Don’t say Pauly D without the DJ in front- America’s favorite Guido talks almost skipping out on Jersey Shore thanks to his DJ career heating up [Interview]
Say the name “Pauly D,” and the nearest millennial will likely respond with a “cabs are here!” or “GTL- Gym, Tan, Laundry” reference without skipping a beat. As an original cast member on MTV’s Jersey Shore, he became an American icon overnight thanks to the show’s immediate and unpredicted popularity.
Despite living in pop culture infamy thanks to his time on Jersey Shore, Pauly D will tell anyone who asks that he is first and foremost a DJ. DA sat down with him to learn more about his music career, thinking the conversation would be a lighthearted extension of his on-air persona. While there was plenty of talk about his hair, the conversation unexpectedly shed light on the state of the electronic music industry as a whole as well as removed any cynicism surrounding his “DJ career,” which inherently exploded once he became a TV star.
Born Paul DelVecchio, ‘Pauly D’ is more than meets the eye — kind of. He is as loud and energetic as the person America sees on TV, but his comedic disposition masks a deeper side that he is seemingly cautious to unveil. It does not come across as his attempt to stay “on-image,” so much as a person who has spent his entire life being the “fun” one of the group, never taking himself or life too seriously in public. Despite being America’s living embodiment of someone from New Jersey, DelVecchio grew up in Providence, Rhode Island with a ‘big loud Italian’ family. What was also loud was his mother’s music blasting through the house every time she cleaned, and DelVecchio notes her reaction to music was initially what intrigued him about being a DJ.
“Seeing how happy music made my mother, and how happy it made people- I like to be the guy who makes people happy. I was such a positive kid growing up, so I was like ‘damn, I’d love to provide the tunes for people to make them happy.’ That’s how the whole DJ thing came to play.”
Despite not having a lot of money growing up, he started a record collection and bought himself a ‘crappy’ set of turntables at 14. From there, he taught himself how to DJ. A family friend gave him the opportunity to perform at a sweet-16, and he became the talk of the community after knocking his first performance out of the park. He became a Providence go-to for birthday parties and school dances, and at 18, he landed his first club gig. He played at a local nightclub called Renaissance, and not long after that, ‘Friday nights with Pauly D’ became so popular that other clubs started to feel the loss of business. After working his way up in the Providence club circuit, DelVecchio found himself with his own DJ nights at different clubs throughout the state 6 nights a week.
What many Shore fans do not realize is that America nearly lost out on its favorite guido thanks to the mounting success of his DJ career. DelVecchio’s lifelong ambition was to become a big enough DJ that he would be able to pay the bills without a second job, and ultimately get out of Rhode Island. Even though he played 6 nights a week, he had to work at a car dealership by day. When he got the offer to go to New Jersey for a month to film a new show concept, he says he nearly turned it down. He was 29 at this point, and terrified he would lose the DJ gigs he had worked over 10 years to land. Fortunately for DelVecchio (and America) he took the risk and decided to go be on the show.
“They (MTV) called and asked me if I will pack for Jersey to film for 30 days, and I’m like ‘no way, I’ll lose all my DJ gigs’ because I was DJing six nights a week. They convinced me, and I got DJs to fill in all of my gigs in Rhode Island while I filmed the show. Then I came back, and fortunately still had all of my gigs. Once the show aired, it took off. It has been like non stop ever since.”
DelVecchio is the first to admit that his popularity from Jersey Shore has given his DJing career the platform he has always dreamed of. He also points out that his celebrity status leads people to believe he only gets gigs because he is ‘Pauly D from Jersey Shore’ as opposed to a legitimate artist. This is hard criticism to swallow for someone whose career was 10 years in the making before being recruited to be a part of a new TV concept.
As he started landing major gigs, the electronic music industry was also transitioning from a niche to the mainstream. DelVecchio’s career was exploding right as celebrities like Paris Hilton were trying their hand at having a career as a DJ and music producer. This caused skepticism and backlash as celebrities like Paris Hilton and Ansel Elgort, who did not have chart topping originally produced music or extensive performance experience, scored major club gigs and music festival slots. In an industry where booking is based off of the popularity of a DJ’s originally produced music, celebrity DJs had an uphill battle against fans and the press. True to form, the DJ has taken this challenge in stride.
“I’ve spent my whole life proving the skeptics wrong and making them believers. There is nothing you can really hate on my show. The biggest critics and the bloggers give hate hate hate. Then they come to a show, and they are like, oh.”
Pauly D’s performances are a good case study for why DJ bookings shouldn’t always be valued on the original music productions of the performer. While he has produced original tracks like “Back to Love” featuring Jay Sean, there is no question that the volume of music he has produced is minimal compared to other artists booking similar residencies and tour stops. For many artists, touring is a part of the job, and a lucrative one at that. For DelVecchio, it is his true passion. Sit down with him to talk about DJing, and he will speak about it as one would their broadway performance. To him, DJing cannot be judged solely on the music itself. There are intangibles that take someone from being a good DJ to a great DJ.
