UK DJ and producer Joel Corry came to Club Vinyl last week to play one of the final shows on his first U.S. tour. The appearance is long overdue, and his accolades, including three BRIT Award nominations and an iHeartRadio nomination for Best Dance Song of the Year, only represent a small part of his extensive musical career and aspirations. Sure, he’s a household name in the UK and across Europe, but his stardom proved to be equally powerful during last night’s performance. The crowd danced and sang to Corry’s massive pandemic hits like “Head and Heart” and “Out Out” with Charli XCX and Saweetie. Although he’s making music and hanging out with superstars like David Guetta, things weren’t always so glamorous. With only a few shows left on his U.S. tour, it was clear he embraced his time in Denver. The smile on his face when he dropped “Sorry” for the lively crowd was matched by every single person in the audience.
Before the show, Corry sat down with 303 Magazine to talk about how valuable his first U.S. tour has been, a decade of playing shitty gigs in London and his love – and at times obsession – for performing.
303 Magazine: How has your experience been here in the U.S. So far? Has it lived up to your expectations?
Joel Corry: Since I was younger, a massive dream for me was always to play in the U.S.. I’ve always had the ambition to come here. So this is my first U.S. Tour., and without sounding like a cliche, it is a dream come true for me. I’ve been mind-blown since I’ve been here with the reaction to me and my music. I didn’t realize that people were actually listening to my stuff as much as they were. At the gigs, people are singing every single word to every song. They’re packed, people were excited to see me, they want to get a photo with me. It’s like, pinch me, I’m going to wake up tomorrow. So yeah, I’ve loved every single minute of the tour so far, and it’s just reinforced my ambition to come to the U.S. more often. Hopefully, I’ll be back next year for more touring.
303: Your latest, single “Out Out” features, rising American star Saweetie, who’s recently taken over the rap game, especially here in America. How has that song been received during your shows here in America? Do you notice a difference in how people react to that performance here versus the UK?
JC: To be honest, the reaction to the new record has been great out here, and it’s been really good in the UK as well. It’s been in the top 10 in the UK now for, I think, five weeks. It’s really hit well over there and across Europe as well. And, you know, the song samples a classic record by Stromae called “Alors On Danse,” which was a huge record for me growing up back in the day. I had the idea to sample it and put a fresh, fun spin on it for summer 2021, but I think people obviously remember the original sample. For them to hear it sort of reinvented this summer, they’re buzzing about that. Obviously, you’ve got Charli XCX and Saweetie on it too. I think overall people are just buzzing with the record and yeah, it’s gone down really well here. I’ve got a VIP mix of it that I play in some of my more clubby assets as well that’s been going off because I know you guys over here love your chunky tech-house. So, I’ve got a sort of a tech-house version of it that has been going down amazingly at every set. I’ll be playing that tonight.
303: I know Jax Jones worked with you on that song and he also contributed to your massive “Head and Heart” track with MNEK, so obviously you and Jax Jones have some musical chemistry together. Can you tell me what that relationship is like and how do you guys inspire each other?
JC: So Jax wasn’t actually involved in “Head and Heart” but as you said, I collaborated with him on “Out Out. ” How our friendship started was, I was his support act on his UK tour just before COVID hit. My actual last gig before COVID was me and Jax Jones at O2 Academy in Brixton, which was a huge gig. That was my final gig before lockdown. We struck up a really good relationship on that tour. He’s always been a massive inspiration to me as a producer. I’ve always referenced him, you know, through the years. He’s done it all, man. He’s got hits on hits on hits, so I was buzzing to tour with him. We struck up a good friendship and then on the tour, we were like, we should collab together, and we were both really excited about the idea. Then lockdown happened.
