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The Chainsmokers: Off to the Races

The Chainsmokers are back with So Far So Good album, their first album 2019. The subsequent tour officially kicks off with a 75-minute InFieldFest set at the 2022 Preakness Stakes.

It suits Alex Pall and Drew Taggart to be known as The Chainsmokers because they don’t know how to quit. They are relentless in their pursuit of excellence. Whether it’s pumping out radio staples, orchestrating A-list collaborations, performing any and everywhere, or overseeing Mantis Venture Capital, the Grammy winners are ubiquitous.

Or at least, they were for seven-straight years.

Manager Adam Alpert paired Pall with Taggart to officially form the now-acclaimed and famed EDM/pop duo in 2012, and there was no off switch until December 2019. At the end of their 41-date North American World War Joy tour, they knew they needed to press pause. In February of 2020, they announced a social media hiatus, wiped their account, and disappeared to reconnect with who they truly were.

“In the beginning of 2020, even before the pandemic, we went to Hawaii with Whethan and Emily Warren and Ian Kirkpatrick and we just had fun and decompressed,” Taggart told Boardroom in a joint interview with Pall. “We went surfing, we hung out, we relaxed and talked, and listened to tons of music. A few days in, we just started creating and ended up making what was the basis of this album.”

“[It was] rediscovering how fun it is to make music and how we went in with no rules. I think that was just very freeing — the very freeing process that contributed to where we are today,” Taggart said.

Where they literally are today is Baltimore, one week removed from releasing So Far So Good, their fourth studio album — and the first since experiencing burnout in 2019. They’re set to perform the InFieldFest at the Pimlico Race Course for the 147th running of the Preakness Stakes.

It’s the first official date of the So Far So Good tour.

“We did [InFieldFest] before, and it was great,” Pall said. “It was raining last time, and it was still super fun. It’s one of those special events. Whether it’s the Kentucky Derby or something like this — NASCAR or F1 — there’s always a different energy that’s really fun.”

Days before the 2022 Preakness Stakes, Pall and Taggart caught up with Boardroom. Pall hadn’t yet packed, but he was sporting purple fingernail polish to match the color palette of the new Chainsmoker era.

“When we listened to these tracks over and over again, that was the color we saw,” Taggart explained. “We really liked the juxtaposition of purple with this more film noir black and white aesthetic.”

Leaving behind the Chainsmoker caricatures the public had conjured and projected unto them in the past, The Chainsmokers are refreshed and refocused. They feel like they are at the starting line all over again — in the best way — and beginning with InFieldFest, they’re off to the races.

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MEGAN ARMSTRONG: Did performing the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LVI, and now Preakness, help reintroduce that muscle memory for performing before you slide fully back into tour mode?

DREW TAGGART: We’ve been in Vegas. We haven’t really stopped being in Vegas. We’ve been doing that, but obviously, it’s a little bit different a format of a show. Instead of just a DJ set, we’re playing more of our songs. I guess the first actual live show we did back [after a two-plus-year hiatus] was at SoFi Stadium, which was a trip. Granted, we were only doing, like, one and a half songs. We’ve been looking forward to it, though. We missed this high.

MA: You’ve headlined InFieldFest at Preakness before, but from all your touring over the years, do you have a standout memory in Baltimore?

ALEX PALL: It was funny. Maybe a night or two before we played Coachella in 2016, we were at some cover bar in Baltimore. Like, there’s a band that just plays covers the whole night. A big thing at Coachella is bringing out surprise guests — that sometimes have nothing to do with anything. They played a Third Eye Blind song, and we were like, Holy shit! What if we brought out Third Eye Blind?

Within the next 12 to 24 hours, we got in touch with Stephan Jenkins. They were like, “Hell yeah! I’m down. Just send me a plane, and we’ll come out and do it.” That was just a cool chain of events — to be in a bar listening to cover songs, conceiving this idea, and 24 hours later, being on stage with them at Coachella.

MA: How are you guys prioritizing your mental health and just overall wellbeing as you get ready to head out on tour again — to make sure that you don’t have a repeat of how you felt at the end of World War Joy in 2019?

