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Diplo Goes Country: DJ-Producer Talks Stagecoach Set, Working With Zac Brown, Thomas Rhett (EXCLUSIVE)

Since he first broke into the mainstream in 2004 with his work on M.I.A.’s pivotal “Arular” album, Diplo has become one of the biggest DJ-producers in the business, working with artists ranging from Beyonce and Madonna and Dua Lipa to Skrillex and Lil Yachty, all while releasing solo singles, leading the group Major Lazer, running his Mad Decent label and keeping up a manic pace of global DJ appearances; he’s also part of the collaborative groups LSD (with Sia and Labrinth), Silk City (with Mark Ronson) and Jack U (with Skrillex). He’s released music in multiple genres, from pop and hip-hop to Caribbean and rock, and earlier this month he, Ronson and Dua Lipa won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording (for “Electricity”). One of the few major genres he hadn’t broken into was country — until now.

Today Diplo was announced as a performer at the country festival Stagecoach in Indio, Calif., closing out the festival with an afterparty in the festival’s Palomino tent on Sunday, April 28. (Watch the announcement trailer below.) This year’s installment of the festival, one of country music’s biggest, is headlined by Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean, and features Cole Swindell, Luke Combs, Old Dominion, Kane Brown, Cam, Lauren Alaina and many others.

Diplo told Variety he’s been recording with — or in talks with — country singers like Zac Brown, Thomas Rhett, Cam and Sam Hunt in recent months, although it’s unclear if or when the songs might be released.

“I’m trying to do some country records with Nashville artists — Cam, Zac Brown, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett — just trying to do something totally off-the-cuff and different,” he says. Asked what the songs sound like, he said, “They’re kinda like country, but I’m adding some of my flavor to make it unusual.

“It’s actually a hard thing to get some of these guys to take a chance, because country’s such an insular community, but I’m trying to do something a little bit different with the songwriting just trying to experiment, y’know?”

The move is not completely out of the blue, as Diplo has expressed admiration for the new generation of country singers, particularly Sturgill Simpson, in recent years.

“Sturgill and I got connected a few years ago and just became buddies,” he says. “I’m such a huge fan of what he does, and that’s the exact energy I wanted to approach country with. There’s so much of that right now. There’s all these kids who are doing country in a really new way. There’s new energy in the sort of outlaw, outsider country that hasn’t been around in years. I’ve always felt that way, and it’s fun to push myself and see what I can come up with getting in with these artists.”

Asked if this is a new interest for him, Diplo said it was a part of his upbringing. “I’m from Florida and also kinda Mississippi and South Carolina, so country’s always been around,” he says. “I feel like I had to do a bunch of other stuff first, but now I’m coming back to it.”

While a rep said it’s too early to say when or where those releases might land — Diplo has a deal with Columbia Records, so it’s possible a compilation album might emerge — the producer did tease that at least one song will arrive before his official country debut in April.

“It’ll come out right before I play Stagecoach,” he said, declining to provide further details.

Popular on Variety

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