FROM BROOKLYN (NERVOUSLY) WITH LOVE
Words and Interview By Laura Studarus.
Arthur Ashin’s second album under the Autre Ne Veut moniker is called Anxiety for a reason. An R&B album at its core, under its beguiling blend of bubble gum refrains; dance floor-worthy production, and Ashin’s impeachable falsetto is a manic unrest. Something akin to a musical version of “holy crap you guys, we really need to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will die.”
While Anxiety is ostensibly a reflection of its maker, in conversation Ashin is far more collected than his musical mania may suggest. Quick to laugh and slow to speak, he measures out each word—unafraid to consider the impact of a question, and admit when he just doesn’t know.
We called up the Brooklyn-based musician to learn more the double-edged sword of self-awareness, freak-outs fueling creativity, and why it wouldn’t be so bad to be the Woody Allen of the music scene. Anxiety is out February 12th, 2013 via Software Recording Co.
You’re a mysterious guy. There’s not a ton on the internet about you.
I’m really into misinformation. Whatever happens happens.
I actually really like that. Why not preserve the mystery?
Yeah. [Laughs] exactly!
You’ve already done that to a point, making music under a pseudonym. What attracted you to the idea of using Autre Ne Veut rather than your own name?
I imagined initially that it was a band name or something, and never got a band together for it. The story is that I was at the Cloisters, uptown. There’s a series of reconfigured cloisters. There was an engraved hat ornament, engraved with the saying on the back. Some mystery person told me it was a gift from an English duke to his French mistress. It means, “I Want No Other.” It struck me as being nice, so I rolled with it.
Any obfuscation or mystery is really me not wanting my name to be Google searched as a potential professional psychologist.
When you say potential, are you currently studying?
I have a Masters in it, which anyone who has studied it knows that it means nothing. I can’t do anything with it, I just know a lot about psychology without being a psychologist.
Is being able to know and analyze yourself a blessing or a curse?
I’ve always been super self-aware. I’m not sure I got anything else out of that process. In fact it’s kind of the opposite of an imperial science. I am permanently down that rabbit trail. [Laughs]
And that’s reflected in your album title, Anxiety. It feels like a pretty loaded word.
Yeah for sure! [Laughs] It’s a little bit tongue in cheek. More than anything else, it’s dealing with the mundane anxieties of living. Having a life with other people, having ambitions, and trying to exist in the world, and get things done, and love people, and feel loved. All the stresses that come along, at least for me with that. But it’s also the album cover, which initially was a nod to the perpetual state of anxiety. The relationship between the media and the world. Stuff like that.
Oh, so just the “little” stuff in life.
Yeah, for sure. [Laughs]
In that case it, it almost seems weirdly symbolic that you had to remove “The Scream” from your album art.
Yeah. I haven’t entirely spun it. We didn’t technically have to. No one came after us. It was preventative. The party line is that there’s a long history of theft of “The Scream”. Hopefully it’ll get returned in 2015.
Not to pull out the Woody Allen trope here, but when you consider your day-to-day anxieties, is death something that plays into it for you?
“Gonna Die,” awkwardly enough, was written as an immediate response to having an existential crisis. A death crisis. [Laughs] So yeah, it’s happened before. That song, literally I was freaking out. I was trying to push that away. Yeah, sure. I definitely have a little Woody Allen inside of me. That is true.
Do you have a concept of the afterlife? Or is it the mentality of, “I don’t fear dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens?”
Afterlife, in my mind, is pretty much nothing. This is it. This is what we get, for me.
I have to say; I’m impressed you can write a song like “Gonna Die” while freaking out. The rest of us just drink or bite or fingernails or something.
Yeah. I’m just taking that energy and writing a song. I’m sure you could write something really poignant as well.
Well, as soon as my fingernails stop bleeding.
Yeah. [Laughs] Exactly.
What makes you feel more vulnerable: Singing about sex, as with the song “Ego Free Sex Free,” or singing about death and the things that worry and scare you?
Humm…neither of those things. Singing about them on a record is easy. Performance makes me super anxious. Talking about them [Laughs] both of them make me very existential! [Laughs]
Oh those dreaded either/or questions!
[Laughs] For sure! Maybe it’s either/or questions that make me anxious!
Viable and/or understandable.
Do you see yourself trying to push this style you’ve forged further and continue the conversation with the next album? Or are you looking to explore different sounds?
I’m definitely going to do something different for the record. Although maybe not totally different. I have some other ideas that I want to start working on. This needs to see itself through. I’ve got some things that I’d like to work on. An opera that might take years to finish. Well see. I don’t know. [Laughs] There’s things in the works that I don’t want to jinx yet.
Were you an R&B fan as a high school kid?
I listened to a lot of soul music. I listened to alt-rock. I listened to everything. I’ve always listened to everything. When I was just listening to R&B, I was a little kid. There was a crossover. Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson. That was when I was in 100%. In the 90s, it was cool to just like R&B. But I liked Nirvana and stuff too.
It’s funny how the internet changed that and you don’t have define yourself as an aggregate of your record collection anymore. Do you think that the idea of genre is more or less dead?
Doesn’t it feel like it? I’ve got some cousins in their early twenties now. They don’t think about that shit at all. When I was twelve or thirteen, if you liked something that was outside of your friend group genre, you had to rationalize and explain it in some way. It’s totally irrelevant I think now. I don’t think anybody cares. Not young people at least. Maybe journalists. It’s probably some proven psychological testing. People need reference points and get excited.
Are you the kind of person who leans towards the known musical experience that you have reference points for?
No. Definitely no. I’m more excited about things I’ve never heard before, in general.
Do you find that to be true about your life in general?
Yeah. [Laughs] It’s terrifying. It’s the most terrifying and exciting thing.
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