Major Lazer is the one-armed, Jamaican veteran of the zombie wars who just happens to be a gifted musician. At least that’s the story behind Major Lazer’s debut album, Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do. Of course, everyone knows that all the Jamaican warriors were annihilated in the zombie wars, so Major Lazer isobviously a fictional creation…
Conceived by DJ/producers Diplo and Switch — who have worked (separately and together) on tracks for the likes of M.I.A., Santigold, Amanda Blank and many others — invented the character as a way to surreptitiously get out a “reggae” record featuring the vocal talents of a number of different guest artists, includingMr. Vegas, Nina Sky, Busy Signal, and the aforementioned Santigold and Amanda Blank.
The subterfuge didn’t work too well, though, and ShockHound was recently able to catch up with Diplo in Los Angeles to ask him a few questions about the project.
SHOCKHOUND: How did this project come about?
DIPLO: If you take all the MCs off the record, the whole thing could just be beats that me and Switch made together for other artists. We decided to do a dancehall record, and this is just how we decided to market it, with the artwork and stuff.
SHOCKHOUND: When did you and Switch first start working together?
DIPLO: It’s been a long time. Since I first started making beats on the computer, I’ve known him. It’s been a really long time.
SHOCKHOUND: Did the zombie war veteran story come before or after you guys started laying down tracks?
DIPLO: Somewhere between the tracks being done and halfway through the process.
SHOCKHOUND: Where did that idea come from?
DIPLO: I think the idea came around because we didn’t want to do interviews and stuff like this for a reggae record, so we decided to make it more artwork-based. It’s a cooler project that way.
SHOCKHOUND: Even though it’s a reggae record or a dancehall record, there’s still a lot of other sounds on there, stuff from Trinidad, Brazil, etc. Was the idea going forward to make a reggae record or is that just sort of what you ended up with?
DIPLO: I think so. I was already working on some rhythms by myself, so I had Switch look at one of the tracks and he did a remix of it that started to get played.
SHOCKHOUND: But do you think it’s a reggae record, or do you think were you pulling in influences from elsewhere, too?
DIPLO: I guess so. My influences are like…I mean…I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be doing anymore. What would it be if I wasn’t pulling any influences at all? It would just be white noise. You know? So I don’t really see any difference in anything I do. I just make the shit that I hear, take a little bit of stuff here, a little bit of stuff there. I might sample a rock record or sample a soul record, a drum beat, a 808…I might even sample some white noise.
SHOCKHOUND: Do you think that’s sort of what people expect from you now? Like, “What sort of beats is Diplo gonna bring back from which country now?”
DIPLO: No. [Laughs] Maybe journalists do. But for me, I’m just a chameleon. I can do whatever I want and it’s not gonna be weird. I can make a house record or a reggae record or a rock thing or like that gospel-sounding track I did on [Santigold’s] record. It doesn’t really matter what I do; I’m really open to doing anything. You can’t really pigeonhole my music.
SHOCKHOUND: With all the guests on the record, was it hard to round them all up? Did you come to them or did they come to you?
DIPLO: In Jamaica it was sort of hit-or-miss. You want to have guests and sometimes they won’t show up, or they might show up, or someone else will show up and you’ll record with them. It’s just a matter of crossing paths with people.
SHOCKHOUND: Did you have relationships with a lot of these people beforehand, or did you just like what they were doing and wanted them on the record?
DIPLO: Mr. Vegas was an artist I had worked with before, and he was real professional and all that; Leftside is just super-talented. Some of the people were just crazy, like Prince Zimboo…we didn’t even know how crazy he was as an artist. And some people would just show up and we’d do tracks with them, it all just depended on what was happening.
SHOCKHOUND: Are there any plans to keep Major Lazer going as an ongoing project or will it just be a one-off?
DIPLO: I think it’s gonna be bigger than that. We’re not going to do any more touring or promo for it, but we’re gonna continue it as like a reggae compilation that comes out every year or two. You’ll see more of the artwork and more cartoons and stuff. It got bigger than we wanted it to from the beginning, so we’re just kinda working with it. Hopefully during the summer, it’ll start to push out and make some noise.