L.A. RECORD interviews Greg Ashley every year we can because he does such vital work in keeping Californian minds alive. His fearsome band the Gris Gris is back playing a few shows, but he’ll be opening for (and backing) the Dutchess and the Duke tonight and Friday for his first local shows since 2007. This interview by Daniel Clodfelter.
What led the Dutchess and the Duke to write their new album with you in mind as producer?
Greg Ashley (guitar/vocals): I originally met Jesse—the Duke—in Seattle in 2001 or so on the first tour that I did with my old band from Texas, the Mirrors. He was in some band called the Zombie 4 or something, and they dressed up like zombies and did the same covers the Mummies did—kind of a Mummies rip-off band. Then I moved to California and started playing with Oscar [bassist of the Gris Gris] and we started doing Gris Gris, and Oscar was a friend of his so we’d see him when we were in Seattle over the years. And yeah—at some point they decided they wanted me to record this record. Which is great! And they came down to record it. I’m going to play drums for them on this tour and open all the shows solo. When I open it’s going to be just me; then Dutchess and the Duke will be Kimberly and Jesse on guitars, Oscar on bass, and me on drums.
It seems like you’re producing more than ever before right now.
Greg Ashley: I had always wanted to do this kind of stuff—producing and recording bands. I had been doing it in the past, too, like the Time Flys record, a few Brian Glaze records, a few Battleship records, a bunch of stuff. Pretty much I got back from this one tour in 2007 and Gris Gris was going to get ready to do our third record and we moved into this warehouse [Ghost Town Gallery] so that we could have a practice space and studio. And I had been thinking that it would be cool to record bands all the time. Then Gris Gris broke up and rather than getting a day job it came together that I found enough work to live off of just by recording people—and I just haven’t been writing many songs over the past few years so its something that keeps me in music in some way or another.
Why have you kept your studio all analog?
Greg Ashley: I just never have been very computer savvy anyways! The first stuff I started recording was like cassette tapes and then cassette-tape 4-tracks. In 1999 or 2000 I bought this 8-track half-inch machine off eBay with the drummer of the Mirrors because we were talking about how we wanted to record our own record. We were really into ‘60s and ‘70s music and it seemed like if we wanted to get that aesthetic, then tape would be the way to do it. I got better at it over the years—just experimenting with it. I never even thought about recording with computers. I always have used tape.
Why did the Gris Gris break up in 2007? And what got you back together?
Greg Ashley: The original reason that the band kind of broke up was that in the fall of 2007 our keyboard player Lars got offered a job down in Los Angeles. He took the job and we were all kind of like, ‘Well, do we really want to get a new keyboard player?’ ‘Not really.’ So we just kind of broke up the band. Then the summer after that—we had taken some money from the label to do our third record, so we did the live record as something to give them.
Live at the Creamery?
Greg Ashley: Yeah—to repay them in some way for the advance money we’d taken. Then the year after that is pretty much now. Lars moved back up here and I’ve had a pretty slow year recording, so I was like, ‘Well, let’s try and make some money.’ I think the only way we’ll play any more shows now is if we get together and try to write some new material—we’ve been playing the same stuff for all these shows and we don’t have any new songs. I have an instrumental record that’s coming out next year. I recorded it over the summer and it’s going to come out in early 2010. Some of that stuff was material Gris Gris was working on two years ago when the band broke up. Whenever that comes out, we might do a show together and perform that stuff. Other than that it’s pretty up in the air.
What’s different about playing solo?
Greg Ashley: It depends on the type of crowd you get—that kind of determines it! It can be really satisfying if you get a quiet room with people that are listening just to you play your songs. When it’s just you and the guitar, people are forced to listen to the words and what the songs are about. But most of the times I don’t know how to get into venues like that, so I’m mostly playing bars and people are just ignoring you. But that’s cool. It’s a bar; it’s made for people to get drunk and party. If you play in a band in that environment it’s great because if people are drunk enough they’ll get into it. So it’s definitely easier with a band. But they’re two different things for me.
Earlier you mentioned your old Texas band, the Mirrors—recently some labels have reissued much of that back catalogue. Are you going to get Mirrors back together?
Greg Ashley: Birdman reissued our first album on CD and our second album on CD and LP and Hook or Crook put out our first album on vinyl. Somewhere around there—I think it was 2005—I got back together with those guys and we did a two or three week tour of the US. We didn’t come to the West Coast but we did everything else! I can’t remember when the last show was. We used to get together every once and a while and do a show whenever I’d be in Texas or something like that. But that probably won’t ever happen again. Everybody was still pretty much still living in Houston at that time but now everyone is totally scattered out—only one of the guys is still in Texas.
What brought you out to California from Texas?
Greg Ashley: That first tour I did with the Mirrors, we did a couple gigs in the Bay Area and I was like, ‘Wow! There are people who like this kind of music!’ Where we were playing before, we would be lucky to get ten people out to a show and that was already after we had a record out. One day we played at the college co-op and there were all these kids partying and that same night I met Oscar and I met this girl Lisa, who I soon started dating, and that’s kinda what brought me out here. It seemed like where I belong—at least more than Texas, I guess.
You recently played the Scion Garage Fest in Portland with Roky Erickson. Do you feel any connection to him besides both being psychedelic musicians from Texas?
Greg Ashley: He’s an influence, but a very minor one. I think a lot of people put my name next to his because of the press sheets that the record label wrote for my albums. They latched onto that—and that just gets repeated and echoed because when most people review your record, they just get the one sheet and cut and paste portions of it, rearrange it and put it there as a review without really reviewing it. So yeah—it’s because I’m from Texas and all that stuff. My older stuff—like the Mirrors for instance—definitely was influenced by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and bands like the Beatles. Those bands are all still influences, but these days Leonard Cohen is probably my favorite songwriter. I like Hank Williams a lot, too—and the Kinks.
GREG ASHLEY WITH THE DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE ON WED., NOV. 11, AT SPACELAND, 1717 SILVERLAKE BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 8:30 PM / $8-$10 / 21+. CLUBSPACELAND.COM. AND WITH THE DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE AND THE HEAPS ON FRI., NOV. 13, AT THE CROSS-CULTURAL CENTER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORIA AT IRVINE, IRVINE. 8 PM / $7 / ALL AGES. ACROBATICSEVERYDAY.COM. VISIT GREG ASHLEY AT MYSPACE.COM/MEDICINEFUCKDREAM.