Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley: Chapter 1 - Snake Oil

Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley: Chapter 1 - Snake Oil

Before Thomas Wesley Pentz became the culture-shaking DJ and pop provocateur Diplo, he grew up in Florida on a diet of Christian radio, country hits, and hip-hop. “I would watch Rap City on BET and then CMT back-to-back every day after I got out of school,” he tells Apple Music. “It was equal. I was as obsessed with Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson as I was with Wu-Tang [Clan] and Dr. Dre.” Country music has historically been off-limits to genre-fusing maximalists, but with the explosive success of renegade outsiders like Lil Nas X and Orville Peck, Diplo saw an opening. “They’re punk rock to that world,” he says. “They’re doing it from the outside, proving that you don’t need Nashville’s rules anymore.” After months courting country artists about collaborations, he found a few that were willing to take a chance on him, like Thomas Rhett and Morgan Wallen. “These are big mainstream country stars who know that times are changing,” he says. “Still, they went out on a limb for me by doing these records.” Snake Oil—a hybridized riff on cliché that refuses to take itself too seriously—challenges the very definition of country music in 2020. “It’s my take on it,” he says. “Country is the vehicle, but it’s like a pickup truck with spoilers in the back that I lowered and painted crazy colors or something.” Here Diplo goes through all the tracks and collaborations on his new set of wheels. Intro (feat. Orville Peck) “Orville showed up in my DMs before I even knew who he was, and we became really good friends. We hang out. We were working on the Noah Cyrus song [‘On Mine’] and I asked him to make me an intro for the album—a guitar loop, because I was going to add my own spoken word. He wound up doing the whole thing himself, and I just loved it. It’s the perfect way to introduce this record, which has all these different styles of country and pop pushing against each other. He’s the most outlandish figure in that world, so it made sense to me. It sets the stage that nothing that follows is going to be conventional. We're taking it apart. We're doing our own take. This is my team's story.” So Long “This was the first country song we worked on, and it wasn’t even on purpose. It happened while I was doing a songwriting camp for my other project, Silk City, and it turned out that Diana Gordon, who helped write a lot of the melodies, is also a crazy old-school country fan. She started riffing on a country melody and we built the song around that. At some point, we had this idea to play Stagecoach [2019]—I honestly don’t know whose idea it was—and [rising country singer] Cam and I put this out a week before the festival. It was an amazing set. Lil Nas X and Sam Hunt were onstage with me, the tent was packed. You could feel people’s perspectives shifting. I got no fee for that show, basically. I had to go there myself. But it was one of the best shows I did last year. I spent the next year working on the album.” Heartless (feat. Morgan Wallen) “My management is really into country music—they also manage Sturgill Simpson—and they introduced me to Morgan Wallen early on. His mullet was the main selling point. I was like, ‘Yes, cool. I'm down with the mullet guy.’ He was kind of a renegade. I went to see him at his concert and we agreed to record together, but it took a while because even he was kind of scared of it. We were trying out this track with trap drums—I honestly didn't think about it, it just felt like it had the right tempo—and it wound up being so controversial. That’s how Nashville works. The politics are unique. People don’t really want a Diplo song on country radio. They want to keep it the way it is and control the flow of the music, which is something we’ve been fighting for months. Eventually we decided to use that to our advantage. Morgan was like, ‘Okay, let's do it. This’ll be my weird record.’ And it became the biggest song we have. It's like three times platinum now. It just keeps staying up there, finding a new audience.” Lonely “We wrote this at that same songwriting camp up in Malibu, and those guys just happened to come over. This was before the Jonas Brothers got back together. Ryan Tedder, who is a friend of mine, was like, ‘Hey, can we write something? The Jonas Brothers are back together.’ So we did the record, which wasn't that country, but then it didn't make it onto their album. So I rewrote it and country-ed it up a bit. But it’s still the most pop track on the album. I mean, it's the Jonas Brothers. What do you want? I'm not gonna do a trap song with them.” Dance With Me “Ryan [Tedder] was already working on this and mentioned Thomas Rhett was on it. I was like, ‘I know that guy! He's a country guy.’ But it was a pop record. Right there, I felt like it fit in with what I was doing. Eventually, Ron Perry at Columbia said we needed a feature on it, and Young Thug was the most random one we could think of. And he got it done. It's the weirdest record, but it’s also the most commercial, and that’s on purpose. I was trying to make a statement about who’s allowed to do what. Because even Thomas Rhett’s team was like, ‘We don't know about Young Thug.’ They didn't really get it. They’re used to taking things slowly and making all the right decisions for their careers. But I said, ‘Just trust me to get the vocal done. I'll make sure it's great.’ I remember Thomas still didn't know who Young Thug was, and he didn’t understand any of the words, but he liked it. So he played it for his dad or father-in-law, and they were like, ‘I love this. I don't know what he says either, but I love the energy.’ And that helped Thomas sign off.” Do Si Do “Blanco [Brown] had this really cool record ‘The Git Up’ that was huge on country radio, and it was a fusion between hip-hop and country. I loved it. I’m a DJ, so I wanted to do the dance version of it—like line dancing. We had this idea to do an uptempo riff on that Johnny Cash record ‘I've Been Everywhere,’ and we started freestyling. I came up with the hook. We added a harmonica. And that was that.” On Mine “I actually wrote this song years ago with MØ, the Danish artist who I did ‘Lean On’ with. It was a totally different lo-fi downtempo song, and for so long I had nowhere to go with it. But I rewrote bits and pieces, changed the tempo and production, and it sounded cool. I thought, who could sing it? MØ was really busy with her own project, so I hit up Noah [Cyrus] and she sang it the next day. Orville plays guitar and some drums on it too.” Real Life Stuff (feat. Julia Michaels & Clever) “Julia is a really good friend of mine, and after we did a few demos with Amy Allen, this one stood out. But it needed a feature, and we had already exhausted every route in country. Clever had just put out that record with Justin Bieber, and I was like, this guy's voice is crazy! Crazy. And it turned out he’s from Alabama. Even though he's not a country guy per se, everybody from the South has country in their blood.” Hometown (feat. Zac Brown & Danielle Bradbery) “This one was kind of crazy. I originally wrote it with Sam Hunt, and he put out a record called ‘Kinfolks’ which stole the chorus from us. I was like, ‘What are you doing, dude?’ He was like, ‘Oh, I don't remember...’ So I got another singer to sing it, because I thought the songs were different enough to where it was still awesome. I had been talking to Zac Brown for years. He actually flew his jet to see me and Skrillex play in New Orleans because he's just a big fan. We hung out at Voodoo Fest. He started doing DJ sets. We got along. I hit him up when I had the song finished, like, ‘Hey, you want to sing this?’ He changed some parts, and he crushed it. It became this mellow groover. He's also kind of a Nashville outsider, you know? Almost on the jam band side of things. His shows are enormous.” Heartbreak “This was the last record that came in. The guys that manage Morgan Wallen also manage Ben Burgess, and brought us this song they’d just finished. It was just a guitar line, but it was cool, and we needed another song to round the album out. So we did the drums and guitars, sent it back, and they loved it. They're kind of like the cool guys in Nashville, you know? So anything they send us, we listen to. And the beauty of Nashville is there’s so much material. It has the most studios in the world. They’re cranking out records left and right. But country artists only put out one record or two records a year, so there are all these songs that I can reimagine and make my own. It's kind of how I put the album together.” Heartless (feat. Morgan Wallen) “We did this version because we wanted to put this song on pop radio. We hadn’t had trouble with country fans; the song was streaming so well. But Morgan has such a redneck voice that it was hard for pop listeners to look past it. So we put Julia on it to lessen the country-ness of it. Really, any remix exists to build your audience, because there are different places where listeners can get introduced to music. I'm learning more about the genre-fication of things through this project. I never thought it was so serious, where you need that fiddle or you can’t have those drums. In the past, I’ve just made exactly what I wanted and the records organically found their audience. This one we had to actually maneuver because there were so many outside prejudices against what country is and who can make it, and prejudices from inside Nashville about the exact same thing. With this album, with Orville, I feel like those walls are breaking.” Old Town Road (Diplo Remix) “We just added this on because it was on Columbia. It was easy to license and to mix. I did the remix when the original first came out—they wanted something crazy for dance radio or whatever—so it sort of traces the history of this project. Chapter 2 is going to be a little different. This record has one foot in Nashville and one in weird Diplo world, but it still feels random. The next one will be more coherent, because now people know what I'm doing. This time around, I had to convince everybody that this was going to be cool, and that was really hard. But now, we did it.”

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