Inkbramble Drinks the Bassnectar

I recently sat down with my dear old friend Lorin Ashton – aka Bassnectar – to catch up and discuss his meteoric rise to EDM fame, his insane tour schedule, and his longstanding commitment to bettering the world through music.

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Lorin Ashton, aka Bassnectar, as his OTHER alter ego - "Purple Jesus Stoner"

Lorin, it’s so awesome to reconnect with you lately! It has been such an inspiring experience to be able to witness your musical and professional progression over the course of the last – what – 15 years? (Is that even possible?) For me, going to a Bassnectar show recently was like coming full circle, because the very first time I ever danced all night to EDM – on a beach just north of Santa Cruz – you were there on the decks.

Your bass completely blew me away at that show a few weeks ago – what you do these days is on a totally different level. There were four thousand of us there, just packed in tight and stomping and headbanging together, with these shit-eating grins plastered on our faces. Unbelievable. And that floor was literally bouncing like a trampoline underneath us!

My friend had this insight while the bass was pulsing through us. We were talking about how we’re all in our heads so much these days, constantly mapping info – and that we’re just yearning for that deep rooting that the bass music provides. We were thinking of you as the modern-day Pied Piper, leading the kids away from everything that’s safe and familiar, into a crazy and exciting new bass-filled world. Can you describe the essence of what you are bringing to the youth of America with your music?

I just try and conjure up some reflective essence of whatever inspires me. Like many people, my entire life was massively affected by music culture, and I have been basically hell-bent on giving back in any way I can. The only truly satisfying way for me to express my gratitude for life is by trying to re-create the magic that I have experienced, and re-present it to other people. I think that is a pretty common human urge, to share. I imagine that is what it would be like to have a child and get to re-live and re-explore all the beauty of life (i.e. sharing in the awe of another person’s first strawberry, or first time flying a kite). I am using the prefix “re” a lot here because that is a central aspect of my music career: bringing to other people whatever I find most beautiful, touching, or stirring.

When I was studying at University, I took the Electronic Music minor, as well as the Education minor (I planned to be a teacher). But I also hoped to be a guidance counselor of some sort, so I dabbled in sociology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and communication, and settled on a kind of left-field degree in what UCSC called Community Studies. Long story short, I have always imagined I would end up giving to other people in an effort to enrich their lives, and ironically music has provided the widest-reaching platform.

I’ve been struck by how your music reaches across red and blue state lines – bass seems to know no politics. But you’ve made some clear, strong political statements over the years that occasionally alienate some fans that often just want you to “stick to the bass, dude.” It’s clear how much social justice means to you personally. How much do your politics inform your music? And do you think that EDM and bass music carry an intrinsically progressive agenda?

As EDM expands to the mainstream (just like rock & roll or hip hop did…. and just like anything good will), it becomes more difficult to generalize. Does rock & roll carry a progressive agenda? Or does hip hop? They both certainly did at one point early on in their evolution, but mainstream culture (from what I can tell) is not necessarily progressive. In fact I think at this point, the stars of EDM will be those artists who don’t rock the boat in the wrong direction. There are still the “bad boys” of rock or rap, but for the most part, the mainstream appears to respond to whatever goes with the flow.

That said, I personally have an extremely progressive agenda. I have never related well to mainstream culture, or been drawn to it. I feel like an alien who has just landed when it comes to many aspects of “normal” life, so I see the expansion of EDM as a tremendously precious line of communication and influence with a larger population whom I would otherwise have no ability to influence or interact with. In that way, my art continues to be the platform by which I affect society, and I am genuinely more drawn to humanistics than to politics. That means I prefer to use my limited time striving to inspire, empower, and enrich the lives of other people.

Since I am a human (and a goofy one) I have a wide margin of error, but this is all a work in progress, and like most things in life: this wasn’t planned, so I am rolling with the punches and clinging on as the pace constantly accelerates.

