Astra (Interview Oktober 2009)
For starters, please introduce ASTRA and its members.
Richard: ASTRA is Richard Vaughan (vocals, guitar, mellotron, moog, echoplex), Conor Riley (vocals, organ, mellotron, moog/arp odyssey, other assorted keys), Brian Ellis (guitar, moog), Stuart Sclater (bass) and David Hurley (drums, percussion, flute) and we're from San Diego, California.
You recently released „The Weirding“ which seems like an overdosed journey through time and space. How would you describe the style of ASTRA. How would you characterize the atmosphere of the record?
Richard: „An overdosed journey through time and space“ ...Thanks, I like that description. We focus on exploring melodic, symphonic landscapes and cosmic atmospheres to achieve a certain kind of epic vastness in our songs. In the past I've described our sound as „Sometimes heavy, sometimes gentle...always freaked“ which, I think, is still a good, if simple description. The atmosphere of „The Weirding“ encompasses all of these elements but we also weave in an overall melancholy mood throughout. We like to try and take the listener, and ourselves on a journey with our music.
What can you tell us about the working process on „The Weirding“, which creates a perfect illusion of the authenticity of late 60´s rock music?
Richard: We didn't go out of our way to try to make our album sound vintage. The thing is, we decided early on to record and mix our album entirely on our own. Not an easy task given our limited equipment and experience. The result is a vintage 60´s/70´s production sound, more or less authenticated by doing everything ourselves as well as our lack of a complete studio with mostly vintage equipment and instruments. Of course, our songwriting and instrumentation has that classic vintage sound but that just seems to come naturally to us because most of the music we're influenced by and listen to is from that time period.
What do you think is most remarkable about the record?
Richard: I think that it's pretty remarkable that we managed to record and mix our entire album by ourselves in our small, converted-garage studio. I'm also very happy with the way the album artwork turned out. It was done by the amazing artist Arik Roper. We think he was able to capture the look and feel of our music within the artwork perfectly. It looks especially stunning on the double LP gatefold sleeve.
Regarding my previous question, where do you see the creative roots of ASTRA and which bands or artists have inspired you during the working process on „The Weirding“?
Richard: Between all of us, we have so many different influences. A big one that we all love is APHRODITE`S CHILD, especially their „666“ album. That's one of our all time favorite albums and it's been a big inspiration for us. We're mostly into European bands like YES, GENESIS, KING CRIMSON, COMUS, MAGMA, SFF... Early Italian progressive groups like PFM, LE ORME, AREA, QUELLA, VECCHIA LOCANDA and GOBLIN were also big influences on us during the creation of „The Weirding“.
What are your lyrics dealing with, which rather seem to be more of a sidenote to the sustained instrumental parts?
Richard: While our instrumental parts do definitely outweigh our vocal sections, to us, the lyrics are just as important as the music. A few years back I was dealing with some pretty heavy medical issues where I was forced to face the real possibility of my own mortality at a young age. My lyrical songwriting from that period came effortlessly to form the theme of „The Weirding“ and served as a much needed outlet for me. Conor was also dealing with some similarly heavy issues from a different point of view so his lyrical songwriting also added to the whole „Weirding“ concept. The dark nature of our instrumental music just seems to come naturally to all of us. It was like all of these puzzle pieces were just falling into place and when we were done we realized our entire album had this common theme. We had essentially created a concept album by accident.
„The Weirding“ is released through Lee Dorian's label Rise Above Records. How did you get around to this cooperation?
Richard: The way we hooked up with Rise Above was, we sent out a handful of demo recordings to like-minded labels and Rise Above was one of the labels who responded. We were all really into Rise Above and the bands they were releasing and what they stood for so we decided to sign with them. Lee Dorian is a great guy who truly believes in the music he's releasing and we're very lucky to be a part of his label.
How have the reactions on the record been so far?
Richard: The buzz and reviews on our album have been overwhelmingly positive, which we're delighted about. We're proud of the fact that we've received such great reviews in some of our favorite British magazines - MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock and the new Classic Rock Presents: PROG mag. We put a lot of heart and soul into that album and it's great to see that it's being appreciated.
Are there any concrete plans for hitting the roads in Europe in the near future?
Richard: Oh yes! We'll be going over to Europe in April of next year to play some dates. We'll be playing the Scala in London on April 14th with our label mates DIAGONAL and LITMUS. Then, I think we'll be playing Roadburn a few days later on the 17th. We've got lot's of stuff in the works!
What are your plans for the rest of 2009?
Richard: We've just returned from playing the Planet Caravan festival in North Carolina which was great. Also, we've just finished recording a track for MOJO magazine's tribute to PINK FLOYD celebrating the 30th anniversary of „The Wall“. We did our own unique version of the track „Empty Spaces“. It'll be included in a cover mount CD that comes with the magazine which will be split up within two issues, disc one and disc two of „The Wall“ consecutively. We'll be on disc one which should be included with the December 2009 issue of MOJO and should be on sale in October. I think for the rest of 2009 we'll be playing up and down the west coast as well as playing a bunch of local gigs. Next year in 2010 we'll be playing NEARfest which is a great honor for us, we're really looking forward to that. Then we're off to Europe!
Any last words?
Richard: Thanks for the interview!
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