“There are so many aspects to being a DJ — like the celebrity aspect…When you see me DJing, you get the DJ and the TV personality. I think about like Lil Jon- the stuff that he says, he puts into his music, so that he is able to perform and DJ at the same time. You are getting the performer and artist. DJs are the rock stars now. Just like you go to see Mariah Carey and Beyonce, you’re going to see a DJ. Why not see one who will come out of the booth, sing their song, and perform some kind of something people can relate to.”
As much as the industry has hated to admit this, DelVecchio’s point is a strong one. The star value of a DJ and his/her ability to truly put on a show is what keeps the festival and tour industry alive and thriving. A memorable show is not one where an artist stands and plays the slate of songs that the fans love with a light show in the background. There has to be an energy, a stage presence, and a personality connecting with the crowd and reading what the crowd is or isn’t resonating with.
A show in Vegas is not a mainstage performance at Coachella nor is it a 10 minute performance on The Tonight Show. The versatility to perform in every environment is rare, and Pauly D’s “celebrity” experience has certainly only benefited him and the fans who attend his shows. There are also technical aspects of DJing that many overlook as important in measuring an artist’s skill because the crowd is not privy to what is going on behind the booth. He touches on these aspects when talking about how Diplo is currently one of the artists he respects the most.
“As of right now, Diplo is one of the best hands down. Only because he is so versatile- he can do it all. He can play EDM. He can play Trap. He can play Hip Hop. He can play anything. He can play to a crowd. He can play on CDJ’s, and he started out on turntables. There are so many aspects and levels to a DJ. There are turntablists. There are EDM DJs, and there are producers…and he can do it all”
DelVecchio looks back on his years of having two jobs and working around the clock with appreciation. He never intended to become a TV-star, and he says without those years he would not have been able to capitalize on the sudden and unexpected fame in the way he did.
“I’m the guy responsible for making these people have a good time. I was always like that with my friends anyways. I’m always like the prankster, the jokester, so I think that is what helped me out being so outgoing as a DJ because I believe it has to be a personality as well. It’s not just honed in on a turntable and a laptop. You have to interact with a crowd and give them an experience, and that’s what I do, and that’s why I’m so good at it. By doing those different little lounges, they all had a different crowd, and I would play to that crowd. I don’t plan any of my sets. I play to the crowd. That’s how I’m so diverse with my sets — this helped me learn to do what I do now in front of the bigger crowds.”
In addition to these intangibles, DelVecchio has a skillset that only a few of electronic music’s top performers possess. He performs on vinyl. In the world of DJing, there are multiple methods of performance that present varying levels of difficulty. Pioneer CDJs are more or less the industry standard, which allow the DJ to come into a set with a USB stick of tracks or a pre-recorded set and immediately get into a show. The sheer amount of information available on digital systems — BPM, track timer, even the track’s key — make for a more accessible starting point.
In contrast, vinyl users must beat match, select tracks, and mix all on their own, all on the spot, and entirely by ear. The difference in the skill sets needed for playing on CDJs or another digital system versus Vinyl can be compared to driving an automatic versus a stick shift car — all drivers can operate an automatic while only some know how to use a stick. DelVecchio may be perceived as a celebrity DJ, but he is a part of the ever shrinking group of artists who perform exclusively on vinyl. In his own words, “You can’t fake it on vinyl — it can’t be done.”
If one were to go to one of his shows, they would see his confidence is legitimate. His transitions are nothing short of impressive, and he does find a way to play ‘something for everyone’ while keeping the energy at a constant high.
“My crowds are so mixed and they come from all over the world. They travel to see me. My demographic is young, old, everything, and I like to make everyone happy, so I try to do that in my music. I have people coming to my shows who only like dance music or only like hip hop music. I try to play in a way that everyone will like everything. I pride myself on the ability to do that. I’ll play a dance beat with a mashed up hip hop song then I’ll throw in a rock song. I’ll play things that everybody wants to hear, which is why I like to be identified as Open Format.” -DJ Pauly D
DelVecchio’s confidence in his performance ability has shaped his booking strategy, and furthered his claim that being a DJ is his first priority. Many will be surprised to know that ‘Pauly D’ has not done a single club appearance in his career. He will only be booked if the club also books him as the DJ.
“I don’t even like the word appearance. I don’t do appearances. It’s funny to me to just go to a place to go up and just sit there. I’d rather show them what I can do. I put on a show and an experience where they will want to come back.”
DelVecchio’s drive as an artist shapes his entire celebrity both on and off of the show. The fun-loving light hearted person DelVecchio is on the outside is certainly in line with the person he portrays on stage, but it can’t be refuted that there is more behind the curtain with both his artistry and intellect.
From performing on vinyl to his business strategy, DelVecchio is making all of the right moves. He is currently a resident DJ at Mount Airy Poconos, Prysm Nightclub in Chicago, Drai’s Beach Club in Vegas, and The Pool at Harrah’s resort in Atlantic City. He will also have the chance to merge his DJ career with his TV persona in Jersey Shore Family Vacation, which has been signed to a second season. His DJing will have a role in the forthcoming season because the cast will each be followed during their daily lives before reconvening in a to-be-determined location. Thanks to Jersey Shore, his reach is huge and he’s scored gigs all over the world. But before discounting him as just another celebrity DJ, go to a show and see for yourself that Pauly D is indeed a musical force to be reckoned with.
