About once a week, someone will ask me why I choose to live in Asheville, NC – a rural tourist destination with a population nudging 85,000. About five years ago, I decided to move back here from Los Angeles – a decision that confounds some people, particularly the industry-savvy.
After graduating from school in L.A., I struggled to find my footing. The expense and expanse of the great city put me under a tremendous amount of stress, both external and self-inflicted. I found myself working menial day jobs, barely making rent, and clamoring to find the time and headspace to make music. Some artists thrive on the edge of poverty; I break down. At times I was confronted by a guilty pang of weakness (the true artist should create work, regardless of circumstance!), but my time in L.A. taught me how I am built by showing me how I fail. Seeking respite, I decided to move to Asheville to pursue an internship at a newly-founded recording studio (incidentally, the internship never happened).
The kind of inspiration I seek is born out of long stretches of uninterrupted seclusion, and I can find that here. The day job remains, but the pressure has abated. Asheville has slow food, good coffee, hidden swimming holes and a pace of life that’s modestly uptempo. And rather fortuitously, my adopted hometown has become a significant destination for electronic music in the last few years: we are home to Moog Music, the newly-named Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Festival (formerly Moogfest, whose alumni include Brian Eno, Four Tet, Caribou, Squarepusher, Tim Hecker and others), and the Orange Peel, one of the country’s premiere music venues. This remarkable collection of events and industries hasn’t yet translated to a national spotlight on Asheville’s local artists, but that may change with time.
Just a few weeks ago, when I was being interviewed for a local entertainment weekly, I was asked: “do you think living in Asheville holds you back?” I said yes. I said yes because I knew that she was asking specifically about the success of my music career. I have no illusions acknowledging that my small-town residence may limit my artistic exposure – it’s certainly a smaller pond – but for me, it provides a level of creative fulfillment that I wouldn’t be able to attain in a crowded artistic hotbed like L.A., Brooklyn, or Berlin.
Music production has always been a solitary pursuit for me. Growing up in the pedestrian stability of the Charlotte suburbs, my formative experiences were all very personal, and very private. There was no “scene” to speak of, and no places to see shows underage, so I became obsessed with albums. Records were artifacts from another dimension. Transmissions from a plane of mercurial luminaries. The cover art, lyrics, and vague, enticing photography provided a small window onto something outside my experience, not within it. And when I then started producing music on my own at 16, I had to figure most things out for myself. In the nascent days of the Internet, there were far fewer resources for an aspiring electronic producer. And because of my isolation, my access to collaborators was limited. These naïve beginnings cultivated a preference to work alone, and to compose, record, and produce everything myself. It is the only area of my life free from compromise.
Today one is encouraged to be an extrovert – to overshare, to broadcast, to be social. The era of musicianship in the shadows has all but evaporated, and the aspiring musician is pressured to provide ubiquitous, unfettered access to every intimate detail of his personal life. The relevance of the modern musician is measured in likes, views, shares, and the insatiable desire for “content” (a vogue, ignominious term that reflects our eroding patience to distinguish between quality and quantity). For a private person like myself, this new paradigm is overwhelming and a bit disconcerting. But despite this new reality, continuing to make music my livelihood is too important for me. I can’t close my eyes and refuse to participate. I need to make music in order to survive, so how do I make this new system work for me?
I have found an answer in small stakes. I do want the quiet life, nature, and long stretches of unbroken time for introspection and creative experimentation. And hopefully, if I handle my next steps wisely, I can find a balance. I can release music through the Internet, find fans in all corners of the world, open for my heroes on the road, play at Fabric, eat exotic food, and at the end of the day, come home to the sequestered micro-universe of my home studio, surrounded by the misty, yawning Blue Ridge mountains. It may not be what everybody wants, but it’s what I want.