"There's nothing musical about the music industry," says Lorin Ashton, known to the world as Bassnectar. "It's no more beautiful or special than the plumbing industry or the fucking military industry-—it's an industry. Many of the people who work in the central nervous system of that industry, are in it to make money and that's what [the music industry] exists to do."
For his fans and those who know him, these are characteristically strong words from an artist who has been immersed in music for nearly two decades. With 11 albums, countless mixtapes, remixes, and nonstop touring, Bassnectar has earned his place in the (perhaps, inappropriately-named) music industry and has no problem talking about the changes he wants to see around him.
"As an artist I've been screwed repeatedly and as fans you're screwed constantly," he says. "That's because of the music industry's disconnect of values. It doesn't exist to bring people together, just like Coke isn't going to save the world when they have singing children in their commercials; they're there to sell syrupy sugar water."
As a DJ and producer, Ashton has always moved to the beat of his own bass and his latest creation, Into The Sun, a 16-track album-like mixtape released without much build up last week, follows suit. The set includes a grab bag of new tracks lush with the all-encompassing sonic thunder Bassnectar loyalists demand. Surprisingly, there are also older tracks in the mix— "Dubuasca" and "Dorfex Bos (Remix)" from his 2004 album Diverse Systems of Throb, and "Blow" and "Enter The Chamber," both from 2005's Mesmerizing the Ultra. While the older tunes are given a new low end tremor, the choice to include them makes clear the artist's emphasis on nostalgia.
"I'm super disconcerned with the future," he explains. "I'm very much interested with what's good versus what's new, as well as what's classic and immediately catalyzes a long lasting bond or deep impact—versus simple novelty. I'm not opposed to novelty, I love raising the bar or taking something to the next level or involving myself in some sort of evolution on a musical level, but creatively I've been all about going back to forgotten moments in the past."
Releasing his latest album unexpectedly flexes Ashton's affinity for being unexpected and daring. During his headlining set at Electric Forest last month, he invited String Cheese Incident frontman Michael Kang on stage to lay down some violin licks amid the psychedelic melodies of "Dubuasca," a track the the two co-produced more than a decade ago.
In the mid-00s, Ashton was in a much different phase of his career, establishing his musical identity and cementing his role as a road warrior and bass magnate. Now, he contends with those who view his success as corrosive to his indie credibility. "One thing that people need to keep in mind is that an artist who has financial success isn't a bad artist," he points out. "They may not have been trying to even gain success—or maybe they were. It doesn't matter. What matters is that if they're an artist you love you should be happy for them for having financial success, it shouldn't be anything to be ashamed of."
After a recent three night stand at Red Rocks in Colorado sold out and his 2014 album, Noise vs. Beauty, hit No. 1 on iTunes and No. 21 on the Billboard album charts, the measures of success for Bassnectar have been redefined, at least externally. "I would always cringe when it would say 'BASSNECTAR SOLD OUT' on the marquee," he says. "Every night when rolling into a town I'd see that and I would go 'No, I didn't!'"
"The notion of selling out has really changed from what I understood it to be when I was a kid which was compromising your values to make money," he continues. "Now I think it has more of a positive aspect: when the demand outweighs the supply and you sell out of tickets or units. I think that fans really need to understand that it's a powerful thing for an artist to feel supported. It's not just that people like the music that you made, but it's a feeling that they want you to make more."
For the most part, Ashton satisfies those requests for more music. While he took a brief vacation after last year, he is rarely not on tour. As such, he's very engaged with his audience and aware of how they consume his music, even if it's not how he would prefer they do. "Something I hear a lot of from the kinds of high school and college-aged average fans is an entitled right to download and own the music, often times justified, by 'oh, I paid to go to the shows' so i'm going to take the music for free," he explains. "[Ticket fees] don't go straight to the artist, and in fact, often times only a small fraction does. It sucks that all of that money is going somewhere else like the fucking sixteen dollar 'convenience fees' to Ticketmaster."
Not that Ashton is trying to start a war with anyone over touring. If anything, he finds some unlikely kinship with a fellow opponent of underpaying streaming services. "I never really had a thought about Taylor Swift until she made that statement," he says, referring to Swift's recent opposition to Apple's plan to not pay artists through its streaming service. "Not only do I respect that, but I respect that she was in favor of the underground artists needing support. I think that it's awesome to see artists get paid for the music they make."
For Ashton, selling records is less about improving his bottom line (not that digital album sales have that power) and more about what kinds of opportunities a successful album can lead to. "If fans want to support me and buy the record so I can maybe go No. 1 on iTunes, that kind of thing adds up to open up new doors and new possibilities," he explains. "It's less about me and more about the new artists and the ones who are up and coming. Creating that kind of incentive so true artists can exist, and master their craft and aren't forced to live in poverty. If you don't do that you're just going to end up with nothing but mass-produced cough-syrup."
No one could accuse Ashton of making anything syrupy or mass-produced. He recently posted a photo that teased a collaboration with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello for a new mysterious project. "I expect to increase the amount of collaboration exponentially in the future," he says. "I've made so much music alone, and for me it's more fun to make it with people. People think of things that you don't think of."
Ashton even hints at the prospect of eventually being a behind-the-scenes man, guiding the careers of young artists he likes, including G Jones, a producer from Ashton's hometown of Santa Cruz, CA, who features on Into the Sun. "I wouldn't make a sweeping statement like 'I'd never make another Bassnectar album,' but I can certainly say that I don't feel any need to [make one]," he says. "I really feel inspired to just collaborate and work on as many ideas as I can."
Pick up Into the Sun on iTunes
David's an aspiring bass magnate on Twitter