Five Minutes at Decibel with Asura
- Words: Glenn Jackson
In between running around the entirety of Seattle for this year's Decibel Festival, we managed to find a moment or two to sit down with a few artists and have a quick chat. Here, we nab some face time with LA producer/musician Ryan York (a.k.a. Asura), and talk with the Non Projects associate about his experience at Decibel, his forthcoming projects, and Futura, his nearly year-old monthly night with fellow LA-based producer Teebs.
XLR8R: This is your first time playing Decibel?
Asura: Yes it is.
How's the experience been?
It's been great. We got in and hung out for a while around the venue, got to know all the Dropping Gems people, got acquainted with Seattle... It was really fun to play. I guess this is the first time I've ever played a solely electronic festival, so there's definitely a lot of people who know what's going on. Sometimes, I'll get booked on shows where it's a kind of mixed lineup, and it's not always translated, so [this is] kind of special in that sense.
Did you change your set at all because the festival was more electronic oriented?
Yeah. I felt like I could do a little bit more intense stuff, a little bit more involved programming. But at the same time, I made it a little bit simpler than I usually do, too, because I wanted to be able to get into it. Sometimes, when you have a complex controller set-up, it's hard to travel and do that. It's hard to really feel calm.
You just put out a Ryan York EP [I Am This Forest]. Is there a particular difference between the work you put out as Asura and as Ryan York?
So, that whole thing started out with the Leaving Records release I did [the Zipperlegs EP], and I felt like that release is pretty different from the other stuff I've done. You know, I sing more on it, and this EP is somewhat different. But a larger part of that was just an artistic identity crisis I had for a while. I wanted to be able to have the freedom to not do just electronic stuff, I didn't want to be seen as a kind of a DJ. I liked the idea of doing an electronic album, but then also using my name to do a jazz album or a composition or something like that. And also I went to a Gary Snider reading in Downtown LA—I had sent him my record actually a year before—and I went up and told him that I record under the name Asura and asked him what he thought, and he was super offended that I was using the word Asura for my name, because it's a Buddhist term that he's written about. And so, here's this 80-year-old guy who's kind of my idol hounding me on it, and I don't know what to say, I can't explain myself. At the end he's like, "Where I come from, we call that bullshit," [laughs] and said something like, "I don't know how to figure out your work at the moment." So, that kind of threw me for a bit. We'll see where it goes in the future. The Asura name has some recognition, and stepping back from the meaning of it, I like the name in itself.
That's the name you started with?
Yeah, pretty much.
When did you start getting into production? You're trained musically, right?
Yeah, I started like a lot of people, just dicking around on my family's computer when I was 14. Before that I had played with a little four-track tape recorder. That coincided with getting musically trained on the double bass. I got serious about it when Brian [a.k.a. Anenon] and I started talking about doing Non Projects a couple of years ago. I guess three years ago, now. That's when I started really feeling like I could actually have people listen to it. Before that, I thought I was just going to be a jazz musician for a career. I never really considered releasing electronic stuff.
Did you study music at school?
Yeah, I went to UCLA initially to study that, but I wasn't completely wooed by the program, so I decided to do other academic things.
Are you working on any forthcoming projects?
Yeah, I'm working on something with my girlfriend right now, Ana Caravelle, and that's more of a poppier, song-based thing.
With her doing vocals?
Yeah, so I did the production and she's doing the vocals.
Does that have a name?
Yeah, Golden Soil. That will be coming out next year. I'm working on a collaboration right now with Baths that will hopefully come out at some point, and then starting up the next LP, which is going to be more instrument based, a lot more improv and stuff.
With you playing the instruments, or other musicians?
A combination. The way I think of it now is to have it be like the two classic Talk Talk albums, where you'll have a core of stuff recorded that I'll record with some friends, and have people come and do overdubs on top of that, and sample that. That's going to be fun, because I really want to challenge myself with something and really struggle through a record. That seems appealing to me. [Laughs].
How long have you been doing the Futura night with Teebs?
Almost a year now. It started last January. That's been an interesting experience, because Daddy Kev—the guy who spawned Low End Theory, Alpha Pup, and all that shit—it's pretty wild that he wanted to start this night. When he first approached me for it, he said, "I want to start this night, basically it's like Low End Theory, but I want you and Teebs to do whatever the hell you want to do, and I'll get the headliners, and you guys can just be free to do what you want with instruments or electronics or whatever." It's been cool, it's forced me to start playing with live instrumentation and electronics at the same time.
Do you have people come and play instruments with you?
Usually, how I do it is that I'll have a house band. I have friends I've had ever since college who are jazz guys, so I'll play bass or cello and then there'll be drums and sax and stuff. Sometimes Brian will play and do live electronic sampling of all that while we do it. I'll do one set of that and then an electronic set, and if it's a special night, sometimes we'll do a bigger band thing. We've had an eight-piece band there doing all improv stuff. I try to do something different each month.
It sounds like that night is starting to inform where your music is going now, incorporating live instrumentation and all that.
Yeah, I've always been interested in doing that, but I've always been really hesitant because every time I've seen somebody do that, I thought it was awful. It's very rare that you see people do that well, but this night has made me get over that prejudice and really say, well, I've got to put my money where my mouth is. [Laughs]
Does it get experimental at all?
Yeah, it's pretty fucking experimental.
Sometimes. Matthewdavid and I did a set a while ago where he was doing ambient electronics, I was playing cello on top of that, and that got pretty gnarly pretty fast. But I really like that. [laughs] The groups we put together can be pretty loud and noisy sometimes, but I always like to have at least something tangible. It's not that worthwhile to go all the way like that unless you have a specific purpose for it. You always have to root it in rhythms and beats and stuff, people have to be able to follow it.
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