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Diplo Talks M.I.A.'s Ideal Sound, 'Lazers Never Die'
To say Diplo is a busy man is quite an understatement. When he's not recording as Major Lazer with producer Switch or producing acts like La Roux and ex-flame M.I.A., the Philadelphia beatmaker (born Thomas Wesley Pentz) is running his own label (Mad Decent) and working on a documentary about baile funk music ("Favela on Blast," due July 20). Diplo spoke to Billboard about his busy schedule, M.I.A.'s ideal sound and Major Lazer's new six-track EP "Lazers Never Die," out July 20 on Mad Decent.
What led you back to working as Major Lazer instead of returning to your solo work?
It took a while for people to understand what Major Lazer was. It's not just me and Switch -- we have a team of 20 people helping us out, from our dancers to our artwork guy. This EP is stuff that didn't make the album that kind of adds to the weirdness of Major Lazer, with Thom Yorke featured on a record, as well as Kicks Like a Mule, Collie Buddz and M.I.A. It will hold people over while we're working on a new record, which is about halfway done.
How do you choose your collaborators?
I'm not trying to be a superstar. I just want to work on stuff that I really like, with people that I like. Instead of doing a big name, I worked with a noisecore band called Rolo Tomassi this year and made a record I almost paid to produce because I love them so much. I learn a lot from new artists, because they have a strong idea of what they want to do.
Is the creative process different working with established artists, like M.I.A.?
I have the most success with established artists when they trust me. With M.I.A., working on the new record, I just wasn't feeling the vibe with some of the new producers. We did a record called "Tell Me Why," and I just knew what she was good at. It wasn't the same bunch of noise or talking about politics, because that's stuff people had heard. I wanted her to do something where she was singing and doing something louder, like Animal Collective-style music, because I think that's where she shines best. Even if an artist doesn't understand it at first, I'll show them that we'll improve in the end.
How did "Favela on Blast" come together?
When I was DJ'ing five years ago, I would play [baile funk] and people wouldn't know what it was but it had a great energy. I started looking for information on this music and I couldn't find any, so I went to Brazil and found a couple of people to collaborate with. I wanted to document this music, so we spent a few years filming and working in between Diplo records and DJ sets. Working with film and TV is kind of what I want to do in the future, and "Favela on Blast" might be a little more underground, but in general I just want to put stuff out there that's not out there.
What does the future hold for Mad Decent?
We put out Rusko's CD ["O.M.G.!"], and "Hold On" became a radio single in the U.K., so that was our first step toward putting out a proper artist. POPO, who are a garage-punk band on tour with Sleigh Bells now, also finished their record, and for Bosco Delrey, who's a rockabilly artist, we're putting out a string of singles. We're always looking for new artists, and if they make it big, they can go to Downtown or Interscope. I've always got a hand in every record we do, as a producer or as A&R.
You sound extremely busy. Do you ever feel like things are too hectic?
I feel like that all the time, but on tour, I don't really drink and I take it easy. I do a lot of work, but I try not to waste time on anything that doesn't make sense. A lot of producers work on stuff all day long, but you got to pick your battles. I have a lot of battles, but I think they're pretty good battles.