I have always thought of Ashbury Heights as masters in words and image creation. Stylish and witty, they make their individual, strong comment upon things they decide to write about, and their way is visualizing things in one of a kind. The Swedish duo recently released their new single “Cutscenes”, where they join forces with Danny Blu. We discuss not only the said release or the cooperation with Danny, but also the band’s approach to music-making, video making, and the general evolution of musicians as artists.
interview by : Karo Kratochwil
With the release of “Cutscenes feat. Danny Blu”, you seem to take your music to another level. How did your co-operation with Dany start?
Anders Hagström : I’m so happy you like it. The cooperation with Danny started when he reached out to us about doing a remix for his track “Paradise City”. We had a lot of fun doing it and Danny said he was up for doing something else. We had a song lying around from the Ghost House Sessions that seemed a good fit for his style so we invited him to contribute. I love the result, I think it’s one of our best ever songs.
The music on the new single is electronic, very modern. Yet, it holds the tint of melancholia I personally associate with Ashbury Heights to a great extent, tell me about the direction you as Ashbury Heights are taking now? The style and sound seem to be harsher, industrial even and less dancey than your usual ones?
AH : The Ghost House Sessions is a collection of old ideas taken to their conclusion. We usually do between 30 and 40 cuts for every album, so over the years a lot of ideas and concepts have been abandoned. The reason for these ideas not making it is usually that they don’t fit into the whole. They might be too harsh, or too soft, or too different in the context of an album. They are the outliers. The Ghost House Sessions is a collection of these outliers fully realized, without any consideration for the whole, it is an album of outcasts. This has allowed us to challenge ourselves and try new things. This album is a reckoning with our most extreme ideas.
The cutscenes you mention, at the previous single “One Trick Pony”, you discussed adulting. Do you find adult life monotonous? What motivates you to carry on?
AH : I find being a cog in the capitalist machinery incredibly depressing and disheartening. The struggle to survive in the modern world is full of things that spark ideas for music, but the struggle itself robs one of any energy to actualize those ideas. It’s hard to be creative when you spent 10 hours working and 4 hours commuting and need to go to bed so you can do it all again tomorrow. I’m convinced humanity loses out on so much amazing art from people who never find the time to share their visions. I keep going as best I can because I couldn’t look my dying self in the eye if I hadn’t done my best putting out everything I had in my head while I could.
Further to “One Trick Pony”, is becoming an adult painful? Is it necessary? When is the right time?
AH : I think it depends on what kind of adult you end up as, and what values you yourself associate with the word. “One Trick Pony” has a deeper meaning for me, because I did not become the adult I hoped, and I didn’t become known as the person I am inside. The song was a way of presenting the real me to the world. I hope that people saw that person and that they liked him, because I cannot be him, only project his image.
The video that goes with the single is surreal, futuristic and yet very lavish in colors, lights and a bit extravagant. What was the concept behind it?
Yasmine Uhlin : The whole idea of us making our own videos came about in late 2019. We had a few Halloween cover songs we wanted to feature on our YT-channel and seeing how videos generate more traffic than static images we figured we’d just whip something up on our own. After that it was time for our first “real” video, the one for “One Trick Pony”. I then got myself a new camera, pitched some of my ideas for the “Cutscenes” video to Anders and directed Danny to interpret my idea of a “nightmare hare”. We wanted to paint a romantic nightmare set in surreal yet familiar surroundings. I’m extremely proud of what we managed to come up with, especially considering the fact that we had a budget of absolutely zero… well, apart from the new camera of course.
AH : We began doing our own videos in 2019 because we were really sick of never getting to make any videos and we think they are one of the coolest parts of being a band. We have tried to do better every time since then and I think you can see our improvement in each track. In the “Cutscenes” video we wanted to channel our love for David Lynch, and give a performance from the Black Lodge. I think it’s definitely our best ever video, and we can’t wait to keep improving with our next one.
It seems it’s not only about the shift in music style but also in your appearance, Anders’s beard appears to be evoking lots of emotions with your fans?
