It’s the cusp of fall in Los Angeles, and one of the hottest days of the year. The air is thick and heavy; its weight seems to be a physical burden on all who are around it. In a cozy cafe in Beverly Grove, the heat is so palpable, sweat glistens along the backs of several customers, clinging to them as they fan themselves with their menus, attempting to fend off the sun’s rays. Through the clatter of the end of lunch hour, the weight seems to lift when Dillon Francis enters the room. With a wide yet somewhat mischievous smile that accompanies his open armed welcome, his sheer magnetism makes it easy to see why he has garnered such an immense fan base so quickly.
While Francis often offers much of his life up to the public eye, the producer still has few surprises up his sleeve. A California native, Dillon is the son of Robert Drew Francis, an alternative medicine doctor. A practice that is continually growing in popularity, Francis grew up in a household that embraced massage therapy and various herbs and oils rather than prescriptions, and proudly sings its praises. He is also an impressive bowler, or so he tells us, boasting his ability to throw a bowling ball backwards between his legs and still getting a strike.
It is these very antics that allow Francis’ fans to see themselves in him, identifying their own attributes amongst his, and enabling the connection between Francis and his audience to go, as DJ Hanzel – Francis' Bruno-esque (Sacha Baron Cohen) comedic altar ego – would say, “one deeper.” While sipping his coffee, he talks about having recently taken a look back at his resume - it having now been some five odd years or so since he had previously updated it - and it's just possible that some of Francis’ prior jobs and career paths might resemble some of your own.
“I worked at American Apparel, I did back stock though; I wasn’t an on-the-floor person. Then after that I worked for my godfather interior decorating,” Francis says, laughing. “That didn’t last long. I worked for a lot of photographers like Patrick Hoelck, Anthony Mandler and Chris Baldwin, and I felt like it was too over-saturated, and that I wasn’t going to get very far in that business. I went and worked for Jay Lindeberg because I really like their suits. At the time they were still making all their suits. I did that for a really long time and kind of went half and half on DJing and working there. Finally, I quit all my jobs and went full force into DJing. Now I don’t have a resume!”
With the world laughing with him rather than at him, Dillon Francis has established himself as a star on the cusp of mainstream dance culture. His debut full-length album, Money Sucks, Friends Rule, will push him over the edge. Released on October 28 on Columbia Records and Mad Decent, the seemingly tongue and cheek-titled LP is an extremely diverse collection of Francis’ tracks that showcases his range as an artist. Accompanied by the Friends Rule tour later this year, the principle of prioritizing friends over wealth serves as a motto by which Francis lives. “I’m pretty sure I was taking a shower and I thought up the name. I was just thinking up t-shirt ideas, and I came up with, ‘Money Sucks, Friends Rule.’ I really liked the concept of it. A lot of people are always like, “money changes people,” and I hate that. I wish money didn’t rule the world like it does, especially after going to Russia. Seeing over there how if people have money, they can get away with anything. I just thought that that sucks, and that having true friends is amazing.”
Throughout his career, Francis has been able to accumulate a rather impressive circle of friends along the way. Initially producing the low-slung 110bpm groove of moombahton, Francis first picked up attention when he joined forces with Mad Decent exec Diplo for the song, “Que Que” in 2011. Refusing to be labeled or pigeonholed though, Money Sucks, Friends Rule, offers something for everyone. Blending dancefloor hits, such as DJ Snake collaboration “Get Low” and “I Can’t Take It,” to the slower and more heartfelt hit “When We Were Young,” featuring Sultan & Ned Shepard and The Chain Gang of 1974, Francis is able to effectively showcase his versatility in a large-scale format.
For Francis, this basis of working together relies most strongly on friendship and trust. “I like when people tell me the truth about things. I don’t like 'yes' men that are just like, ‘yeah it’s great, I really like it.’ I send my label mate, Alvin [Risk], my music all the time, and he’ll tell me straight up, ‘I don’t like it. I think it’s a piece of shit.’ And I like that there are still people in this world that will do that.”
While the release of a full-length album from Francis has been a long waited wish for many of his fans, the process of creating often took a toll on the producer. “I’m just finally happy that it’s online, available for pre-order, and out of my hands now,” admits Francis, shaking his head, “it’s been such a weight on my shoulders and it’s stressed me out so much. My parents noticed it, I always go out and hang out with them because they live close, but they noticed how stressed out I was.” With a bevy of tracks and singles to his name, the difficulty of creating a fully-fledged album quickly became overwhelming and at times even tedious.
“A lot of it has been stuff that I made a year and a half ago, and a lot of it has been recent stuff that I’ve made. With the way that music changes, you have to keep updating stuff, and I hate going back to old projects and updating it to make it sound relevant. So that’s why it’s been the bane of my existence, because I’ve never made an album before, and I didn’t really know what went into making it. Now that I’ve done it, I can really streamline my second one and not make it suck so much. Not sucking in terms of the music, though.”
Money Sucks, Friends Rule has also allowed Francis to delve into the waters of working with some artists other than the usual dance genre suspects. When looking at the track list, one of the names that initially stands out is fast-talking rapper Twista. “We had an instrumental with The Rejects on the hook, and we didn’t have any verses. My manager sent Twista’s camp the song, I think he was just shopping it to a bunch of rappers, and Twista decided to get on it. He sent me the vocals back and it was amazing. That’s how it came about and now I have Twista’s number in my phone,” Francis tells us with a proud grin. “He wants to work on more stuff so it was kind of a dream come true. You know when Twista did 'Overnight Celebrity,' that song is so good and I never ever, ever thought that I would have Twista on a song.” Another name that has garnered attention is Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco fame, who Francis reached out to himself.
