Q&A with ASG’s Jason Shi on Torche, the Struggles of an Underground Band, & Nick Oliveri

Relapse Records band ASG recently got off a summer trek supporting Weedeater, and our contributor Kimo Watanabe sat down with guitarist/vocalist Jason Shi for a Q&A. Shi gives insight on how touring with Torche forced the group to step up their game, the struggles that plague an underground band, and why he thinks Nick Oliveri is the “baddest motherfucker on earth.” He begins by talking about the early days of ASG.

J: This is the only band I’ve ever been in. It’s the only band I’ve ever played a show with. It’s crazy, it’s insanity. I mean there were talent show bands in highschool but as far as a gig or writing songs this is it, the only one. It’s four buddies and we’re not sick of each other yet. And we live in this funny town where we can exist and have local popularity and kinda feel good about that so we’re not stagnant. We have a niche on the East Coast in certain towns but we do survive. Not nationally or globally, very still underground at best.

I’m friends with the guys in Torche, Steve and Andrew. You haven’t met Andrew yet have you?

J: I haven’t met Andrew yet. Juan was our good buddy on that tour. Juan rode with us in the van and maybe that was kind of a, ya know, it’s like ‘oh maybe thats why he was always riding in our van and sleeping with us’ – but I don’t know. We consider ourselves good friends with Jonathan and Rick but I haven’t met the new guy yet. They’re not living where they used to. We would see them frequently in Florida and Atlanta. I think Steve’s in San Francisco maybe, Rick’s in Miami, Jonathan’s around the studio. Great dudes. Thats what changed this band, that tour we did with them.

Oh really, can you elaborate?

J: This is what I wanted to do but it’s been done and it’s been perfected. I was so like inspired and bummed at the same time. I had heard of Floor but I didn’t know that was Steve. Like Scimitar was like…I was 20 years old and I had a buddy – ya know we would get drunk and skateboard and talk about music and it was Scimitar just over and over and over. This is what I want to do, like heavy stuff but melodic, know what I mean? That’s the band dude. It was us, The Sword and Torche, right before both of those bands broke. And it was triple co-headlining on certain nights. We were supposed to headline and it was so awkward. I was like, “We’re not fucking playing last,” and we didn’t get along with a couple guys – well just one guy in The Sword who’s no longer in it, but everything else was fine. I was just trying to give the guys money like, this is not fair. It was just awkward for us because they both exploded on this tiny little bar tour. But musically for us it was like oh my god dude we need to step it up big time. This is serious. That was in 2005.

So you said that this is your first band…

J: Yeah. This drummer and the bass player – well – we live in a tiny little beach town and they were in a punk rock band and they broke up. And I was wanting to meet folks and said “let me play guitar!” So that’s how it started – in 2000, 2001. No one sang, it started out like cookie monster vocals, like, real shy and scared to sing. I was never a natural singer it just kinda came. But it took 10 years. We were just too scared, ya know? I started getting a couple notes a year just from using my throat I guess, but still never natural. Scared to death, just wanted to scream cookie monster shit.

And it’s the same with the other guys?

J: Jonah was in a band called Ergot that played in Europe and toured the east coast. They might have made it out west, I’m not sure. It was more like a jam band really. The reason the dude caught my eye was when I went to a show on our beach and they were jamming really heavy. Then all of a sudden they went south of heaven and I was like, wait a minute what’s going on, what’s up with this dude? Back then we were recording records and doing multiple guitar tracks and it was like, let’s get another guitar player.

Yeah, he fits well. So tuning wise, you guys tune to C?

J: The earlier stuff was D standard and then we started dropping C. Now its all D standard dropped C. That I found was a little…

Accommodating to your throat?

J: Yeah. I have trouble hitting higher notes, which I would like to say I do a little better now…on certain nights. But yeah, it helps to lower it down a little bit. And it’s heavier. It’s got a good aesthetic I think.

What’s one band that you’d really like to tour with?

J: We’ve got tons of fan bands to tour with, but none I don’t really care about. Well I’m not saying I don’t care, I think we need to be in front of a larger audience. I think that – and this isn’t intentional – people call it accessible music or whatever. I think we’d like to play for someone that’s strong.

Yeah that’s true, you want to get a big tour package.

J: We’re not selling the most back patches every night to the crust kids, I’ll put it that way. You know what I’m saying? And that’s kind of a lot of the tours that we’re on, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not who we are. So it’s like, if Deftones called I would say yeah let’s go. If Clutch called I’d say let’s roll. Something like that, those kind of bands. That would be cool.

I can see you guys on a larger stage, definitely.

It’s been tough this tour. Tonight was the first night I even heard myself sing. I’m not bagging the places we’ve been playing but…we can’t afford our own sound guy, we can’t afford a tour manager. We’re $100 a night away from having a tour manager but we just don’t have that money. We’re in debt. Slept on dog beds and shit. You try to pull off this shit, that’s why you approach albums differently.

If you were to have a dream guest appearance on your next album who would it be?

J: Nick Oliveri. I think he’s the baddest motherfucker on earth. When I listen to that dude live I think, “oh yeah that’s why I do this”. That’s why I was a kid and was like “thats why I want to do that” cause that dude’s dangerous and scares me and he’s fucking cool. And I love Dwarves, that was the coolest tour we ever did. We didn’t know what to expect. We emailed him on fucking MySpace. Obviously it’s not the same music. It was like, yeah man you can come on tour with us but we’re gonna use all your equipment. So we were like, alright we don’t give a fuck. It was great. It was fucking chaos, man. One show lasted just four songs and there were just fucking fights and bitches on stage. But yeah, Nick Oliveri. Fucking badass.