Electronic artist Bassnectar (Lorin Ashton) is back on the road for his Fall Tour 2012 in support of his recentthe album Vava Voom. Influenced equally by metal, ambient, psychedelic, and hip-hop, his music defies expectations, and his fanbase reacts passionately.
I spoke with Bassnectar about both of our Electric Forest experiences, his methods to the music that he creates and is inspired by and his evolution over time.
Up On The Sun: I never got the opportunity to see you until Electric Forest this summer. And it was amazing. I'm from Texas and I wasn't ready for the cold or anything like that, but I survived your night set. Hard to forget loving the moment and as soon as it was over realizing that I am a southerner freezing my ass off in Rothbury, Michigan.
Bassnectar: I'm from California and I don't really wear pants too often. I'll tour up in Canada, and I'll be wearing shorts and leg warmers. I just can't wear pants...even though it's freezing.
Is there a clear difference between playing regular shows and festivals?
Everything differs from show to show for me. Festivals are completely different from typical Bassnectar shows. Typical Bassnectar shows usual happen as part of a road tour. I'm there, next week we leave on tour. I think we'd have three sound/light trucks and a few tour buses full of crew. We go from town to town and basically set up somewhat of a carnival. It's an extended amount of time. I play probably about two hours every night. There are a lot of people that follow from show to show. The show kind of evolves organically with the audience from night to night.
A festival is a short set. It's usually just an hour. And it's like you just come up swinging it. Play anthems. And I have to say Electric Forest was a cool combination of the two. One of the reasons at festivals that I play anthems like that is because people have a short attention span. You're usually playing during a bunch of different acts. At electronic festivals it actually becomes physically impossible to play what I call, the down tempo moments of a song. Like the beautiful twinkly sounds of chimes. Or like a tense moment where everything falls out and you kind of just hear the song breathing before the song slams back in. And if you do that at a festival, in the silence that you are creating the other stages sound will shoot in and kind of pollute your signal. So you basically need to keep it driving and banging relentlessly; which isn't something I like to do creatively. So it's kind of like you're forced to play louder and harder than I'd want to.
At Electric Forest I was supposed to play a key set on Saturday, but it was with all the other stages playing. I really wanted to play stuff that was more like a Bassnectar show. So I played last on Sunday when no one else was playing. It was really cool, because it was one of the few festivals that I got to play a more artistic and dimensional set.
I like it when the music isn't just going completely hard. It's more of and should be an experience to me.
Absolutely. It's like anything. It's like sex or cooking or whatever. You don't want just one thing. And you certainly don't want it hard all the time. But with pure music, when you pull out and create a moment of silence or suspense, it makes the...well I call it 'drop' that much more impactful. And if you go drop after drop after drop after drop it just turns into one relentless meaning. So sometimes I use those down moments as a valley to make a new peak.
I actually heard of you through Gogol Bordello. You remixed their song, 'Immigraniada'. I love them to death and that's when I was like, "Who is the Bassnectar dude?"
[Laughs] That's awesome. Yeah, I've become really good friends with Eugene. We hung out in Brazil and I got to see them play in this tiny little club. It felt like a 1980's third world disco-tech. The crowd was literally packed on each other's shoulders. It was mathematically, literally twice the amount of people that could fit inside the room. Just like a blob of humans.
Afterward we were talking and he was like shirt off, sweaty, has reckless troubadour vibe. And all he talked about was meditation and the proper diet and exercise. He's just awesome.
No one really sounds like you. I know you come from a metal background, but so does Borgore, and that's not even close to the same style as you. How do you think this background helped create your own electric style today?
People ask that a lot, because I think they find it noteworthy that I was into death metal. But I have to be honest in that I think that everyone's background affects them. My background wasn't only death metal; As a kid I listened to Tears for Fears, The Cure, R.E.M., N.W.A, Simon & Garfunkel and a lot of other stuff. And that effected how I made death metal at the time, death metal effected how I made techno, techno effected how I made trip-hop, trip-hop effected how I made breakbeat, breakbeat effected how I made dubstep, and dubstep effected how I made glitch hop. It was all just like one connect. That is a longer and more complicated answer than the press usually wants.
The press usually says, "How did death metal affect you?" And I just say, "Well it's really raw and powerful form of music and I respond well to the balance and spectrum to raw, perverted, ugly, furious, disturbing sounds mixed with ultimately gorgeous lullabies. The spectrum between those two extremes is kind of where I like to be."
What actually made you just say, "I want to go into producing and creating music electronically."?
It was a very very gradual thing. I think it's an aspect of authenticity. It wasn't a marketing plan; there was nothing strategic behind it. It was just a human natural journey through life. I started off and heard Nirvana which inspired me to buy a guitar, because I wanted to play rock music. As I got older in high school and as I thought Christianity was more and more illogical, I moved into death metal, because I wanted to say, "Fuck Off" to systems of authority and the establishment. It was fun to shock people and to play with hardcore sound. When I was like 16, I was making battle of the bands happen and I became an event promoter. I would stick around the studios when the band was recording our demo tapes and I would learn from the engineers.
Me and my friends would get four track recorders and we would make our own demo tapes all the time. I was already into production before I had thought of it as production. I just thought of it as, "Oh, I want to make a death metal tape today, so I'll record myself and mix it."
I would add guitar pedals as sound effects. So I heard techno music and I would use the pedal to make really bad techno music at the time. [Laughs] And then it was just unfold. I would learn new things, try new things, hear new things and it was very gradual. Every time I heard something I would try to figure how to make it or it would give me ideas. I wasn't trying to create something in particular, I was just following along.
Your most recent album Vava Voom has a different base or melodic story [than previous work].
The way that I change and evolve as an artist is the same way that everyone reading this article changes and evolves from year to year. You don't sit around and think, "What am I going to be like next year? I'm going to make myself be this way." You just slowly gradually become a new evolved person as time passes.
I'm still working on music that I started on in 2002 or 2003 and I'm still remixing songs that I had the ideas to remix back in the '90s. I'm applying techniques that I never even got to experiment with now. And for example, the Freestyle Mixtape is basically a bunch a music I didn't put on Vava Voom.
You've also worked with so many different artists. Such as Gogol Bordello, Pixies, Datsik and so many more to the point where you could take any sound and collaborate with the artists so well. Is there anyone you would love to work with in the near future?
I'm such a pathetic person, that I just can't do anything gory or scary. However, I listened to your collaboration with Chino Moreno for the Resident Evil: Retribution soundtrack. I loved it and it was very different. I guess the emotions to drive that feeds off. I love how now days more of electronic music is going into soundtrack for different films. Is this something you're really interested in or was this just an experience to work with Chino?
To be honest I am a complete pansy. I don't like scary movies or horror. I don't usually even let my music appear in violent video games or anything. But the director had me come watch a prototype of the film with him and I was extremely impressed. Even though it's kind of an intense movie, it felt more like an action flick, like The Matrix, than a zombie movie. I got really excited! Then getting Chino into it made me even more excited and the whole thing came together. I'm definitely interested in making more movie soundtracks.
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What is your ideal set? And where would it be? Could be anywhere even imaginary. What is Bassnectar's perfect set?
To be honest, anywhere that the sound is deep and thick and people are enthusiastic. [That's all that is needed.]
Bassnectar is scheduled to perform Wednesday, October 17, at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.