Sunday, March 9, 2014


From his work in The Psychedelic Furs guitarist John Ashton has now ventured into a different musical direction. For his latest project, Satellite Paradiso, he has taken to the power of the internet and linked up with direct-to-fan campaign, PledgeMusic to make his new record. He has also linked up with artists like Sara Lee of Gang of Four / B-52's, members of his former band - Psychedelic Furs, Paul Ferguson of Killing Joke, plus former members of Lou Reed and David Bowie's bands, and many more. We spoke to Ashton about the making of his new record, doing a crowd funding campaign and using the latest technology to bring his Satellite Paradiso to life. Take a look at our interview below:

Your latest record features an all-star line-up of musicians. How did you get everyone involved?

I started writing this record 20 years ago, not long after moving to Woodstock NY. My neighbor happened to be Sara Lee, the bass player from Gang Of Four and she was, at that time, playing with B-52's. Before long, we had become really good friends & have remained so over the years. BP Hurding was an old friend from my punk days in London, where he was playing drums in X-Ray Spex. BP was now also living in Woodstock. We had actually played in a local band together called Pink Thing and we even got a few shows at CBGB's in the early 90's. Hilly told me he thought our band was good! But that's another story...

Sara & BP were the first people I asked to play on this record and it just kind of built from there. Sara was friends with Gail Ann Dorsey who at that time was playing with Tears For Fears. Gail would later go on to play with David Bowie with whom she would duet famously on "Under Pressure", singing Freddie Mercury's parts! Gail and I also became good friends and eventually, I plucked up the courage to ask if she would play on the record. Not only did she end up playing on several tracks, she also sings on "Still".

Shortly after moving to Woodstock, I also became friends with Jonathan Donahue from Mercury Rev. I actually played on a track called "Meth Of A Rockette's Kick" from their album, BOCES.  Jonathan has steadfastly encouraged me over the years to make this album. He adds his signature style of choral, string and brass loops to the song, "Invisible".

Little by little, I would either call or run into old friends and casually ask them to play on it. That's how I came to ask Paul Garisto, Donny Yallech, Mars Williams and Amanda Kramer (all of whom either played with the Psychedelic Furs at one time or are still in the current touring lineup).

A couple of years ago, I got back in touch with Roger Morris (Guitar) and Duncan Kilburn (sax) with whom I had both played and toured with on the Psychedelic Furs first & second albums: The Psychedelic Furs & Talk Talk Talk. I had always wanted to make another record with these guys. So, when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it! Roger lives in England and Duncan lives in Australia. So, this would not have happened as easily, if it wasn't for the fact that we can share our song files over the internet and record our parts anywhere in the world. Jo Quail, a cellist from London, who has played on several tracks is another example of how amazing this new technology is and how it has brought us all together.

Fred Schreck, our vocalist was introduced to me by a mutual friend, Rob Sacher, a New York Club owner (The Mission & Luna Lounge) who we both knew from our days (and nights) in NYC back in the 80's & 90's. Fred lives in Nashville and up until relatively recently, we had not even met face to face. Fred introduced me to Paul Ferguson from Killing Joke. I had admired Paul's powerful drumming style for years. Frank Coleman is our "man under the hood" and deals with all the tech issues to do with our website, PledgeMusic campaign and social media. He also happens to be a slamming drummer and has played on several tracks. Frank has also played piano on a few tracks as well. I met him on Facebook, as well as,  Jen Gloeckner who sings backing vocals & plays keyboards & loops on a few tracks. Jane Scarpantoni, a wonderfully talented cellist who has played with Lou Reed, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs & countless others, has been a friend for many years and plays on a couple of songs.

There are several other musicians who have also played on this project like Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz (violin) who I met whilst working on a Jon Anderson (Yes) album a couple of years ago. Cheetah Chrome - Dead Boys (guitar) is someone that I have always admired for his Anti Hero stance and "take no prisoners" guitar style. Cheetah and I had hung out a lot back in the day and it was great to be able to finally get him on a song. Mark Volman (Flo & Eddie) - I had always loved the voices of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan and it had been many years since they had sung on the Psychedelic Furs album, Forever Now which was produced by Todd Rundgren. Prior to that, I was a huge fan of their work on the T-Rex & Frank Zappa's records. I called up Mark after Fred told me he was living in Nashville. Mark went around and recorded his parts for "Super Anti Hero" at Fred's place. Louis Schwadron - Sky White Tiger/Polyphonic Spree was introduced to me by a mutual writer friend of ours, Ian Hunter. Ian turned me on to Louis' band Sky White Tiger, who I absolutely love. Louis plays French horn & Mellotron on a track called "Winter".

So basically that's how it all came to be.

Is the all-star line-up now the band you will be taking on the road?

