Exclusive Interview with Dillon Francis
Dillon Francis is relaxing on a brown leather couch sipping from a Maker's Mark and Coke just before heading out to play for tens of thousands of screaming fans. He's remarkably calm and casual, chatting about exploits and adventures on the road before he's ready to go on record. He's been simultaneously finishing up his debut album, coming out this fall, while touring major festivals on both coasts in between sets in Europe. Since collaborating with Diplo on "Que Que" and releasing his Swashbuckler EP four years ago, his meteoric rise as Moombahton's poster child has progressed to a wider selection of genres. His repertoire now spans a vast tempo range from trap to pop, and his growth as a producer shows no signs of slowing down. His fans seem to adore not just the music but the man himself: holding aloft massive signs bearing his grinning visage and recently voting him 2013's fan favorite DJ.
You took Flight 4555 and slowed it down to focus on the melodic component which was also a major part of your collar with TEED. It feels like a transition from breaking through with a sexy new tempo to putting more focus on the melodies.
It’s mainly me making poppier stuff. I’ve always wanted my stuff to stand out from everything else. Or be like Calvin Harris’. That’s it. That’s my goal in life, to either have my stuff sound in the vein of Calvin Harris or be my own. That’s why 110 was so interesting to me in the beginning, because no one was doing it. There’s rules for Drum n’ Bass, House,
But no rules in Moombahton yet.
Yea, exactly. I think that’s the only genre that didn’t have rules. The Trap stuff was based on 808’s and 90’s rhythms. Which was cool, I could just do whatever the fuck I want.
What is it about Calvin Harris’ tracks that inspire you?
It’s funny, I’ve always been such a huge fan of [Calvin Harris] ever since he put out "I Created Disco," because I was a little indie hipster LA kid and that was my favorite thing to listen to.
“Acceptable in the 80’s,” I thought that was such a cool, weird song and I always like that weird Discoy stuff. He already knows, I tell him I fucking love all the stuff that he does, we’re good friends, I hang out at his house and we play pool together. You can ask him how he always beats me. Fuckin’ Scottish people. They’re really good at Snooker which makes them even better at American pool.
8-balls the superior game anyway.
No way, I’m obsessed with Snooker. You have to be really good.
You can’t really be shitfaced drunk.
Yea. Although maybe you can. You might get better. The first time I ever went over to London I got obsessed with it. I didn’t even know what was going on, I just watched. Their curving the ball, the table’s huge, and the balls are smaller.
Any possibility with a collab with Tiesto in the future?
We've talked about it. I’m working with Nicky Romero, Mark Knight, and a couple others. I’m finishing my album so I’m trying to find time.
Can you talk about the concept for the album?
Well the album’s gonna be so bizarre. Well, it’s cohesive but it definitely feels like a collection. You’re gonna be like “Oh, I can see where he was when he was making this song.”
In your life?
Yea, like he made this song during this period or when he was working on TEED’s song. It’s a collection of different types of music. Two years worth.
Is there any artist you were digging during the album’s creating whose inspiration is evident in the tracks?
Calvin (laughs). He’s also the one that helps me a lot. I send him a lot of music, like he helped me make the rebirth for “Without You.” I sent him what was supposed to be the final version and he told me the drop was really good but the middle section was so uninteresting. I asked him how to make it interesting and he sent me tons of emails back and forth. He’s like the nicest person to go and talk to if you’re willing to let him shit on your music. And I am. That’s how you get better as a producer.
I don’t hold myself too dearly, I’m not that type of artist.
You get stuck in the same type of rut doing that, if you think your style is the shit there’s no reason for it to evolve.
Exactly. So its him and everything I’ve listened to growing up. There’s this track called “Drunk all the Time” on the album and it sounds like a Pheonix-style track. So that’s the indie-style part of me. There’s a track that is super-duper pop styled, like a radio pop hit. There’s a couple hip-hop things, one with DJ Snake and one with the Cataracs. and then Cataracs and I also did a Moombahton song.
Oh cool, they’re from Oakland and Berkeley. I grew up with their music, their house parties. What were those old hits? G6 and…
Yea! And Bass Down Low. The hip-hop one we did isn’t poppy at all its a ‘We’re gonna party all night’ type of song. Working with him is so awesome, we’ve done a few songs, it’s just so easy to get in the studio with him.
Oh which one of them?
Well Dave wanted to become a writer I think and went on a trip and Niles is just doing the Cataracts stuff now.
What’s your favorite anagram?
I would be remise if I didn’t say taco cat (laughs).
Yea that may have been a setup. What was your favorite “Without Me” remix? Besides the rebirth, you’re not allowed to say that.
Oh I wasn’t gonna say that cause I’m not gonna be a dick. It’s a tie between the Torro Torro one and the Henry Fong one. Scratch that. The Flux Pavilion and Doctor P one because they changed the melody. They made it really depressing and dark. When you hear the piano and the shift to the vocals I thought that was really awesome.
When you create music you use a lot of individual pieces from samples to chopped up vocals. It can be very difficult to create a cohesive, smooth melody with disparate pieces. Can you articulate how you pull that off?
The main thing I do when I create songs is I bounce a shitty version of it and listen to it in the car because you have a different feeling in the car - the car test.
Usually when I’m done creating a song I fucking hate it because I’ve listened to it so many times, but nothing in the song will annoy me. Before that a snare’s frequency might be pissing me off, or a vocal isn’t a coherent melody yet. It’s mainly sitting in the car, listening for that.
A lot of artists do that. Madeon was talking about throwing an edit on his iPod and listening to it on the sidewalk outside the studio until it didn’t bug him- it seems to be a successful mentality of productive negativity. Your personality is a major aspect to your success, from the blow up heads to the cats. Was that a conscious choice to start with a strong twitter personality?
