Los Angeles-based DJ Dillon Francis is about to release his first album, Money Sucks, Friends Rule. Out on Columbia Records Oct. 27, MSFR is not your typical EDM collection. Over the course of 12 tracks, he offers smatterings of pop, traditional club dance tracks, a few surprisingly downtempo tunes and, of course, some of his signature moombahton. The collaborators, understandably then, are equally cross-genre—the album shares credits with Twista, Mad Decent labelmates DJ Snake and Major Lazer, Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie, Martin Garrix, Simon Lord, and others.
Non-album track ”When We Were Young (Grandtheft Remix),” which EW is premiering exclusively, is a slowed down, synth-pop take on the original’s classic house-anthem vibe. Stream it below and read on, as EW talked to Francis about putting together an album, planning his first tour (kicking off mid-November), and how he’s still just a normal 27-year-old dude.
EW: When did you start putting Money Sucks, Friends Rule together?
DILLON FRANCIS: It was about a year and a half ago.
What was your process for putting together an album—deciding what made the cut, which got held, what became just for Soundcloud?
It’s mainly just me and my manager sending songs back and forth, picking and choosing singles and what we like and don’t like.
Any songs that you really loved that didn’t make the cut?
There’s this song that I made with The Cataracs, right now it’s called “Cloud”—it’s a moombahton song, and I just couldn’t get the mix right.
This collection has a lot of collaborators. Some of them, like your Mad Decent label-mates Major Lazer and DJ Snake, are a little more obvious in their choice, but how did the rest come about?
All of it was through Twitter, pretty much—except for the Twista one. Like with Brendan Urie [“Love in the Middle of a Firefight”], I sent him a message that I would really like to work on a song with him and he immediately responded, “I’d love to, man!” I sent him the instrumental, and he wrote it that day on his iPhone headphones and sent me a really rough demo with him singing on it, and it was just incredible.
Are you involved in the lyric-writing process, or do you generally leave it to the collaborator?
That part, I’m not really that involved with currently. It’s mainly me getting other people to write it and then me structuring out the song by myself. I really like working by myself, so it works for me to work over the Internet with people. Just me, alone, in my studio, making the worst music and then turning it into good music.
You got started mainly in moonbahton, but you really flow between a wide variety of genres on this album. Did you intentionally try to balance a certain number of each or is that just where inspiration took you?
I got scared that I did bounce around too much but the reason I wanted to do that was because of my fan base – I’ve been making such different types of music all my career. I wanted this album to show that I’m an artist and I want to do everything; I want to make all types of music. So, I tried to cater a couple of songs to my hardcore fans but then also open them up to being like, “Okay, cool Dillon can do all of this stuff and I’m happy with that and I’m not going to call him a ‘sellout.’” – I’m just trying to explore my artistic boundaries and see what I like and what my fans like.
Speaking of artistic sensibilities, you have a background in art, but not musical art. How did you get here?
I have no idea. I used to do visual art, I used to do photography and print-making. But then I was interning for a bunch of photographers and whenever I would ask, “What would you tell someone who wants to be in your field?” all of them – no matter what – they would always say, “Don’t become a photographer. Don’t come to this field.” It was very oversaturated.
Well, everyone wants to be a DJ now…
At the time I never really thought about that or noticed that. Thank God I didn’t have my peripherals on. I think that worked out for me in my benefit.
Do you remember your first EDM show?
Yes. My first one was I saw The Bloody Beetroots when DJ AM was doing Banana Split in Los Angeles at a club called LAX and it was awesome. It was my favorite thing ever. I don’t think that many other people got what was going on but my friend, whose been my friend forever, we were just going ape-shit. We were both sober too, which is so much fun because then you can people watch and, you know, remember the night.
Have you played much of the new collection live?
I’ve started playing most of everything. I still haven’t played “Love in the Middle of a Firefight” or “Hurricane”. Well, I played “Hurricane” once at Surrender [Las Vegas] but I don’t want to premiere that song until people know it. They might think I’m playing some weird pop song and get mad at me.
