Tony Ann utilizes the business networking service LinkedIn. He's also on the YouTube. Which one of those online deals do you think got him a gig with the Chainsmokers, the American dance-pop duo whose hit song Closer just won them three trophies at this past weekend's Billboard Awards? It's a rhetorical question. The Globe and Mail spoke with the 23-year-old Toronto pianist, whose video cover of the Chainsmokers's Paris won him the duo's attention and a spot in their band, about living the YouTube dream and leaving the Berklee College of Music in Boston to play on a North American arena tour that brings him to a hometown gig at Air Canada Centre on May 30.
You're deep into the tour now. Where are you now, as far as nerves, compared to when the tour began in Miami in April?
I'm more comfortable. I've played 27 or 28 shows. I dropped out of Berklee for this, and when I was in school I did zero performing. So, I was pretty nervous at first. I still have the same adrenalin, but I'm in control now.
Given your youth and lack of performance experience, what did the Chainsmokers see in you?
They did bring someone in with no experience, in terms of touring and performing, it's true. I guess they saw my ability.
And a level of sophistication, perhaps?
I do come from a classical background. I play around with the form of a song. I like to reharmonize things. With Chainsmokers music, it's all pretty simple. It's easy to change it up and add my own sound.
You have an extravagant style, is that fair to say?
That does make my covers stand out, I think. I feel it's more complex than most of the piano covers out there. I have broken octaves, more arpeggios. I like to add counter melodies. In general, it's incorporating into pop music what I've learned in the classical world.
Looking at your other covers, such as Adele's Someone Like You and Justin Bieber's Sorry, you seem to be drawn to poignant balladry.
For sure. I care about emotion and atmosphere. The Chainsmokers's Paris is a great example of that. When I listen to Paris, it puts me in a different mood. I'm a harmony/melody guy. My favourite composers are Chopin and Tchaikovsky.
Neither of whom, unlike the Chainsmokers, used bikini-clad girls in their videos.
Right. [Laughs nervously.]
So, what are you doing onstage for the Chainsmokers on this tour?
Mostly I'm playing bass on the Moog Sub 37 synthesizer. But I also have a Nord keyboard. I have two solos, one to introduce Closer, and the other is a snippet of my Paris arrangement.
And for all that, what are the guys paying you?
I'm not allowed to say the actual figure. I can say that I used to work on campus and that what I used to earn in a month, I now earn in a week.
That's not bad for a Berklee dropout, but it doesn't sound like a lot of bread for a major arena tour.
It's more than I've ever been paid. But I was never doing this for the money. I was excited for the experience and the opportunities.
What do you think the opportunities will be?
The goal is to have the chance to write with other artists. To provide harmonies or piano melodies – to bring my style to theirs. I'd love to work with Adele. I'd love to write with the Chainsmokers.
You say you're more composed now than you were at the beginning of the tour. But what do you think the homecoming show at the Air Canada Centre will be like?
We'll see. I'll bring my parents to the show. I'll have my friends out. I've never been to the Air Canada Centre. This will be the first time and I really don't think it gets better than that.
The Chainsmokers play Toronto's Air Canada Centre on May 30 and Montreal's Bell Centre on June 1. (thechainsmokers.com/shows)