Greg Ashley Band, 6/8/12, Saturn Cafe with Brian Glaze (drums), Josh Miller (bass), Wallace La Font (keys).
Back in March my world came crashing down, Greg Ashley announced he was moving to Austin. I freaked and immediately contacted him for an interview: so many questions, so little time. Thankfully, plans changed and Greg will stay in Oakland!
In fact, he is playing a whopping four shows this week. He played lead guitar last Friday with Sir Lord Von Raven for the King Kahn & BBQ show at Slim’s. He played again with Sir Lord on Saturday for the poorly attended 420 show with White Mystery, Wrong Words and so much more at Brick & Mortar. Still to come, Greg will play his own songs at Jack London’s Night Light this Wednesday with Yea Ming of Dreamdate and Brian Glaze, and then SF’s suuper kool Vortex Room this Saturday. For both upcoming shows, Greg will be joined by John of the John Brothers Piano Company.
Greg graciously stopped by MBL headquarters on Monday night to answer all the questions that needed answers. He requested scotch. I found some crammed in the back corner of the cabinet. I grabbed the tequila. We chatted for a good two hours and, with his assistance, I recorded the interview on an old four-track Tascam cassette recorder. Complete copies are available for a price. Here are the highlights:
On moving/not moving to Austin:
“I was trying to find a place where we can live like normal people, but also move my recording studio there…It’s hard to find a house where you can make all that noise…I recorded a Golden Boys record and one of Wes’s solo records (The Last Donkey Show)…We did half of it in Oakland and half in Lockhart, TX…in this cabin down there out in the country…The guy that owned the place… it had been sitting vacant…and he said you could live here rent free…I didn’t realize there was some structural stuff with the place but the main problem was the plumbing issues. I mean we were pretty much just using an outhouse the whole month we were there…just fishing and shooting BB guns which is fun for a couple days but for 2 weeks got pretty old. The toilet situation wasn’t really fixable.”
“SXSW was hell.”
On Sir Lord Von Raven (their record Please Throw Me Back in the Ocean was recorded in 2009):
“We have a double album worth of (new) stuff recorded. It’s just finding someone to put it out.” It sounds like Eran (Yarkon) might put it out (could be a great follow up to the first spectacular Guitars and Bongos release: Charlie Megira and the Modern Dance Club’s Love Police. Maybe Guitars and Bongos could be double records only?
Why the red wine, always the red wine?
“I found over time, especially playing instrumental guitar stuff, if I just drink wine, I can retain all of my motor function and it helps me sing too, whereas if I drink beer, liquor and stuff…you’re burping the whole time…I can still function if I drink wine or at least I can still play.”
The white shoes?
“I bought ’em when I was 16 at some thrift store in Texas…I never really had the balls to wear them in Texas but when I moved out here…I wore them for years…I loved those shoes…I got them resoled like 10 or 20 times…There was this Korean guy in Berkeley at Shattuck and Ashby…He went out of business…He was so nice…He would be like, ‘These are the finest elephant skin shoes I’ve ever seen. It is a pleasure to be resoling them’…At some point I had taken them to…five places and no one would resole them…’There is not enough leather on here’…I still have them…Those shoes would backfire though. One time I was playing in Chicago at the Empty Bottle and…this guy came in (the bathroom) and saw the shoes (under the stall door)…He opened the bathroom door and announced to everyone, ‘Hey, Greg Ashley is here and he’s taking a shit.'”
On recording Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man (likely Leonard’s least popular, least sold, least appreciated record):
“I got into Leonard Cohen when I was 11 or 12 because of that Nirvana song (“Pennyroyal Tea”)…When I was in high school, I would put him on at parties and my friends would be like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? This isn’t party music. This is annoying and depressing,’ and I would be like, “No, it’s sooo good…Check it out.’…But then I realized I could put (Death of a Ladies Man) on at a party…It’s just a weird, sleazy record. This is a niche of Leonard Cohen music that he’s not satisfied with…This is the one thing maybe I could contribute to doing my own thing with it…There was work left to be done on that record…It would be nice to think he (Leonard) has heard it.”
“I put together the band to do it. It was a lot of different people…Two keyboards, saxophone, bass, drums, guitar…One of the keyboard players…got in a car wreck and he was out of commission, then he was back…The drummer (Jay Bronzini of Sir Lord Von Raven and many other bands) committed suicide…I didn’t see it coming…The saxophone player, Wallace…he’s in prison…I’ve been writing him letters…It’s good fodder for a song.”
Greg’s song for Wallace, “Prisoner #1131267” was given to Erin at Slop Bop Records last week when Slop Bop Sean went to jail and it was just made available on the Jail Bail Comp out now on Bandcamp. Turns out Greg actually recorded Sean waaay before Cumstain when Sean was 16 and playing in his Grandma’s garage. “His mom’s like ‘Don’t buy Sean any beer!’.”
New shit for the old ceremony:
“I’m almost done with my new record. Hopefully that will be done in the next month or so and then I just have to find a label to put it out…I’m going to be playing a lot of (the new songs) at the shows this week…I’ve always liked old country music and more and more now I find…that’s more of what I want to listen to all the time. I like the stories.”
And the upcoming Burger Boogaloo July 6-7 in Oakland’s idyllic Mosswood Park?
“I would do that…if there was a lot of money involved, we would do a Gris Gris show.”
Playing live, venues, etc.:
“I would like to have people listen to me while I played. I don’t have an in on those places. That’s been my problem for a long time. I always did this kind of (quiet) stuff really while I was doing Gris Gris as well. When I first moved out here to the Bay Area 11 years ago, I didn’t want to have a band anymore. I just wanted to do my solo stuff. I kinda fell into doing that band (Gris Gris), and I had an idea of how to make that band…doing all the things that I wanted to see a band do and in a way where you wouldn’t have to worry about all the shit that I didn’t want to deal with anymore…sound people…but also how much equipment you have to move…I would always tell the sound guy to not turn on any of the monitors. We would set up in a circle to look at each other. We could hear what each other were doing without having to rely on the sound system of the venue. We could play in someone’s house or a big club and it worked really well.”
Fate of the Ghost Town Gallery??
“It was fun while it lasted.”
Fortunately, Greg’s Creamery Recording Studio is still churning out the hits.
We spoke of some recent recordings Greg engineered with Oakland based Cave Clove (Greg also plays guitar on it). They play folky, soulful goodness on the following Thursdays: 4/25 at New Parish, 5/16 a the Cafe Du Nord and 6/20 at the Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley).
Greg recorded LA band Detective last year. He recorded Seattle’s Dutchess and the Duke. Then, of course, there are all the intertwined great local talents: The Wrong Words (Josh from Sir Lord Von Raven and Greg Ashley Band), Dreamdate and the Dreamdate side projects from Yea Ming and Anna Hillburg, and at least three Brian Glaze records including Rainsplitter which Greg kindly gifted me upon his departure.
Whatever you do, don’t miss Greg’s shows this week. Buy him some red wine. And if you have ANY material to record, don’t fuck around, contact him today and record at his infamous Creamery Analog Recording Studio!
Welcome back to Oakland, Greg Ashley! We are so glad to have you.
Ghost Town Gallery, 5/7/10, RIP