During lockdown, we kept talking about it. I was working on the Stromae sample, the “Out Out” idea. I sent it to him and I said, ‘what about this?’ He was like, ‘oh my God, I love the original. I used to play that record all the time.’ I was like ‘me too!’ He shared the same passion as me for the original record, so I was like, okay, this is the track then that we collab on, surely. We got the studio, we started developing it more, started writing the top line of it. We really wanted to get Charli XCX on it, so we made that happen, which is great. She’s on the same record label as me, so, we were really happy to get her on the record. Yeah. I’m just buzzing to be working with Jax.
I think the nicest thing to come from the collaboration is not just the hit record. It’s actually my friendship with him, you know? I went over to his house for dinner the other week with his family, and I was just sitting there like, we’re just boys now. I mean, it’s kind of surreal for me because he’s somebody that I’ve always looked up to and now I’ve gotten to chat with him and have dinner with him, and in the same respect with David Guetta as well. That’s someone I’ve always idolized. I collaborated with him and now we’re like good mates. I went to dinner at his house in Ibiza. These moments are quite, pinch yourself sort of moments for me.
303: How easy is it for you to remove yourself from the stardom that surrounds this kind of thing? How are you able to separate that from the friendships that you have, and the musical collaborations you have with those people?
JC: I think I’m very lucky in the fact that I didn’t get my first break or hit record until I was 30. I’ve been working in the industry since I was 18. I’ve been a resident club DJ for over 10 years. I think all the groundwork that I did, and the hustle and the grind that I did for years and years, and wanting it so badly and going through the setbacks, and picking myself up and going again and again, and just having this dream of making it happen, I think I was lucky that I went through all of that. Because now, it has happened for me but I’m totally grounded with it. Do you know what I mean? It happened at the right time for me that I went through all of that beforehand, so when it did happen, I think I was really ready for it.
303: How do you choose songs to sample for your biggest hits? Does it just come to you randomly when you’re listening to a classic song, like “Alors on Danse” or Monsta Boy’s “Sorry,” or do you experiment with different tracks until you find something that really sticks?
JC: I think it’s different for every record. Obviously, you mentioned that I sampled Stromae’s “Alors on Danse.” That’s a track that, as I mentioned before, I was a big fan of since I was younger. The original was actually in French, and no one had ever really redone it again, so I thought there was an opportunity there. I have a lot of respect for the original and I love the original sample, so for me, that was like a given. When we got the sample cleared, I was like, we got to do this.
You also mentioned Monsta Boy’s “Sorry,” which is a garage record. That was my first breakthrough record. I covered that record with my interpretation of ‘Sorry,’ but that was a complete flip on that record. I worked with a vocalist named Hayley May, but the original was actually a male vocal, and it was a garage track. When I first started djing, garage was my roots. I started with garage music, and Monsta Boy’s vinyl was one of the first vinyl I ever bought when I was 14 years old, so that was a huge record for me at the start of my djing. Now, 15 years later, to bring it back out again and for it to have a whole new lease of life and be a huge hit record, you know, I just knew that that record was special. I wanted to experiment with Hayley and flip it for a sort of commercial dance vibe with a female vocalist, and it worked. As soon as we got it together in the studio, I knew it was a hit. I knew that the world was ready for another version of that record.
The nicest thing about that one was reconnecting with the original artists, and them supporting my release. They messaged me saying “this is amazing.” I ended up meeting with the original artists, and one of their daughters actually came to my show. I brought her on stage and she FaceTimed her dad when I played the record. Her dad is an OG in the garage game, and suddenly I’ve got this friendship with him and it’s like, that’s my roots. You know what I mean? It all felt really full circle with that record.
But then, you know, my other records like “Lonely,” “Head and Heart” and “Bed,” they’re all original records. They’re not samples or covers. I think with those records, it was kind of like, just my gut instincts of hearing an idea and just knowing that I could turn that into a hit record. I can’t really explain that to you. It’s more like a gut instinct and a sense that I have that I’ve developed from years and years of djing and knowing what works on a dance floor and knowing what can connect to people. When I hear something that I know could be a hit, I just know. At that point, it’s like a switch has flipped in my head and I’ve got one goal – to make that record as big as it can be.