When you’re putting songs together in your studio, are you picturing your future crowd and structuring it for them? Or you do just make the song you want a hope for a positive reaction?
I think the album was half and half. I was like, “Alright cool this is going to be a club record…this is going to be a record people listen to in their car…” I definitely do think about the crowd when I’m mixing music.
And where does “Not Butter” [a pulsing dance track with a heavy bassline and “I can’t believe it’s not butter” chorus ] fall?
[Laughs] Oh that’s completely a playing-at-festivals song. That’s one of my favorite songs on there because it was when I first got into the studio, when I was actually like, “Okay, cool I’m making an album now…” Actually, that song used to be “Hurricane”. I had made “Hurricane” into a very “club-club” track, with a drop and it didn’t quite work and I didn’t like it: the lyrics were too pretty and I felt like I was ruining the song. So I dropped the synth and somehow came up with “I can’t believe it’s not butter”, which, I haven’t even eaten before.
This was your third summer on the Block Party tour, what’s it been like watching that grow into a stadium tour?
It’s nuts. It’s like festival-ish. It still holds the block party vibe but dance music has blown up so much, that’s the way it has to be.
Did you have a favorite stop this year?
Definitely Dallas. It was right after my RC Cola-head-injury incident and so a bunch of my fans had made signs that said “No RC Cola Allowed” and a bunch of other ones just crossing out RC Cola. It was just really cool to see people supporting.
What happened with the cola can? It sliced your forehead open, right?
The can was nine-tenths full and I got hit straight in the head. I thought it was a shoe and I was fine with that but when I found out it was a can I was like, “Fuck am I going to have to go get shots?” and I did, and stitches and was so bummed because I love my face. And everyone does. Not my, I mean, everyone loves their face, personally.
What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve had thrown at you?
I’ve gotten shoes at this place called Skylab in Denver. Some person threw their shoes on stage—it didn’t hit me or anything, it didn’t get even get close. But I remember seeing them and getting on the mic and being like, “What f—ing moron throws their shoes on stage? You don’t have shoes anymore at this festival.” [Laughs] You know, when you’re young, you just throw things sometimes.
When did you originally start working with Diplo and Mad Decent? People love to sort of say you’re ‘coming out of nowhere’ or an overnight sensation, but really it’s been awhile with them.
Probably five or six years ago. It takes a long, long time. I remember when I was first starting out as a very hungry artist. Everyone thinks it should always happen overnight. But then after doing it for a while, you realize it’s way better it didn’t happen just “like that.” It would have made me an asshole. I feel like I’ve retained myself this way. I’ve retained my same ideals and morals. I don’t feel like I’m better than anyone. I feel like that can happen with a lot of artists have an instant hit.
Do you attribute that to the community you’ve found with Diplo and Mad Decent?
That’s a big part of it because Diplo always keeps his ego in check; same with myself and then also my parents. Thank God I have parents that are still together and talk with me about everything. I’m like an open book with them, too.
Do you have a favorite act?
Right now it’s Porter Robinson. I just saw his new live show and it was so fucking amazing. If you can go see his live show, please do. It was so good because it wasn’t a DJ set, and I’ve seen so many from touring—he played all of his own music, and he had all these edits to it and the show was done so well. He put it together so perfectly, and the imagery behind him was amazing. It was just really fun. It reminded me of Daft Punk when I first saw them at Coachella, when it felt so new and special.
Does that influence how you’re putting together your shows?
I definitely have drawn tons of inspiration from watching that show. I’ve always drawn inspiration from—I don’t like their music personally, or I don’t really listen to it—but the Grateful Dead. I read an article my manager sent me a while ago about how they always played different shows, every night, no matter what. I alway took that into consideration when I was DJ’ing, and I think it’s helped with my popularity. I always try to do different variations of everything and if I mess up, that’s going to be the humanizing part of it that people won’t get mad at. I mean, I know there’s always going to be people that are like, “F–k you for messing up!” but it’s like, no, this is what shows you I’m a real person. I always want to get across to people that I’m a normal dude. I’m a normal hipster dude from L.A.