"I love collaborating in many ways, but musically, I create as if I am in a band, and in some cases, as if I am the band, meaning I like to explore the personality of different instruments and various tracks and layers, and experiment with how they combine," he said in a recent e-mail interview.
"Yet I like to incorporate other ideas and sonic angles, so having another breathing, thinking human is excellent for critical input, as well as for exploring the paths I wouldn't have chosen."
Ashton has been following a hectic schedule, finishing up his next album, the follow-up to 2007's critically acclaimed Underground Communication, but he'll abandon the studio to visit Tucson for a gig at The Hut this weekend.
Bassnectar will play at midnight on Saturday, Feb. 9, as part of the Fourth Annual Gem and Jam. The two-night music festival, held in conjunction with the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, begins Friday, Feb. 8, and will feature a wide range of alternative rock, electronic, hip-hop, funk and jam-band music.
According to its Web site, Bassnectar is a "freeform project that merges music, art, new media, social involvement and community values, dedicated to a constantly evolving ethos of collaborative creation, self-reinvention and boundary-pushing experimentation."
When asked to describe himself, Ashton said simply, "I'm a volunteer."
Bassnectar plays music that prominently features elements of breakbeat, hip-hop, dub, drum 'n' bass, glitch, IDM, grindcore, punk, alternative, folk, swing and jazz.
Bassnectar gigs are known in dance-music circles as LivePAs, or "live performance artist," meaning that, as opposed to a DJ simply cutting and scratching discs, the music is played as it happens by the performer, including elements of improvisation and simultaneous composition in the arrangements.
Ashton has played with such diverse artists as Sound Tribe Sector 9, Disco Biscuits, the String Cheese Incident, Heavyweight Dub Champion, FreQ Nasty, KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions and Michael Franti of Spearhead.
Underground Communication, which was tilted toward the hip-hop end of the musical spectrum, featured Bassnectar collaborating with an assortment of MCs.
The album's thematic thread explored the concepts of social activism and underground networking. Alternative sources of information are necessary in this world, Ashton said.
"Well, first of all, it is important to me that I (do) not limit myself just to music. Creativity is a full-spectrum phenomenon, and I try to channel mine through multiple aspects in my life. So specifically, of course, I can affect people's emotions with music, and even more obviously, I can use political lyrics or vocal samples ... but I'm more inspired to use music as a means for magnetizing focus and attention toward systems of thought that I feel are important," he said.
"The political world of 2008 is incredibly fucked, and we in the First World are not the most immediate victims, so it's tempting/easy to just enjoy all the gizmos and luxuries of our time (iPods, cell phones, cars, etc.) and just not take on responsibility for taking a stand on serious issues, to just 'let someone else deal with it.'
"But I believe it is a shame to shirk responsibility like that, and as privileged people, we do have responsibility to be the fist smashing back at, for instance, a criminal government like the Bu$h administration, who regularly lie, cheat, steal, murder and affect direct negativity on the rest of the world. The fact that our country condones torture, wire-tapping and spying on citizens, and criminal courts for citizens without due process, is proof enough that times are serious, and we are needed."
Ashton said he considers Bassnectar's music, and the performance of it, to be rituals.
"Well, it's like a ritual for me. For one person, it might be the most boring thing ever, and for another, it might be totally abrasive. And for another, it is immersive as fuck, and for another, it can be exactly what they needed, so I stay open. As I said, I am totally obsessed, and incredibly open energetically, so it's always a new experience. And, yes, I think people are hungry for authenticity and realness.
Ashton was cryptic when asked what form Bassnectar's gig this weekend would take, warning listeners to suspend their preconceptions about music and performance.
"Please don't expect a thing. Just come with a lot of enthusiasm and high energy, and let's make a ruckus!"