DT: It’s a very timely question for you to ask. I mean, it’s been a lot. We’ve spent a lot of time on our [venture capital] fund Mantis, which feels like our second job to running Chainsmokers. We’re still working that out about how to get work-life balance because it’s been pretty much all work. But granted, we had two years of COVID. We’ve been very ambitious about staying active and doing as much as we possibly can and not leaving anything on the table. We’re still working that out. I don’t have any good advice there yet.

MA: In your time away from music, how did launching Mantis in March 2020 serve as a second outlet for you?

DT: It’s an area that’s always been interesting to us, and it really uses another side of the brain. We’re learning so much. Whether it’s another side hustle or if it’s a hobby, but something that you’re passionate about that’s not your main thing, it’s just really important to have. Especially in the creative fields, where nothing’s ever really finished, you know? You can work on something forever and overthink things. That’s my main problem. We’ve realized over time being busy has been really productive for us because it kind of forces you to make decisions.

We started Mantis because we were really passionate about investing in early-stage companies and getting to learn so many new things that are being built for the world every day from some of the smartest people around. It’s been very stimulating for us. And also figuring out ways we can be helpful. It’s paired well with our music, too. It’s nice to be able to do both.

MA: Did you always harbor these other interests, or did you need that time to stop and realize, Wait, we might actually be interested in other things, too?

AP: From the onset of Chainsmokers, we knew that we were gonna use the platform of music to seek out other entrepreneurial efforts. We have a tequila business called JAJA. We have a TV and film production company called Kick the Habit, and we do a ton of other real estate-related things. It’s been awesome to have these outlets, to express ourselves in different ways.

Jimmy Buffett, of all people, taught us that you can do maybe not a limitless amount of stuff, but as long as they’re all inherently tied to what your core business is and the things that you do on a daily basis, you can really go anywhere.

So, for us, tequila’s always been this centerpiece of our show experiences and creating memories and having a great time. It works really well into our main business of music. And then with the fun stuff, it’s very exciting to harbor our creativity to pay it forward in helping new entrepreneurs and people achieve their goals. We’ve created our own business, so we understand a lot of the things they’re going through and also have a lot of access and experience in terms of the things that we can do to make a difference for them. That’s been really, really cool.

MA: Is there any crossover between your entrepreneurial spirit and your music-making process?

DT: I’m trying to find a comparison because we don’t treat our music like a business at all. We think about touring and the structure around our lives as organized like a business, but in terms of the music-making process, we do everything we can to keep it super pure. We’re writing, producing, singing, performing — everything is just us and our friends that write with us.

I think one thing we’ve realized, though, over the process of making So Far So Good is if you zoom out and look at the past two years, the most productive phases and when the most amount of work was done on that album were times when we took a week or two weeks to just stop everything to go and just do music. That’s contributed to us making some music that we’re the most proud of over our entire career.

It’s interesting because for a while we were spending our time working on other stuff during the day and then making music at night. You’re burning it on both ends, and it takes a couple days to deescalate into a creative mindset. That’s kind of an analytical, entrepreneurial way of thinking about how to spend your time productively.

MA: Do you feel the same sort of satisfaction from deals with Mantis, Kick the Habit, or JAJA as you feel when you turn in an album, or is the whole point for those things to feel completely different?

DT: I think we really like building things, and building things that — like Alex was saying — are pure and inherent to who we are as people. You always gotta find your footing with all of these ventures, but with JAJA, we’re trying to build something from the ground up. We’re trying to throw these really fun events and have it be word of mouth — like, you gotta know to know. We’re starting in LA. It’s been really fun to just make something that feels like it’s part of the city [and] that’s also part of the Chainsmokers brand. To see people have a really great time at those events, that’s something we’re really passionate about.

With our venture firm, once we realized that there were a plethora of other ways that we could be helpful to a lot of these early-stage companies — not to get too tech-y, but that would be our product market fit. You know, building that and finding our utility in that space has been very, very rewarding.