303: After spending years djing five-to-seven nights a week, what was it like to take a step back from performing due to the pandemic?
JC: That’s a great question. When it first happened, all my gigs were canceled and I was heartbroken, I was devastated. As you said, I’m a DJ at heart. It’s my passion in life. I had a big summer planned. I was going off the back of my second hit “Lonely,” and I had all my gigs planned. I was on tour with Jax. I had some tours booked too. Then, everything got canceled. I felt like my world was ending because I just got this break that I’d been waiting for. I was finally out of the crappy club gigs and doing bigger gigs that I’d always dreamed of and they all got canceled. I was like, what the hell, you know what I mean?
But, you know what mate? It’s the best thing that could’ve happened to me. I switched my mindset and I was like, I’m going to make the most of this time. I got my head down in the studio and I focused so much on the music and in the first lockdown I finished “Head and Heart,” which was a life-changing record for me. It was a number one single for six weeks in the UK. It became the biggest song of 2020 in the UK and in parts of Europe and Australia. It was my first hit record in the USA. That record changed my life and having that mind-space in lockdown to finish that record helped me. Then the second lockdown happened and I finished “Bed” and I collaborated with David Guetta and RAYE. When I look back on it, I know I used the time productively that I did take a step back and grow as a person during that time.
303: After years of grinding and trying to get your name out there, What is it like to finally be recognized for your hard work? How attached are you to that feeling of success?
JC: I’m very driven by success. I think that’s what keeps me going. I haven’t got any distractions in life. I’m a bit like a robot, I guess in some ways. I wake up in the morning and all I’m thinking about is what the goals are for the day and how am I going to achieve these goals? I guess in some respects that has left me a little isolated, but this is what makes me happy. This is my drive, you know? Things like the BRIT Awards — when I got those three nominations, it was a hundred percent validating for me, especially from the background that I come from. If you told me I would be nominated for the BRIT Awards a few years ago, I would have said you’re absolutely crazy. To be nominated for three BRIT Awards was absolutely mind-blowing. My family came to the event to watch me do that and walk the red carpet. The fact that they saw me do that made me happier than anything, to make my family proud like that.
But yeah, just go back to your question, I’m very driven by success and my goals in life to the point where it’s almost an obsession. I think in any field rather it be athletics or any sort of business, I think those people that make it to the top have that obsessive mindset. You have to eat, sleep and breathe it. I don’t make it sound like it’s a bad thing, because I love it. I don’t look at it as a job, man. This is literally what I want to do. So I’m just trying my best to make it happen.
303: The U.S. Leg of the tour is coming to an end soon. Have there been any moments that stand out to you?
JC: Honestly, even just thinking about it, it’s been the most amazing experience of my life. It’s been everything I’ve always dreamt of. There have been so many highlights. I mean, playing my debut in Las Vegas at the Life is Beautiful Festival. When I got up on that stage, I had chills all over me. There were thousands of people in front of me and the biggest production. When I played my intro, the whole crowd started screaming and I just thought, right here, right now, is how I always imagined it. I’m in Vegas in front of thousands of people and they’re here to see me. That was a huge highlight for me, but there have been so many more. I played Crossd Festival in San Diego. I was on the same stage as Jamie Jones and Hot Since 82 and Seth Troxler, these DJs that I’d been fans of for so many years. To share the stage of them was insane. I’ve been to Washington D.C., I’ve been to Boston, I’ve been to L.A. I love L.A., my family came to see my show in L.A. I’ve got family in America. They’ve never seen me DJ before, ever. That was a very special moment for me and a great way to start the tour. There’s been so many highlights, man. I’m going to look back on this in years to come. It’s going to be the most special time of my life, and I’ve met some amazing people on the way too.
Photography courtesy of Joel Corry