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Diplo The Many Lives of Thomas Wesley

BY: Jodi Taylor

I don’t have a wild only-with-Diplo interview story to tell you. We are, as you know, in the midst of a big world event that’s relegated us to our living room-turned-offices. But I do have an imagination, and technology. Today Diplo is my penpal.

In my mind, the TikTok-loving multihyphenate is shirtless (his most natural form), perched over the side of a hot tub, sipping a Corona with lime between keystrokes, and brushing a stray sun-kissed golden strand of hair back behind his ear. There’s a desert-dusted cowboy hat in the background of this daydream, of course. What I do know for certain is that Diplo is in his L.A. home with vast square footage where record plaques adorn the walls—because he told me so. I’m in my 800 sq ft. New York apartment stretching out the life of my iced latte well into the afternoon hours. By the time I’ve drafted my second email to Thomas Wesley, Diplo’s given name and moniker he’s reclaimed for his latest body of work, Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley Chapter 1: Snake Oil, I’ve listened to it from start to finish upwards of twelve times. If anyone knows how to turn a strum of a banjo and twang into a dancefloor (or in my case, living room) hit, it’s the reformed EDM DJ.

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It's a funny coincidence my name actually sounds fitting as a country artist."

I grew up in the country in northern Ontario, Canada, so country music was the soundtrack of my youth. Once I moved into the city, Toronto, my taste expanded as I discovered new forms of music (EDM, dance music, and rap to name a few), and the sentiments that came along with them. Simultaneously, I no longer related to country music and its somewhat antiquated tropes. Recently, though, country music has been reclaimed by those that have felt on the fringe of the genre and received a much-needed overhaul, which the Twitterverse coined the Yeehaw Agenda. For me, it was Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” that reignited my interest in country music again. How can you not be moved by Georgia-native's persistence to break down the doors of a genre that tried so swiftly to block him out? Seeing him succeed despite Billboard’s claims that his first single “does not embrace enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version” was nothing short of inspiring.

Diplo’s May 2019 release of “Heartless” featuring new country musician Morgan Wallen soon followed, and a 2020 Grammy performance by Lil Nas X, Diplo, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Mason Ramsey cemented the new age of country music. It would be nearly a year later that Diplo’s entire album would be released.

Diplo is a man of many friends—Dillion Francis, SIA, Burna Boy, and Dua Lipa often make cameos on his Instagram. Lest we forget he was Madonna’s date to the 2015 Met Gala. So it’s no surprise he flipped through his vast Rolodex for his most recent genre-bending project. "Somehow, we got so many amazing people to be part of this release," he even seems surprised at the names he managed to get on board, a move he credits to a joint effort between his label Columbia and his management team. Features by country heavyweights like Zac Brown, Cam, Thomas Rhett, Orville Peck, and Ben Burgess are a sign-off by the country genre, while appearances by pop band Jonas Brothers, rappers Young Thug and Clever, and pop star Julia Michaels work to shake up the model of what at times is considered a dormant genre. "It's a funny coincidence my name actually sounds fitting as a country artist," Diplo boasted at the irony. "I go by ‘Wes’ with my friends, but Thomas Wesley has that country ring to it."

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I think it’s natural as a DJ to be attracted to different genres. "

As for his creative process, “some songs were easier to make than others," Diplo tells me. "Like most albums, there's always gonna be a few that are harder to get done, so you keep calling other people to make sure you get [the] record right, where others come naturally.” Much in the same way of our interview, elements of his album came together remotely. “Some records took shape without me ever having set foot in the same room as the vocalist.”

This is Diplo’s first solo venture since 2004 when he released Florida, his debut album. That project led him to produce M.I.A.’s 2007 Grammy-nominated hit, “Paper Planes”. From there he’s shapeshifted from his well-known stage name Diplo (a solo act) to the now-disbanded Major Lazer (with Ape Drums and Walshy Fire), his pop supergroup LSD (with Labrinth and SIA), house duo Silk City (alongside Mark Ronson), and then the EDM-driven Jack Ü (with Skrillex). "I think it's natural as a DJ to be attracted to different genres," he laments of his many lives. "So much of my career as a producer has been informed by my love for different genres of music that I discovered in my early years DJing and traveling all over the world." It would then not be so implausible to understand Diplo’s latest evolution into country. His inclination to experiment with harmonicas, banjos, and classic country harmonies sown from his formative Southern upbringing in Tupelo, Mississipi. "I've been a big fan of Alan Jackson for a long time," he says of the celebrated country music fixture known for his penchant to blend together honky-tonk and country-pop. "We were both supposed to play Stagecoach this year. It would be really cool to meet him.”

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I'm glad people seem to think I'm funny?"

But even with his Southern roots and decade-long career as a musical chameleon, getting accolades from the country music industry posed its own set of challenges. "I think country music is probably the hardest genre for anyone to break into!" Diplo exclaims (quite literally, he used an exclamation mark.) "There's a lot of ‘tradition’ to country music, so you have to make music in a way that tells people you're taking it seriously, even if you're putting your twist on it,” he adds. “Making Snake Oil was fun though, and I think it's the best album I've ever made."

Since his entry into the music world in 1997, Diplo has been non-stop, with an international tour schedule that rarely keeps him in one timezone for longer than 24 hours, parties, press obligations, and filming his endless parade of social posts. While you’re now likely to see Diplo flexing his Photoshop skills, and twerking, or using butterfly filters on his platforms, he’s made headlines in the past for several controversial tweets. “Like anything technology related, there are a lot of pros and cons,” he says when I inquire about whether he thinks his career trajectory would’ve been different without the platforms. “Social media is a necessary evil. It's easy to get obsessed with it, but it's also such an incredible way for an artist to communicate with their fans and vice versa. I'm glad people seem to think I'm funny?”

It’s hard to imagine Diplo would slow down even when life around him screeches to a halt. “I'm always releasing music, so even if I've just put out an album, I'm already on to the next thing,” he confesses when I ask him what he’s doing with his forced downtime. As for whether he is working on Chapter 2, that remains a mystery. In the meantime, the artist hopes that the album “makes people feel good.”

“Even though some of the songs are kind of sad, anything on the album that's not a party song has a bittersweet element to it. At the end of the day, this album is meant to remind people we're not alone, even when it feels like we are.”

Cover photography by Emma Marie Jenkinson.

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