THE ASTEROID #4

19 Apr

The Asteroid #4 often feels more like the sun for us – the great source of light around which we orbit, life-giving and damn near eternal.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but coming in to contact with the gravitational pull of The Asteroid #4 for the first time, for us, represented a point of no return, an event horizon – and the event is losing touch with your mind.

Yet while we’re told that our sun will one day come unplugged, The Asteroid #4 shows no signs of going dark – if anything, our chart of the stars shows that their light may be burning brighter than ever before, with the impending release of full-length album number seven from #4, along with the super team-up supernova that represents a huge notch on the astral belt – “The Journey,” a collaboration with Kaleidoscope (UK)’s Peter Daultry.

So the journey is on for The Asteroid #4, as it has been for years and as it should be for some sonically stupendous time to come. Fortunately, its path of orbit includes a stop at the planet known as Austin Psych Fest 2012 and we were able to briefly intercept the planetoid known as Scott Vitt for the interview below. Enjoy.

What would you identify as your first musical obsession – not necessarily the first music that ever appealed to you, but the first artist or album that uncovered the desire to know more, to seek further? What was it about that album or artist that made such an impact on you? Have you feelings toward it evolved in any significant way over the years?

I should mention that the more personally-directed questions are my own responses and I am by no means speaking on behalf of my bandmates.  So … with that said, I guess I would have to say Ride’s “Nowhere.” I know it could be looked at as a very typical answer, but my first gut response would’ve been even more so, as it would’ve been The Beatles. I say Ride because they came at a point in my life where I was ready to move on internally, if you will, and “seek further.”

Earlier on in life, as in childhood, it was always my father’s music, like The Beatles, Stones, Neil Young, the Velvets, etc., playing and creating the freak I’ve been ever since. Then later on in my teenage years, I fell heavy into punk, hardcore or even heavier, with the simultaneous presence of The Smiths, Echo and The Bunnymen, New Order, etc. That all became my music, if you will, but I was still too young to really be looking further and it was more about rebellion from my parent’s music … But shit, when I first heard Ride, and not long after My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3, at the age of 17 or something, that was it. This was entering a time when the music I listened to induced me to “seek further” chemically, if you’re picking up what I’m putting down. So in retrospect, it was that early 90’s era that really had an everlasting impact on me. Come to think of it, I’m sure most of my bandmates would concur and actually it was Eric, one of our guitarists, that brought the first Ride EP to my house and said, “Listen to this!” It was a new sound for us … the guitars were being used as soundscape rather than a lead instrument, the drums and bass were heavy as shit and it didn’t matter what the vocals were saying, but how the melody moved you.

What I, or we, listen to now has evolved many times over, especially with what we have access to in terms of worldwide obscure acts from the 60’s and 70’s, but it’s those formidable years of the late 80’s and early 90’s that I still reference as the greatest years of influence.

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What was the most frustrating part of trying to get Asteroid #4 into orbit during the earliest stages of the band? How do you think your attitude toward the work that it takes to keep the band moving forward has changed over the years?

Early on the most difficult part was keeping the actual band together and once we did that, trying to find what our sound actually was. When we were just starting out, especially being as young as we were when we started, the egos were aplenty and everyone had a different idea of what we should do. Most regretfully, me. I was very impressionable early on and I wanted to try some different things, which made me lose focus of being ourselves. Luckily the key members stuck it out, but bandmates came and went, outside relationships influenced us for better or for worse and things continuously changed. I think we finally found a groove once we did “An Amazing Dream,” where we took all of our influences and homages that we wore on our sleeves, mixed them up and finally began becoming ourselves. Now, it’s simply all about having fun together as friends first, enjoying being a band, collaborating, and whatever happens, happens. Very rarely are we stressed out together and if we are, it’s “Hey, I’ll see you in a week or two,” and that’s it.

In what ways do you think that your surroundings influence the music you make? Are the “core” members of Asteroid #4 all from Philadelphia originally? Do you think the city has evolved in any significant ways since the band first began? Or would you be more likely to subscribe to the theory of, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”?

Our surroundings play a very big part in influencing the music we write. However, I think having the opportunity to see other parts of the world has had a more profound influence lately. All of us, excluding Ryan, hail from Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs. Ryan is from northern California, which is where we met him while on tour years ago. So the environment he lives in also has a big influence on us as well.

The city itself has changed drastically since we first started playing and I am not sure if it’s been for better or worse. The venues have definitely changed. Maybe we’re more content with being reclusive from what may (or may not) be happening in Philly currently. We were very involved early on and found it to be important to associate with other bands and create a scene, if you will, but now that we’re so many years removed from that, we find it more important to concentrate on our recordings and just do our thing.

We’re not shy in telling you that we’re at least a little bit obsessed with your album, “These Flowers of Ours,” and especially the relation to its subtitle, “A Treasury of Witchcraft and Devilry.” What was the original inspiration or origin for those two titles? What do those titles represent to you, personally? Who is responsible for the album’s beautiful artwork?

Well, thank you! I haven’t listened to that record in a long time. Maybe I should. The title is nothing more than what it is and it’s really pretty literal. The flowers are the songs that grew out of us working together for that year. At that juncture we had recently been to the UK a few times and the traveling experience and the people we had met really had a profound impact on us. Those songs came from those experiences. The “A Treasury of …” part came from a book Ryan had found in a vintage bookshop and we thought it really played well on the more flowery vibe of the title and turned it a little darker, which is what we like to think we do musically. We typically write very straightforward songs, but like to throw in a darker lyrical twist or instrumentation to turn it off the road a bit, if that makes any sense.

