November 17, 2006

Ad Astra Per Aspera

Chaotic, rickety, psychedelic, trippy, schizophrenic, insane. All of those adjectives could easily be used to describe the music of Ad Astra Per Aspera. This Kansas-based collective makes music that is, as described, a crazy head-trip that's a whole lot of fun to listen to. Though they've been a band for several years, they recently released their full-length debut album, Catapult Calypso, a hidden gem of a record that deserves your full attention. I recently spoke to lead singer Kurt Lane about the band, the recording, and their upcoming plans. If you get the opportunity to see them live, DO NOT PASS IT UP.

You've been around since 2002, but you're just now getting around to releasing a full-length album. Was there a particular reason it took you so long to do so, or did you feel no hurry to release a full-length?

We've self-released two EP's and we had a seven inch single. We spent a lot of time working on those, and we had quite a number of songs that, for one reason or another, we felt like we didn't want to record or include on a full-length. It took us longer to release an album because the process takes us a while, and the record was a mixture of things we'd been working on plus older material that we wanted to get done.

Are you particular when it comes to your recording and your songwriting?

We generally go through this process where Mike brings in parts and we kind of play around with it for a while, where we come up with a version of the song we like, then we play it live for a while. If we don't like the way it sounds, we'll edit out parts or add new parts. I don't think we've ever had it where a song kind of came up and we played it one way and it stayed that way forever, so yeah, it's a long process for us.

Your music is both chaotic and intricate. I know that bands that combine those elements often run into a major hurdle when they try to perform said material live, and they usually find that they can't do it. But from what you've said, it seems like you guys are just the opposite of that.

Yeah, for the most part. We play lots of our material live first, and then record it after the fact. Many of our songs, we played them live for several months before we considered recording them. Sometimes, it's as long as a year.

The kinetic energy of your recorded work certainly shows that. When it came time to record, then, did you record live to tape as much as possible, or was it a more detailed studio process?

It depends. Drums are always going to be live, and you can't really couple takes of drum tracks together. I think that the drum tracks will always help to determine the liveliness of your sound. For the rest of the band, yeah, we did record everything live. Then we went back and added overdubs or extra percussion and things like that, but a lot of it was done live. We prefer to do it that way, and not record to a click-track. Like you were saying, there's more energy and more flow to it that way.

I take it, then, that you guys are more about the live show than the studio?

Not necessarily. We're interested in doing as much as we can, but I also think we're interested in effects and textures and things like that, but only if they can be recreated on the go, when we're performing live.

So what's next for you guys?

We'll be touring the Midwest in November, playing shows with a number of different bands. In December, we'll be going to Texas and Oklahoma for a week and a half, and in January, we'll be touring with a band called Paper Airplanes.

Thanks, Kurt!

Ad Astra Per Aspera's debut, Catapult Calypso, is available now on Sonic Unyon.

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