Lazer Focus

Ferry Gouw/Major Lazer

The eponymous stylings of Major Lazer.

Major Lazer lost both arms in a secret zombie war in 1984. But that hasn't slowed down the Jamaican commando who looks like Mr T. with Bob Marley's dreadlocks. He still fights vampires, as well as various Skeletor-looking beasts, and travels via a rocket-powered hoverboard, which is cooler than any of the sticks in your quiver (regardless of the camber profile).

According to record label Mad Decent, which puts out the music of the crew that Major Lazer represents, Major Lazer also parties hard, and that's where the similarity between the commando mascot and the dancehall band that shares his name begins. Originally started by DJs Diplo and Switch in 2009, Switch left the Major Lazer project in 2011 due to creative differences and was replaced by Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. The new lineup is set to release its second full-length recording next month.

We talked to Diplo recently. Turns out the superstar DJ/producer, who has dated MIA and booked Skrillex for his 2-year-old son's birthday party, had a lot to say about Snoop Lion, whom he would love to work with if he had a time machine, and what it takes to create a great song.

The X Fest Stage at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo., will host Major Lazer at 4:15 p.m. MT on Jan. 27. X Fest Stage concerts are free to the public. Have you been to Aspen before?
I was there last year around this time. I love it. I'm not really much of a winter person -- I like the beach and sunny weather -- but the energy around Aspen was crazy.

Major Lazer's upcoming album, "Free The Universe," drops on Feb. 19 on Mad Decent. What can listeners expect?
A great album -- a great collection of songs. I worked really hard on it and I hope people can check it out and understand. The wintertime is not the best time for us to play reggae music -- you want to play in sunny weather -- but we bring the party, so hopefully we'll get some energy back from the audience.

Major Lazer's first album, "Guns Don't Kill People," was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, at the legendary Tuff Gong Studios, which was founded by Bob Marley. What was that like?
The vibe was crazy there because they have a lot of history. Just comfortable. In Jamaica, the energy you get is crazy. We've been all over Jamaica; [we've] worked in small studios the size of someone's bathroom and giant spots like Tuff Gong, and the live room is bigger than my house.

"Guns Don't Kill People" features guest vocals by singers like Santigold, Nina Sky, Amanda Blank and many more. Your new record also features a slew of different singers. What's it like to work with a different singer on almost every track?
I hone in on what I want to get out of the singer. And hopefully there's chemistry, because that's what creates a good song.

The video for "Hold The Line" was nominated for an MTV Video Award in the Breakthrough Video category. It's mostly animated and shows the character Major Lazer in action. Are you a fan of cartoons?
The whole Major Lazer project was about us creating something around things we loved as kids, like He-Man and G.I. Joe. The story is really cool and funny. "Hold The Line" has different element; it's old school, dancehall and punk-rock artwork, because a lot of them use comic and cartoon imagery.

The video for "Hold the Line" also features some Major Lazer toys, complete with his signature bandolier filled with microphones. A Lazer character was released in limited editions -- 30 pieces each -- as well as an unpainted figure; do you have plans for a wider release of Major Lazer toys?
This year we have a huge project with Kid Robot. It's coming out in March. Hopefully people will be able to keep collecting our stuff. And Kid Robot has a lot of stuff coming out this year with the whole project.

You worked with Snoop Lion, Snoop Dogg's reggae persona, on his first record. What was that like?
Someone like Snoop is a veteran and he knows how to utilize a producer. He constantly gave us free range to do what we wanted. He wrote over 20 songs and it was a very cool project.

Major Lazer also worked with Radiohead's Thom Yorke; what's he like to work with?
He's a guy who loves music. You can feel the energy. He was ready to do anything. He was just about new music. People like that are willing to push the envelope.

You've worked with a lot of amazing artists. Which artists would you love to work with, living or dead?
Hard to answer that. I think one of the things I've learned as a producer during this last year is to see what's great about anyone you work with. That's what the producer does: sees someone's talent and energizes them.

That being said, if I was back in the jazz era, that would be cool because personalities were so huge back then. I love artists with a strong personality. Those guys make the best music.

So would you have liked to work with Charles Mingus or John Coltrane or, for a Philly guy like yourself, maybe Sun Ra? (Diplo went to college in the City of Brotherly Love. -- Ed.)
Me and Sun Ra could've done a hip-hop project, atmosphere, planetary noise, reggae ... whatever. Just being around all those characters would've been great.

Major Lazer has played major festivals like Coachella, Pitchfork, Outside Lands and Sasquatch. What are your favorite types of venues/events to play?
We love to do it small, like in a nightclub or [at an] after-party. And we can do it big. Some of the best music this year was with giant audiences, with three, four or five thousand people or as much as 30,000.

We also wanted to ask about Major Lazer's live shows, especially because hype man Skerrit Bwoy recently left the band to pursue religion. By all accounts, the shows are high-energy awesome sauce.
We just bring the energy in reggae and carnival parties that you see. We bring that to the EDM [electronic dance music] world that's sort of lacking in personality and entertainment because of the performances. We bring a carnival to the people.

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