Diplo on ‘Swamp Savant’ Album, Sexuality, and the LA Marathon on LSD

Last night he partied, this morning he’s rallying.

Just a handful of hours ago, Diplo was out celebrating the release of Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley: Chapter 2 – Swamp Savant, the 44-year-old’s latest foray into country music, at the Los Angeles rooftop venue Desert 5 Spot, a space that embraces the line between western and modern club influences. (A perfect fit for one of music’s most prolific, genre-hopping producers, no?) Diplo, born Thomas Wesley Pentz, has seen success producing global hits (“Lean On,” “Where Are Ü Now”), launching ancillary projects (Jack Ü with Skrillex, Major Lazer with Ape Drums and Walshy Fire), and dabbling in experimentation (a pandemic-era ambient album). And lately he’s been hard at work infiltrating the inner sanctum of the Music City establishment, playing Stagecoach and collaborating with artists like Morgan Wallen and Sturgill Simpson. It’s working and, as he says, country music is changing.

So is Diplo. Always. While receiving red light therapy, the producer spoke to Esquire about his habit of rule-breaking, recent comments on his sexuality, and a lifetime of being misunderstood. This interview has been edited and condensed.

ESQUIRE: You’ve said the country project is “The greatest single piece of work you’ve ever done.” What makes this the greatest? Or is that just hyperbole?

DIPLO: It’s complete hyperbole.


Of course I’m gonna say that for a record I’m promoting. But in reality, country is the most challenging, daunting, and hardest-to-navigate genre of music I’ve ever worked in, whether it was African music, pop music, house music.

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What was the original inspiration behind launching a country era? I know you were heavily influenced by your father. Is country his musical taste?

It’s not really his taste, because the only album he ever gave me was the Forrest Gump soundtrack.

Good album!

That’s probably the best compilation of American music there is. We’d listen to that all the time in the car. But he’d also still listen to the Mariah Carey Christmas album in July… that wasn’t very cool. I have so many peripheral members of my family who all listen to country and hip-hop. That’s where we live. My father owns an RV park near Daytona Beach. This album makes sense there, and I feel like that’s who I made it for.

What does your father think of it?

He’s just so happy I’m not in jail. He was an accountant and a Vietnam War vet, so he never understood the direction I was taking in my life. Not that it was bad, but there’s nothing tangible about being a musician. So he’s happy that I found happiness and success in this job, because at first it didn’t make any sense to him.

You stayed with him when you were making the record. Was that a bonding experience?

He has a piece of land, and we built a septic tank in the yard. We’d move the cows around, picking up trees and building a tree-wall. But mainly I was just bonding with him as a father, because we never really had that connection. He was never around enough. He was so busy. As I got older, he had books in his house about how to be a great dad, because he was always trying to be successful at it, but it wasn’t about that. It was about spending time with your son, learning what he does and what makes him happy.

I think the last couple years, he saw I have a family and I’m on my own path and I’m successful. He just realized he did a good job by just showing me love and showing me how to learn about discipline. He’s a great father in showing me personal responsibility and accountability that I use a lot when I make music now. But that’s something he was always wondering, if he was a good dad. He was always asking me that. And I think he finally felt he was.

2019 stagecoach festival day 3

Diplo, Lil Nas X, and Billy Ray Cyrus perform at the 2019 Stagecoach Music Festival.

Frazer Harrison//Getty Images

I was watching a CBS This Morning interview with you from seven years ago, and one of the anchors asked you if you consider yourself a musician. I’m assuming that’s not much of an issue now.

It is an issue now.

Oh really.

Especially with country guys. They really don’t know what I do. They’re afraid of ostracizing fans if they’re leaning into pop or hip-hop, whatever it is. They’re like, “You write these lyrics too? You make these drums… from a machine?” I really had to sit down with a big country artist recently and explain to him how I open my Ableton session, a digital workstation I use on my computer. His mind was blown. People may hear my music, but they’re not certain about what it is. I’ve always been a catalyst for change in music; like trying different genres, styles and putting artists together who shouldn’t work on paper together. I’ve always been excited about the people before me that did that kind of stuff, whether it was Madonna, The Clash, Prince, or David Bowie. Those are the artists who always took chances, and when they did, it could change the shape and future of music. Country is not that genre. It is changing now because there’s new people involved and different stories being told, but they’re still scared of change.

A lot of people said no to this project. What made you still forge on?

It’s like going shopping. You always want to buy the nicest car, right? But you’re going to have to get what you afford. With this project, I wanted stars, I wanted every big person on this record. With other projects, like when we got Justin Bieber on the Jack Ü record, he was at a low point in his career. He wouldn’t have done that if it was during his Purpose era, but I became friendly with his team and we made a record that was special for him—and it was a gamechanger for the way people perceived him. For my first country album, we did a record with Morgan Wallen, who now might be the biggest artist in America as far as touring and streaming go. When we worked together, he was still up-and-coming and he did the record with me because he had nothing to lose.

