Los Angeles has blossomed into a creative breeding ground for many of dance music’s scenes and sounds, drawing established stars and starry-eyed up-and-comers alike.
OWSLA upstart Ghastly was one of the latter when he bolted Arizona in 2010 to pursue his musical ambitions. His story sports all the trappings of a cinematic screenplay — living out of his van and working dead-end jobs while rising through the city’s blossoming bass house scene to catch the ear of Skrillex and emerge as a rising star.
Billboard tapped Ghastly to compile a Guest Playlist that reflects his remarkable journey to “making dreams a daily routine,” narrating the significance of each song in his own words.
Job For a Cowboy – “Entombment of a Machine”
“I developed a love and a passion for music at a very young age. Being born and raised on a farm in Arizona, there really wasn’t much to do — but then I saw my brother playing guitar. The way he could choose notes by bending the strings and pinching them into the frets of the neck to create a story had a profound affect on me. Since then, I’ve always had this indecipherable fascination with emotion being captured in recorded moments of sound.
In 2005, there was a wave of popularity in the metal music scene. This was one of the most important songs that got me inspired to actually create music. So when I was 16, I was the vocalist of the death metal group The Irish Front, and this was planted the seed that became my goals for a long-term career. This gave me my very first taste of touring the country, meeting fans, orchestrating chaos, hyping up the crowd and encouraging anarchy and turmoil. These shows were quite opposite to the ones I play today — hate and violence were encouraged, bones were broken, blood was commonly splattered on the floor and beer often replaced sweat. Seeing people come together to lose control because of the sound that we collectively created was such a high — I was instantly hooked.”
Washed Out – “Feel It All Around”
“One fateful Arizona night in 2010, the band was falling apart, and though I was struggling my hardest to keep things afloat, our break up seemed inevitable. Around this time, electronic music production had also really started to take my full interest away from the microphone and into the world of digital audio. I knew I wanted to do music for a living; after experiencing what it’s like to change people lives with sound, there was no going back. When I woke up, I knew what I had to do. I just didn’t know how to do it, so I simply went with the next logical step.
With no financial support, I quit the band, packed my things, tossed everything into my van and drove to Venice Beach, California in the hopes of developing a music carer by starting back at the bottom. I would spend the next three months writing beats in Jack In The Box parking lots, on public benches, and anywhere else I happened to be — with no friends and no connections. I almost had a bit of whiplash with this decision. When I think back on my mentality at that point in time, I can’t even describe.. what was I thinking? I guess I was simply basing my fate on the fact that the music industry was thriving in Los Angeles and living anywhere else was a waste of time. I was listening to the goodbye present my friend had given me before I left, and as I watched the sunset in Venice, this song came on. The lyrics led me away from doubt and allowed me to accept the decision I had so spontaneously made — and to look forward to a beautiful new paradise that awaited me, so long as I kept chasing it. I sat on the beach and stared into the sunset imagining what this new path held.”
Fake Blood – “I Think I Like It”
“Getting my feet wet in Los Angeles, I began making relationships and writing songs that allowed me to make my dreams possible. I soon met my manager Travis Hayden, who helped me get my very first release on OWSLA. I was living in an apartment on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles with four people I had met on Craigslist. It’s the only area in America that can be classified as having Third World status with more than 5,000 homeless people — many of which are gang members, drug addicts, and mental hospital patients with no family to claim them. I signed the lease before seeing the place, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Living in that area was life threatening on a daily basis. But even though it was terrifying, we threw some of the gnarliest parties I can recall. Windows and doors wide open with strobes, fog and bass spilling out of the two-story apartment and always different themes ranging from zombies to patriotic to cowboys and Indians. People would be pouring beer into homeless people’s mouths from the windows, having sex in the street, and massive fireworks were being fired inside the apartment while girls were pissing off the roof, and many other grotesquely animalistic situations that only a party in a place as gruesome as Skid Row could create. The homeless would often let themselves into the party — and attempt to even live there. It was absolutely lawless, until we were raided by police via helicopter and SWAT teams when a few of our attendees decided to shoot a realistic BB gun at people on the street. I was always DJing my parties, and for some reason, this song became almost the theme song of this time period — which gave me the vibe of being reckless and having fun no matter the circumstances. This lifestyle had such a distinct and grungy vibe to it that it ultimately inspired me to choose the artist name ‘Ghastly.'”
Porter Robinson – “Sea of Voices”
“This song holds a very special place in my heart. I was a server in Los Angeles in August 2014. I had been hired and fired from more than ten jobs, and I promised myself this was going to be the last one. I was at work when my friend Amber (Mija) texted me that Skrillex was interested in signing our track “Crank It”. As soon as I read the text, I turned in my apron and quit my job. Skrill was stoked on the record and wanted to hang out at Burning Man, so I went with Amber and our friend Megan Katich. After a long journey to the middle of the desert in Nevada, I will never forget waking up in the backseat and looking into the sun rising over the playa as Porter Robinson’s “Sea Of Voices” played — and a voice, not my own, but something more divine echoed in my head with the phrase “This is the part where the dream comes true.” Sure enough, we met Sonny that night and he looked me in the eyes and asked “So, do you want to do this?” I’m sure you can guess what my answer was.”
Ludwig Van Beethoven – “Moonlight Sonata”
“I was flying to Baltimore from Atlanta in August 2015, one year after “Crank It” was made, finishing up my first tour as Ghastly. Things had finally reached a point where I was doing all of the things I believed I could. I had released on some of my favorite labels, and worked with and became friends with so many musical inspirations. I was living solely off of music, and most importantly, I was making music that would bring people together and creating the soundtracks to their memories. I was looking out of the plane window as we flew through the clouds with my headphones on when my iTunes randomly played my favorite classical song of all time. This song took me on a journey as I began remembering the years of struggle and hard work, the failures, the victories, and everything I put into making this a reality. Frame by frame, I felt gratitude for my past self for enduring when no one believed and continuing when there was nowhere to go. From being a guy living in his van on the beach with dreams of making it to making dreams a daily routine, I can confidently say I think anyone can do anything. Trust me.”