From guiding tours of his family’s goat farm in Buckeye to fronting an Avondale-based deathcore band to winding up homeless in Venice Beach, David Lee Crow has had a storied upbringing. It’s one that most people likely wouldn’t expect from someone in the EDM scene.
The dubstep DJ and producer, who is now based in Los Angeles and tours and releases music as Ghastly, says he’s been somewhat of a lone soldier from an early age in the music scene of Arizona’s fast-growing West Valley.
Raised on his family’s rural goat farm, he recalls guiding tours as young as 8 years old and teaching guests about everything from Araucana chickens to Holstein cows. It was while attending high school with his cousins in Avondale, however, that he discovered other like-minded musicians and joined his first band.
“It all stems from there for sure,” he says of the success he is experiencing in his music career. He liked to experiment with different instruments in his downtime, and he credits his guitar-playing brother for his early interest in music.
Though he at one point sang vocals for the deathcore band The Irish Front, it was around the point he finished high school where he feels he realized his dream. Though still in The Irish Front for some time, he says he had been experimenting with his own electronic production and when the band eventually separated, Crow didn’t let it dissuade him from music.
“I think I had always been into electronic music, but I found metal music more accessible because I understood how it was created,” he explains of the change in direction.
“When it came to electronic music, I thought there was some guy with a drum machine just playing the whole song and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s crazy how they’re so perfectly on time.’ And then when I found out that you could just draw the notes in there (music production software), that’s when my brain started to make this shift, like, ‘OK, that seems a little bit more plausible, a little bit more possible.’
“Metal introduced me to the energy, but I always had a passion for the production side of electronic music and everything of that nature. I just needed a window to see how it could be possible and I found that. I eventually figured that out.”
It was when he was delivering cheese to restaurants one day that he says he received his first big break. A radio broadcast scouting for talent in Los Angeles caught his ears. So, he went.
“It was like, ‘Pro Scout, we’re now scouting actors and all these other things for agencies in Los Angeles,’” he says in a faux radio voice. “And for some reason my eyes just lit up and my ears just clicked onto the radio and I pulled over and I took the number down and I paid for the event. It was like a few thousand dollars ticket to go, but I was like, ‘Whatever, I’m going to try it,’ and I ended up having like 13 different agencies want to put me onto their roster. And so for me that was a reason to go to Los Angeles, where I knew the music industry was thriving.”
But it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be – at least at first. Despite having little success in the first few years, and winding up homeless for some time while working many different jobs, he calls that experience the first brick in the foundation of his career. “It got me out here and that’s all that really, really mattered in the long run, was just being brave enough to get my (butt) out here and give it a shot,” he adds.
He had aspirations larger than his family’s farm, but understood the difficulty of breaking out of his small town.
“To say that someone is always going to support you from the very beginning no matter what your dream is, is kind of a ridiculous expectation to have from other people,” he admits.
“When someone says, ‘I’m going to be an astronaut, I’m going to be the president,’ the first people to hear that, they go, ‘Pfft, yeah, sure.’ But sure enough, we have astronauts and we have presidents, so it’s possible … It’s very healthy to acknowledge that and expect that and respect that, because without the doubt then there can be no pathway to success.”
Over the years, Crow’s success has allowed him to release music on labels such as Skrillex’s OWSLA, Diplo’s Mad Decent, Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak and Borgore’s Buygore, and to collaborate with the likes of Lil Jon and his own EDM contemporaries. As far as his musical trajectory, however, he notes he never had one set sound or map for his career. Calling it a “shot in the dark,” he says he lets his creativity naturally guide his path.
“Personally, man, I think that every musician has an inherent fire that’s in them for the sounds that they like to create and their creative stronghold just naturally develops within them throughout their entire life,” he explains.
Now living in Los Angeles and touring the world, Crow notes it’s a completely different experience than his time with The Irish Front. From cramming seven people into a touring van on 14-hour drives while receiving low pay, small food rations and having no place to sleep outside the van, to flying around the world, getting picked up from the airport, staying in hotels and being given a green room stocked with whatever he wants, he notes it’s much easier now – in fact, it’s almost “too easy,” he says.
“It makes me feel out of touch with my origin once in awhile, I’ll be honest with you,” he admits. “Once in awhile I’m like, ‘Man, I just want to get back in a van and just do it (expletive) rugged, 100 percent like a vagabond, because that’s where this whole project originated from.”
He didn’t always have privileges like these.
“I was living in a van with three day jobs just running off of a battery charger and converter on my laptop in a Jack in the Box parking lot coming up with beats, and that’s how I found my way,” he explains.
“They are two completely different worlds (Ghastly and The Irish Front), but in the end of the day they have the same intention, which is to just express your artistry and make people’s lives better.
“I think that is the ultimate goal of all creative work in all of their forms, is to express your art, express yourself and make someone else’s life better through the fact that they can relate to you, they can relate to your creation, and they can make some memories from it,” he adds. “And memories are worth more than currency in my book.”
Crow, who has been releasing music as Ghastly for the better part of the decade, self-released his debut album, The Mystifying Oracle, in May. He played a sold-out show at The Van Buren in Phoenix the following month. But with 2018 now coming to a close, Crow is looking back fondly on the past 12 months. He estimates his fan base has grown to more than double, and he anticipates big things in the coming year.
“I had more growth than I’ve ever had in my career in the last year. So, with 2019 I’m gearing up to come up with a whole new concept,” he says, though he notes he’s not sure if that means a new album. The Mystifying Oracle came together naturally, as there was no conscious effort to put together a full-length album, he adds.
To reel in the New Year, Crow will return to his home state and perform as Ghastly at Rawhide’s annual Decadence festival on Monday, December 31. The two-day festival, which kicks off Sunday, December 30, features Skrillex, Marshmello, Above & Beyond, Eric Prydz, Porter Robinson, Alison Wonderland, San Holo, Rezz, Shaquille O’Neal, who performs as DJ Diesel, and others.
Crow notes that when returning to Arizona, the No. 1 priority in his free time is always his family. He also thinks fondly of hot spots like Pete’s Fish and Chips and the cities of Scottsdale and Tempe, where he says he spent much of his teenage years.
“I just love being out in the desert,” he adds. “Sometimes we’ll just drive on and on and on out into Buckeye or out into Surprise and just find an open area, just listen to no sound at all.
“It is nice, man, because where I live now I hear sirens, I hear people yelling, I hear motorcycles revving, it’s sound at all times,” he adds. Arizona, on the other hand, “still has that valuable silence and golden silence to it in certain areas where you can get away from all the nonsense, you can escape from the city within the city, and that’s so important for just mental health’s sake.”
Decadence Arizona, Rawhide Event Center, 5700 W. North Loop Road, Chandler, firstname.lastname@example.org, decadencearizona.com, 5 p.m. Sunday, December 30, and Monday, December 31, $119-$769. Check the website for complete lineup and schedule.