A rising star in trance music, we interviewed Tensteps before his set on Andrew Rayel’s Find Your Harmony tour.
Tensteps has quickly become one of the most recognizable names on Andrew Rayel’s Find Your Harmony record label. With his first release coming in 2018, he was soon discovered by Rayel and has worked with his label ever since. Tensteps’ music has been supported by the likes of Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, and Morgan Page.
With releases like “Brighter Days” and “Carry You Home“, Tensteps continues to build his reputation as a producer. As a DJ, he recently opened for Rayel at his Find Your Harmony show in San Jose and returned to play direct support for him in Chicago a few months later.
What started as a hobby for Brandon Zemel has now become a considerably successful project. We talked with Tensteps before his show in Chicago about trance, twoDB, Ten on Ten, NFTs, and more.
How’s it feel to be playing shows as Tensteps? I saw you opened for Andrew Rayel in San Jose in July, and now you’re back as direct support for him at Prysm Nightclub in Chicago.
It’s awesome! Actually, my Tensteps project is only a couple of years old. Not only am I just now starting to play shows, but people at the shows already know my music. Just today, people were DMing me asking me to play specific songs. That’s so crazy to me. And it’s great to be here with Andrew…he’s literally been supporting this project since day one.
Regarding all of your new songs – would you say these are some of your best productions from quarantine?
As far as production during quarantine, “Brighter Days” is definitely the highlight of that. I write a lot of my own lyrics, and that one was written a few months into the pandemic. It was kinda at a point where everyone was realizing that this wasn’t going away quickly.
I remember hearing a lot about depression hitting producers and touring staff…not just musicians, but everyone in the industry. A lot of people had no money coming in and had no employment opportunities. I was trying to channel all of that in this record. Like, times are tough right now, and I don’t wanna downplay that. But there is going to be something better eventually. You just have to keep pushing through.
It all started with that one line: “I know there’ll be brighter days”. And I built the whole concept around that.
You mentioned Andrew’s been supporting the project since day one. I was looking up an interview before this and he called you the future of trance music. What kind of motivation does that give you?
That’s pretty crazy! I’m basically a new guy. I’ve been listening to trance since around 2011 – Above & Beyond was the first stuff I heard – so I haven’t been around that long. Like…I just sit in a room and make music I love. The trance community has embraced me in a very cool way that I never would have expected.
You and Andrew Rayel released “Carry You Home” earlier this year. How did you first get connected with him?
It was a cold Facebook message at like 2 AM. I still have the screenshot on my computer. Andrew’s manager got back to me and said they’d check it out. When I woke up the next morning, I already had a message back that they wanted to sign the demo I sent over.
Pretty soon I had an email from Andrew too. I was like…whoa. At that point, I really had nothing out. Only one self-release. And Tensteps was still just a hobby. I didn’t really want to be involved with labels – I had another project that was doing that. I wanted something less stressful that I could work on whenever I wanted. But I’ve come to realize that people feed off that passion and that energy. It makes all the difference.
Did Andrew hear your stuff in your other [former] project, twoDB? Did he know you were a producer that was established in the industry?
No, he had no idea. Actually, he didn’t know about that project for like a year after we started working together. When I met him at ADE, I introduced him to my partner from twoDB. He thought Tensteps was a duo at first!
I thought maybe he already knew you since Find Your Harmony is part of Armada.
At that point, we hadn’t been involved with Armada at all. That only happened later with our remix for “Better With You” by 3LAU.
You’ve had releases on labels like Revealed and Dharma with twoDB. Do you think that having both projects has a positive impact on your production?
Absolutely. If I didn’t have twoDB going on for a few years, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the level of production I’m at now. So I definitely value all the time spent on twoDB. And we’re still doing it! We actually had a record come out today.
It’s a lot of time and energy to juggle two projects. Sometimes one gets more attention than the other, but it all balances out in the end. And if there was no twoDB, Tensteps would not be a thing.
Editor’s Note: Brandon left twoDB to focus exclusively on Tensteps in November 2021.
Speaking of putting all the time in, what’s something you would say to an artist that’s getting discouraged and considering giving up?
Just keep pushing. You never know when that big break is gonna happen. That’s definitely something I’ve learned with this project. I had no idea that sending a demo to Andrew would lead to “Carry You Home” being a collab and topping a million streams on Spotify. It can all happen so fast. Just keep pushing and be passionate about what you’re doing.
Tell us a bit more about your mix series, Ten on Ten.
I just had Taylor Torrence on this month. He’s one of my favorite up-and-coming producers. I have some more artists that I plan to ask in the future, and it will be a lot of my own mixes as well. I post a new episode of Ten on Ten every month.
So I also have to ask about NFTs – I know you’re interested in crypto. How do you think NFTs will specifically impact the future of the music industry from an artist’s perspective?
In every way possible! Look at what 3LAU and BT are doing. I think there are endless opportunities. And you don’t have to be super into crypto or be a coder to understand it. If you aren’t at least paying attention to what’s happening in this space, you’re insane. One of these days, it’s going to massively impact artists. And it’s starting to already. I know some people who have made more off a few NFTs than from all of their Spotify streams combined.
Basically, I think it can coexist with Spotify and provide an additional revenue stream to the existing platforms. It’s specifically for people that are passionate about the artwork and care about ownership.
What’s next for DJ Tensteps? Any plans for new music or future tour dates?
Tons of new music! My 2022 slate is looking great. Working with a lot of cool vocalists. Also a lot of collaborations: some with Find Your Harmony artists, and some with others. Just really focusing on music and really hammering that down. As far as tour dates, nothing to speak of yet, but I’m working on making some stuff happen.
Finally, anything you’d like to share with your supporters?
Just…thank you. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to put music out and have people hear it.