"Sometimes I feel like the word 'community' has this kind of square vibe to it," says Mason Rothschild, bassist of Los Angeles mecha/ fantasy rock act Fever the Ghost. He's talking about stuff like old people arguing grievances in a town hall, "or like, soccer moms" (not that there's anything wrong with that, he hastens to add).
But for Rothschild, "community" isn't just a platform to hash out disagreements or kids' rideshares — it's about motivation, positivity and art. It's about creative collaboration, something Rothschild has been involved with since even before he transformed his dorm at Cal State Monterey Bay into a venue, with about 60 television sets each displaying different art projects and a map of the world painted on the ceiling.
"We basically destroyed student housing, but with art," he says without regret, noting that the dorms were abandoned military housing from when the campus had been an Army base. His modifications simply served as another repurposing of the space.
For Rothschild, community is about letting your freak flag fly high, and being loved and accepted for it. That's what brought him into Fever the Ghost — something he says "fell out of the sky" and took over his life, and sucked him in like a new member to a cult. In a good way.
With Fever the Ghost, Rothschild found a family in bandmates Casper Indrizzo, Bornabin "Bobby" Victor and Nick Overhauser, a bond he describes as both fatherly and "older-brotherly" — where all of them are simultaneously each other's father and older brother. It's a unique dynamic. They also share a rather unique vision.
"The basis of Fever the Ghost, what we're focused on right now, is the recognition of fifth dimensional mantis people and how they've ushered us like shepherds into this third-dimensional world."
Mantis? Like a praying mantis?
"More like mantis shrimp," replies Rothschild, in earnest.
(Side note: It's a little hard to take someone as sincere when they're telling you about entering a cult that worships mantis shrimp from another dimension. But we looked them up, and mantis shrimp are pretty badass. We kinda get it now.)
Rothschild admits Fever the Ghost is "pretty far out." But, according to him, that's what this weekend's Desert Daze, the festival that he's performing at (twice) and helped put together, with the rest of L.A.-based creative collective Moon Block, is all about.
"It's all a bunch of positive freaks. Like a really strange bunch of people that are all motivated by art," he says of Desert Daze. "It's a community for those people that are sometimes outsiders or loners."
Rothschild serves as one of the art directors for the festival. He curates the pieces that are to be put on display, chooses where to place them throughout the grounds, and oversees the volunteers while they bake in the hot desert sun, get buffeted by high speed winds, and paint giant installations — all with a smile.
Sure, every festival would suffer without the help of volunteers. But at Desert Daze, the volunteer base is crucial. Now in its fourth year, people have traveled from all over the world to help make the festival possible. Like Josh, a volunteer Rothschild recalls from last year. He flew all the way over from the U.K. on his own dime to volunteer for an entire week of set up and clean up. "Just the happiest guy in the world," says Rothschild.
Having such a dedicated volunteer base — many of them regulars, he notes — frees Moon Block from relying on corporate sponsors, instead partnering with like-minded organizations like local cassette-crafters and independent label Lolipop Records. Members of local bands (including Rothschild's, Fever the Ghost and JJUUJJUU) help out, as well, and Seattle-born graphic artist Oliver Hibert joined the team to create this year's lineup poster, taking a break from his ongoing collaboration with the Flaming Lips.
"Right there it starts with a core that's really inspired and not chasing down profit. It's not hounded by anything but music and different artistic outputs," says Rothschild. "The local scene will always be at the heart of it. As the festival grows, so do the locals that are involved with it."
At Desert Daze's first incarnation in 2012, over 120 acts (including Akron/Family, Bleached, Dengue Fever, The Soft Pack, and the Gaslamp Killer, to name a few) played over 11 full days and nights of music. Since then, Moon Block has sized down to one day, but has added acts like Mini Mansions, Tinariwen, The Raveonettes, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Blonde Redhead to the Desert Daze family. This year, newcomers Dan Deacon, RJD2, Minus the Bear, Failure and The Budos Band join Desert Daze veterans Warpaint, Chelsea Wolfe and DIIV, not to mention an impressive array of acts from the local and national psych-rock revival and DIY underground (Mystic Braves, Gap Dream, Zig Zags.)
"We're fortunate enough to have amassed a collective," says Rothschild. "It's not like bands and then an audience. Everyone's hanging out with everyone."
Everyone? Even the bros that now show up at seemingly every festival in Southern California, sweaty, pumped up on molly, and ready to rage?
Rothschild laughs. "I've met all kinds of bros, and there are definitely good bros. But I think if a bro came to our festival they might act differently than if they were at another one. They might feel an overwhelming sense of love and inspiration and might forever change themselves."
He pauses, collects his thoughts, and continues: "All the people join in and go. They're all there not just to party, which is what I feel like a lot of festivals have turned into, just an excuse to get drunk and do drugs. Desert Daze is really there for recharging... I feel like there's a great responsibility to be a good person when you're at Desert Daze."
A volunteer-based, community-driven, bro-transforming festival that recharges you, rather than weighing you down with a week's worth of recovery from hangovers, stiff necks, and butchered feet? Sounds too good to be true. "There's less and there's more at Desert Daze, and there's more of the better things," Rothschild says with a laugh.
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See for yourself if Desert Daze has figured out the festival formula this Saturday, May 2, at Sunset Ranch Oasis in Mecca (just past Indio, on the way to the Salton Sea). Catch Fever the Ghost performing in hand-built, light-up space suits (!), along with endless art, good vibes, and food trucks. More information at desert daze.org.