Q&A: How Diplo Won the World with Major Lazer

"I'm trying to make a new language for the music we do, beautiful pop music."

By Scott T. Sterling

Diplo likes to talk,” offers the superstar producer’s publicist, as both an encouragement and a warning. To the guy known to his friends simply as Wes, it’s a well-known caveat. Diplo’s infamous mouth has a knack for causing trouble, usually by way of some scathingly honest yet politically incorrect tweet.

From the online firestorm he created after the joke about Taylor Swift‘s body to an equally harsh and concise review of Zedd‘s latest album True Colors (two words: poop emoji), Diplo’s outsized personality has made him nearly as famous as his music.

Related: Download Diplo & Skrillex’s Suprise Jack Ü Mixtape Featuring Justin Bieber

But with a strong contender for this year’s song of the summer with Major Lazer‘s “Lean On,” it’s thankfully the music that’s doing most of the talking now. Boasting a breezy, summer-ready melody, the collaboration with vocalist and DJ Snake has exploded around the world. The song has already gone platinum in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden, is currently rising into the top 30 of Billboard’s Hot 100 and most impressively, has racked up more than 109 million YouTube views in little over two months.

Having built Major Lazer’s brand and character to the point that it’s been turned into an animated series, Diplo is further embedding his fingerprints on the pop culture landscape, not to mention his DJ super-group Jack Ü with Skrillex that have already scored a hit with the Justin Bieber-assisted “Where Are Ü Now.”

Chatting with the producer just as Major Lazer’s latest full-length, Peace is the Mission, is released, Diplo is as chatty as advertised, opening up about working with Justin Bieber and Ellie Goulding, Major Lazer’s next album and why he was so hard on Zedd’s album.

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Radio.com: You gave Zedd’s latest album, True Colors, a pretty harsh assessment on Twitter.

Diplo: I’m actually not enemies with Zedd by any means. I just think that he came from such a cool place, and now he’s been pegged as a money-maker for a major label to do EDM, which to me isn’t even a genre. But they’ve pegged him for that, they’ve marketed him, even the fake relationship with Selena Gomez, all the things to sell records took away from the music. He’s an amazing producer and good songwriter. I just feel like…I was hoping he’d come out of the scene and do something. He had some pop records and I think he was learning how to make great songs through that. So to just kind of like not care and make an album that’s just stereotype…there’s nothing really there for anybody. He’s got a really loud space right now in this culture, there are a lot of people paying attention to him, he can do this awesome music, and to just come out with something so flat and expected and easy for people…When Skrillex and I came out with the Jack Ü album, we came out with the weirdest s–t we could think of. We’re not about to put out the same songs we did over and over again. You only live once, you know what I’m saying?

Speaking of, you sent out a photo recently with Justin Bieber in what looked like a studio session. How did that work out?

That was just me getting on Shots, that app he has. I said I wasn’t going to get on Shots until I got my first photos with him. With Justin, after we did “Where Are Ü Now,” I feel like we really owe him some work on his next album, because he gave us such a strong record. I’ve known him for six years through Usher, and I’ve always kept it really cool with him and his whole squad. In retrospect, we worked on some songs together that kind of got buried, but we worked really hard on them and we liked what we did. So it’s cool that six years later he did this favor for me and turned out something great. “Where Are Ü Now” is the kind of thing neither of us could have done on our own.

How did you connect with Ellie Goulding for the Major Lazer track, “Powerful”?

That record went through a lot of different steps. We treat all of our songs like DJs and remix them ourselves. We try things out of the ordinary, because people expect Major Lazer to have a very progressive sound with the production. The hook came from working with [Jamaican artist] Tarrus Riley. The name of the beat was “Powerful,” and the one thing about Jamaican artists is once you have a name for a beat, that’s gonna be the lyrics of the song, so you have to be really careful. Luckily, that was a good title. We wrote the lyrics with a girl named IIlsey [Juber], who’s a really awesome songwriter.

 

Ellie [Goulding] had been hitting me up around that time wanting to work with Major Lazer, so I sent her this demo. She was like, ‘whoa, this is the perfect record for me to do with you guys.’ She changed some bits around and did that awesome bridge for us. Then I had my boy Switch, who was one of the original members of Major Lazer, do some drum productions on it and Skrillex added some touches.

That’s really cool that Switch worked on the track. Have you guys been working on any other music together?

It was just this song. I mean, we’re friends. We live in the same neighborhood and work with the same people. For this song in particular, I really wanted him to mix it for me. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, because we wanted it to be a little more radio-friendly. So he ended up co-mixing the track, we used his drum sounds for it. It was cool to have him involved in such a progressive Major Lazer song, kind of the biggest one we could have Switch be part of it, kind of come full circle back to the beginning. He’s got a great ear and I always trust his opinion.

You’re currently promoting Peace is the Mission, but thanks to a recent interview by Major Lazer’s own Walshy Fire, there’s already a strong buzz for the next album, Music is the Weapon, expected before the end of the year.

Right now, we feel like the blueprint was made with Peace is the Mission. We have so many strong records on there that I’m really proud of. I’m trying to make a new language for the music we do, beautiful pop music. Nowadays, people have a really open mind. Radio is really friendly to people who don’t have as much of a history there right now. Artists like Meghan Trainor, Nico & Vinz, Hozier…there are hits coming out of everywhere. I feel like our music is in that world, we’re doing unusual records that sound big, have a pop feel and we’re getting better at it.

Music is the Weapon follows on the formula of Peace is the Mission. There are some tracks that didn’t make this album that will be on the next one. Some of the beats are still being worked on. There’s a track we made with Usher that’s sounding really good. There are some Rihanna demos we did that were too weird for her, which is great for us. So many different ideas flying around right now. We should have (Music is the Weapon) done by the end of this month.

 

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