Simple Music for Complicated Times

The Glorious Noise Interview with The Asteroid No. 4

There’s increasing interest in music with raw foundations. From the garage rock sonic blasts of the White Stripes and the Hives to the country-tinged folk harmonies of the Beachwood Sparks and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, real music for real people is getting more attention.

Glorious Noise caught up with Philadelphia’s The Asteroid No. 4 to find out what it is we’re all looking for and how bands like this help us find the way. Read the interview.

Glorious Noise Interview with the Asteroid No. 4

Quote from Asteroid No. 4 discussion group:

soooo,
you guys have been space rock, brit pop, prog rock and now country
fried rock…could ska be far behind?
Xoxo -s-

The Asteroid No. 4 are a Philadelphia-based band that over the years has mined the universal musical landscape to create songs sometimes stunning in their reproduction of rock genres, and at other times wholly original. Like many bands, A4 have taken their time to develop their own identity and along the way treaded lots of ground. From their early days experimenting with “shoegazer” rock, to a foray into the psychedelic world once painted so brightly by Syd Barrett, to their current dabbling in the country-rock Bakersfield sound, the Asteroid No. 4 have maintained a devotion to capturing the sounds they covet and delivering an experience you’re not soon to forget.

Glorious Noise caught the Asteroid No. 4 opening for the Brian Jonestown Massacre in February and later interviewed lead singer, Scott Vitt and bassist, Eric Meenz about their long and winding musical journey

GLONO: Your earlier work seems to lean more heavily toward garage rock and psychedelic, how’d you get turned on to the whole Dead/CCR/Burritos-style of country-rock.

Scott: we did start out as quite the psychedelic band in our earlier days. we still consider ourselves to be somewhat psychedelic and definitely experimental. honestly for a band from Philly, to toy with countryier moments has got to be a little experimental. we’ve always been fans of artists like the Dead, CCR, Dylan, solo Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, etc. isn’t everybody?

it actually started with an obsession with the Byrds, which led to Sweetheart of the Rodeo, then Gram Parsons and so on. we’re also a band who’s seen members come and go, and with that the band evolved. we also believe a band should try something different. i’m really against the way people want to hear the same band make the same record on every effort. change is good.

GLONO: Right, some of your newer stuff is similar to Neil Young’s first solo album and I suppose he was coming out of his “garage” period then as well with the break up of Buffalo Springfield. How much does Young’s work influence what you do? What other influences come through?

Scott: i appreciate the compliment. Neil Young is one of our biggest influences, especially his first record. and as for how much, speaking personally, i definitely look to him being the lead singer, his melodies are extremely influential as well as his harmonica playing. he is also an artist who never liked to stay with one sound for very long and by the mid-seventies he would change drastically between records. he did what he wanted and had a very natural approach to making music. his lyrics are also extremely based on things directly around him. he seemed to be very influenced by nature, the world and his friends and family.

as far as other influences, I mean the list is endless, Gram Parsons obviously, but through learning about him the more we dug into what came prior to him. for example classic George Jones, Johnny Cash, the Carter Family and Merle Haggard. more recent stuff would include Whiskeytown, Richard Buckner, Smog and even Mojave 3, which is actually a real good reference, because we actually started out very “shoegazer”, for lack of a better word, so to watch Slowdive break down to what Neil Halstead is doing of late is easy to look towards.

obviously Dylan and the Stones are always present. i could seriously mention hundreds of artists.

GLONO: When’s the next album coming out? Self-released or on a label?

The Asteroid No. 4

Scott: hopefully we’ll have a record done by the fall. we’re in the process of demoing our newer material, still fussin’. the recent tour was a chance to get to play the stuff over and over, as well as see how people reacted, which was surprisingly supportive. because of our shift in style, we’re hoping to find a new home. our current label is quite supportive and very good to us, but we both feel our newer music would be more appropriate on a label catering to the type of music we’re playing. we’re actually in the process of doing a “shopping” deal with them. so it’s good.

GLONO: You guys seem to really strive for an authentic sound. Tell me a bit about your gear.

Scott: we use reissue stuff, as far as guitars go, which have stayed with us for awhile and work well (not broke, don’t fix it)….we’re not techies by any means, although in the studio we will ask for what we like….good condenser mics and good mic pres are essential, of course, running to good old fashioned, analog tape. if those three things are available, and you get a nice, clean signal to tape, you can’t go wrong. all the icings to the cake come later in overdubs and mixdown. we’ve been lucky enough to work with studios who have the gear…but sometimes live it doesn’t fucking matter if you have the best or shit gear, the soundman always has the option of screwing you and your sound in the end, right? best to take gear on the road that can take a beating and keep on ticking.