Your music is known for being pretty hardcore…

Haha, is that true? I don’t know…I always feel like the devil’s advocate.

I have that devil’s advocate complex too, so I can relate! Question everything, I say!

I am certainly an extremist myself, and have always been drawn to hardcore music, but among truly hardcore extremists, I am always a pansy because I am naturally a crossover artist. I love everything, and I love bringing a complementary perspective to a conversation, not preaching to the choir. So I guess my music is hardcore compared to a normal radio playlist or to what the average person listens to, but it’s easy listening compared to a lot of the stuff my friends make!

You definitely integrate these moments of really stunning sweetness and beauty that seem like an homage to the feminine, and that serve to somewhat offset all of the driving intensity – for example, the track “Laughter Crescendo”, from this year’s album Vava Voom, which never fails to make me giggle along with it. I feel like you’re slipping in these secret, almost subversively beautiful messages to your audience through those bits. Do you think about masculine and feminine energy when you’re producing music or arranging the flow of a show?

100% yes. And honestly, this is due in a large part to direct influence from a few specific friends. One of my ex-girlfriends used to get furious if I would play songs that were too extreme (she would write it off as Macho Boy Music) and would always encourage me to get more creative, and explore all directions of emotions. Another friend and influence (Steve) used to always make it a point to plan out the energetics of a set or a song in order to maintain a balance of masculine and feminine energy. It sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but I think it has a lot to do with Bassnectar’s popularity; it’s never been a sausage-fest, or an angry/macho environment.

And this is authentic, not manufactured. I didn’t do this to be popular, I did it because I am deeply entranced by the beautiful end of the spectrum, and have always enjoyed both extremes and everywhere in between. This balance between the extremes of a spectrum has been a central theme for my entire musical life.

I hear that. I’m always trying to balance those extremes in my artwork, as well. Beautiful kind of just cancels itself out if it doesn’t have a bit of an edge to it…and vice-versa. Being a visual artist, I’m always curious about the role that imagery plays when musicians are producing their work. Do you visualize a sort of cinematic storyline unfolding with your tracks? If so, can you describe the visual scene that accompanies something you are working on now or have worked on recently?

I’ve mentioned this before, but the most specific visual scene I had came from a dream. In the dream I had the sense that I was somewhere vast, like wind-swept cliffs overlooking a stormy sea. I was holding in my arms being that was feminine and innocent, I assumed it was a daughter. I had the sense that this perfectly pure creature was moments from death, and I was treasuring her in my arms, like petting her cheek and whispering goodbye, and kind of weeping or just experiencing this intense tragedy.

There was this sound in my mind during the dream like a sparkle, or like an infinitely sparkling liquid of fine glistening particles, and I suddenly realized that I was dreaming and that I was listening to music that I had never heard before (in essence I guess I was writing music in my sleep). This realization woke me up, and I instantly recorded that sound and later transposed and re-created whatever version I could of it. You can hear it at the end of my song “Mesmerizing The Ultra”

Mmm…I love that. I’m gonna need to dig out “Mesmerizing…” again and give it another listen with that in mind. What a stunning vision.

 Ok, Lorin, since INKBRAMBLE is something of a style journal, we’re gonna venture into that territory. From what I can tell, your personal style has remained pretty solid and down to earth over the years, with an occasional flirtation with dark eyeliner.

This is your gentle way of chiding my lack of style…

 Not at all! I love your style – you don’t blindly follow the trends.

It’s true, I have never been very interested in physical style. I kind of always just want to do what I feel, and if anything, take the road less traveled.

Your big accessory, of course, is your stunning long hair, which you’ve had for as long as I’ve known you. What mystical power does that hair hold, Samson?

Yes, we of course have everything invested in this expensive wig, which I pass around to various stand-in performers who wear it and pretend they are me, while I stay home and relax.

