January 2014 “Band of the Month” – AXXA/ABRAXAS
Our “Band of the Month” feature began in January 2012, featuring Savannah-based trio CUSSES in a short interview that gave readers a glimpse of what to expect from one of Georgia’s hardest working bands. We then landed an interview with Of Monsters and Men right before they broke and would then go on to include acts like Ponderosa, Cheap Girls, Swear and Shake, Jonny Fritz, Torres, The Districts, and more over the next two years.
So as we move forward into 2014, our entire staff would like to extend thanks to the artists who have taken the time to speak with us and the readers who have been so dedicated to supporting the site.
Axxa/Abraxas is the music and art project of Ben Asbury, a 23 year old from outside Atlanta, GA. His experiences as a record collector and music obsessive from a very young age (“I got into punk in the third grade”) are easily evident in his debut release. Going full circle from being introduced to 60′s pop as a kid, through his foray into punk rock at an early age, into post-rock and Elephant Six indie, right back into 60′s Psychedelia, Ben has honed his influences (Neil Young, Television Personalities, ‘Elevators, The ‘Dead, Olivia Tremor Control) into a cohesive blend to adapt his own take on psych-influenced art-pop. – via Captured Tracks
How long have you been living in Georgia? I read that you attended school in Athens and are now back in Atlanta, but were you born and raised here?
I’ve lived in Georgia my entire life, my mom still lives in the house I grew up in. Been just outside Atlanta for all of it except for the four years I was in Athens.
What do you feel are the biggest differences or unique qualities of the respective Athens/Atlanta music community?
I know the Athens music scene a lot better than the Atlanta scene, although I’ve kept a pretty low profile in general up until the beginning of 2013. Athens is where I really grew the most as a musician and I value how tight knit that scene is, if you put yourself out there you will find support. I’ve only been back in Atlanta a few months and I’ve pretty much just been working on music and art projects.
I take it you wrote/recorded the demo that you sent to Captured Tracks completely by yourself or did you enlist the help of friends? For live shows, are you handling things on your own also or do you have musicians playing with you?
I recorded the demos in my room on a Tascam 4-track by myself, just submitting myself to the writing/recording process. In the past, for the handful of live shows I’ve done, I’ve used a drum machine as a back-up band. In January I’m moving to Asheville, NC because I have a group for friends that are going to play as my backing band. I’m really stoked to be playing with these folks and to be able to play these songs with all live instrumentation.
Speaking of live shows, it seems like things have happened pretty quickly for you with signing to the label, the debut album etc…Did you get out on the road much in 2013 or are your plans to tour heavily this coming year?
As much as I love playing live I’ve never been super thrilled about using a drum machine as my drummer/bassist/organist so I haven’t played a whole lot of shows. The shows I have played have been awesome; watching people dance to your music is probably the coolest experience there is. Once I get up to Asheville and the band and I can start practicing we’re gonna start playing shows around the southeast and then we’ll plan out a more extensive tour, hopefully not too long after the album drops.
I thought it was interesting to read about how your tastes developed, first with punk rock, then into the E6 Collective, and then back to the psych-rock that preceded the punk movement. If you had to pick a favorite record from each of those periods, what would they be?
Early childhood: When I was young my parents played the ‘oldies’ stations on the radio. This is when they played mostly Motown, Byrds, Beatles, etc, around this time my favorite band was CCR and I had a best of cassette that I played all the time on my boombox.
Punk: at the time I would say the Ramones- Rocket to Russia, however my favorite punk record now-a-days is probably the Germs, or ‘My War’ by Black Flag.
Indie/E6: Dusk at Cubist Castle by The Olivia Tremor Control. When I heard this record it blew my mind, I didn’t know people were making music like this, it was somewhat of a revelation. One of the coolest things living in Athens was that I got to make friends with John Fernandes who is in OTC and some other amazing bands. He and the other employees at Wuxtry records were hugely supportive of my music when I took the tapes I self released to be sold there.
Psych: This one is tough but I’ll go with ‘the Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators’ on this one, with honorable mention going to the discographies of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
What was working with Jarvis Taveniere on the album like? Were you familiar with his work prior to the label making the arrangements?
Jarvis has recorded some of my favorite records/ bands that are currently playing. A friend of mine and I actually joked about how I should demand to record with him when I first got signed, a couple weeks later, without me saying anything, Mike asked me if I would be interested to record with him. It was a real treat. Jarvis was really easy to work with and he really got into the music and had some great ideas going into the studio. We wanted to maintain the same vibes as the demos while also refining the recordings a bit (my demos can be a bit unrestrained). It didn’t take much time at all before I felt completely comfortable and we were able to record the whole album in the 8 days we had in the studio, which is kind of insane. He also plays bass on the album and Aaron, who plays drums in Woods, played drums so that we could record the core of the songs as a three piece. It was a new experience for me but I think the results were great!
Care to explain “Axxa/Abraxas” and what it means to you?
Life is a process of reexamination and redefinition. As people get older and see things in new lights and perspectives it shapes our understanding of the world around us. The name Axxa/Abraxas, like life, also undergoes fairly consistent redefinition. The Axxa half is the most mysterious part as it had significance to my dad who passed away five years ago. No one really knows what it meant to him exactly but he did name a poem after the term. AXXA folds into itself and I’m of the belief that that is an important aspect of its meaning to him. I was first introduced to Abraxas in Hermann Hesse’s book ‘Demian.’ Abraxas is a gnostic god that encompasses everything, both good and bad (by our definition). I started using the name about three and a half years ago. More recently I’ve come to realize in a series of synchronistic discoveries some deeper meanings about the name. Suffice to say that Jungian psychology/ philosophy is key to these realizations.
Of the artists that you’ve grown close to in Athens/Atlanta, who do you recommend we check out at the site
My buddy John and a lot of other folks that were in OTC are now playing in a band called Circulatory System and their records are awesome, they’ve also got a new album coming out in early 2014 that I’m stoked about. John’s label ‘Cloud Recordings’ has also put out a ton of music by some awesome bands and is worth checking out. My Buddy Nate Mitchell is in the band Cars Can Be Blue and has more recently been playing garage rock as ‘Nate & the Nightmares;’ not sure if they’re working on a release but its definitely cool to see the garage rock scene in Athens being revitalized. Mike Turner’s label, ‘Happy Happy Birthday to Me’ also puts out some great records by local bands such as Tunabunny and Muuy Biien. My buddy JJ, who I’ve released ambient/drone music by as Aprotag on my tape label, is also in a band called Scooterbabe that’s some pretty cool noisy indie pop stuff. And my buddy Max plays drums in The Rodney Kings who play some good punk music.
Axxa/Abraxas – “I Almost Fell (Official Track)”