GLONO: You said you use reissue stuff mostly, can you elaborate? What makes? What amps are you running through? Can you recommend any particular pedals?

Scott: well as far as amps, we’ve used everything from vintage Gibson and Vox amps, depending on what we’re doing at the time. a Roland JC120 has been with us for a while. the last time out we brought some workhorses with us, i mean it’s the dead of winter in Canada nonetheless so we brought some gear that can take a beating when a bunch of drunken idiots, like us, are heaving them in a van at 4:00am. uh, we brought a Laney tube combo, a re-issue tube Peavey that was based off of the old tweed Fenders, piece of shit, but it’s got some balls, and a Fender Twin Reverb. very trustworthy.

as far as guitars, we play re-issues, a Rickenbacker 330, Fender Tele Thinline, Epiphone Casino, Gretsch Sierra and a piece of shit Ibanez Hollow body Art-Star that’s as tough as nails. i’ll let eric continue with the pedals…

Eric: i used to be the guy with the ton of gear to lug to shows, i was lead guitarist from the beginning of the A4’s inception…but now I’m playing bass. our lead guitarist/lap steel/pedal steel member, James (Scythes) now uses pedal board, which has been stripped down from the first to second records we’ve done. for his guitar he uses an Ibanez delay, Big Muff, and a Boss EQ for boost for his leads (and some sonic shaping if necessary) running through the Fender Twin. then for the steel guitars he has an Ibanez echo/delay, Boss Distortion, EQ, a Boss Reverb and of course a deec volume pedal.

he currently uses an A/B switch to run both the steels and the tele through the twin to save space and give us a break with one less amp traveling to shows.

i run my bass straight into my bass rig (Ampeg SVT350) and Scott runs straight to his amp, whether it is the Peavey or the Laney.

GLONO: How far do you go to capture authentic sounds? Do you guys shun the technology available for that authenticity or do you use the technology to capture the sounds. Digital recording is so fast, easy and cheap, if you don’t use it, are you ever tempted to?

Scott: the “authentic sound” is simply good signal going through a good analog chain, just as they did in the “authentic” eras…we’re doing nothing that hasn’t been done, just doing it the way its supposed to, the way we were taught. as far as the digi stuff goes, for us at this point, its too complicated. we don’t have time to “f” with it, so we don’t use it, nor do we have the money to experiment with it, so we don’t use it. we have a couple 4-tracks that serve us well. again, not broke, don’t fix it.

GLONO: You say you’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before, as far as recording goes, but isn’t that just it? You’re going back to a simpler message and using a simpler recording technique. Do you do any research to see how your favorite records were recorded? Have you talked to engineers who maybe have worked on some songs you thought sound particularly good on record? It’s really more than just plugging in a going.

Scott: we definitely research how and what things were done to achieve sounds. but really we have friends that honestly know how to achieve any “authentic” sound we want. our last record was almost tongue-in-cheek over the top, to us at least. our label wanted a record that sounded like the sixties, so that’s what we gave ’em. don’t get me wrong, we wanted to do it just like that, and it was fun to just have a task at hand. it was almost like an empty canvas. we’d bring in BeeGees and Creation records and say find this sound. but the idea is to be simpler, we’re looking for vibe first, getting sounds are easy.

Eric: we used to do a lot of research, more than we do now…i think nowadays if we have a question we know some good people who will lend their time to let us in on some sonic secrets…but subconsciously i think all musicians are studying other artists whenever you hear music, anywhere, at a show, on the radio, tv commercials, an elevator, (insert location here), etc…i’ve found myself asking how the F did they do that? on many occasions…a really good source in the early days was [1972 Pink Floyd film] “Live at Pompeii.” we watched that countless times, as i’m sure any band does! then there was [Lily’s front man, Kurt] Heasley, the library of nothing and everything…he had a lot of good input about gear and sonics. i like to talk to a lot of the artists i meet to get an idea of what they did in the studio, and when i see them live I like to ask them about their gear, if its worth mentioning. for instance, we were just on the road with Dead Meadow for about 5 shows with this past BJM tour, and when i found the DM bass player Steve was using an Orange Stack for his bass rig i almost flipped. the thing sounds amazing, and Steve is a really good bass player…Dave from the Brian Jonestown Massacre and myself would warm up to one of Steve’s bass lines every night at soundcheck, i guess as a homage to the band. but i guess that has nothing to do with the gear. they just got picked up by Matador….a great home for those guys.