MA: In your Billboard cover story, there’s this strong theme of muting preconceived notions about your sound and being able to really take your time while making music for the first time in years. But more than anything, it seems the most important thing was freeing yourselves of the need to be self-deprecating about your public persona. Does that make So Far So Good a self portrait?

DT: I would say it’s definitely where we’re at right now, and I kind of look at it as something to jump off from. I feel like we did need a cultural reset in The Chainsmokers. We needed to calm down, and we needed to make some stuff that had a stronger thesis than we had before. Now that we have this album — we have more tracks that are coming, but we’re very clear on what we want the direction of the future of Chainsmokers to be because of this album.

MA: NFTs are often still treated as a novelty, but you found a way to incorporate NFTs into the So Far So Good release that goes in a whole different direction. Why did you want your fans to have a chance to own a percentage of your streaming royalties?

AP: The royalty aspect is really interesting, and I think that’s the service that Royal provides. For us, it was about creating a deeper connection with our fans and building a bigger, more effective community. That’s what’s so exciting about blockchain and NFT technology is that there’s so much innovation happening in the space. It’s about putting ownership back in the hands of the creators and the community that supports those creators.

And so, when we gave away these NFTs for free, that was like our statement: this isn’t about us making money for us. Obviously, we hope our fans make money. We hope that there’s great secondary sales, and maybe the album does great. Maybe people see this as a bigger opportunity down the line in different ways. But for us, it was more about the exercise of showing people that there’s a lot of power to be used in this new type of technology to create a better experience between you and your fans.

MA: And then there’s the part about your co-writers on the album receiving what would usually be secondary fees.

AP: That’s a very big conversation topic around the music business, which is just how writers are compensated so poorly. And yet, they prop up this whole industry. Those people that are mentioned in regards to the secondary sale for our drop, those are some of our best friends, but also the people that helped us most achieve our goals that we wanted in this album. It only feels right to take care of them. This might not even be a meaningful thing for them in the end.

DT: It’s the message.

AP: Yeah, it’s the message and the process.

MA: How many investments are housed under the Mantis umbrella?

AP: Probably over 80 at this point between the two funds, which is definitely ambitious. I feel very, very excited about all the different opportunities that we have. We’re fairly opportunistic when it comes to the sectors, which allows us to look at everything. We stick to primarily Series A, which is fairly early in a company’s lifespan. I think we can be most helpful to those companies at that stage.

Drew Taggart and Alex Pall of The Chainsmokers (Photo by Miller Mobley)

If you zoom out, COVID was a really intense time economically — with the fed printing money, stocks going through the roof, and companies raising nonstop. It was a crazy time for us to get involved in the venture, and now obviously, the music has kind of stopped. Things are pulling back, and it’s a little bit scary, to be honest. But that’s what we’re here for. These are the most important times to be supportive of your companies.

We’ve been through plenty of downturns in our career, and that’s when we’ll be able to provide the most support. While I wish the world wasn’t in this place from a macro sense, I think this is where we can really shine as great investors.

MA: What excites you most about Mantis?

AP: Everyone involved is very curious. The opportunity to speak to people on the cutting edge of different types of technology and different industries is really exciting. It’s almost like a fountain of youth. You’re constantly speaking to the next crop of disruptive thinkers, reimagining what the world looks like in 10 to 15 years. Being a part of that kind of keeps you young and involved in the way the world’s happening. We draw a lot of inspiration from that process. And then, obviously, if you’re good at it, you make a shit-ton of money.

We’ve learned so much in our own careers, and the ability to pay it forward to the next generation of people is really exciting.

MA: When it’s all said and done, what do you most want people to think of when they think of The Chainsmokers?

DT: I’d say togetherness. We’re in the music industry, but hospitality is a big part of what we do as well. And that extends through hosting people at all of our shows, playing as many shows as we do because we wanna be there for as many fans as we possibly can — wherever that is in the world. That extends through working with these companies and letting them use our connections, trying to expedite things that they wouldn’t have access to. So, yeah, togetherness. We’re trying to make it one big family.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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