Photo credit: Kook Films; DJ Pauly D Instagram
Check out the fun only parts of our interview with DJ Pauly D where we learn about how cool he is, his hair’s importance, and most importantly, who the second person he will to follow on Instagram will be after the one and only Ellen DeGeneres. We’ve also thrown in a baby picture of him- because why not?
If you had to lose either your tan or your hair for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
DJ Pauly D: I guess I’ll be a pale guido because I’m not losing the hair.
I read an article that talked about how your goal was to be cool growing up, even though you got good grades. Did you achieve this?
DJ Pauly D: Yes — I’m cool, but I was embarrassed of being smart in school. I was embarrassed of going up and getting that award in the auditorium, so I didn’t. I was on the honor roll in the newspaper- I threw the newspaper away. I didn’t want to publicize that. But I had perfect attendance, and I didn’t want people to know that.
Did it work out? Do you consider yourself to be a cool adult now that you have been hiding this smart sheltered side of yourself?
DJ Pauly D: Yes, but I would also tell my young self that it is cool to be smart. Back then I didn’t think it was cool to be smart. I was with the cool kids- I thought they wouldn’t like me anymore if I were with the smart kids. My mom has all of the awards though. I didn’t like to fail at things- that was never my style. I don’t like to do things mediocre- I’m too driven.
Do you have any really strange fan stories?
DJ Pauly D: I have this stalker, and she is gangster. She is always outside my hotel. She has never missed a gig while I’ve been on the east coast. She hasn’t missed a show in Atlantic City in 6 years. She has this tattoo (same tattoo as on his elbow). She always has Pauly D on her somewhere. I can always count on her being in the same spot. She comes in at 6 pm and waits there. I don’t come on until midnight. Same spot every time. Now it’s to the point where I’m shouting her out in the crowd. Harmless, but a super fan.
You must have like real, actually crazy stalkers though right?
DJ Pauly D: Yeah, there has been weird things where there have been packages at the hotel with weird things in them that like fans dropped off. And I think they expect me to get them, but security is like, you have a package down here, so my security will get it and bring it up. The last one i got was in Vegas, and it was this basket, and it was like a used blank record, some candles, a crucifix, and a cassette tape that was blank. Voodoo stuff. That has happened more than a dozen times. Vegas, I think the girl knows where I’m spinning at and sends things to the hotel.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
DJ Pauly D: Musically- I like Justin Bieber. I like reality television, like I watch Teen Mom.
What is behind the scenes Pauly D like- the one who does not have to perform for anyone?
DJ Pauly D: I’m working out. I like to play basketball. I like to go on hikes.
What do you wear when you hike? All of the chains and bling I see right now?
DJ Pauly D: I wear my gym clothes. No chains. I do wear an Icetop watch though- a sports one with a sports band. Dope hiking sneakers. In Vegas, I live right near Lone Mountain, and I live by myself, and I do a lot of thinking, and I love being in nature when I do that. My house has everything that I need in it so that I don’t have to leave. I also have a motorcycle, and I ride that. When you are in front of thousands of people, you just need some alone time. Being famous is good and it’s bad, right? That’s the thing I can’t do anymore- I can’t go to a regular gym. People will all come over to you, which is fine, but I think the good outweighs the bad #PaulyDPositivity
Can you talk a little bit more about fist pump culture and how you see it fitting in within the music scene? Is this strictly a Jersey thing?
DJ Pauly D: Before we were on television we were playing dance music, and we would just pump our fists. I never knew it was such a big thing until I went to Jersey. Rhode Island is small, but they do it too. So in Jersey we did it to to the dance music, and we would call it “Beat that beat up.” I actually made a track and called “Beat that Beat Up.” It’s funny that we weren’t the only ones doing it. I was happy about it, so we put it on the show. Then we had people in Canada doing it, like London doing it. People who didn’t even know where Jersey was were doing it, and I was like, this is so cool. And anyone can do it and that’s cool. I love dance music, so it’s awesome- it’s like you have this dance that anyone can do. As long as you do it on beat, that’s all we ask for. Sometimes I’ll ask them to do it, and they’ll mess up the beat, and I’ll have them do it with me. And you know what, that’s cool- having them all fist pump to the beat- thousands of people. There is nothing like it.
Is being Italian a prerequisite for your future wife, who you’ve said will be the second person you follow on Instagram?
DJ Pauly D: No, not at all.
Really? Doesn’t that dilute your whole persona?
DJ Pauly D: Originally yes.
How would your mom feel about this?
DJ Pauly D: She is okay with it because she is such a supporter in everything that is that I do. Back in the day, it was like you stay within your culture, but that’s not like that anymore. I don’t even see myself even marrying an Italian woman I don’t think. But I will follow her on Instagram once I find her. She’s out there somewhere.