Monday night the one-man project of NC’S Ben Asbury, Axxa/Abraxas, played the vaunted Galaxy Hut in Arlington, VA so we took a trip down the road to chat before his set about the new record, his recording process, and possible future plans for his current project.
Chunkglasses: You’ve recorded previously on your home label for several recordings. What made you want to take a shot on a label besides your own?
Ben Asbury: There are a lot of things that you have to do to get your name out there that I hate doing. I still love putting cassettes out on my own label or recordings of my friends. Hyping up a record isn’t really what I want to do. I did want to move onto a label besides my own though I originally was going to send the demo to Woodiest records since I love a lot of their stuff.
CG: Speaking of Woodiest and Woods in general, what was it like working with Jarvis Taveniere (of Woods)? Was that your first time working with a producer?
BA: That was the first time even recording out of my bedroom. Captured Tracks flew me up there to work with him in his studio. The first song on the record is about my buddy, Ryan, coming to New York to visit me. We started recording on my birthday so I was starting 23 out right. I’m used to recording everything in my own lo-fi gritty way so this was quite drastic in change.
CG: Did Jarvis help quite a bit? Critique?
BA: Definitely critique. That’s definitely one of the best things to have. To have someone who knows what they are talking about, spouting out ideas. Jarvis isn’t a critical kind of guy in the sense of saying something sucks. He more suggested we try one thing a different way than I had previously tried. We played around with quite a few ideas. Sometimes we’d end up doing it the way he suggested and sometimes we’d end up sticking to the way I suggested. There are a few minor things on the record that I wish we stuck closer to how we play it live but they are very minor.
CG: Was there anything Jarvis introduced that was completely new to what ideas you had down?
BA: Not really. We tried to stick as close to how the demos sounded as possible. We didn’t have a lot of time to add noisy shit that I normally add to my tapes. I actually added a lot of noise back at home in the overdubs. You can definitely tell after a couple listens that there is some raw guitar noise in the back.
CG: Did you want to keep the theme of lo-fi gritty noise for the debut album?
BA: Oh definitely. Some of the noise that I added in afterwards, I took directly off of the demos. I just recorded it and fitted in in where I think it fitted properly. I thought it was cool that I could fit in some of the demo stuff with the polished studio recordings.
CG: Speaking of the album itself, for the limited release of the album, you put a lot of work into making the album cover as well as the fabric liner for the outside. How long have you been doing print work?
BA: I’ve been doing printmaking in limited capacity since middle school, like block printmaking. Really weird story, the guy who got me into printmaking worked with me at a summer camp. When I was kid, at this arts and crafts camp, got me into it and he now sings in a band called CCR Headcleaners in San Francisco. I’ve been trying to track him down. He’s been off the grid and I barely recognized him when I saw they play. I didn’t get into photo-emulsion screen-printing until about a year and a half ago. Last year was one full art project with me printing onto several large cloths. I sowed them into one large tapestry. Mike Sniper (Captured Tracks owner) has one and I have one. There is one in display in my local record store back home.
CG: When you went into recording, did you know how many songs you wanted on the album? Were there songs that didn’t make the cut?
BA: I came in there with more songs than what would fit on an album. With mastering recording process, you want to keep the recording length to about 20 minutes on each side of the LP so that the middle doesn’t get squished. I knew I was going in making a 20 min each side record and I’m used to that when I would record onto tapes. We got there as many as we could and got through ten songs total. They were the ones that we felt were most important to the record. The synth interlude tape that comes with the record is a re-issue of a tape that I put out on my own record.
CG: With the extra songs, do you ever see yourself releasing them? Or maybe toy around with them for a future release?
BA: I’m not really sure at the moment. It’s possible that my early recordings will get re-issued on a tape or something. I can see it happening. I already have the next album written so I don’t know if they would fit in with the stuff on the next record. Maybe a couple releases down the road if the time is right. The new stuff on the next record will be more singer/songwriter-ish that just raw lo-fi.
CG: Do you think your songwriting has changed drastically over time?
BA: I think I’m just better at it, really. I’ve just grown as a writer and I’m able to piece things together in a more fluid way.
CG: It may be a while down the road but do you have any ideas on how you want your next record to sound?
BA: It’s not really how I want it to sound but how I end up recording it. I started talking to Mike about how it would sound working with different people on the next one. He hasn’t heard anything off of what I’ve written so far. We tossed around the idea of recording with Jarvis again or maybe someone else in New York. It could end up being a really interesting process depending on whom I end up recording with. I definitely want more of the singer/songwriter focus.
CG: Do you see a lot of influences coming in on your record or do you try to keep outside music away from the recording process?
BA: I mean if think a lot about my influences you can hear them on the record but I don’t really think about them going into the recording process. I just get an idea and demo it. I don’t really think about what it sounds like. I’m more focused on getting each instrument sounding the way I want to when I demo. People like to think we a motive behind what we are doing all the time. I’m really just writing the songs I want to hear.
Axxa/Abraxas’ debut is out now on Captured Tracks and on tour now through the East Coast.