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Q&A: Dillon Francis on surprising collaborators and his pop-leaning new album

The mainstream rise of electronic dance music in recent years has led to an increasingly crowded space for artists. While DJs and producers come and go more frequently, Los Angeles native Dillon Francis has established himself as a mainstay. His ability to transform songs initially earned him a fanbase, but his musical risk-taking and infectious personality have kept him relevant.

He recently credited social media as the way he best reaches his growing number of fans.

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"I definitely thought [Vine and Instragram] would help people understand who I was as a person; like that I love to have a lot of fun," Francis said on the phone from Asheville, N.C., earlier this week. "I think people could notice that through my music but then they could really tell through all those videos. And that's what it's all about."

Before headlining Rams Head Live on Saturday (which follows a set at Washington's Echostage on Friday), the 27-year-old DJ and producer discussed his new album, his various alter egos and future music.

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Who were you most excited to work with on this new record, "Money Sucks, Friends Rule"?

It was Brendan Urie [of Panic! At the Disco] for sure, just because I've been a huge fan of his since I was in high school. I think his voice is so incredible. It was just kind of a dream come true. The song just came together so easily. I finished the instrumental and tried to write my own lyrics with my friend, and we definitely failed really hard at that. I was just trying to think of who could sing on it and then I remembered that Brendan and I were supposed to do a song together. I sent it over to him that night and, right after that, I think in the morning at like 10 o'clock, he sent me the vocals that he had done on his iPhone earbuds. It didn't really even change that much from the final [version of "Love in the Middle of a Firefight"], maybe just a couple words. He nailed it so hard.

How did "All That" come about with Twista, who isn't a name you normally hear in electronic music?

I worked with [California trio] The Rej3ctz and we got the hook done and what I structured it out as is where Twista's verse was. I put the hook from The Rej3ctz and then made it into that drop. It was just a synth and, you know, kind of like how "Get Low" is with the vocal buildup. So then I sent it to my manager and he said, "I'm going to look for some rappers. I feel like you could do that instead of the actual verse you have. You could use the verse that you have right before the drop but get someone else to rap on it."

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He was like, "Hey, how do you feel about Twista?" And looking back, I remember being like, "Are you f---ing serious? Can we do that?" And he goes, "Actually, yeah, we just got vocals from him." So he sent me the vocals and he nailed it as well, and all I had to do was restructure — you know, move some things around. But it was just so random and cool. I'm such a big Twista fan. "Overnight Celebrity" was one of my favorite songs.

Speaking of things that are a different sound, this new album sounds very pop. Were you afraid of backlash? Did you think Avicii and Tiësto were going to make fun of you for it?

[Laughs] No, I wouldn't think that they would. I definitely thought about my fans getting mad about it. I kept my sound in it. I already make kind of poppy music. If you listen to "I.D.G.A.F.O.S.," the way I came up with that song was by remixing "Stereo Hearts" by Gym Class Heroes. That song is a total pop rip. You can make that into a pop song, but a lot of kids, they don't think about that if it doesn't have pop vocals on it.

I knew that some people would get mad that I was using more vocal records but I think later on when people heard the album, if they actually listen to it all the way through — which I hope people do — that they would actually be like, "Oh OK, I get what he was trying to do." This is an album that you can listen to. And being vocal helps me stay on course with each tracklisting. I think instrumental songs can only go so far.

Because this is your own tour with your own production, what can we expect from the new production?

The new production is this massive thing called a Gehry and it's just huge. It's taller than me. It looks like the Disney Hall in L.A. There are these little sections where we post the video through. It's kind of like how the album cover looks, where it sections off video parts, and I have a lot of really cool content with it. It's a sight to see in person. You don't really know how big it is until you see it live.

MTV called you an "Artist to Watch." Who do you think is an artist to watch?

There's this guy named Aazar that has been making some really cool stuff. I think he just put up something on [Mad Decent's] Jeffree's I really like his style. And then this guy Jaud. He's been making a lot of really cool U.K.-based stuff and he's from L.A. A lot of the people who are on Jeffree's actually are people who I really like and who I would think should be artists to watch.

What do you have planned for future music?

I'm definitely going to start my second album soon in January, and right now I'm working on a Moombahton EP. It has a song with Skrillex on it and then a song that I opened with at EDC Vegas that I want to tune more for it.

Does another album mean another tour in the summer?

We'll see. I don't know when it would come out. I'm going to start working on it in January and we'll see how long it will take to make — hopefully not as long as my last one. This one took like two years, I think, maybe two and a half. I didn't really know I was working on it for the first half.

You have various alter egos. My favorite is Becky. Can we expect any new alter egos from the Money Sucks, Friends Rule tour?

The only one that is making an appearance at one stop in New York is DJ Hanzel. The other ones, no. They are doing they're own thing. They didn't want to tour with me. They're sick of me.

Do you think DJ Hanzel would go on tour, just him?

Yeah, I'm hoping that next year he will. I'm going to try to make that happen.

Maryland fans loved it when you played a pretty big Moombahton set when you were here for Mad Decent Block Party this past summer. Do you have any special plans this weekend?

Yeah, definitely. I really like to go hard on that stuff when I'm playing over there because that's its birthplace so I always have to. I have to kind of make a tribute to that.

Before you go, I have to ask: Who's dreamier — Martin Garrix or Diplo?

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I would think Martin Garrix because he's got an accent.

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INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED

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