The artwork was actually done by a graphic artist we met while in the UK named Chrissie Abbott. We highly recommend you checking out her other work.

What can you tell us about the origin of the song, “Let It Go”? Without hyperbole, we can tell you that it probably ranks within our top ten favorite songs of all time (though we admit, we’re not creating the list anytime soon). Are we hearing the words correctly when we sing along, “London/it’s starting to rain”? Are there any notable differences in the reception of Asteroid #4 receives overseas compared to stateside?

“Let It Go” was one of those songs that just happened as we were writing for the album. I had the chord progression and vocal melody. Adam, our drummer, and I showed up to rehearsal a little early and started playing it and as we were midway through it, Ryan, Eric and Damien, our bassist at the time, happened to walk in, pick up their guitars and just started playing along. It was recorded almost exactly the way we wrote it. Some songs happen like that for us and others can take weeks or longer to develop. The lyrics are pretty much your standard break-up song, because the song just felt like that and it’s actually “Long day/It’s starting to rain”, not “London,” but it’s weird that that’s what you heard considering I first started playing around with those lyrics while in London.

There’s actually noticeable differences on how we’re received city to city. Its just one of those things. Some cities we tend to do very well whether it be overseas or nationally. The reception is always good, which is nice, but without the machine behind us, we cannot reach as many people as we’d like.

We rarely write or ask much about the technical side of music production, mostly since our own knowledge on the subject borders on the laughable. But we can’t help but be fascinated by the way “Flowers” and it’s follow-up, “Hail to the Clear Figurines” seem to leap out of our speakers just a pinch louder, a pinch crisper, a pinch more defined than even those albums by bands with incredibly deep pockets. To what do you attribute this to, or are our ears just playing tricks on us?

Your ears are not playing tricks on you … We are just incredibly lucky to have a professional recording engineer within our ranks. Ryan, our guitarist, is schooled in sound engineering and he’s been at the controls for the last two, and now the third record, which is just about complete. Ryan is also responsible for recording the Dead Skeletons’ record, which he is also a member of. Eric has also done some engineering and between that and Ryan’s mixing/mastering, we tend to have a nice system to demo. That was the situation for the Peter Daltrey (of Kaleidsocope UK) collaboration record, also due out this year, as there we times when Peter was in the UK, we were in Philly and Ryan was in California. Technology has come a long way and made it easier for bands to work together from a distance if need be.

Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor we are attempting to start right now) that in addition to taking the stage at Austin Psych Fest this year, the band will spend the remainder of their time charging a small fee of festival attendees to take an instant photograph with the band, standing beneath a giant, hand-painted banner that reads, “ASTEROID #4 POLAROID $4″?

If you make the sign, we’ll happily stand under it. We could use the money …

We were fortunate enough to see Asteroid #4 perform at Austin Psych Fest #2 back in 2009. What are your memories of that weekend? Are there any bands in particular playing this year’s festivities that you are particular enthused to see perform live?

I remember it being cold and rainy, but having some unbelievable Mexican food. That was a strange weekend for us from an internal perspective. It was definitely a whirlwind last time, so I hope to slow it down and take it all in. The best memory is meeting and hanging out with Sky Saxon. That was fucking brilliant! Sadly, he ended up passing away only months after that, so we’re really grateful we got to meet him.

This year I’m really looking forward to seeing the Telescopes, and definitely the Paperhead, Brooklyn Raga Association, Wooden Shijps and it’s always great seeing friends: Spindrift, Dead Meadow, Blue Angel Lounge and, of course, the BJM.

I’m sure they’ll figure it out, but I’m really having a hard time understanding just how the APF gang will ever have a better lineup than this year. It seems to hit on every facet of what modern psychedelic music is today.

French Romantic painter – and huge fan of The Chocolate Watch Band – Eugene Delacroix said the following:

“They say that each generation inherits from those that have gone before; if this were so there would be no limit to man’s improvements or to his power of reaching perfection. But he is very far from receiving intact that storehouse of knowledge which the centuries have piled up before him; he may perfect some inventions, but in others, he lags behind the originators, and a great many inventions have been lost entirely. What he gains on the one hand, he loses on the other.”

Your thoughts?

I couldn’t agree more, especially when related to music, or even more specifically, guitar-driven music. I said I was excited to see the Paperhead because they seem to be a band of younger guys that have somehow figured it out. I think the essence of the song has been terribly overlooked in recent years. Perhaps it’s the inclusion of vocal harmonies and tune-smithing that is seriously lacking.

Many today want their favorite bands to make the same records over and over again, and in many cases, if the band does something different, they’re criticized for it. The originators, in this case, were so much closer in time to the roots of popular music, like folk, country, blues, jazz, etc., that there wasn’t the misfortune of losing sight of what the best ingredients actually are and still had the open landscape to do something new. Today that’s apparently having a laptop on stage with you and singing along to pre-recorded music … not a very warming experience, but what do I know?

What’s next for Asteroid #4?

Next up is a new record … actually two! As mentioned, we just finished a collaboration project with Peter Daltrey of the great, classic, UK psych bands, Kaleidoscope and Fairfield Parlour. That record will hopefully drop soon as we’re putting the finishing touches on the mastering and artwork.

Secondly, is a new A4 record which has also been recently finalized in the studio and we’re now looking for a label interested in putting that out. Know anyone?

Beyond that … playing some shows. We’re hoping The Black Angels take us on the road with them … so hopefully they’re reading this.

Peace.

The Asteroid #4

Original photo of The Asteroid #4 by Sarah Morrison Photography

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