“Panic! at the Disco I loved when I was growing up, and when I was in high school. That was like my favorite thing. 'I Write Sins, Not Tragedies,' everyone loved that song. That whole album was really good and I just contacted him on Twitter,” and wrote, “‘Man, I’d really love to work on a song with you,’ and after that he started following me and I got his email. I sent him one song, he wasn’t really interested in it, and then this other song that I made, which didn’t have a title at the time, I was trying to find a singer for it. Me and my friend, Emoh tried to sing on it using a vocoder, and it didn’t really work, people didn’t like it. Then I realized I still needed to send [Urie] something so I forwarded it to him.” That very same day, “he sent me a version with him singing on his headphones, and it was great.
Perhaps the key to Dillon Francis’ success lies beyond just his impressive musical capabilities, which extends to his strong sense of relatability. Sitting on a couch in the back of the restaurant, he immediately speaks about his life with an openness that is equally matched by his humor and wit. “My trainer was diagnosed with cancer,” he says. “For the second time. It’s awful. The thing is though, the first thing I thought when he told me was, ‘Shit, now I have to get a new trainer.’” He quickly checks how this bit of Larry David-like honesty sounds, adding, “this is one of the most LA things I’ve ever said. The only thing to make it worse is that I heard the news while I was talking to my hairdresser.”
With the West Coast embedded into his roots, Dillon Francis has embraced and incorporated the output of Hollywood’s silver screen into his persona. Even as a child, Francis was attracted to the zany and the offbeat, developing a love for the comedic styling’s and multi-faceted performances of actors such as Jim Carrey and the late Robin Williams. “Growing up I loved Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar, all of Jim Carrey’s movies. I wanted to be a comedian.”
With colorful characters and a no holds barred style to their onscreen personas, it is clear that the work of these actors has left a heavy imprint on Francis, helping to shape him into who he is today. One glimpse at his Instagram account will bring you into the world of Francis’ co-stars, his long list of comedy alter-egos such as the aforementioned foreign record snob DJ Hanzel, bottle service VIP member DJ Rich As Fuck, pink haired club rat Becky, and so many more that it becomes hard to even count. Asked to describe some of his characters in five words or less, Francis chuckles and says, “DJ Hanzel would be 'One,' 'Deeper,' 'Asshole,' 'Douchebag,' and 'Deephousemusic,' but put deep house music as one word, so it counts.” Often serving as fodder on his numerous Instagram and Vine videos, these identities have become fleshed out, fully realized beings that Francis fans are able to latch onto. The concept of videotaping and acting out these characters is nothing new for Francis, who has embraced the Internet’s presence from the start.
“Me and my friend would make these videos making fun of reality TV shows and put them online. I think the first big series to come around was Laguna Beach. Remember the really dramatic opening credits where she turns around like this?” he asks, as he flips his head fiercely. “We would make fun of that, or put on wigs and have conversations like, ‘Oh my god, how did I get so drunk last night? I ate dinner and everything.’ ‘Tiffany, you had a crouton for dinner. I don’t know how you got drunk either.’ Becky stems a lot from that. That was when social media was getting big, and we would put these videos online and get a huge response.”
Looking to take his relationship with his fans past the computer screen, Francis is also known for the many unique and interesting items that he offers up for sale on the merchandise section of his website. For a price, fans are able to have Francis give them a personalized and one of a kind experience, whether it’s having him paint a picture of your family, babysitting your kid or having him sing you “Happy Birthday” while under water. “A lot of people don’t realize that the proceeds go to charity, which is part of why I like doing it. Part of it goes to cover the costs, of course, but the rest goes to charity.” When asked if anyone so far has claimed the illustrious prizes, the answer is a resounding yes. “I think the first one was the Ghost scene. 12th Planet, Zedd and Rukes split that and bought it. I’ve babysat someone’s kid, I think someone just bought the ‘Play Your Bar Mitzvah’ one, which will be crazy and really fun. The babysitting one was awesome because the kid was super cool, he was like an actor kid.”
In today’s world, where the lives of celebrities is available at the stroke of a button and the click of a key, Francis fully embraces his online image, allowing fans to see exactly what they want to see. “I’ve thought about it recently, if sometimes I let people in too much. But I’ve realized that I don’t really care, and I want people to see just as much as I would want to see.” In the 21st century, social media is king, and Francis owes it everything. “This whole album wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Twitter. Twista happened through my manager, but for the most part everyone who is on it I met through talking to them on Twitter. People like Martin Garrix, Major Lazer, the whole reason I’m friends with Diplo is because we met on Twitter.”
With his debut album leaving a strong first impression, an army of Instagram and Twitter followers at his feet, and the promise of a headlining US tour, the future is bright for Dillon Francis. However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t stopped thinking about a back-up plan just yet. “Sooner or later, when I have to go work at KFC or something, I’m going to write ‘amazing music selector’ in my bio so that I will get hired.”
WORDS: ALEX JOHN