February 16th, 2007 | Interviews

Greg Ashley grew up in Texas but didn’t hear a Roky Erickson record until he was about eighteen. Then he moved to San Francisco and when he took his band the Gris Gris back to his parents’ Texas cabin to record, he found a bunch of psychedelic mushrooms growing in the mud. They mostly just drank beer, though. He is working on a new solo record but he will be leading the Gris Gris (Lars Kullberg, Oscar Michel, Joe Haener) down to LA this weekend.

Who is your favorite Texas musician?
Greg Ashley (guitar/vocals): Shit, I don’t know. Buddy Holly’s pretty good. I never thought of myself as a Texan until I moved to California. The suburbs of Houston are pretty similar to the suburbs of LA. A lot of corporate chain stores. There’s nothing really Texas there anymore. I got stoned and went to Jack In The Box in the middle of night like anyone—pretty much a universal experience if you’re growing up anywhere in America during the last twenty years. My parents were both college professors in Flagstaff—they were professors in the early to mid-sixties. The hippie generation were who my dad was teaching in school.
Was he teaching them to be better hippies or to quit being hippies?
He was just teaching math. I asked him what the sixties were like and he didn’t have much to say. One of his students got arrested for having LSD and wasn’t in class for a couple weeks, and then he came back and was saying how the police violated his rights, and my dad was like, ‘Whatever—here’s the homework you missed.’ I grew up in Texas because my dad moved us there after he got a job with NASA.
Rocket scientist?
Cost analyst. When they’d send the shuttle up, they’d ask a building full of guys like him how much it would cost.
Is Houston still the fattest and most polluted city in the US?
It goes back and forth between San Antonio and Detroit for fatness and LA and Houston for pollution. There’s good food there—that’s why everyone’s so fucking fat. They know how to cook.
Did you really once know every Nirvana song ever written?
I got pretty close. Then in high school I got really into fifties music and garage music and I had a really cheesy Supercharger-style band—the Frantics. All the songs were like half punk and half fifties rock ‘n’ roll. Chuck Berry leads the whole time.
Who is your favorite fifties guitarist?
Link Wray. His guitar stuff is all pretty simple, but it’s all in the performance.
Are you an equipment scavenger like he was?
I have a lot of junk from other people—a small one-track I got at a thrift store that makes anything sound like an old blues recording from the thirties.
Everyone who writes about you seems to expect you to be insane.
Because the music is all psychedelic or something? Yeah, they expect me to be a crazy person. Shit, man, I live in the Bay Area—everyone is fucking crazy.
What’s the last time you helped out a total stranger?
I bought a bum a cup of coffee at 7-11 the other day.
What was the last time a total stranger helped you?
Every time I go on tour—99% of the time we stay at someone’s house. I feel like we’ve stayed in some really strange places. On one of our first tours, we were just outside Yellowstone and we camped out and everyone slept in the car—but we had a U-Haul and I slept on top in a sleeping bag. I woke up in the morning because it was raining and I noticed all these signs—DON’T LEAVE TRASH OUT BECAUSE OF BEARS. And there was shit all over the campsite—empty liquor bottles and chip bags and candy–what the fuck? It was gonna get me killed.
But you haven’t actually been attacked by a bear.
What’s your favorite found sound on your albums?
The first song on my solo record. There was laughing on Os Mutantes records a lot and I was really into those. My friend picked his girlfriend up and he was on the way home and I was like, ‘Hey, I want that laughing, so when you come in the door with her, I’ll be ready with a mic in the garage, and just grab her and throw her in and start tickling her! We’ll have that sound and it’ll be real natural—we’ll capture the moment!’ But it didn’t come off as happy laughter—it was like someone being attacked. It came off more disturbing than I actually wanted.
Who else have you ambushed?
The new solo record—part of it is from when we all took a trip to Mexico and we were stuck in a hotel room for a week because the car broke down, so all week in Ensenada, we’d wake up with a hangover and someone would come in and pass out the xanax and half an hour later, fuck it—great! We’d sit with a bottle of tequila in the hotel room. Our friend Ben was going on and on talking about the first time he smoked oxycontin—I found that tape later and was like, ‘Fuck it, I should use that!’
Has anyone ever taped you and put you on a record?
I hope not.
What’s the most important part of making an album for you?
Hopefully I try and think of interesting ways to describe events to someone—I want records to be complete. I want people to be able to listen to them start to finish. Beck’s Mellow Gold and Lou Reed’s Transformer—those are two I always think of when I’m making a record. Those are the watermarks. I’m still trying to do more bossa nova—I got all these, like, exotica records—really cool tropical jazzy things. I’m trying to kind of emulate that stuff, but I don’t have the correct instruments.
No steel drums?
I did get a steel drum, actually—from some hippie in Berkeley. On the same song, I used a shitty gong they sell at Guitar Center and recorded it at like four times the speed, so when it’s slowed back down it sounds like an actual real big gong.
Is your studio in danger of a catastrophic short circuit?
I’m usually rigging things up to make them work. I just flew back from Dallas because I was recording a band there and when I got off the damn plane my mixing board had some pieces smashed off. I don’t know if it’s still gonna work. Of course the airport people can’t take responsibility. They gave me a voucher for $150.
‘We look forward to breaking more of your stuff in the future.’
I’m pissed. But if it still works—free flight!