Don Diablo: the journey of ‘FOREVER’ [Interview]
The moment that Don Diablo fans, and the producer himself, have been waiting for eagerly has finally arrived. Don Diablo has returned with his newest studio album ‘FOREVER’, and it is out now. Boasting 21 tracks, each taking listeners on a different journey, ‘FOREVER’ has been a long time in the making. We sat down with Don Diablo to talk all about the album and to get all the details about it.
Congratulations on finally getting to release ‘FOREVER’. How does it feel to be getting it out into the world?
I feel liberated honestly, because every single post I did on my social media, there were always people asking me about the album and it was really hard for me because the idea obviously when you put out an album you want to put out some singles before. So we live in 2021 and I was hoping people would know that the album is already being seeded as everything is going along, but sometimes I felt attacked like ‘Where’s the album!’. I put out a single last week, it’s from the album, so I’m giving you the album. I’m just giving it to you fragmented. If I would give you the whole album out of nowhere, 90% of the album would be basically under listened because we’re living in a society where everything goes super quick and it’s very hard to process a whole new album so this is the way the world works nowadays, you put out a few singles maybe even for a year or two years, then you add a lot of new tracks and that’s your album. I think that process was a little bit hard to understand I guess for some people, and I don’t want to go explaining myself but it’s been an interesting time and I’m just very happy because it was very hard making a selection at the end because I did an album tour before the pandemic. I went to Milan, I went to Tokyo, I went to Paris, London and New York so all these were amazing, sold out everyone was hyped and ready for the album, because I wanted to do a tour before the album, and then do a big concert in my hometown and then the pandemic hit. I was like ‘it’s just really weird to put out an album now’. I think everything happens for a reason and I’m a strong believer of that and the pandemic really allowed me to reinvent myself, reinvent myself physically, mentally, but also musically and creatively. That was very important for me and I really saw it as an opportunity to grow and I think both musically and lyrically I wanted to write records, when it comes to electronic music a lot of it is focused around the production. A lot of it is very tech-y, very in-crowd, all about what sounds are you using and I think what plugins have been used to create this song, but for me it’s always been about what is this song about? And create an atmosphere. It’s like a mini movie, you create music and that music is the underscore to a story. I think we’ve come to an age where that has become snowed in a little bit where people were more like ‘we’ll just grab something from splice, we’ll get a vocal come up with a cool beat, drop it, hopefully end up high on the DJ support list’ and then that’s it. I really wanted to reverse the process, so how can you tell a story and how would you score that story, and then can I use any really cool, new innovative techniques that would be a bonus. I think the challenge was to move forward while still being recognizable within my sound, and for me I want to try out different things always and you will always have those people who are like ‘I miss the old Don Diablo’. The old Don Diablo is still in there, listen closely and also who is the old Don Diablo? I’ve been making music since I was 13 so are you a fan from 5 years ago, last year or 10 years ago? For me, if you’re a real fan then you understand how much love, dedication, time and effort I put into every single piece of music also with the idea of this, when you make an album it’s there forever because I’m not going to be here forever, nothing is going to be there forever except the things that you leave behind, your thoughts and your ways to communicate with the world. Everything that we put out on social media, everything that we put out online will always be there forever except us. To me that was important, to make this the best album I could. Leave a legacy whether it’s through music, fashion, or word or art – that was just my challenge.
Image credit: Don Diablo – ‘Forever’ album cover
What was your vision for the album when you first started working on it?
The vision was to grow and to tell a story. I think every single record if you listen closely to it you can relate to it in your own way whether it’s ‘Into The Unknown’ which is really about being captured, being a hermit, being in your own space not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow and just generally feeling alone or ‘Kill Me Better’ which kind of plays on the same theme. It’s really about the demons in your head, any of those records really have that story, obviously ‘Thousand Faces’ is really about my connection with my father who is no longer here and I think these are all mini scenes and together they form a film and the film is called ‘Forever’. Also I really wanted to take some time for the artwork and in the end the art was created by an almost 80-year-old gentleman called Terry Pastor and he also made the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Hunky Dory’ artwork for David Bowie. So for me it’s really about growing and is also why I went into the digital art space because I really wanted to explore the concept of what art is. I think what musicians have been doing and everything around it has been art for a long time but it’s never really been considered that way and I think everything I’ve done outside of the music during the pandemic has really reaffirmed that for me personally.
Are you planning on doing any NFTs surrounding the album?