Ah, so that’s the secret behind your madcap tour schedule! Seriously, you’re all over the map, constantly. What are your observations of the fashion spectrum across America from your vantage point on the stage? What do you think that says about youth culture at the moment? I noted a serious preponderance of neon at the show I went to…

I remember this scene in the early nineties that I never had a name for. One of my friends had a younger brother named Ed, who we always just said was weird. He and his friends considered themselves “hardcore” which was like this hyper-intelligent, nerdy off shoot of the Bay Area punk rock scene. They were straight-edge, and went to enormous lengths to wear the WORST fashion possible. Hair was always intentionally messed up, cut haggardly, and in disarray. They always wore preposterously goofy glasses, pants that were too tight and too short with the waists jacked up around their chests, basically just the nerdiest clothes they could find at a thrift store or their grampa’s closet or whatever.

They would literally go hang out at the mall and “drool” as in literally stand around in a group and let themselves drool in front of pretty girls and make weird noises, and they were just kind of self-made rejects. But in reality they were sharp-minded, extremely conscious and aware, usually naturally good-looking, popular, etc. But the whole scene was just like, “Whatever the rest of you are all doing, we are just gonna go ahead and do the opposite. And we are going to do it loudly.”

It’s important to have the envelope-pushers, always…

I always thought it was so interesting. My friends and I certainly had a fringe style, but it was ULTRA typical for “metal-heads” at the time (long hair, black pants or cut-off cargo pants, and a black shirt with some horrific band logo, and a chain wallet). But Ed had this whole other vibe going on, and I remember when electro-clash and indie rock started exploding in the early 2000’s, and I started hearing about hipsters, they always just reminded me of Ed and his friends.

Today’s hipsters seem to basically follow whatever trend is in, so if tight pants are in, expect to see tight pants. When baggy pants come back in, expect to see them in baggy pants. Currently beards are in, but it’s a specific kind of beard. I don’t know, I just react against specific styles.

 Ah, the devil’s advocate strikes again!

 I find it all too narrow and absurd, and basically just do what I want. If this means long hair, great. If it means a hoodie, great. Or a flannel shirt, fine. Or an army jacket, or shorts, or shoes, whatever….I am stylishly helpless and I prefer it this way.

Nah, you’ve just found the style that works for you, and you run with it. Why chase something that doesn’t interest you when there are so many wonderful things that do compel you, right?

I know you wouldn’t want to play favorites, Lorin, but you’ve got some super exciting shows coming up all over North America and Europe – from Toronto and Chicago to Prague and Milan. Which gig that’s currently on your calendar is most exciting to you, and why?

It was doing this interview, Nayogi. 😉

 Aww….I bet you say that in all your interviews, mister…and that charm is one reason why we all love you so. You just have this uncanny way of making everyone feel like your favorite. Maybe that’s your commitment to “humanistics” coming out – and maybe that’s why you look so damn much like Jesus himself in my painting!

In any case, just ’cause you’re so sweet, I’ll scrap that scathing exposé of Bassnectar that I had planned and just play this one straight instead… 😉

Comments
9 Responses to “Inkbramble Drinks the Bassnectar”
  1. Marcia says:

    Thanks for this Naomi.

  2. Saisha says:

    Awesome Nao! I miss you both dearly… and that heart-shaking bass!

  3. Jen Stone says:

    Na-o you NAIL-ed it!…..
    Charming and intelligent interview with an old friend I rarely get to see or hear any insight from., other than through his music of course. Brilliant. Thank you both.

  4. Chloe B says:

    Ahh, this is an amazing interview!! It really shows how down to earth Lorin is and how he’s an actual human being (not saying he’s fake or stuck up ahaha x) who likes to be goofy and live life to the fullest. Something I definitely learned about him is that he doesn’t create amazing music for the fame, awards, money or even recognition, but he does it out of the love and compassion he has for the music and the atmospheres and he’s such a hard worker. Keep up with the great interviews!! Xx

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