The result is his upbeat third album, Happy Machine, released via Mad Decent yesterday (October 5), on Francis’ 34th birthday. It is as much a gift to his fans as to himself, a project that made him happy and re-inspired. The eight-track set features 10 stellar vocalists on music perfect for dancing solo around your living room, or surrounded by fellow revelers.

Billboard Dance caught up with the Los Angeles native about the inspiration for Happy Machine, how the collabs came together, why Calvin Harris didn’t want to meet him originally, and more.

How are you?

I’m really good. I shot a music video yesterday with Jack Wagner. He did “Need You,” and we finally got back together to do the video for the song “Real Love “with Aleyna Tilki. It’s an ode to old Eurovision-style music videos, like ’90s dance music era…  especially “Captain Jack” by Captain Jack, it’s kind of an homage to him.

Aleyna went all out. She’s from Turkey and she’s like, “Oh yeah, my friend has an army base where I can rent a Turkish airplane, and I’ll get a bunch of dancers in front of it.” She was DMing me while she was shooting, and it’s insane.

I definitely hear a late-’90s, early-2000s dance bassline in “Real Love.” What were your points of reference for that song?

I’ve always loved the Korg M1, it’s just such a classic dance staple. I was working on that song with Phil Scully, who’s a big collaborator on the whole album. Shout out to him, he’s been incredible through the whole process. We originally had made a completely different version of the song that almost was like, toned-down progressive house, something CamelPhat style.

I was sitting with it and I was just like, “This does not sound like something I would make” — even though I did make it.When Aleyna sang on it, it just helped us get a different sense of what to do to it. And that’s where I was like, “Let’s go back to the M1.” We’d already been using it in a couple songs already. We had the M1 bass done for the drop, but we didn’t have any vocals on it. I was in Ableton and I started basically cutting up the vocals and repeating stuff. And I basically put, “I want somebody, want somebody’s body.” Right when Phil heard it, he’s like, “Dude, take that! Figure it out with that, that’s such a good line.” And then it all kind of came together.

It’s what happens. Music is so fun to make, because of the way that it falls in place. I say this every time: Your music’s gonna suck until like 85 percent of the song is done. You’re gonna feel hopeless during that whole time, and you’re gonna question you if you should even be making music anymore. And then all of a sudden, something will click, and the dominoes will fall into place — and that 25 extra percent will basically finish the song, and you’ll finally be like, “Oh my god, I did it.”

I want to talk a little bit more about the vibe and vision for the new album overall.

The vibe and vision was the world was in one of the most horrible states ever — pandemic, social justice, everything — and I wanted to try to figure out a way to be able to contribute to making people happy, without it seeming forced or like something that wasn’t genuine. I’d also been listening to a lot of euphoric piano house music at the time. I was like, “Well, this is making me super happy. I feel like if I make this, I can try to make people happy.”

I was writing in my Notes app trying to like figure out names for the album at the beginning; they’re really horrible titles. I wrote one of them was I’m Happy, I Think. Sad. [Laughs.] That’s not a good name. Another one was Made This to Make You Smile. But yeah, that’s really where it started from. Everything was really sad and piano house music was making me happy. I really love that that style of music so much.

And it was just incredible that a lot of the artists that were involved in the project had the exact same vision as I did.When [“Unconditional” collaborator] 220 KID and I were texting back and forth, he was like, “Oh my god, this is going to be so incredible to finally play it for people. I feel like it’s going to take people out of whatever sad moments they’re having or whatever they’re feeling.” I don’t know, piano chord progressions for me are always undeniably amazing; whenever I hear ’em, I kind of don’t think of anything else.

Happy almost birthday! Libras are known to be creative, stylish, social butterflies, among other things.

They are very balanced.

How do you feel that, if at all, your sign impacts your music, your aesthetic, your public persona, you know, what you’re putting out into the world?

I’ve always remembered that Libras are social butterflies; I definitely am. In high school, I could go from like the kids who played Magic group, to the cool kids group, to the underground outside kids that hated everybody else group. I definitely think that that’s helped a lot in terms of my life, and how I kind of came up with making music, because I hustled super hard at the beginning. I was the guy passing out mixtapes. I’ve always been a social butterfly, and I’ve always loved making people laugh. That’s a big driver for me, making people laugh and be happy.

You’re definitely known for being funny on social media. How do you feel that humor helps you engage with your fans and with the weird thing of being a famous DJ or whatever?

I think anyone that takes themselves too seriously, it’s a recipe for disaster. I mean, there are people that do. But for me personally, I just can’t. I also don’t want to do that, because I feel like I wouldn’t have as much fun doing what I’m doing. And I don’t think my fans would connect with me as much if I was Serious Guy all the time. I don’t want to be. So f–k that. [Laughs hard.] I think it helps with everything for me.

Collaboration, especially with vocalists, has been such an important part of your career and your music. How did you choose who to bring into Happy Machine?

As I said, this whole album was super-duper collaborative. My manager Nick has been the most integral part of this; Nathan, Nick and Phil were my pandemic team. Nathan and Nick were the A&R masters, they were sending me artists and were crushing it each time. Nick had sent me Bow Anderson and I was immediately like, “Yes, we got to get her on a song.” And “Reaching Out” happened and she crushed it — we got the vocals from her and we didn’t have to do anything to them.

The one artist that I went and made sure we got was Bryn Christopher. He is a falsetto god. He and Brendon Urie can hit notes that I wish I could. I can’t even sing, I wish I could just sing. His vocals have been some of favorites. He is so awesome and just such a pleasure to work with. And same with Aleyna Tilki. Nathan was the one that that showed me her stuff.

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