In music, you’re often either ridiculed for sounding the same or condemned for trying something new. Second album sounds like the first? Boredom. Second album doesn’t sound like the first? Disappointment. For a lot of artists, there’s no escaping this double-edged sword.
Not for Diplo. His no holds barred attitude and openness to diversifying his own style has earned Thomas Wesley Pentz a loyal fan base as well as a fair amount of respect. Remember the first time you heard “Pon De Floor”? Diplo and Switch took a chance with their sound, influenced heavily by reggae-dance, and while it wasn’t an obvious hit, it proved to have been the right decision. Since Major Lazer’s debut, Diplo has expanded, and like his “About Me” section on Twitter suggests, this “random ass white dude be everywhere.” From producing for No Doubt, to teaming up with Snoop Lion, to forming collaborations with artists like Usher and Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, he really is everywhere. He even has a non-profit organization alongside Sydney DJs Nina Agzarian and Andrew Levins known as Heaps Decent, which aims to help underprivileged artists. Diplo does not stop.
A couple of Sundays ago, I was at Celebrities Night Club in Vancouver for Diplo, who was invited to play for the venue’s eighth anniversary. I attended the show with no expectation of speaking to Diplo. As the night progressed, the dance floor slowly filled up, and while everyone was obviously enjoying themselves, their main objective was to end up at the front, right by the DJ booth. By the time it was Diplo’s turn, I found myself between the sea of people and the DJ booth, pressed right up against it.
Diplo was wearing a chambray button-up (which got stolen by the end of the night after he took it off halfway through his set—bitches are crazy) with a brown knit sweater that had a dinosaur—a diplodocus, the dinosaur which Diplo named himself after, no less – over top. Calm, composed, and collected. Even as he set up, everyone in the front row (mostly girls) was already losing their shit. The females in the crowd were the most aggressive, screaming things like how desperately they wanted to carry Diplo’s child. By the time Diplo took over the DJ booth, he needed no introduction, no “hey Vancouver, what’s up? Diplo here!”
Now, I used to frequent Celebrities. And by frequent, I mean there was a time when I went close to every single week. The venue is constantly packed, but that Sunday night was something else. Everyone was drenched in sweat; your own was indistinguishable from that of your neighbors’. Looking back from where I was standing, the rows of people seemed endless. The hardwood floors were barely holding. When Diplo played “Express Yourself” and asked ten girls to fill the front to do the now ubiquitous handstand, girls pushed and shoved their way to the front. They were rabid.
Watching him play, clearly enjoying what he does, and seeing the crowd soak it all in, I decided to push for an interview. In an incredibly impulsive moment, I reached into my bag for a pack of gum and eyeliner. I scribbled “pigeonsandplanes.com interview?” in barely legible writing. As I waved the piece of torn up gum packaging over the DJ booth, it caught Diplo’s eye. He took it from me, glanced at the gum packaging, and looked back up, nodding enthusiastically while mouthing, “Yeah.” At the end of his set, he hurriedly went to Celebrities’ back room, which is the unfurnished basement of the venue. I thought I had lost the opportunity to speak to him but, after speaking to the bouncer (shout out to the bouncer – I forgot your name, but thanks again), I was led downstairs to Diplo.
A dozen of gorgeous girls sat in a circle, waiting for Diplo. I stood in the corner, a little shy and mostly awkward, waiting for Diplo’s reappearance. When he entered the room, I tapped him on the shoulder, meekly asking him if he would like to talk. His friend – who shall remain nameless – didn’t look impressed. He wanted to party, with a cup in one hand and a joint in the other, asking me if I found this “to be a little much.” But Diplo smiled his most charming smile (yes, ladies – he is a charmer) and said, “Sure. But you only get five minutes.” He led me into another room, pulled up a chair for me, moved his seat across from mine, and we then began our five-minute interview.
Interview by Joyce (@_joyceng)
Hit “next” or click here for the interview…
That was a great set. How are you feeling?
[Cheers] I feel good.
You read that 15 things you didn’t know about Diplo post. Anything we revealed that you didn’t want known?
I only read up to 10 of them. [Laughs] I read it on my Blackberry.
How’s spearheading both Major Lazer and making music under Diplo?
Not too bad. I guess the Diplo angle is when like I’m a hip-hop producer. I’m able to mix that style and the big room club at same time. Major Lazer is a strong family now and we all work together to make this project, and the vision is like dancehall-rave.
Your recent project with Zeb [of PO PO] and your Major Lazer collaboration with Amber Coffman [of the Dirty Projectors] contained similar elements –
I guess so, but it was definitely a different attitude. [“About That Life”] was a rock psychedelic record, but when Amber, we went in it as a straight reggae record. She came on and wrote the record after we already made a really reggae record. We didn’t expect the song to be like that.
Do you approach each project [Major Lazer and Diplo] with a clear vision and try to limit overlap?
I do now. At first, I just made shit, and I didn’t really care. Now – yes, I understand the angles.
Where are you taking your music as Diplo?
I just do whatever, man. When it comes to music, I don’t really care. I do anything – especially when it’s something like [the record with Zeb] – that record was kind of like… I don’t know. I hear it in my head, and I kind of hear it: “no one wants even if no one wants to hear this, I want to make it anyway… People will be like “this is unusual,” but people can be into it. I don’t know. I just keep doing whatever I want to do.
Do you miss making music in the style of your Florida album?
What’s it been like working with Snoop –
Yeah. I noticed that in the show you threw in some Snoop soundbytes. Did you get him to record some stuff for you on the side?
Yeah. He did a lot of Major Lazer stuff. He’s our homeboy. We’ll probably go on tour soon.
When will that be?
No idea. I just love his movement, I love what he does. I love that he’s taking a chance, making an album that’s out of nowhere. But I think that’s powerful because that’s what you got to do nowadays. People are so comfortable with the kind of sameness that’s happening all over the music landscape – you got the same dance music, the same hip-hop music, same this, same that… everything’s so safe. Snoop is taking advantage of his brand, his popularity and doing whatever he wants to do, which I think other artists should try to do.
People are scared.
If the music’s good, it will reach people, bottom line. It’s easier to reach people with formula music. But you never do that. With me and Major Lazer, that’s so boring to me now. I’m not even good at it, I’m not even good at that shit.
You mean you couldn’t do it forever?
I wish I could do that shit. I wish I could do commercial shit and make records that are obvious.
How long does it take for you to complete a song?
You never finish a song! They just escape.
You told GQ that you would “love to take a year off to do strictly film work.” Should we be expecting that any time soon? You’ve got a record label, so maybe Mad Decent Films?
[I’m] still going to do it. Just right now, [there’s] too much music going on! But check out me and Skrillex and A-Trak’s YouTube channel next year!
What’s going on with Heaps Decent, your non-profit that looks to help young indigenous and underprivileged artists?
Heaps Decent is the shit. Put a Heaps Decent link in the post.
You started it up with DJs Nina Agzarian (Nina Las Vegas) and Andrew Levins. How did you guys link up and come up with the initiative?
Just through the music. I loved what I heard the kids doing in the rural areas and wanted to know how I could help them do more.
Why Diplodocus? Velociraptor would make for a killer stage name too.
Nah, that’s hard to pronounce.
Pigeons or Planes?
I love pigeons because of Mike Tyson.