AH : Really? I haven’t seen a single emotional reaction to my beard. I’ve had it since 2014 and I am never getting rid of it, the sight of my own chin really depresses me. I like myself better with a beard.
Yasmine “Yaz” Uhlin was director, DoP, and producer for the video, is it something new for her, or has it been her side activity for a while?
YU : I’ve been a visual artist my whole life. I’ve dabbled in photography and editing before so it felt only natural that I should take on the responsibly of directing our own videos when we decided to finally make them ourselves. Granted, I’ve never tried producing or directing something for someone else before and our projects are bound to become more challenging and demanding as we go, but we’re learning a lot and I find myself coming up with a few new tricks every time. Right now I’m working on our next video which will require a second DoP and cinematographer. The production is bigger and the locations are a bit tricker to work with than before. Don’t be fooled into thinking that I never doubt myself or my capabilities because that doubt is just as present as my desire to challenge myself and my skills, but like Anders mentioned earlier: one can clearly trace our improvement from video to video and isn’t that more than enough for most of us? It is to me.
Your last studio album, The Victorian Wallflowers, was released in 2018; since then, there were three singles out, with the most recent “One Trick Pony” feat. Massive Ego in 2021. I understand there is a new album on the way? Can you disclose anything about it at this point?
AH : We have two new albums in the works, the pandemic has delayed them both. But we hope that Ghost House Sessions will be out in 2022 in time for when we can once again play live. Before that there will be a couple more singles. Ghost House Sessions is a reckoning of sorts with the ghosts of our past, and we really need to release that before being able to move on with something else. I think of it as two companion pieces, the first is a look at our past through the lens of the artifacts we left behind, and the second one is us presenting what it means being Ashbury Heights in the 2020s.
You collaborated with Massive Ego with that single. How do you choose the artists you decide to collaborate with?
AH : We ask around, sometimes we get our collaborators through the label, and sometimes they’re old mates. Massive Ego toured with us in 2020, and the intrinsic subject matter of the song made Marc a perfect fit. We have more collaborations to share on the new album, some of them are high profile artists and some are relatively unknown talents we are excited to platform.
With new circumstances and totally new reality, pandemic times made many people redefine things. I’m wondering what does it mean for you to be an artist now? Has your approach to music-making changed in any way?
AH : the pandemic actually was a positive thing for making music. Before March 2020 I was spending 3-4 hours/day on a train. Being able to spend that time in the studio has done wonders for productivity and creativity. But the artistry of it has naturally changed. We have put the energy we usually reserve for live shows into making videos on YouTube. It has been a big challenge and we have enjoyed it immensely, but we long to be back on stage.
Your lyrics always tell some sort of a story. What do you find the most difficult and what the most rewarding in expressing yourself through words? Do they come naturally for you?
AH : The most difficult is deciding what I can say and what should perhaps go unsaid. There are songs on the new album where I have spent years writing and rewriting the lyrics, because there are some things that are important to me that perhaps is better kept out of my music. Ashbury Heights isn’t Rage Against the Machine, and while I sometimes wish it was, I try to stay my pen. There are ways of saying things that leave them open to interpretation, and that’s how want to keep it, because Ashbury Heights is about sharing in our mutual woes. It’s about gathering around our suffering and excising it together by giving it a name.
Are you planning any live shows with the new material at this point?
AH : Yes! We have lots of live shows planned for 2022 and we are really excited about having new material to tour with!
At the beginning of the year, somewhere in mid-February, you mentioned 2021 would be the most active year for Ashbury Heights: six new singles, six new videos, an anthology album containing 15 new songs, plus an album’s worth of remastered digital rarities and covers and some exciting collaboration. Half a year later, does it still stand, or have you had to revise your plans?
AH : Yes, that was a bold boast and the pandemic once again got in the way. The Ghost House Sessions, our anthology album in question, will be released in 2022 when we are able to tour to promote it. The singles got delayed due to difficulties with our publisher and those delays now mean we are readying our third single when it should have been our fifth. We have learned a valuable lesson in never announcing anything prematurely.
Thank you very much for your time!