Hailing from Youngstown in Ohio, rockers Asleep are a melting pot of experimental raw sound that will take the world by storm. We caught up with Jon Dean to chat surviving SXSW, recording with Steve Albini & 15-foot robots…
By Emma Dean
Your most recent album ‘Unpleasant Companion’ was recorded and mixed in 4 days to capture your live dynamic sound – why was this important to you? Do you think more bands should be releasing rawer tracks as opposed to heavily synthesised/modified music?
We decided to record analog to simplify the music and change our approach to writing to navigate a new direction with this album. Since tape is a pretty expensive format, it also needed to be a much faster process. The album was also mostly written in about a month, which further added to the more natural feel of things. I’m an over-thinker (is that a word?) so for me it was a new experience just letting things come out and going with it. I think bands should do whatever they feel is the best representation of themselves. There is no right or wrong in art, which is why I have always been drawn to it.
What made you want to work with producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Bush, The Stooges)? What ideas did he bring to the table that you usually never would’ve considered?
Our drummer was majorly influenced by a lot of Steve’s past work. As I caught up on his more underground catalog of recordings, I was quite blown away. Being able to go record with him made me push myself to get better. Although he did make plenty of helpful suggestions, a large part of the learning process came from really listening critically to his past work to analyze tones, feeling, lyrics etc. before we even arrived at the studio. None of us wanted to go there and sound like clueless shit, so I guess you could say we sort of crammed for a final. I’d say Steve has a way of understanding what a band is going for even if the music is not his thing stylistically, and then bringing out the best version of that band.
What are your biggest influences when writing? What albums do you listen to on the road? What did you grow up listening to that shows in your style?
Being from a small city and spending my teenage years in the late 90’s and early 00’s before the Internet explosion made it difficult to discover things outside of the steel-town box MTV’s 120 Minutes was one way to find more off-radar music but it was like, “My Bloody What-entine? They sound like a Smashing Pumpkins rip-off.” There’s culture here but it’s not staring you in the face as much. My upbringing was and always will be a large factor influencing the mood of my writing because it determined how I look at the world. The first band I really fell in love with was Radiohead. I remember seeing the “Paranoid Android” video for the first time and getting the album and just totally relating to it. As for on the road I’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora. It’s such a phenomenal concept.
Who would be your dream producer/band to work with?
Well we did record with Steve Albini. I don’t see that being topped anytime soon. Unless…hmmm…we record there again and he lets me wear the stilts from studio B while tracking…
You went to SXSW in March, looking back how was the whole experience? Have you been there before? How was it different?
This year was great. We had more things going on this year. We also didn’t have to lug a 15 foot robot past three floors of security at the Convention Center at 9am after narrowly escaping a group-syphilis infection the night before. It’s always chaos down there. At one point this year we were doing an interview at like 11:55am a mile away from a show we had at noon, so two of us literally left the press day and ran there, played, and came back to finish more interviews while the other guys loaded out. This is our 3rd visit in a row to SXSW and every year I feel we’re a bit more organized. It is a great networking opportunity, but more importantly a gathering of some truly inspiring people and ideas. On that same day after wrapping up interviews I smoked a huge bowl that looked like Master Splinter dumped some ooze on and saw Built To Spill before playing another show that evening. Such an amazing day.
What benefits did you get from going to SXSW – would you recommend it more for local acts or international bands? Will you be returning next year?
Seeing all walks of life and artists being supportive of one another is a beneficial thing to witness. It reminds there’s more to the world than all the negativity that sometimes seemingly takes over. There was something for everyone. You could go to the Taco Bell party and see hipsters all wearing the same cheesy gordita crunch shaped sunglasses or wander around another side of town and discover some old woman making authentic family recipes while the best folk band you’ve ever heard plays for four people. I mean yeah I hope we raised the profile of the band that goes without saying, but the experience is what it’s all about. I’d love to head back.
What’s an awesome up-and-coming local band you’d like to give a shout out to?
The guys in Class A Bandits. They’re just this rock band that throws down without trying to be all cool. It’s impossible to not enjoy them, and that makes them cool. Every time I’ve ever seen them the whole room has been watching.
What’s next for Asleep?
It’s hard to say what the future will bring. Uncertainty will always be my life and I’d have it no other way. We’ve made it this far though and have got to work with so many talented people. I’m particularly excited about an animated video we started working on. We have some other things in the works; we never just sit on our asses and wait for shit to happen. We always find a way to move ahead.
We’re pirates. Arr.
Many thanks to Jon for taking the time to chat to us.
For more information about the band, check out: http://www.facebook.com/Asleep