Diplo dishes on Major Lazer's technicolor new EP: 'These [songs] are all pretty weird'
Just in time for summer, world music-infused electronic trio Major Lazer are back with a new, surprise EP. Know No Better includes mouthwatering features from a wide range of artists — where else will you find former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello, soca artist Machel Montano, reggaeton superstar Sean Paul, and hip-hop powerhouses Quavo and Travis Scott all in one place? — and an even wider range of musical influences.
EW caught up with Diplo to discuss the group’s — which also includes Jillionaire and Walshy Fire — broadened sonic template, his brand new Viceland TV show, and what it’s like working with big names like Sia, Madonna, and Nicki Minaj.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last time we spoke, it didn’t sound like you were interested in releasing a collection of music. Obviously, something shifted and you’re now dropping a six-song EP. What happened?
DIPLO: We just don’t have the energy to put out, like, 20 singles. [Laughs] And when Drake just put out a record, he didn’t have a single either. So we’re putting out the EP right before summer and then people can listen to it and kind of cycle through it.
People are always interested to see who you’re collaborating with. Here, there’s a wonderfully random mix of genres: The set features Camila Cabello, J Balvin, Nasty C, Sean Paul, Quavo from Migos — how do you decide who to work with?
It’s about keeping our friends close. Camila Cabello, she’s always around working on music with us. Travis Scott, we’ve worked with him before and he’s one of the hottest names in music. But I feel like Major Lazer has a certain style. Everything on the EP feels like it fits together. It’s clubby, world music.
You guys are always traveling. How frequently are you actually getting in the studio with these artists and how often are these cuts finished over email?
It depends on the artist. I’ll go in the studio with anyone who wants to get in the studio with me. Like with Sia, you need to be in the studio with her to make a record happen. She’s a writer who is so spontaneous and she’s so quick and she doesn’t write alone. You have to be there and motivate her and inspire her. Travis Scott, I had to go to his house like 15 times to get him to cut the vocal because it was like, “Scott’s out” or “Scott’s hungover” or whatever, so that was a challenge. [Laughs] And with Nicki [Minaj], Nicki works on her own. She’s been comfortable for so long with her squad. She’s like a scientist in a laboratory. Madonna, you need to be physically there and talk to her and she needs to love the idea and be physically touching people. As a producer, I can do whatever because I want to make as many records as possible.
Are you ever nervous about pushing into sounds that are too unfamiliar?
Um, yeah, every time I do that. [Laughs] But our goals are to just make great music — and these [songs] are all pretty weird. When we put out “Lean On” two years ago, I didn’t know suddenly every record was going to sound like that. At first, we thought that was too weird! And “Pon De Floor,” we did that song and it was a small hit in dance clubs and then Beyoncé put out “Girls Run the World” two years later.
You’re producing a new Viceland show called What Would Diplo Do? (out Aug. 3)that stars James Van Der Beek as you. What can you tell us about it?
It’s pretty deprecating. I didn’t want to take myself seriously, and I think in dance music, you really can’t. It’s such a silly world. So we thought if we could make it like an Eastbound & Down of DJs it would be really funny. Dance music is so big. I mean, I’m playing to 10 million, 20 million kids a year. It’s the biggest thing in culture right now, and people try to take it seriously! But if you [do], you’ll lose yourself. We’re lucky to be doing this. Being able to travel and make money spinning records, it’s pretty funny. It’s very postmodern.