Conversations: Daniel Ahearn

Daniel Ahearn‘s “Wanted to Be Loved” featuring Rashida Jones is a beautifully crafted yet heart breaking track. I guess it’s no surprise that it’s associated with Netflix’s controversial documentary, “Hot Girls Wanted,” which has been steadily garnering buzz since it premiered at Sundance. The film digs deeper into amateur porn, shining a light on the young girls who find themselves in the industry and giving them a voice that might otherwise go unheard.

Not having listened to a lot of his work before, I found myself wanting to learn more about his recent acclaim and how he’s navigated his career on his own terms. Daniel was more than gracious to oblige, touring Venice Beach with my wife and I as we got to know a bit more about this truly fascinating individual.

Tony: How’d you get involved with doing music for Hot Girls Wanted?
Daniel: My dear friend Will McCormack suggested me to Rashida Jones – they are both incredible artists, beautiful souls and the illest powerhouse duo in Hollywood. Rashida emailed me and asked if I was down. Duh. Then she introduced me to the filmmakers. I was honored.

What was your inspiration for the track “Wanted to be Loved”?
The inspiration for the track came from a conversation I was having with Rich Jacques (co-writer) and we were talking about loss I was experiencing in a relationship. The confessional sentiment I made to explain all the madness I found myself in was “because I wanted to be loved”. It said so much about where I was at the time, where we can get when we spiral towards the unsafety of losing ourselves in the idea of another. It made sense of all the chaos and confusion; that suffocating lonely feeling. We wrote from there.

The film so clearly understates this experience for the characters. I understand the presentation for the woman chronicled in the film is with the idea of ‘getting paid’ and ‘being famous’ but underneath that noise, truly, is the desire for love.

Have you since seen the film in it’s entirety?
I saw it at the Sundance premiere. Obviously, I had seen several iterations before and the countless scenes innumerable times while working on it – but Sundance was when I  sat and watched the whole film.

What did you think?
I don’t think I will see it again. The experience is rough: there is so much sadness surrounding this world; in big and small ways. I say this with no judgement and no sense of shaming, but the reality is just because things are consensual doesn’t mean they are not damaging. I may be too sensitive, but to me in this area of adult film work and the machine of consumption around it I see only pain and violence.

I believe massive credit should go to Rashida for getting this project out there to shine light on this ubiquitous but shadowy part of our culture. Her voice and presence has afforded the film a real platform I don’t think it would have had if she wasn’t behind it, and these conversations need to take place. Rashida is the best person I could think of to help create the space to have these talks.

I hear the track was submitted for an Emmy. What’s the process for submission?
The process involved uploading and paperwork and a fee. I have no idea.

How do you feel your chances are?
The skeptic in me says less than zero, and the romantic in me has given a speech thanking my mother already.  Netflix owns the film. Maybe they can help people vote for it. I have no concept of how to help or do anything. I mean that specifically to this point and also in general.

How has the reception for the track been so far?
The reception has been wonderful: people  are listening. It seems to be touching the experience shared by many of us. A lot of people feel connected to the song and reached out to let me know, which is an incredible feeling.

I know you released both the original mix, and a slightly more stripped down acoustic version. Any varying feedback from listeners?
Thus far, I think the draw is toward the original mix with all the bells and whistles. This makes sense to me as the sentiment has more room to express itself with more expansive sounds around it than just acoustic guitars.

You just shot the video for it, how’d that go?
It was an incredible experience we filmed at my brother’s house which is a work of art in and of itself. Hannah Macpherson directed it. She is someone I have admired for years. I look forward to watching her dominate this town. She is gentle and intuitive and has a monstrous sense of vision. Watching her work was a absolute masterclass in directing.

The actress Rachel Skarsten was generous enough to be involved in the shoot. We met through twitter and it’s the greatest thing I could ever imagine getting from such a bizarre social media platform: her friendship. I could talk about this amazing woman for hours and hours. It was breathtaking. Her presence, her beauty inside and out, her abilities to find and hold experiences. Simply remarkable. If there were more artists like Rachel Skarsten the world would be a beatific place.  The joy and fortune I felt working with these two woman is almost overwhelming. Not use a hackneyed expression, but I truly felt blessed to be with them.