I think it definitely had to do with the twitter personality and the first implementation of Instagram and me just using it to Instagram cats. I’m really lucky with the time I started making music. I know electronic dance music isn’t new, but it was very new for the US. Twitter came out a while ago but it wasn’t really popular yet. I feel like I’ve had the ability to reap the benefits of all these apps and social media in their early stages. I went to Ultra when it first broke apart from Miami, and that’s when you could see everything was starting to go in an upward motion. Now there’s Ultra Korea, Ultra this and that. EDC everywhere.
Last time we talked you said to 'There’s no real advantage to thinking there’s anything that’s off limits… No ones gonna hate you for doing something different. Everyone’s actually gonna praise you.' That’s fantastic advice for young producers but it can often be hard to differentiate what is your unique sound and what’s a mistake. Is there any way you’ve found to decide between all the directions you’re pulled in?
Well at the beginning I was doing stuff that sounded like everyone else’s because I thought I could make that. But no one wants to hear it again. That’s why people who make Skrillex noises now will never be Skrillex. But it’s really good to copy things because that helps you figure out how to make a track. I don’t have any musical training on anything, when it comes to song composition. Just taking a track, putting it into Ableton and copying that helps me understand how a song is structured for EDM or pop.
I just follow what Diplo does. That’s why Diplo’s so great, he finds new things and makes them relevant.
He’s that one that found Moombahton when I did and I was the one that sent it to him when he first knew about it and he didn’t know who the fuck I was. He asked me to come to the studio and make a song because it was new and no one was doing it. I knew I had something once I heard Munchi’s stuff. No one was making stuff at 110 and no one even knew what 110 sounded like. That’s what Diplo does, from the whole bali-funk thing a long time ago with M.I.A. and then the trap stuff. He was the one that got Floss to do that remix. He has his ear to the underground more than anyone else in the world I think. And that’s why he’s where he’s at.
Like that Blackberry commercial you’re jealous of.
Exactly, exactly! And that’s actually what he does.
Do you know what he’s looking at now? What have you two been talking about?
He’s doing the Major Lazer stuff lately. He has his eggs in Major Lazer with Adult Swim and a new album.
Have you ever dropped a track and then wished you’d changed a part?
All my old stuff sounds old to me. It doesn’t sound relevant. I’ve remastered Masta Blasta but the old mix is still fine. The "Hits Me Like a Rock" remix was just mixed wrong, but at the time it was fine. I haven’t really put out stuff that I’m pissed off about.
That’s always a good sign. What track will you play at Sunset in Ibiza when you get the chance?
"Mushrooms" by Justin Martin. It’s a remix he did with a dude just talking about doing mushrooms with this girl. and he’s like and then I started falling, his voice is so fucking cool.
Justin is the homie.
Yes. I love Justin.
What’s an atypical track you like?
“I wish” by Cher Lloyd featuring T.I. its my guilty pleasure. Here it is. I love it.
Dillon whips out his phone and Cher croons from tiny speakers as he grins with pleasure.
There’s our headline. Would you rather someone buy the album or go to a show?
I would… agh that’s a good question. I’m gonna go with half and half on that one.
Which half of the show?
Second half of the show and the first part of the album.
Do you mix harmonically as well as rhythmically?
Yea usually. There’s a few times where I’m just going on the fly and I’ve got a song cued up that I just have to play but usually I’ll just sit there and listen. If you don’t it just sounds shitty.
Let’s talk about art. Last time we talked you downplayed your role as a photographer assistant but I found out you also did some printmaking?
Yea I had some printmaking tools. At school that was one of my favorite classes because my teacher was a Mormon and I would always joke around. He hated me but he loved me.
I was obnoxious, I was exactly what I am now. I was the kid that yelled out in class anytime someone said “Are you gonna come over here?” I would be like “Yea I’m gonna cum.”
Stupid kid shit like that. Maybe not that specific example. And the teacher’s like “DIllon, stop it.”
Craziest adventure you’ve been on lately?
Umm crazy adventures. Brandon?
Brandon (tour manager): The highlight of my year was watching you lie down on stage and drink a $300 bottle of champagne.
It was my last show at Henry Fonda and they’d gotten me a bottle of champagne. I was thinking what’s the coolest way I could drink this instead of just tossing it into the crowd? So I just went out and laid down, like this. I just poured it while the beat played in front of thousands of people not giving a fuck.
Any chance of a Night Dogs track?
How did you- I forgot you know about that. Well we want to start doing something, Oliver Goldstein was helping me finish the album so we didn’t have any time for that, but once the album’s done we’re totally gonna get in the studio. We don’t know what it’s gonna be yet but I think it’s gonna be really dark stuff like Gestaffelstein.
He’s so good. Or it’s gonna be super R&B, Al B. Sure! 80’s weird when the Jazz band guys decided to do fusion R&B Disco stuff. So like that. Or Gestaffelstein. Two polar opposites. It’ll be sexy as fuck or it’s gonna be dark.
Are there any two new artists you want to give a shout out too?
Let me go through my phone. Umm there’s this group called Daft Punk… they’re not that big but they’re making waves in the underground right now. There’s this other one that’s named after a bug…
Oh yea the one that’s like a pun?
Exactly. Avicii as well.
Oh I thought his name was Levels?
Oh no no that’s a song that almost broke. Really close to breaking the underground but didn’t. Oh, he should just do a two hour set of just levels.
What are DJ Hanzel’s favorite picks?
Pleasurekraft and Solomon. Everyone needs to listen to that to go one deeper.
See you on the dancefloor,