When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, producer and DJ Dillon Francis was one of the millions of artists who weren’t able to recognize the magnitude of the crisis at first. “I was the guy who was like, ‘One more month, and then we’re gonna be out of this!’” he told American Songwriter.
But as days turned into weeks, and then into months, Francis started to realize how the tides had turned. “It was probably around early June where I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is not going to stop,’” he said. “There was a lot that happened during that time… in a situation like that, you try to find yourself. I was wondering what I was going to do—there was a flurry of emotions. Ultimately, I saw working on music as a way to do something for myself and make something that could spread some happiness.”
So, Francis did what he does best: he hunkered down and began working on an album. Coordinating a team of world-class collaborators—in a greater quantity than any of his previous records—on October 5, he put together Happy Machine, a collection of eight uber-fun, uber-uplifting tracks that serve as a wondrous ball of light in the midst of some dark times.
“Every person who contributed to this album had the same goal: make people happy,” Francis said. “That’s why the songs all came out the way they did. Stuck in this horrible pandemic, I feel like they can offer a bit of a reprieve.”
With the list of collaborators including Jenna Andrews (BTS, BENEE), MNEK (Selena Gomez, Julia Michaels), Teddy Geiger (Shawn Mendes, P!nk), Sarah Aarons (Alessia Cara, Khalid), and more, each song on Happy Machine creates its own world of electronic goodness. From the bubbling energy of a tune like “Real Love” to the pulsing ebb and flow of a club track like “Bad,” they all come together to form a joyous message.
For Francis, making folks smile is nothing new—beyond his generally feel-good music, he’s also beloved for his skills as a content creator. His music videos are often wildly creative and funny, and he even had a Funny Or Die-sponsored comedy series for a period of time. Raised alongside the development of the internet, he sees those endeavors as a natural extension of his career and creativity.
“The main thing is that I always make sure that I’m having fun whenever I do the online stuff,” he explained. “When I was younger, I wanted to be an actor—I was obsessed with Jim Carrey, In Living Color, Mad TV, and all of that. When I was in high school, I got to be in a class that let me make stupid videos that are basically like the ones I make now—stuff where it’d be, like, us making fun of Laguna Beach by dressing up like all the characters and pretending they could only eat Hot Pockets. So, when video platforms like Vine, Instagram, and now TikTok started coming up, it felt like an extension of the outlet I’ve always had.”
Yet, even someone like Francis—who’s quite successful at using social media to stay connected with his listeners and create genuinely ingenious content—finding the balance between “online” and “IRL” can still get a bit fuzzy, especially nowadays. “It’s crazy that it’s turned into what it is now,” he said. “It used to be a silly thing that people didn’t really think mattered, but now it’s such a powerhouse tool for artists. It used to kinda be like your second, online life, but now it’s just an inseparable part of our lives. It’s kinda nuts!”
Nonetheless, the opportunities provided by the internet are unprecedented, not only in terms of the technology being employed but also in terms of the reach these platforms have. Even beyond traditional social media—last year, Francis, Diplo, and more played live sets in Fortnite, literally in-game, which proved to be one of the biggest opportunities of their careers.
“It was crazy!” Francis said. “Basically, the players get put into servers with, like, 50 people in them, but the show is broadcasted to a bunch of servers. It ended up being the largest number of people I’ve ever played for—I can’t remember the exact number, but I think it was somewhere around 5 million. And what’s wild is: we did it all live! I swear on my life, on my mom’s life, on my dad’s life, on my dog’s life… it was live. I even asked them if I could not do it live—I was like ‘What? Why are we doing it this way? What if something goes wrong?’ But, sure enough, it went without a hitch because of how much pre-production work they put into it.”
Being able to connect with so many folks through such a powerful platform is pretty rewarding for Francis, especially considering the message of happiness his music exudes. Now, with Happy Machine out, he’s just glad to have brought a little bit more light into the world and is looking forward to what’s next.
“I feel great,” he said. “With the record out, I’ll relax for a few days just to reset and not do anything. I’m excited to see what people like and what they don’t like, I’m excited to ingest the whole experience. Then, after that, I’m excited to start working on Happy Machine Two!”
Dillon Francis’ new album Happy Machine is out now—watch the music video for “Real Love” below:
Photo by moisnomois