For a lot of these artists, they think making more records gives you something to lose and that making less and being more precious about it is how you win, but that’s not really the case anymore. But people did take chances on me and that’s how you make great records. This story is kind of old, but when I made “Lean On” with Major Lazer, I was aiming for Rihanna to have it on her album. When she passed, I made it our own and it became a huge record for us, so it works that way as well.

There are not that many creative people in music who have worked with artists ranging from Morgan Wallen to Bad Bunny and Skrillex.

Genre is a human construct. People see something as Latin Trap, or Latin Trap from Puerto Rico or Nashville Country. I see it as: this is a chorus and that’s a hook, how can we dress it up? Dance music has always been for everybody: Black, white, gay, European, Mexican. But in every other genre it’s “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.”

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You gave an interview recently where, referring to Coachella headliners, you said that there aren’t a lot of culturally relevant new acts; that the amount of new stars who are breaking into the mainstream is becoming less and less every year. Why do you think that is?

The music industry is now built on leaning into streaming and TikTok. But they used to be the ones who built the artists, who built these brands and marketing plans. They don’t develop artists anymore. It’s always on the back of people like me to do everything themselves. Not to be all negative about it, because country is growing—that genre is standing the test of time—but right now there’s a lot of gatekeeping about what it is to be a star, and there aren’t any stars anymore. Not any new ones.

Take an artist like Dominic Fike. Literally for people to listen to his music he had to be on Euphoria. You have to have everything lined up.

Let’s completely switch gears. I heard you ran, and completed, the LA Marathon while high on LSD. For the layman, how does it affect you while you’re running?

I do a lot of LSD, but I’m not tripping and looking at the stars going “Whaaa?” I micro-dose it, maybe a little more. I was nervous before the race because 14 miles was the most I had ever ran. But woke up kind of late, put it in my water and drank it on the way to Dodger Stadium. It was maybe half of a tab of acid. I had a pace setter I was with and we were talking the whole time, and after like seven miles I looked at my phone and was like, “Man, I’m doing like seven minute miles.” I was running really fast, but I wasn’t focusing on my body. I was having a conversation. My body started to break down by mile 17. It was the longest I had ever ran and I didn’t even notice it. I attribute that to the LSD. I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do it, I wanted to experiment. It made the time go by fast, and the worst thing about running is how boring it is. It’s boring as hell.

Do you keep a strict diet?

I wish it was better. I drank last night and I try not to drink at all. I love margaritas when I hear country music. But I weaned myself off alcohol by moving to LSD. I also don’t like to smoke weed. But I do eat less food than I used to. I still eat bread and meat, dairy. Those are things that don’t affect my body too much. I stay away from sugar. I try to do the basic things, but I do work out an hour or two hours a day, five days a week, if I can. I feel normal when I sweat.

2023 los angeles marathon

Diplo crossing the finish line at the 2023 LA Marathon.

Meg Oliphant//Getty Images

You recently gave an interview on Emily Ratajakowsi’s podcast High Lowwhere you said you’re “not, not gay” and alluded to sexual experiences you had with men. As a gay man myself, I thought that was really awesome for you to say that so nonchalantly. Were you surprised by the reaction those comments got?

I didn’t think it was going to go viral as much as it did, but I think the funny thing is that it’s not that crazy of a statement, especially when you live in L.A. and you work in music. It shouldn’t even be a word to speak about it because there’s no controversy in even saying something like that. I didn’t realize this as I said it, but maybe it is important for men to understand that it isn’t that taboo and it’s not that weird to think that way and it’s not that weird to have feelings like that.

What have people been saying?

When the interview came out the label was like, “You gotta be gay now, this is going viral!” I was like, that’s not really the direction I was going in… They didn’t really say it like that, but they were like “You gotta lean into it.” But I’m not trying to lessen a gay man’s experience by playing with it. Nobody thought much of it in my world, but I did get some weird reactions from guys who were telling girls, “Do you know Diplo’s gay now?” Like, there are still guys who think like that.

It seems to me that across the board you don’t really care about boundaries: musically, professionally, and sexually.

Even when I was talking about genres; of course, it’s good to have those so you can find out where to file your music, but at the end of the day if you look at it like a prison to be in, you’re going to lose out on a lot of great life experiences. Free yourself of that. I’ve always thought, do whatever you can but be great at it. So, that’s how I live my life. I have no rules.

Congratulations again on the album: greatest piece of work you’ve everdone!

[Laughs] I had to say it.

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Rob LeDonne is a Brooklyn-based humor and culture writer who has written for Billboard, GQ, Rolling Stone, and TIME Magazine. 

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