The track marries a classic house-y vibe with some of Diplo’s very synthetic sounds. Did you encourage him to push it a little bit?
Oh, I don’t ever have to encourage Diplo to push anything. In fact, I have to encourage him to tone things down sometimes. He’s a turn-up man. In fact, I think “Living for Love” is probably one of his more mellow productions.
“Devil Pray” is at risk of being misunderstood as a song encouraging or condemning drugs, but it’s more about a search for spirituality, correct?
I don’t think when people are experimenting with drugs they’re actually consciously saying to themselves, I want to get closer to God. I think it’s a primal thing, a more inexplicable thing that happens where I think the feeling people have when they’re high is plugging into the universe and appreciating things or seeing details that they otherwise may have missed, or feeling a certain kind of euphoric joy. Ultimately those feelings never last, because the drugs wear off and then there’s the aftereffect. Whenever you synthetically make yourself feel euphoria there’s going to be the crash. I’m certainly not judging people who take drugs or saying “don’t do drugs,” however, I’m saying you can do all of these things to connect to a higher level, but ultimately you’re going to be lost. People who are getting high are instinctively also trying to connect to a higher level of consciousness, but are doing it in a way that will not sustain them.
There’s also a message of seeking spirituality via togetherness and not being isolated.
Yeah, and that’s another subtle message of the song, and you really do have to pay attention to the lyrics, and I hope people do over time. The way we’re going to change the world, or the way we’re going to ultimately feel joy, is through unity. I’m certainly not encouraging religious behavior; when I say people are thinking in a religious way, I think they’re thinking about rules and dogma and laws that separate. When I say spirituality, I mean a consciousness that has an understanding that we are all in this together, that we are all one. We have to find a way to feel joy and to bring joy to the world together. That ultimately is with consciousness, not drugs.
We’re at a critical moment — a weird and scary time — that doesn’t seem far from the fallen world of “Ghosttown.”
Yes, we are, and that song is kind of looking at the world in a way, seeing civilization collapse around us, for lack of a better word. And at the end of the day, if we run out of oil and we don’t have electricity and we don’t have all the modern conveniences, and we have no phones and computers, all we’re going to have is each other, is humans. And that song’s about recognizing that.
Still, it’s a comforting song, it’s not a frightful or fearful song.
No. Again, hopeful. Looking at the destruction and seeing hope. And that’s what a lot of my songs are about on this record.
If “Living for Love” is the inspiring breakup song, “Unapologetic Bitch” is the “fuck you.”
Yeah. [Laughs] But it’s like, fuck you, I’m going to have fun. You think you’re going to ruin my life and you think that it’s over for me, but guess what? It’s not. Life goes on.
Diplo, who produced that track, plays an interesting role in music right now, traveling the world collecting sounds and helping other cultures make sense of them. How did you two relate?
You know when you meet somebody and you work with them and you recognize that you both look at life the same way? I’m one of those people, I travel the world also and I engage in other cultures, and I absorb and see the beauty in other culture from many different perspectives — through art, through literature, through music — and reference a lot of those things that inspire me through my work. And I think Diplo does the same thing. So we recognized kindred spirits. When we got together, he didn’t know that side of me and I didn’t know that side of him, so again, not a discussion that we had per se, just more about hey, check this out? Did you hear this? Listen to this track. Do you like this group? Playing each other music that we loved and just recognizing we both enjoyed a lot of the same things, and then just getting to work.
How does an idea for “Illuminati” come together when you’re working with Kanye West?
“Illuminati ” was a song I’d written back in March or April. People are always using the word Illuminati but they’re always referencing it in an incorrect way. People often accuse me of being a member of the Illuminati and I think in today’s pop culture the Illuminati is perceived as a group of powerful, successful people who are working behind the scenes to control the universe. Not people with consciousness, not people who are enlightened. So people were accusing me of being a member of the Illuminati, and I kept going, wait – so first I had to figure out what that meant.