Although there is a very tight core which comprises essentially of myself, Fred and Frank, I'm not exactly sure who is going to be available and when. It's logistically a a bit of a nightmare! However, the great thing is that because Satellite Paradiso is more of a collective than a band per se, it's going to be interesting. You're never going to know who may show up and where!

The album is called “Satellite Paradiso,” what inspired the name and what does it mean?

The Satellite represents freedom from earthly ties, both physically and metaphorically. I grew up during the space race. I watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. Floating high above the earth looking down gives us what is known as the "Overview Affect". There is an amazing short film that describes this much better than I can. You can see it here:
Paradiso is taken from Dante's Divine Comedy. It represents a vision of Heaven. I have found myself floating above what I feel is a false reality for most of my life. I struggle (as I think most people do) to make sense of the world that we live in. Quite honestly, I find it impossible. The name is meant to be open to interpretation and can be anything you want it to be. It can be a spaceman surfing a huge wave. Two images that are not meant to go together but somehow do. Art, science, nature, they are all inextricably linked. I'm searching for that thread…

This record was mainly fan funded through PledgeMusic, what made you come up with the idea to do it this way?

Crowd sourcing or funding is the wave of the future and I'm all for that. PledgeMusic makes it easy to set up your project and they have been extremely helpful.  They have insight into a very fickle marketplace. It's a great fit. I started out playing in a rock band. We had a manager, an agent, a record company and a PR machine. Things are a little different today. As a musician, I have to wear a lot of different hats and sometimes they don't really fit so well. PledgeMusic has helped smooth out a lot of otherwise rough edges.

Were you afraid to do it fan funded? The dilemma many face today is not getting the fund goal, was that a factor for you at any time?

Well, yes, one always has doubts but, I feel fairly confident that PledgeMusic has my back. The don't allow you to set ridiculous goals that you have no chance of attaining. They are a well run organization that knows how to deal with and understands the needs of musicians as well as, the market that we must inevitably enter to be successful.

You are also donating some of the proceeds, if the goal goes through, to MusicCares. How important is this charity to you and what they do?

Like a lot of musicians, I have suffered the slings and arrows of addiction brought on by depression, alcohol and substance abuse. It's a part of lifes rich tapestry and it affects everybody. Not just the addict but also their friends, families and co workers. Through a friend, MusicCares afforded me the care I needed to get back on track. They saved my life. For that, I will always be grateful!

Who was the one person you wanted on this record that you couldn’t get?

To be honest with you, everyone I asked to be a part of this project said yes. I am very lucky to be in such good company.

What did you do differently musically on “Satellite Paradiso?”

I took my time to get the songs right. There's no filler on this record. Without sounding like a megalomaniac, I've pored and pondered over these songs for quite some time but essentially, I knew they were keepers when I wrote them because as I said, I made sure that the songs themselves were pretty much together before handing them off to anyone to play on. Even a song like Touch The Sky which was in a much more stripped down version before the sax, cellos and vocals, drums & bass were added is still the same song, it just has more instrumentation on it now and obviously sounds a lot better for it. The arrangement, loops, chord structure and guitars are still there from the very day I wrote it.

You are an artist that started his career when everything was analogue, now, it is all digital. Which do you prefer? What does the new technology mean to a musician who learned his craft the old way?

That's a good question. I must admit, I do miss the old days. The studio always was, and still is,  a sacred place for me, full of weird and wonderful equipment and some very weird and wonderful people too. I learned my craft in an analog studio and I believe I am a much better, more rounded musician/producer/engineer because of it. I learned that a studio can be any place that works for you,  so the transition into becoming a studio owner myself was easier because of my background. Technology today allows us to send song files to anywhere in the world in minutes and it's certainly helped this project. I guess I'm in the right place at the right time…again!

From your time in Psychedelic Furs to today, what is your fondest memory of your career?

There are a lot of memories that come flooding back at different times but, John Cale getting on stage with with his viola at The Ritz in NYC and jamming on "India" has to be up there! Hanging out with Andy Warhol at The Factory was pretty amazing too! But, one of my most memorable moments may be from the Sweetwater Festival held in New Zealand in 1983. It was getting dark and as I looked out all I could see was a sea of people swaying to the music. We were playing to over 200,000 people that night and it seemed as if the whole country had turned out to watch us.

What can fans expect from you once the record is done?

I'd like to take this show on the road and play some interesting venues that are not necessarily associated with your typical rock venue. That's not to say that I wouldn't want to play in a more conventional setting but because I believe that Satellite Paradiso has made a very special album, I would like to get out there and play some very special places.

What was this experience making this record like for you?

It's been amazing watching it all come together. It's a little bit like a storm brewing in the distance. First you feel a slight breeze as a few leaves rustle and then a few rumblings in the distance. Little by little, it builds until suddenly it's upon you and you'd better be ready because it's just the beginning and there's no turning back!

***Photo by Tom Newton****