event that we’re having a real rough couple of days. We’ll look at our schedule. For example, let’s say today we leave for Vegas. We get into Vegas, we probably have time for a nice dinner, and then we play our show.
But then we have to leave super early tomorrow morning, fly the entire day to the east coast, and after we land, we have one hour to make our set. By the time you’re done, everything is closed, so you’re not going to get another good dinner in there, and then we fly to Baltimore the next morning and we play another festival pretty early on, and then have to jump on a private jet and fly back to Vegas to make it in time for an evening show. We might not actually have time for a proper meal until Sunday when I think about it. It’s kind of crazy.
MF: Just hearing you describe it gets me nervous. Does that ever give you pause when you’re doing this? Do you have a routine to get yourselves in the present, in the moment?
DT: Yes. I think not intentionally. We have a ritual when we go to Vegas, where we perform often and have awesome gigs because the pay is great. We go to this steak restaurant, and since we have a room credit, we usually get a free dinner at a great steakhouse. When we are playing at the MGM Grand, we go to Craftsteak, and when we are at the Aria, we eat at Carbone.
AP: Totally not healthy places.
DT: No, not at all. But I know both Alex and I really look forward to getting there, getting everything, this meal that we want, and having it be free, and then go and taking a nap. I think after that, we’re more at peace than we really ever are in the rest of our lives.
AP: It’s about getting that reset in. Whether that’s getting to the hotel, having time to take a shower, and having an hour to yourself or whatever. Honestly, you have to make the airport your zone. Even though we’re never happy to be on a six hour flight across the country, you almost are forced to treat that moment where you’re disconnected from your phone and everything as a period where you could get a couple of hours of sleep that will not be good, but you just need to get.
It’s also just about being positive. I know a lot of musicians have retired or had a lot of issues with their touring because they get anxiety from it or feel like they’re losing themselves, and I think that’s totally respectable and true. We’re lucky that we have each other and we have a great tour manager to make life easier. It’s really easy to get really worked up, but you need to be about staying in control of yourself and being aware of what’s going on around you.
There are definitely occasional times when we’ll look at the calendar and be like, “Dude, we don’t have off until 2019.” In that moment, I kind of freak out. It’s like homework. It’s like when you sit down in front of your computer and you have a 20 page paper and you’re just like, “I’m going to get this done. That’s how I’m going to know I’m going to get through this. I know that tomorrow when it’s time to hand in our papers, my paper will be done. I’m not going to freak out about it right now.”
You kind of just enjoy the ride instead of worrying about the next time you’re going to get to take a nap, because if you’re thinking about that the whole time, then you’re not living in the moment and you’re going to have a bad time.
MF: We started this off talking about how you’re jumping around onstage. Do you have to do any stretching before the show?
DT: I stretch, but more because it feels good and my body isn’t feeling like it’s ready to perform, but I’m not that concerned about being injured. It’s more just, “Oh, crap, I’m all tired and I’ve had one too many drinks and I need to focus and get into the zone of that.” I never used to stretch, and every show now, I’m stretching a little bit more and more, so I think it’s kind of building into some type of ritual like that, but more for mindset than to avoid physical injury.
MF: When you come down off a show, how do you, after that high of performing, reground yourself in terms of both your body, physically, just making yourself feel good, feel not sore, and also mentally?
AP: That’s the funny thing. When I was reading about all these other DJs that have a really hard time touring—they get offstage and you’re really gassed about everything—we are the same way but we are also in this really excited state of mind. We like to hang out and we’re social guys, so we’ll just go hang out and party more and chill with everyone. But we’re very big Discovery Channel fans as well.
There’s something about the Discovery Channel that centers us. Honestly, that’s our zen. There’s just something very mindless about the Discovery Channel. It’s like healthy information, mindless information, but you feel like you’re learning, but in such a way that you can unplug. When we get into these hotel rooms, both of us, separately, put on Discovery Channel and that’s what is on in the background the whole time. When you take a nap, you wake up to it, and it’s almost like time has slowed down for you when you’re watching it.
MF: That’s your white noise.
AP: Yes, exactly. Those are our little tricks.
MF: Do you both notice that there’s been a change lifestyle-wise from when you first formed the Chainsmokers?
DT: I would say you’ve just got to do it. You can always find an excuse why you shouldn’t go to the gym. You’ve just got to get up and do it if that’s what you want to do. There’s never going to be a perfect time to run. I actually love running, but who the fuck loves running? You’ve just got to do it, and you’ll feel so much better afterwards. Once you get into that routine where you get to the hotel, instead of wasting an hour laying in bed answering texts, you just go to the gym. You find yourself so much happier about everything.
MF: When you’re talking about running, what do you both have on your playlists? I’m assuming you’re not listening to your own tracks.
DT: Schoolboy Q’s ‘Man of the Year.’
AP: A big part of what I do is A & R-ing and listening to demos and trying to find other artists that we potentially could work with or play in our set. I use it as a time to listen to tons of new music, whether it’s Spotify Viral Charts of Hype Machine or whatever, which honestly isn’t always great, because that means you’re working out to shitty music sometimes, but it’s a perfect time to unplug from everything else and just focus on the song and your workout. It’s beneficial in that sense.
MF: Is that how you found singers like Daya or Rozes?
AP: Roses, yes, through Hype Machine, but I don’t remember if I was on a treadmill or whatever when we discovered her or if we were in the gym.
MF: When you land wherever you are going to play, like Vegas, do you have a workout routine that you do? Something with dumbbells? Or push ups?
DT: I’m probably not going to do shit, to be honest with you. Our lives are basically like a big mix up of making adjustments. It’s like saying, “Okay, right now, we have the number one song in the country. What’s more important? Is it more important that I go to the gym, or do I need to answer these 20 interviews that we have stacked up?” It’s about choosing what’s more important.
Yes, we can put on the same show that we put on in Vegas last week, or we can step it up and throw some new tracks in there and make new edits and stuff. I think we’re in the business of putting our fans and our business first ahead of ourselves. I don’t remember what festival it was, but there was a festival we played a month or two ago, and it turned out great and everyone was super pumped, but firstly, we were like, “Shit, I would like to rearrange our set,” but then it’s like, “Dude, I need three hours of sleep, and if I can’t get it, the show itself is going to suffer.” It’s making those priorities and sacrifices and deciding what’s best for what, and that’s the biggest thing about us and our careers.