You’ve done quite a few musical collaborations in your career, in addition to this collaboration with Rashida Jones, what are some of your favorites?
Well working with Rashida was dope as can be, and writing with Rich Jacques is and was always a pleasure. Honestly, I have had the chance to work with so many infinitely talented artists: Moby, Mocky, Mindy Jones (a lot of m’s) – so many people have been gracious and generous with their time and talents. Linda Perry opened up her studio to me to work in for a while when I was struggling, which helped more than she will ever know. Filmmakers Erik Lang and Mark Webber have blown my minds with video work, and having the chance to work on a video with the supremely lovely Teresa Palmer was outrageously unforgettable.

The first movie I did music for is called “No Love Song”. I acted in it with musician/filmmaker Haroula Rose and Rosana Arquette. I learned a lot on that project and I’m proud of the music we made

The list goes on and on, but I must say the collaboration I have done for which I feel the highest regard is a record I had the chance to make with the late poet Franz Wright called ‘Readings from Wheeling Motel’. That experience gave me more than I am capable of expressing. He was my artistic hero and I am breathless for the loss. There will never be another American poet of such definitive significance. He was the consummate poet and I miss him.

Any upcoming projects/releases you are working on?
I’m not sure about releases. This modern world is amorphic. I don’t see a map. I don’t know if I want or need one anymore. Luckily I go from project to project and the less I concern myself with it, the more in touch with the experience of creation.

Do you have a day job?
This is really all I want. So, I will write songs and give them to my agents pitch them to TV and Film, then based on what happens with that I will release EPs here and there. I guess the day job is the night job too – I work on music. I do some acting and scoring – the standard hollywood shuffle.

What are some of the films you have worked on?
I’ve done smaller works here and there in the past, but the only other feature I scored was The Ever After by Mark Webber and Teresa Palmer. I worked on it with Moby. I am so proud of that movie and so grateful to Moby for getting me involved.  It is a goddamn masterpiece. Mark Webber is one of the most intrinsically gifted and unflinchingly brave artists that has ever walked the earth.

You mentioned acting, how’s that been going?
It’s a lot like songwriting. Acting feels like songwriting. You have to commit to the rules of the moment. Be there on the edge of going too far all the time. Be willing to accommodate the moment when it changes. Most of all, you have to listen.

What are some of the projects you have worked on and will be working on?
I’ve shot 3 or 4 short films and some scenes from a feature coming out soon(ish). Also about to head to Belize to work on another feature and recently worked on a new series with Mark Webber and  writer/actress Stephanie Sanditz. I’m very lucky. I love doing it. It’s a strangely regulating experience for me.  The rules make sense to me.

Do you perform much live these days?
No. I don’t really connect with the experience in a deep enough way to pursue it. I can spend my time writing and recording and working on projects with other artists I admire. Life is too short. Also, I would rather be around my son than pretty much anything in the world, and playing shows only makes sense if you tour and I don’t want to tour – I don’t want to miss a day with him. Some people are really pulled to perform. It expresses a part of them that requires this articulation. Im not one of those people

When you are not writing music?
I feel grateful to say that my time runs together. I work on projects constantly: writing, recording, acting. That aside I have a real strong meditation practice I commit to and hang with my son. I also drink a lot of water.

How long have been writing music? When did you first discover you loved music?
I’ve been working at music for about 16 years. I always loved music. It saved my life. Innumerable times. I drove from Indiana to California as a child to live here and we had two tapes in the car The Wall and The best of the Beatles. I remember feeling transfixed to the sounds in the Wall and the majestic vibrational sadness if evoked and also hearing the song ‘Help’ by The Beatles. The song sounded so gleeful but it felt so punk rock and desperate “Help…I need somebody…Help…Not just anybody”. Maybe then. On that drive. From one home to the next. Somewhere between the mid and the west.

Who was your earliest musical inspiration?
My sister. She was a prodigious piano player and I watched her get consumed by playing the piano. It was thunderous. Like having a church in your house. It did so much through her. It scared me and I was mesmerized by it.

Having been a part of the LA music scene for some time now, what kind of advice would you give to up and coming artists who have to learn the hard way?
I’m not a fan of advice. I have no idea what anyone else may need. But I will say that I found it critical to learn my own rules and realize what I needed to do as an artist. Once I looked at this gift and desire in myself to create and connect to the world through these discoveries the world changed. This is to say, finding this place in myself and caring for it, trusting it, nurturing it. That experience has been more rewarding than any chasing which preceded it. It took me some time to realize the importance of this.  Someone told me if you do anything else, anything at all you love I would have done it. It’s a rough and often lonely road to pursue this life, but for some of us there is no choice.  Like I said, that was someone else’s advice to me. I’m just passing it along.

What’s your mantra in life?
I love you. Keep going.

Producer, Music Aficionado, Social Media Junkie.