BACKSTAGE: Don Vaughn
Some people can just do it all. Don Vaughn is one of those people - and he's actually succeeded at it all. Graduating from Stanford University with a double major, working in neuroscience, modeling around the world, and now DJing and drumming at the same time. We met Vaughn at a local bar before his performance that night at Webster Hall, where he enthusiastically greeted with us with a hug and a Red Bull and vodka. The energetic mad scientist of EDM sat down - for as long as he could - and tried to help us decipher the influences behind the genius. Attending the concert that night, Vaughn kept us dancing for hours, the high-energy didn't stop for a second in his more than two hour set.
Labeling Men: Tell us about how you started your life as a DJ.
Don Vaughn: It started when I was 16 and playing guitar. I sat down on a drum set and started playing. This girl passed by and said, "You look kind of cute on that drum set!," and I was sold forever. Then when I was 21, I saw Travis Barker and DJ AM and said, "Good Lord, that is so sick!" So I was drumming with DJs for about two years or so and I thought I could do that, I could DJ.
Labeling Men: So drums first, then DJ.
Don Vaughn: Drums first; DJing a lot is about a lot of rhythm - beat match, rhythmic stutters, rhythmic everything. It’s dancing; everybody wants to dance. So I started DJing and then I started DJing and drumming at the same time since I like them both, and I'm pretty damn ADD.
Labeling Men: [laughs] How long have you been doing the DJing?
Don Vaughn: I've been DJing for four years now and producing music for the last three.
Labeling Men: What's the coolest show you've ever done?
Don Vaughn: The next one that I'm about to play.
Labeling Men: So tonight, the one you're about to do?
Don Vaughn: Tonight and then tomorrow it'll be the next one. It’s always the upcoming show because for me, I'm always thinking about what cool new stuff I can add to my show before the deadline hits. Can I add more LEDs or can I sync some more of my music or cool props or engage my audience more. I'm always thinking about the next show.
Labeling Men: Do you have any crazy fan stories? Any girls try to rush the stage?
Don Vaughn: Yeah, but I'm cool with it! No full on crazy stalkers!
Labeling Men: No stalkers?!
Don Vaughn: Well, nothing that turned out badly!
Labeling Men: [laughs]
Don Vaughn: I mean, I put out good vibes and if it’s a party and if some crazy people want to come up on stage and dance with me, I think it’s cool, I think it’s funny. So whatever is entertaining for the crowd, I'm going to do; I'm just there to have a really good time.
Labeling Men: So you go with it.
Don Vaughn: Yeah and it gets diffused. Crazy gets crazier when you ignore it. If you're like, "Hey, let’s have a good time, it’s all good,” then it’s okay.
Labeling Men: Do you have any musical inspirations?
Don Vaughn: Yeah, a ton. From Blink 182, which taught me that drumming can add so much to a band. Travis Barker just brought Blink to a new level, even though people trashed them as basic punk music - which I loved anyway - but adding the new layer of incredible drums blew me away. Mozart, I'm going to put out some classical out there. I feel like if Mozart was born today, he'd be a DJ and he'd be producing sick EDM tracks with cultivated melodies, but definitely would have used synthesizers. Calvin Harris for making badass EDM popular. David Guetta for really opening it up with "Nothing But The Beat.”
Labeling Men: What would you classify your music as?
Don Vaughn: It is high-energy EDM. I build all my tracks with all the drums separate. When I play live, I actually re-render all the tracks with no drums so I play all the drums live to add energy. I love DJing, but it’s not as physical as I want, and getting on the drums brings it back to my core and my soul.
Labeling Men: What do you wear on stage?
Don Vaughn: As little as possible because A. I'm not a fan of clothes that are unnecessary. When you're drumming, I just get so hot, I can't wear layers, it’s really thin jeans and a tank or a shirt and I'm usually drenched. For tonight’s show, I'm doing something special. I'm coming out with laser goggles and a lab coat covered in LEDs. I try to go minimal because skin is sexy!
Labeling Men: Fair enough! Does your style change from stage to day–to-day wear?
Don Vaughn: Definitely. When I drum, it takes a lot of energy. When I'm outside of performing, I'm into classy casual, which is skinny jeans, custom belt buckle. If you're going to wear something, anything you wear really says a lot about you and things that you believe in. So I wear custom buckles and custom cuffs and a tank top because I tend to get hot in general. A nice tux coat or trench coat that really can elevate the outfit to the next level, maybe a pocket scarf. I'll wear sandals so the top half is fashionable but the bottom is, "he's fashionable but he wears sandals so he doesn't give a fuck.”
Labeling Men: I assume your necklace means that you're from Texas?
Don Vaughn: No, but I spent a lot of time in Texas. Texas is my adopted home. Born in San Diego, went to college in Stanford and then I went to Texas and I just love Texas. I love the people; they are so kind, the freedom. It very much has that vibe of freedom. Houston has the second biggest gay population after San Francisco because it’s all about freedom and doing your own thing, nobody is here to judge.
Labeling Men: Give us one piece of clothing every guy should own as a go-to, whether on a date or everyday.
Don Vaughn: The sick blazer is the key. No matter what you have on underneath, you can make it what you need it to be. If you're going to a classy party, put the dress shirt underneath. If you're out doing casual, rock a tank, kick some ball and when you're done toss on a blazer and you're on that next level easy. Take it off when you get hot. I get hot a lot, so I like to layer. It’s easy.
Labeling Men: One piece of dating advice for the single males out there?
Don Vaughn: Keep dating until you are absolutely sure that it’s the one because it’s as clear as day.
Labeling Men: Future plans?
Don Vaughn: Hopefully a tour and a concert unlike you have ever seen, where I'm running experiments on the crowd and nobody knows what the fuck is going on.
Vaughn’s debut single, Again featuring Nick Lachey, will be dropping soon along with his album "The Don Vaughn Experiment" on August 19.
Interview by Nisim Frank