Laaaasers. You can’t have a Las Vegas nightclub without a grip of ’em. Subsequently, 1 Oak has added the most major one to its roster with Wes Pentz (also familiar to electronic fans as Diplo), Walshy Fire and Jillionaire. Collectively they’re known by their single cartoon avatar, Major Lazer, a fictitious Jamaican renegade who was outfitted with prosthetic lasers after losing his arm in the Zombie War of the ’80s. (And only Major Lazer is depicted in the character collective’s press shots.) In advance of their 1 Oak residency kickoff February 5, Pentz lets us know what the Major Lazer experience is all about, as well as the album dropping this month.
The term “residency” in Las Vegas can mean anything from weekly appearances to quarterly quickies. How often can we actually catch the group’s set?
We’re doing six a year, so every two months you can catch us there on a Tuesday. I like that better because we can make it a real event. We have time to rehearse and try new things. We’re getting a lot of props and trying to do something really cool. I like 1 Oak because it’s a little more ratchet and crazy in there. With Major Lazer, the vibe is more country and crazy. There’s a real feeling of audience participation. We’re less standing there and putting our hands in the air, but actually creating an environment. We’re on the microphones, you’ll see stuff thrown out from us to the crowd, shit like that. It’s five of us that tour. We sell out big venues, but our show is more like a carnival. Plus, I love the Monday and Tuesday nights in Vegas. I love industry nights because the kids have already seen everything and they wanna hear new shit.
Will you adopt a different theme for each gig?
I think that could be cool—that’s a cool idea. Thank you!
I hear you’ve been working on the Major Lazer sophomore LP Free the Universe (out Feb. 19) right here in Las Vegas at DMI Studios with Luca “Digital Boy” Pretolesi?
Yeah, Luca’s been mixing stuff for me for a while. I met him through some artists on my label. I asked him to do some house records because he’s good at that, but he ended up taking the reigns on the more crazy stuff. I did a dubstep [track] with Wynter Gordon and Shaggy and he killed it, he did such a great mix for the record. And now he’s doing some stuff for Snoop with me.
You did a lot of collaborations on Free the Universe. Is there one that stands out as your favorite?
There’s one with Wyclef that wasn’t particularly my favorite because I worked on it so much. But getting back a final mix of it, it sounds awesome. It’s more of a roots/reggae record. I think people are going to like the one with Vampire Weekend. I think it’s a really well-rounded album. It’s going to have lots of surprises for people.
By any chance were you a ska kid growing up? Were you into that scene maybe in high school?
Yeah, I like ska. I liked ska a lot. Like anybody in school, we had bands that were local in my neighborhood. We had the same kind of Southern California ska/punk scene in Florida. I think in retrospect, playing horns and wearing stupid clothes, it was pretty corny but I grew up to love more classic ska. I made a ska-punk kind of vibe with No Doubt, with “Push and Shove.” I love that track.
I didn’t see any Free the Universe tour dates in Las Vegas.
We’re just going to keep it at the residency. So if you want to see it, you have to come to 1 Oak. We might do EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival]; we’ll see. Right now we’re being very strategic. I think when we announced the dates, some of the shows—it’s crazy; we sold 800 tickets the first day in Toronto. We almost sold out completely for our London show, which is in May. That’s 3,000 kids. We’re just trying to make it to the places that really make sense. You know, we try to be really clever, make it exciting and hit the right markets. Just make the biggest impact.
You’ve taken a helicopter on tour, a boat … What’s next? Maybe something an RV or a unicycle?
Maybe just go to Mars—they don’t have the big festivals yet. Try to take a Mad Decent Block Party to outer space. Those are crazy events.
Major Lazer garnered a MTV VMA nomination for “Hold the Line.” What kind of eye candy is in store for the new album, and will your interest in film play a role?
We just shot a video in Jamaica that’s coming out in February, and that’s gonna be crazy. I’ll probably make videos for every single song on the record. That’s what I love to do, and people really appreciate our visual side; because it’s such a unique project we have to give people all that. We’re gonna do a video [for the Bruno Mars collaboration] with Eric Wareheim, who did “Pon de Floor” for us. In general it’s gonna be a crazy album.
If you’re making a video for all of them, will there be an underlying theme or story?
It looked like that before, but we did “Get Free” with [director] So Me from France; that became a really stylized video. Now they’re just all going to be amazing in their own aspects. But we have an overlying concept for a cartoon TV show ... It’s going to be the Major Lazer [character] in his own little cartoon world.
Did you ever think that the “#ExpressYourself” campaign would really take off like it has?
No, I had no idea. I don’t know what happened. I guess girls just really like …
… Sticking their asses in the air?
Yeah, so now I know for future reference that that’s always going to be happening.
Do you have any fun campaigns planned for the Major Lazer album?
Not for girls, but there’s going to be some cool stuff. We’re putting out a “Lazer-fy” kind of app that’s coming out later on this year. It’s going to be called “Lazergram” and you can put yourself in the background of our albums in that kind of futuristic, Kingston world that we’ve created. You can put a Lazer outfit on and stuff like that.
BlackBerrys are disappearing. Are you still loyal to the brand since you were in that commercial?
Yeah! You’re calling me on my BlackBerry right now. On the other hand, I’ve actually got a Samsung Galaxy, and I love that.
I gotta say, I frickin’ loved the Alex Clare The Lateness of the Hour album that you worked on—even before the TV commercial featured his song and such. Do you have some more side projects like that in the works? Will you work with him again?
I think now that Major Lazer’s album is mastered I’m looking to do something like that. I talked to Alex, and we might work on some more stuff later this year. I loved the experience of making that record and how it did end up reaching a lot of people. It was awesome because we spend like two weeks in a drug-addled, weird world, tripping out during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and we made the album. I definitely would like to do another two weeks and have a drug-binge recording session. I love that kind of stuff. [Laughs]
Will your nonprofit, Heaps Decent in Australia, expand to help American artists as well?
I think I want to look more into that when I have time off from producing music, because it’s so hard to be a nonprofit in America unless you spend 24/7 on it. I’ve tried to do it for the last three years, and I get nowhere. It’s actually competitive. Some people live their whole lives creating companies, which is great for the world but it’s almost like a world that I don’t want to feed into. People that do dedicate their whole lives to doing not-for-profits, I’d like to team-up with someone who’s doing something that’s amazing and just help by being an administrator and help to project their ideas because making one on your own is crazy. Not to take away from what the real point is, which is helping kids and creating opportunities, a lot of people just want to deal with the politics. I hate that.
There are so many producers arguing about the direction dance music has taken in America. For example, the first time I saw you play it was in 2010 to a nearly empty room during the eighth annual Gran Turismo Awards at SEMA; now you’re everywhere. Care to throw in your two cents?
A lot of guys that got booked in America—and most of them aren’t even American—but we’ve created a really good home for exciting dance music. But a lot of the guys who got booked had mad excitement and hype, but the DJs that actually create an environment—like my nights just keep growing—but the headliner guys kind of slow down. Once you see the guys play once, you’ve seen them. The kids that go out in Vegas, they want to see a little more, they’re smarter now. When they first started learning about dance music, it was like, “Wow! Dance music is the thing!” But dance music is just one thing along with hip-hop, trap, dubstep and everything else: Once you get around to hearing everything, you grow as an artist.