Love Death and God: An Interview with Vast Asteroid
Los Angeles trio Vast Asteroid took the songs that would become their Self-Titled album to the high desert of Joshua Tree, Southern California, specifically to Rancho de la Luna, the studio ran by Dave Catching, where Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal, among others have recorded. The result is eight guitar-heavy songs of heartache and hope. Their previous release Half Apart was two short and catchy rock songs followed by the longer title track that previewed the more contemplative songs to come. Drummer Mark Reback has previously played with Slaughter and the Dogs and Mimi Star has played bass for The Warlocks and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. Singer and guitarist James Poulos is best known for his writings about politics, history and culture, a contributor to national magazines and an author of at least five books but Vast Asteroid proves he knows his way around a noisy guitar and melodious vocal. James took some time to answer questions about the band.
Half Apart’s Mega Idiot is catchy and has many parts. It’s gritty and silly and makes me want to dance and wave my arms. What was the inspiration for making this crazy song?
At the time, Edward Snowden was on the run. For some reason I felt visited by a bored person in a heartland suburb with a fantasy of naughty Snowden related global adventure. That’s what the song’s about. I got a lot of satisfaction at the time out of the way it becomes sort of Nine Inch Nails pop toward the end.
The Self-Titled album is not your first batch of songs, but sounds more cohesive than the three songs from Half Apart. Will you continue with this spacey dreamy rock’n’roll sound on the next album or branch out?
A good guess would probably be both. There’s a song that was recorded during the Half Apart sessions called Electric Paws that will probably surface. It’s Pumpkins-y, and Billy Corgan is still an inspiring reminder of how much a band can broaden its sound while deepening it at the same time. New songs will likely mingle with older ones that haven’t gotten the full band treatment yet.
You’ve all been in bands before, some of you together. How is Vast Asteroid the best combination so far?
It’s just been mostly effortless to find the sound. A couple songs I’ve had to really twist and massage to get my point across at the demo stage to the band, but we’ve been really good at quickly getting a shared grip on what we’re aiming for and going straight on to the work of presenting and executing on that.
Was Spacegaze meant to stay an instrumental jam from the beginning?
Spacegaze was a spontaneous and completely unrehearsed jam, onto which we added afterward the closing coda. For extra fun, tack the coda on to the end of Sick and enjoy the surprise.
What long jammy songs are you fans of and who/what were you channeling when recording Spacegaze?
All the predictable stoner metal stuff, but also for me some of what Wilco did on Ghost is Born, as well as dEUS on some Ideal Crash tracks, and Beck‘s weird longer pieces.
The songs on the album sound little like those from Half Apart. Was there a goal set for the new songs, guidelines laid down for how you wanted the songs to sound like?
We were a duo on Half Apart. It can be a challenge to find the right bassist, so when Mimi asked Mark if he knew anyone looking for a shoegazey bassist, we jumped. She’s obviously amazing, and the fullness and roll of the sound we developed definitely has a female energy.
What did working at Rancho de la Luna do for your new songs and the way you record?
Rancho is a paradise. But there’s really no secret to how recording worked. We tried to stay as live and loose as possible, not rush, not get stuck. If anything the X factor was the weather, which kept us inside and cold enough to stay alert. No casual time wasted hanging out in the desert sun on this record.
It’s likely a coincidence, but did you happen to name your band after the Kyuss song Asteroid from Welcome to Sky Valley?
Coincidence, but it’s no surprise that bands with the same kind of energy and location and aims recur to the same kind of imagery and symbolism.
What are your main instruments and how long have you had a particular one for? Do you give names to your instruments?
One thing I liked about Rancho was we had our typical personal instruments and used them but we also stretched out across all the immensity of tasty gear in Dave Catching’s collection. All in service to the sound. And no names…
As a journalist, what are some things you’ve learned about the world and what can we take to heart to keep on going in this world?
Digital technology has only just begun to have its way with our world. One effect of that is electric music no longer moves masses as it once did, because the existence of mass audiences and mass movements created through electric technology is already being broken up. Although in some ways that is a potential bummer, how many people are really upset that U2, to take one example, is no longer a huge global influence? Electric instruments have been around long enough and their sonic palettes are so subtle and well developed that there’s still plenty of the room and interest they need to remain relevant and moving to narrower but strongly invested and emotionally available audiences. That to me seems like a decent example of how and why to keep on pressing on in life.
I saw you talking with Larry King, what are some of the highlights of your other career?
Publishing a book was good. Warning about sweeping surveillance on Bill Maher a week before Snowden hit was…interesting. Few people have been inside the Pentagon and inside a hotel restroom with Marilyn Manson. It’s the little things.
Have you been in bands as long as you’ve been writing about history and politics? You seem to be passionate about the activities of the world but do you just really want to rock?
Been writing and recording music since I was 15 or so, so yeah. Just going off and rocking would be so lovely, but apparently there are still a decent number of things that aren’t going to get said unless I sit down and type them out.
What are some of you’re lyrics inspired by?
Love, death, and God, same as just about everyone else one way or the other. It’s important to me to keep things viscerally accessible. Lyrics matter a lot but let’s face it, the point of music is sound. If the sounds don’t pull people in that’s the end of it.
And can you bring up the vocals on the next album? Not too many vocalists in the bands I listen to belt it out like you do.
We won’t be making an Imagine Dragons record if that’s what you mean. 😉
What is in the future for Vast Asteroid?
Songs! Shows! Merch! That’s what everyone wants, right?
Vast Asteroid’s S/T album is out now.
(By Bret Miller)