I plan on creating more NFTs that are more community driven. At the moment it’s something that I really wanted to do as a creator, as an artist, to create rare ‘one of one’ art pieces. I’ve always been creating art but I’ve never sold it. Just the same as I’ve always done certain things that you might never find out about. It felt full circle, I think there’s a lot of resistance around it because people see these things and are like ‘how is Don Diablo selling all of a sudden these weird art pieces for seven-figure numbers’ and ‘what’s going on? Why are we not a part of this?’ Hey, I’m giving you an album with 21 records, music videos, and art. It’s got all of my heart in it, 19 hours a day, almost 18 months straight. I’ve been working on just being creative and yes, I wanted to find a way to grow as an art maker. Is there a possibility for someone who’s not making paintings or sculptures to get his work in museums or auctioned as something as legendary as Sotherby’s? Or could I be working with the United Nations on changing the way we look at streaming music and potentially use music to regreen the planet? All these things for me, there’s so much to what you can do with making music and I think actually making it and the process of it is cool but it goes so much further than that I think. Even if you look at the possibilities that are coming in the future, it’s mind blowing. That’s why I wanted to do a theatre show, write a book, and have a new collectible with Star Wars coming out. All these things, I think the focus will always be on you being a DJ and making ‘EDM’ but I think ‘no, I make things’ and music is one of them. I do it with all of my heart and I try my very best and then I die and the only thing that will last forever is what I have created.
Can you tell us more about you working with the United Nations?
It’s a new concept we came up with together with an organisation called Just Dig It. Every 25 streams we will regreen one square metre of dry earth in Africa. At the moment I think we’ve already done 300,000 square metres or kilometres, i’ll have to look into the numbers but it is huge and we’re filming it so you can actually see when you’re listening to a record you’re helping to regreen planet earth. That’s also the idea behind this track I made with Ty Dolla $ign ‘Too Much To Ask.’ It’s sort of a love song for planet earth, again this never would’ve happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic because these are things where there are long leads and it takes a lot of time to come up with this. We were able to launch it during the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, it’s been pretty nuts. It’s all these world leaders and yourself and I think it’s just the start of it, that’s why you don’t know as much about it yet but it’s really the start of a thought process just as this album is the start of a new era for me. That’s the simple explanation to it, every time you listen to a record you are regreening planet earth and it means that everything that is earned with that record is donated straight to this project and the technical part of it is quite simple: it’s barren land and local farmers are being helped to create these bonds and these bonds hold the water and you can literally see within a very short amount of time how a piece of land that is practically unusable is all of a sudden green and completely usable and is creating oxygen, and is really helping the carbon footprint which is obviously discussed a lot when it comes to NFTs but I think it’s a very simple concept. You have to always give back.
Image credit: Don Diablo press
How did this come about? How does an artist such as yourself say to the United Nations ‘I want to be involved?’. How does that process look?
There’s a charity called Just Dig It and when I was 17 or 18 I already worked with them because of a concept called ‘Dance For Life’. I was still living with my mom and dad at the time, literally nobody had heard of Don Diablo and they came to my house and I was their first ambassador to combat the global battle of AIDS among young people through music and dance, which is what we do. I went to Africa and we shot a documentary there for MTV and we made our steps in growing ‘Dance For Life’ and this is a similar situation. It’s the same team or idealists, again trying to find a positive way through music because everybody loves music, everybody loves dancing. It’s a simple concept, you don’t have to do very complicated things to do something great for Mother Earth. That’s where it comes from, because some charities see it as a task like you’re asking something for someone, and I think when it comes to motivating young people, this is a very small thing to do. My last album tour for the ‘Forever’ album all the tickets were free, everything was paid for by me. The only thing you had to do was donate at the door. This was the idea to motivate young people. The funny thing about that was that those who donated more than the obligatory five euros, we let them in backstage and we gave them an experience which we didn’t say up front because it was an experiment for me as well. I want to see what people do when other people aren’t watching. For me as well as artist I think what I share with the world is what I want to share with you but there is so much new music that I have on my harddrive which is completely different from anything you will have ever heard of, or there’s films, there’s music, there’s art, there’s only 10% of what I create I share with you guys so I think the same thing with charity it shouldn’t be always about ego or it should really be about the want, the urge to make a change. There’s actually a song about this called ‘Make A Change’ on the album. Also the death of Avicii inspired the title for the album ‘Forever’ because I think also for me personally I have such an emotional connection with my fans and they really are the source to my creation and together we are creating things that will be there forever and the same with Tim, his physical being is no longer here but his legacy will be here forever.
When fans are listening to ‘Forever’ what would you like them to take away from it and how would you like it to make them feel?