GLONO: Do you still have day jobs? How do you manage to tour? Do you book your own tours or use an agent/manager/etc?

Scott: Uhhggg! yes we have day jobs. it’s not easy livin’ double lives, but we also got bills. with new gear comes credit cards, and we all went to school, so loans. etc.etc. we tour on our vacation time, or time w/o pay, long weekend trips, whatever we can do. we used to book our own tours, but recently acquired a booking agent. it’s so much easier this way.

GLONO: We hear a lot from bands that though it’s not easy to be a working band, it is possible. Can you give any good advice to bands who want to tour?

Scott: stick with it! it is frustrating, yet possible. just book the tour, that’s the hard part, if something is booked and on paper, you’re going, cause you’ll have to. times are different these days. it takes bands on an independent level a lot longer, if ever, to get to a point where a day job isn’t needed. just have fun. if you book it, it will come. also, plan better, look at possibilities of taking cheap flights to certain areas, like if you’re on the east coast fly to cali, and vice versa, there’s a lot of driving time in there that’s hard to deal with if you don’t have months to spend doing it. and sometimes van rental, gas, etc. adds up more than flights. have a three-piece. or be the white stripes. you can tour in a dodge neon!

GLONO: Speaking of touring, how’d you get hooked up with the Brian Jonestown Massacre?

Scott: well we were playing in LA opening for the Warlocks back in August 2001, and the BJM guys were there as well their booking agent. so we met him and he’s fucking cool as shit. and that’s how it happened, next thing we knew, were on tour with BJM, who we’ve played several shows with on the east coast years ago, so we’ve known Anton and Jeff for a long time now.

GLONO: BJM is such a volatile band on stage. Is that an act and if not, are they that bitchy with each other off stage? You must have some funny stories touring with them.

Scott: it is definitely not an act. they truly have a hard time getting on with each other. but it’s all out of passion for the music. off stage they’re great friends. on stage there’s certain level of professionalism that Anton expects and if one thing goes wrong, such as a guitar volume or some douche bag in the audience, which happens often, forget it, he’s losing it.

we’re very fond of their dedication to performance. they lust for showing the audience something they’ve never seen before. they’d rather you hate them than forget about them. we do have several stories, but not suitable for young audiences.

on a nice note, Anton took both our band and his band the last night of the tour in St. Louis and bought us all an amazing dinner, and we would like say how gracious he was, and thank him.

GLONO: There seems to be a growing interest in music that’s raw and grounded in country, rock and folk. Why do you think that is?

Scott: people are yearning for the simple things. we’re getting so bombarded with technology and the media’s idea of what is entertaining that people want to run the other way. but more than that, there was such hype and interest over indie bands sounding like the sixties throughout the nineties, that it’s natural, just like the sixties, that bands start breaking down, psychedelic music is especially like that, an artist we’ll take their music so far that the only way back is a good song on an acoustic guitar. a lot of great bands in the sixties reverted back to the blues, country and folk, following their psychedelic periods. the Beatles and Stones for example…

GLONO: Right, but the Beatles and Stones were doing an English take on American country/folk music. The Beatles were doing Buck Owens from the very beginning. This is a different kind of feeling today. It’s a going back to something, not blending elements to create a new sound like Gram Parsons or Mike Nesmith were doing in the 60s. What are we going back to?

Scott: i agree about the Buck Owens reference, but I’d say the Beatles were more in tune with someone like Lonnie Donegan. i really don’t know what we’re going back to. we’re just playing simple music in complicated times. hopefully it’ll make someone smile or want to go camping. i also feel it’s still the blending of elements to create a new sound. except now it’s not just the mixing of a contemporary’s style, but the blending of several genres throughout many periods in time. it’s 30+ years later, we’re listening to a shit load more music than them because there’s a shit load more of music to listen to. the difference between what we’re doing and the rock-gone-country artists of the past, is that we have more to blend.

Find out more about Asteroid No. 4 on their website, or join their discussion group.

