Bassnectar’s 2014 album, Noise vs. Beauty, marked a mainstream breakthrough for the California-based DJ and producer. After over 20 years producing crushingly heavy downtempo electronic music, Lorin Ashton – the man behind Bassnectar – earned his first Number One LP on the Billboard Dance/Electronic chart and hit Number 21 on the general Top 200 chart. Still, for all the success it has brought him, the record took away time from Ashton’s favorite project: a yearly mixtape.
So when approaching his highly anticipated follow-up LP, Into the Sun, Ashton says he didn’t think about it as an album – and he still doesn’t. “I think of this as a mixtape,” he tells Rolling Stone. “This is like a mixtape you’d make for a lover or friend before they leave on a road trip or something.”
For him, mixtapes offer a certain type of freedom, and seeing Into the Sun as less of a product of heavy studio time and production allows him to “underpromise and overdeliver.”
“[Mixtapes] are fun playgrounds for me because there are no rules,” Ashton explains. “You’re basically sampling anything and mixing everything together with abandon. It’s like a big fucking sonic collage.”
With Into the Sun, out June 30th via his own imprint Amorphous Music, Ashton aimed to create a summer mixtape, perfect for the Bassnectar fans who travel for miles to see him perform at festivals and his often sold-out arena shows. “It sounds fuckin’ cheesy to say that DJs take you on a sonic journey, but in a literal sense, that’s my favorite part of DJing,” he says. “You can piece together all these different personalities of songs, and everything weaves together to form a tapestry.”
In his new collection of songs, each track plays off the ones that come before and after it. Four of the five tracks streaming today come in succession on the LP, beginning with his remix of the Naked & Famous’ “No Way.” “I love the visceral energy of the original,” he says. “I didn’t want to produce a remix which sounded like a remix — I wanted it to just sound like a thicker, heavier, more intense version of the original, like if a death-metal guitarist was playing the parts or something.” To reach his goal, Ashton layered electro house kicks with a dubstep-style sub and topped it off with a re-recording of the guitar parts done by a friend. “This allows the mix to be way more full and almost bursting out at the listener.”
“Into the Sun” follows with its “element of sonic euphoria,” as Ashton describes. “I doubt it would ever get played in a club or anything, but it goes back to the Nineties when I was studying electronic music, and we were using hardware synths. I would focus on the R2D2 blips and bleeps, all the weird melodic tone sounds and modeling those to sound like a guitar.”
“Speakerbox” and “The Mystery Spot,” featuring Lafa Taylor and G. Jones respectively, are much heavier. The former builds on samples of kids shouting and Masia One’s “Warrior Tongue.” Vocalist Taylor recorded his parts in the bus/studio where he lives, calling Ashton from various locations so the two could meet up and record on the go.
G. Jones, a fellow Santa Cruz, California, native and producer, helped create a Santa Cruz–themed track, named for a real place in the city. “[The Mystery Spot] is this mysterious place in the Santa Cruz mountains where there are these gravity defying rooms and all these unexplainable natural phenomena inside the building,” Ashton details. For Bassnectar, the track has a perfect balance of feminine energy — heard in the melodic intro and outro — and masculine energy — evident in the “demonic, squishy, weird vibe” of the middle section.
His remix of Dorfex Bos’ self-titled single is another ode to Ashton’s roots, as Bos is one of the “unbelievably gifted” Bay Area producers he wishes had gotten more attention. Ashton describes the original as filled with “whimsical childhood wonder and awe.” Currently, he is looking to help his old friend out following Bos’ recent loss of albums’ worth of music following a hard-drive issue. The pair have spoken about the possibility of creating a downtempo band that would reinvent Bos’ lost songs.
While the the group with Bos is still tentative, Ashton has confirmed a different and equally exciting new partnership. The longtime hard-rock and metal fan — who spent many years being the only DJ at rock festivals — has an as-yet-untitled collaboration with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello set to follow the release of Into the Sun. “It was so special getting a phone call from him in his crazy deep voice and having him start off saying, ‘I’m such a fan,'” Asthon recounted for RS. “You could tell he wasn’t faking it because he starts referencing different songs and different bass lines of different songs. You quickly realize, ‘Whoa! He is not only a fan, he is really fucking educated [on electronic music].”
In the meantime, Ashton has created even more of his own music, including a free Bassnectar mixtape that will serve as something of a companion piece to Into the Sun, an album that reminds him of a mixtape. It revives songs from his fifth record, Mesmerizing the Ultra, which turns 10 this year, though it is largely unavailable for purchase or even to listen to anymore. In an era of DJs becoming pop stars, as Ashton describes, mixing those old tracks felt like a welcomed blast from the past. “[Modern DJs] are really charismatic humans who can operate a computer on a stage with a lot of charisma,” he remarks. “There isn’t a lot of that old school DJ sensibility. Getting to return to that for [this] mixtape was really fun.”