Bassnectar Talks 'Noise Vs. Beauty' LP & Being the 'Frank Zappa' of EDM

Bassnectar performs during HARD Summer 2013 day 2 at LA State Historic Park in Los Angeles, CA.

Philey Sanneh/FilterlessCo

Lorin Ashton, the 36-year-old DJ-producer known as Bassnectar, makes millions from touring, having spent 11 months on the road at festivals, arenas and amphitheaters in 2013 alone. So when he took the first five months off of 2014 to make an album, he told friends he was on vacation. “Then when I was done, they’d say, ‘How was vacation?’ And I’d say, ‘I worked seven days a week, but it was awesome work.’”

The result is “Noise Vs. Beauty,” released Tuesday (June 24), an album that Ashton himself describes as “more vast than anything I’ve ever done.” While his signature, hiccupy take on dubstep is still felt throughout the album, particularly on appropriately named tracks like “F.U.N.” and “Loco Ono,” the album takes on dreamy indie-rock on the lead single “You & Me” (featuring W. Darling) as well as glitchy trap on cuts like “Lost In The Crowd” (featuring Fashawn and Zion I) and “Now” (featuring Rye Rye).

Bassnectar

Additional sessions for the album featured collaborations with the likes of rappers Busta Rhymes, Azealia Banks and the Cool Kids, but none of those made the cut. Ironically, Ashton says those songs helped shape the album even more. “Each one led to something else,” he says. “I ended up with 12 of the flimsiest songs I’ve ever had and just started taking them to different bands, vocalists and guitarists and remixing it with them. I’d say, ‘Why don’t we try this cord progression?’ and get their vocals down, and have this really cool indie-rock sound, then it take it to someone else and come away with this real dirty, kind of mad-scientist vibe. I wanted to approach the album like, if I was hired by a band to do a remix of my own song, what would it sound like.”

That Ashton ultimately left the album’s more A-list leanings on the table correlates strongly with his defiantly DIY approach to his career, which has seen him selling out arenas and headlining major festivals without the aid of a hit single or a major label — and often giving a good chunk of his earnings to charity in the process. On his last several tours, Ashton has donated $100,000 to charities of his fans’ choosing as part of a campaign called Dollar Per Bass Head.

It’s not like Ashton needs help from the major-label system – Bassnectar’s last two self-released albums have debuted in the top 50 of the Billboard 200, and “Noise Vs. Beauty” is currently sitting in the overall iTunes top 10. “Whether it’s punk rock or skate culture, or any kind of counter-culture activity that gets picked up by the mainstream and re-broadcast in this pretty package, I’ve never played by those rules,” he says. “I think I’d be a nightmare to work with by major labels anyway. I don’t know how much bigger I’m confortable being. I’m just legitimately looking forward to being on my beach cruiser in Santa Cruz, California, just exploring other things.”

Though he jokes he’s “too indie for my own good” these days, he has a little bit of help behind-the-scenes. He’s managed by C3, the promoter-management powerhouse behind Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, and booked by Madison House’s Jake Schneider, who saw the unlikely overlap early on between Bassnectar’s own fanbase and the jam-band circuit. “He’s the one who had the vision to convince me not to go play Vegas or DC and L.A. but play to super freaked-out crowds of 10,000 people at jam-band festivals,” Ashton says.

Bassnectar just wrapped a peak-hour set at Electric Daisy in Las Vegas this past weekend, and will continue to play festivals like The Hudson Project, TomorrowLand, Moonrise and North Coast throughout the summer. And on October 4, he’ll join the elite ranks of Swedish House Mafia and Armin van Buuren as one of the few DJs to headline New York’s Madison Square Garden. Ashton seems particularly proud of this achievement, having come a long way from his days in the mid 90s to the late-aughts before “EDM” was ever a term. “If Avicii is the new rock star, then I’m like a Les Claypool or a Frank Zappa,” he proclaims.