And be sure to let us know what you think of this interview, of Asteroid No. 4, of country music, or anything else! Click here to discuss…

11 thoughts on “Simple Music for Complicated Times”

  1. I’ve always been interested by the fact that some genres are referred to as “real music for real people” when almost no one listens to it. I’m not ripping on your article, Phil. I’m simply bringing up the notion that “real people” (real refering to average or common) listen to popular country or what could loosely be called Top 40. It’s only those geeks like us who even know who Beachwood Sparks is.I like the scene in 1984 where a woman Prol is hanging up laundry and humming a tune. The tune is some simplistic drivel that Orwell’s one party government pumps out to keep the masses entertained. Entertained and stupid! Likewise, the average Prol in western society will never listen to the White Stripes. They might know who Garth Brooks is, though.Does all this sound elitist or snobish of me? Why of course it does, for I AM a REAL person! PeacePS. Bono is God.

  2. Actually, my reference to “real people” wasn’t meant to draw distinctions between rock snobs and other, casual listeners. Rather, it was a reference to the music itself being real, rather than manufactured/produced/recorded/etc. by machines or by committee. Real people could be anyone who enjoys music; even those who like Garth Brooks.The Asteroid No. 4, and the other groups I mentioned, create a music without consideration of marketability and I like that. I also like some really contrived pop, but that’s for a different article.

  3. Great article, thanks for asking all the gear questions. I know that’s not pertinent to all the readers of this site, but that was great to hear that the gear they’re using didn’t cost a fortune. It makes me rethink this Rickenbacker Bass I’ve been desperately saving for.

  4. I can tell you that I played with a guy for years who had a 1973 Rick 3001 with a natural finish and I almost killed him when he sold it. Bets bass player I know though. Mike DeRuiter of the Vantrells. Save the dough, buy the Rick.

  5. it was a pleasure to tour with the astroid no. 4 and look at their sexxy lead singer night after night.but really the bottom line is that they truely care about music and what they do and it shows.that to me is the deffinition of tradition.i whipe my ass with urban contemporary culture.truth is put me on a stage with creed or dave mathews or anyone and i will lay them to waste with one song.both our bands are as good as anyone has ever been,not better mind you,there are no grey areas in art(except much music,nme,mtv,popular or comeercial radio?) no way man,those outlets are not art,it is a buisness,they are selling product.bad product,but hey the joke is on you.all of my love,and some of my pain.anton alfred newcombe / committee to keep music evil / brian jonestown massacre / the invisable hand

  6. Good interview! Met the band in Feb.02 andheard them in Cambridge,Mass.while on tour. Great sounds and loved the blonde!

  7. Rock/Country/Blues/Folk Outfit Needs Drummer.We hope everybody is doing fine. The Asteroid No.4 have recently run into a bit of pinch, as we have in the past. But once again we shall overcome! Our beloved drummer for the past two years, Steven, has to call it quits with the group, for reasons we believe to be of the utmost importance and admirable at that. Steven has a beautiful one year old baby girl named Helena, and as I’m sure all of you can understand, has decided to be a responsible father. In other words, give up the rock’n’roll endeavors of the Asteroid No.4. However, he will continue to record our newest material, which we had performed on our recent tour with the BrianJonestownMassacre, so that we have accurate demos for possible release and definitely to help find a label who may be interested in our “countrifried” sound. Sooooo, here it is, since the drummer population in Philly is about as dry as a road-stop burger, we need help! In the next few months we will putting an APB (All Patrol Broadcast) for a new drummer. In a perfect world, this person would be open minded to all kinds of music. They would have an understanding of not only why we’re doing what we’re doing, which is a kind of country/blues/rock thing, but understand that its also a feeling were after. Now, when we say country, don’t be scared, its the vibe first, its simplicity at its most complicated, its camping music, its for the summer and winter, and most importantly its about love… Everything from Gram Parsons to Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan to Merle Haggard, Neil Young to the Stones, from Whiskeytown to the Grateful Dead, and so fourth. It’s everything! This person can be 18 to 80! and MOST OF ALL, like songs.We once heard an amazing musician say, “the best drummer is the one who knows when not to play”, can you dig? If anyone knows someone in the Philadelphia region or abroad that may interested in playing with The Asteroid No.4, please let us know via email. Touring and the recording of an album is also in the very near future.Please contact us at [email protected] if you have any input, comments, questions or so forth.Thank you all very much!Peace and Love,Scott, Eric, Jamie and Rachel, and Steven will love you too!

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