I would like it to make them feel all sorts of ways. Hopefully there are records there that will make them dance, hopefully there are records there that whether its ‘Kill Me Better’ or ‘Into The Unknown’ or ‘Invisible’ that gives them the idea that it’s okay to have clouds in your head and to be battling with demons and it doesn’t matter how successful you are, it’s all very relative. It’s okay to speak about this, it’s okay to to be open about it and it has nothing to do with the way you look or the things you do or the success you have, it’s really something that lives inside your brain and we’re all struggling with and I think that’s one of the messages. Whether it’s ‘Too Much To Ask’ or ‘Make A Change’, you are actually able to make a change even with just being kind and gentle to people or to give someone a smile on the street that doesn’t look happy. I think all of these things can definitely make a change and also I hope that they will hear that as a producer I’m still killing it out there because I put a lot of really dope sounds in there that I think are very innovative and fresh and I’m really really grateful that i’m able to work with a lot of amazingly talented vocalists, musicians and really wanted to put this together as one sort of film. If you listen from start to finish you will discover more things. My music doesn’t really get played on the radio, like some of the guys out there, but I still have 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify because I think it takes a few more listens, my music. I know it’s not like ‘here you go, there it is’ but I hope they give it that chance to really listen to it and I think also some of these records they don’t get discovered for five or six years down the line so that’s kind of also what I produced it on, same as when I started wearing face masks 6 years ago, like ‘why are you wearing face masks?’ you never know! A pandemic might be coming guys, the world might change! Yeah, I think we all should stay open minded and I’ve always just done whatever I wanted and I think as a kid I was already wearing my mom’s clothing and people were kind of looking at me weird but I think it kinda worked out fine so I think there’s no shame in it. We’ve been working on a documentary for the last 7 years, a full length one. It was supposed to launch with the album, but the perfectionist in me killed it so I ended up being like ‘let’s do the album, let’s make amazing art’. At the moment I’m literally creating 21 new canvases for Spotify so whenever you listen to it it feels like it’s one piece of art and all of it comes together now. A record like ‘Survive’ definitely has to be on the album because that record again is special to me. Again, nobody really wanted to put that record out initially, nobody really liked that beat and it was really hard to get the featurings on it but now here we are, on already 50 million streams or something and it will hit 100 million by the end of next year hopefully. They’re all like creepers, I think that’s been like my position in the scene. I’ve really been a slow grower even in my country people are sometimes like ‘Don Diablo’s in the top 10? That’s weird, we all know the other names but Don is there too? Shocking’. If we all have our own sort of kingdoms then i’ll be the king of the underdogs. For me that’s really what I want to champion because if you look at my year school book picture it’s me literally with a round face, scruffy hair on my chin, long ponytail. Now people see you and they judge you and they think certain things but I think that’s the one thing that came through the pandemic which was Clubhouse and that really allowed me to have my voice heard without people looking at you. The sign of these times are really helping push forward things like NFTs and create that community. I think you saw it with the launch of the album, I created this communal type desktop website where you go on it and I think if there’s anything down the line that I don’t really want to share with the larger audience and it’ll just be for my fans it’ll be on that website dondiabloforever.com. At some point I will be gone, this might be next year, it might be in ten years you never know and there should be a way where everyone can still put things in there and help each other and if I leave behind anything it will hopefully be people connecting to each other. I love the idea that people who have absolutely no self confidence, they go to my concerts alone and they are confident enough that they’ll meet someone there that is wearing the same clothes, they understand the concept, they read the comic books, they wear the clothing, they understand sort of this philosophy that goes way beyond the music. I think with this album I try to create a little bit of an audio bible, here’s some more to listen to and to analyse and to hopefully appreciate beyond all the sonics and technical parts and I think that’s always the part that scares me, when you create something people always just take it and devour it. They listen to it, fast forward, I got some more sh*t to do tomorrow, there’s a new album, next week there’s a new book, this week is a new movie coming out. This is also why I created ‘Destination Hexagonia’ for instance, my second NFT because we are so used to getting everything for free that we lose the value of creation and what it means to appreciate something that someone has created so okay you don’t want to go to a show, you get the live stream, it’ll stream into your house you’re just watching it for free and kind of fast-forwarding through it but what about if I just create one film that no one will ever see and what would that be worth? All of a sudden that gets sold for 600 ether which by now is almost $2.5 million, people were like hm maybe next time he gives that away for free we’ll actually appreciate this. That was the real art to me. It wasn’t even the actual piece it’s the concept of changing the way people think. That is always a big part of everything I create and the actual thing of it, the actual product is just a way to change people’s minds and I think you never never because even when people listen to a song I have no control over how you listen to it. You might have literally listened to a classical album, you might have sh*tty speakers, you might be having a horrible day, there’s so many things that influence something in the experience so that’s why as a creator people get depressed because everybody just throws their opinion at you but the fact of the matter is that no opinion is going to be objective so it doesn’t really matter. The only thing you can do is lock yourself in your house during the pandemic, create create create, give it a name, call it ‘Forever’ and share it with the world and then pray and then hopefully some people will take something from it.
Everything you approach seems to look at it from a mortality perspective, your life and your death. Who inspired that? Were you inspired by an artist or your family to think this way?
It comes from two things, both mental and physical struggles from when I was young without going into too much detail. All throughout my life I have lost basically dozens of very important people to me. I think the only one I really have been speaking about is my father but one example is one of the people who believed in me from a very young age. His name was Roy, we had a label together. He was really my mentor, he really brought me from A to B, he passed away from cancer but also a lot of family members, people close to me. Again without going into too much detail but it really made me realise how short this life is. This is where my breakthrough was with this trilogy about time ‘AnyTime’, ‘Back In Time’, ‘Knight Time’, really about the idea of how valuable time is and this is why I love the concept of the future, like future, future house. Anything in this album you could call it future pop, future bass, whatever, it all has that futuristic element. I like the idea of we’re not going to be here one day but here’s a little peek into the future. That to me is where that fascination comes from, the idea of the knowledge of mortality and we’re all going to be gone one day, it might be tomorrow.
‘FOREVER’ by Don Diablo is out now, and you can stream it here or listen to it below.
Featured image credit: press