Lady Gaga's Ruthless Road to ARTPOP: 'She Just Works and Works and Works'

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Touring the world with Lady Gaga for months at a time is a monstrously taxing experience. Constructing an album with her is yet another. Frequent Gaga producer Paul Blair, better known by his stage name, DJ White Shadow, has done both—at precisely the same time.

Such was the extended and onerous two-year process that eventually birthed Gaga's new album, ARTPOP, Blair told The Atlantic Wire in an interview this week.

"We've been literally together since she started working on this two years ago," said Blair, who also works as a solo trap artist, of his relationship with the artist. "I was in L.A. with her all through rehearsals [for her world tour], and I was on tour the whole entire time. I went with her everywhere, the whole thing, from start to finish."

Within days of the release of Born This Way in May 2011, Lady Gaga had already pegged Blair to reprise his production duties. Despite a looming tour, she began planning for the follow-up that same month, Blair says. The two, accompanied for stretches by additional producers Zedd and Madeon, made use of a mobile studio containing Pro Tools and a recording setup. Plus, there would be a studio at Gaga's disposal at the venue in question, too.

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But the artist's work schedule, particularly on the road, knew no regular hours.

"She works nonstop," Blair revealed. "There have been times when she gets out of a show and then we work until 9:00 the next morning. She's pretty nuts about the working—in the best way possible."

For the aptly titled "Sexxx Dreams," for instance, the flamboyant and fearless singer reached an epiphany while meeting up with friends in Europe (Blair can't remember the precise country) and playing the chorus to gauge their reactions: "She was like, 'I have an idea for this. Let's go back to the place and record it,'" Blair recalled. "It was already like 2:30 in the morning. I think we stayed up until noon the next day—literally, we were recording for like 10 hours straight. So watching her develop [the song's] concept over a period from early morning until the next afternoon was pretty intense."

So: is Lady Gaga in fact a rare breed of vampiric pop icon who eschews sleep and sucks occasional sustenance out of the six containers of Activia and "mannequin with puffy pink pubic hair" that partly comprise her touring rider?

"She's kind of a narcoleptic," replied Blair. "She just works and works and works and then eats and then passes out. And then gets up and works and works and works. She's either sleeping or working, is what I'm saying."

Not that the touring crew led any sort of hard-partying lifestyle on the road.

"People think that we live this crazy rock-and-roll lifestyle, but there's not a lot of crazy shit that happens," Blair said. "When we were on tour the last time, our bus driver across the United States told us that we were the lamest group he's ever driven in his entire life. He was like, 'You guys don't do anything.' It's literally all work. She just works nonstop."

And at one point, when Gaga had hip surgery last February, the singer spent some months recuperating (and smoking copious amounts of marijuana) in Chicago, where Blair became her neighbor. "I was at her apartment all the time, just hashing things out and writing stuff," he said. "She had some wild apparatuses that she had to sit in that were stretching her knees out and whatever. She had rehab everyday. After that, she was right back on the grind—all hipped out." 

Blair says he made about 300 instrumental tracks for Gaga, who "wrote upwards of 100 songs" herself for the album. The work paid off. Whittled down to just 15 tracks—including the near ubiquitous "Applause"—ARTPOP is out this week, as are the reviews, which Blair is deliberately avoiding.

"I do not give two shits," he said. "I swear to you on my life, I could care less. If you hated it I obviously disagree with you because I made it, and if you like it I agree with you because I made it."

Top photo: Reuters; additional photos: Associated Press.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.