Things are happening fast for L.A.-based darkwave/post-rock band ASHRR. Having only formed at the beginning of 2018, the debut album, Oscillator, dropped in May and they’ve just released a new single, a cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities of Dust.” Meanwhile, the buzz has been increasing at a rate that is getting impossible to ignore. This beautifully stylized, melodic and super-dark band is here to stay.
“The band formed at the beginning of last year,” says producer and vocalist Josh Charles. “We kind of all got along really well in a way that there was almost a brotherhood of men. We had a shared, common interest in just trying to make the best music we could without concern — if we really liked it, we were gonna be happy with it.”
Fellow producer and vocalist Ethan Allen says that the three didn’t initially assemble with the explicit intention of forming a band. Rather, Charles was working on another project with vocalist Steven Davis, and they brought Allen (who they hadn’t previously met) in to help.
“We started doing that together, and quickly found that we were very intrigued with the unique combination that the three of us brought,” Allen says. “Each of us have been doing this for a while in separate disciplines. I’ve been a member of a couple of bands in the past and currently, and I’m also a music producer and composer. Josh has been a songwriter professionally and an artist in his own right, a piano player and serious instrumentalist. Steven comes from the unusual background of being a crooner in a big band format. We found an unusual common denominator in our love of postmodern, post-rock, post-punk croonerisms of David Bowie, experimentation of Brian Eno and Talking Heads, that sort of thing. It kind of informed how we chose to make a mixture of those things, and an interesting, unlooked-for hybrid came out of it.”
Yep, Eno, the Talking Heads and Bowie are clear and obvious influences, as are The Police and The Clash, and moodier elements such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem and Depeche Mode. Bowie fans might recognize more from Outside era.
“Ethan and I have a great love of analog synths, and the early new wave music, as well as the completely modern,” says Charles. “We wanted to make a band for today, but obviously we have our own influences. Coupled together, it creates this great sound which Steven is able to deliver in a way that we don’t sound like any other bands. That was sort of our goal — to create a sound that isn’t really like anything we know.”
That weird band name is derived from Davis’ middle name, which is Asher. They just, y’know, cooled it up a bit. The three members are all from different places — Charles came to L.A. from the Midwest via New York City, while Davis is originally a Nashville boy. Allen grew up in Austin before moving to New Orleans and then here. Los Angeles proved to the musical watering hole, their meeting place. But Carles and Allen agree that the city hasn’t really impacted the sound.
“Like for so many, it’s the place where we happened to find each other and that probably wouldn’t have happened in too many other places,” Allen says. “Coming from such disparate backgrounds. But I don’t know that it’s the soundtrack of Los Angeles in any way.”
The most recent single, that cover of Siouxsie’s “Cities of Dust,” is an interesting choice. On one hand, ASHRR sounds nothing like the Banshees. On the other though, both share a dark and almost snarky, certainly biting vibe. It works.
“We liked the idea of a female singer, a powerful singer like Siouxsie, and then interpreting it with a male singer, which changes everything — the sonic textures, everything changes in trying to find a way to make that work and viable,” says Charles. “We just all love the song, felt that it was pertinent to what was going on in the world today.”
“If we were going to do a cover, it would likely not be Ariana Grande or something,” adds Allen. “It’s not off the table yet. But this song, it lyrically appealed to us because it’s kind of where the band started. It’s about the destruction of Pompeii and in some ways, for many people, these feel a little like the end of times. So that was very appealing to us, but also Siouxsie always had a spirit that was confrontational, had an element of threat to it, but also managed to have a pop sensibility. Those are all things we’re very interested in. We also wanted very much to do our own take on it, while paying real homage to what was so good about the spirit of the original.”
While ASHRR isn’t an overtly political band, it’s clear that they enjoy toying with political themes. Read between the lines, dig as little, and there’s a lot going on in there.
“There’s always this underlying feeling of uneasiness, even in the beauty of it,” says Charles. “It keeps it really unique and interesting.”
This week, they perform at the Resident, and the band will be playing all 11 tracks from the debut album, plus that Siouxsie cover and maybe a surprise or two.
“We’ve got a few things cooking in the lab,” says Allen. “We’ll have to see if they’re combustible enough yet.”
“When Ethan and I went to the studio to make this record, we played all the instruments essentially,” adds Charles. “Trying to put this all together in a live format was quite a challenge and we worked really hard to find the sound. As a band, live, we’re very different than what we were in the studio. It’s really exciting to see how the band has developed and formulated — we have really good players. That’s complicated but yet we try to let people know that it’s not. It’s a visual experience as well.”
After this show, they have another one lined up at the Moroccan Lounge, where they played their first gig. Then, they’ll be touring the West Coast and preparing new material for release.
Like we said, ASHRR is here to stay.
ASHRR plays with Proper Junkies and Nightjacket at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 16 at the Resident.
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