Jason Shi of ASG: “What pop means? It means writing a good fucking song.”

Written by Interview

For a long time, ASG has remained one of North Carolina’s best kept secrets. Active since 2011 among the heavy rock scene, the American foursome has earned a solid reputation – especially among the skate and surf community, thanks to a record deal with Volcom Entertainment – with five albums filled with adrenaline, constantly providing the feeling of riding down a hill 150 mph without any safety net. With a couple of extensive US tours along with Black Tusk, Torche or The Sword and their four-wheeled riffs sprinkled with a certain punk sauce and an evident sense of melody, it didn’t take long before ASG joined the Relapse Records roster. In 2013, the band released “Blood Drive”, one of their best albums to date, a frenzy-driven heavy rock bomb that also unveiled for the first time a more intimate aspect of ASG’s music. This spring, the band was all set to conquer Europe, being invited to play both Desertfest London and Berlin. I immediatley jumped on my board at the chance to meet their super cool frontman Jason Chi at the Electric Ballroom, to debrief a little bit on this nice turning point in their career, among other things.


For a long time, you’ve been sort of affiliated to the skate culture, mainly for being signed on Volcom Entertainment record label and having a couple of songs featured on extreme sports video games, so how much do you actually relate to this culture?

Jason Shi (guitar & vocals): I think it makes a lot of sense through the years we’ve spent with Volcom, because we’re beach kids. So it’s mainly surfing culture, but of course we’re all skateboarders as well. For the formative years of the band it made a lot of sense, and we were perfectly okay and thrilled with that, but after a while it ran its course and it was clear that we kind of tapped into that bubble. We kind of belong to the Eastern seaboard of the States… We wrapped that up in a quick eight or nine years process, then we moved to Relapse.

Speaking of that, how did the Relapse signing happen?

It’s a pretty good story actually, good question. We ran an online store out of my house, selling t-shirts basically to raise fuel money for tours. When this was over and we had the last record done with Volcom, so it was probably 2011, we got a t-shirt order and I noticed the address was to the Relapse office in Philadelphia… There was a note with all the shipping instructions and stuff, and it was also saying « Just so you know you have a lot of fans here in the Relapse office », so I included a note back and I said « Why don’t you guys put out our next record? ». And he responded back and said « Why don’t you write us a real email? » (laughs). So it literally came from that, there was no shipping of demos or anything like that. It just took a couple of weeks with lawyers and stuff like that… and here we are now!

So it obviously makes a difference being signed on such a reference record label.

I think so. It was also a little bit nerve-wrecking, because for what Relapse seems to traditionally release, we were kind of « light rock » (laughs). So we were a bit nervous like « ah, all these Relapse kids are going to hate this », so it was unintentionally an excuse to get ballsy and kind of risky, I guess. But they seemed really pleased with it…

It’s awesome! You know, I’ve always been into ASG, and « Blood Drive » seems to be reaching a wider range of atmospheres than the previous records, especially with some of the more « mellow » songs. How did you come up with such a vibe?

We approach records differently than live performances, so we finally get a chance to have the time in the studio and use it as an instrument as well. Maybe we approach albums as a sit-down listening, especially this one. Maybe not an album that will be a party thrower or for hell-raising, but maybe more as a personal start-to-finish heavy rock album. And I think the mellower songs just come from what I grew up listening to, like I was a big Jane’s Addiction and Led Zeppelin fan. I guess you have to use the word « ballad », even though I don’t want to use that word. Just, you know, have some space. And if you can link it all up and have it flow, then that’s the goal.

Speaking of your influences, you quoted Jane’s Addiction, I also read that you like Queens Of The Stone Age and Kyuss, but are there some more actual bands you could relate to right now?

I’ve always been a huge Torche fan, they’ve always had a big influence on us. We did a month long tour with Torche and The Sword just before those bands blew up in the States, and they were right in that range of « what we’re going to do next ». It was a very inspirational and impressionable tour, these bands were really good and we felt like we should step up our game. I loved what Torche did with writing heavy music but retaining melody. So bands like Torche, Baroness, anything The Melvins are doing, is interesting, and lots of other stuff that aren’t related to heavy rock, you know?

You released a split EP with Black Tusk, which is a very different band from ASG, musically speaking. Do you have other projects like this one in store?

It’s a bit tricky because we were able to do this split as we were in between Volcom and Relapse, so it was a chance to do something ourselves. We played a lot of shows with Black Tusk because they were from Savannah, so we were buddies. We’ve entertained that idea of whether we should go ahead and maybe do another full-length for Relapse, or maybe do another four song EP with another band… but either way, it has to be done through Relapse. And I think we may just go ahead and do another full-length.

When would you plan to get back to the studio, then?

Realistically, maybe we’ll record this time next year, so it’s literally one year and a half away, not longer.

Just to have some time to tour a little bit more, maybe?

Just the time to make sure the songs are good. I think a lot of bands seem to rush their next record before they really set back. It’s important to me.

So Relapse are not putting any pressure on you guys.

No, they’ve been great! So far they’ve been really understanding and cool.

They seem to be hosting a wider ranger range of bands now, anyway. Like Red Fang…

…Torche, Baroness. When our record was finished, I had yet to hear the new Baroness record, and it was a pretty big departure for them. It made me feel a little better (laughs)!

ASG band Joshua Curry 2

I felt like a there’s been a huge change in their songwriting with the « Yellow & Green » record. I don’t know, it all sounded a bit poppier in some way.

Some people think « pop » is affiliated to a bad word, especially among heavy music. But what pop means to me, is when you write a good fucking song. Isn’t that the fucking point? I mean, isn’t that the fun of it, write a good song, something that people might remember?

I couldn’t agree more. What are the records you’ve been listening to lately, or band you discovered that you’d like to share with the people?

The new Anciients record, I’ve been listening to them every night for three weeks, it’s really really good metal. But we listen to so much rock and metal every night, so we’re used to listen to outlaw country: Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard… Go check those guys out, kids! Country music!

I’ve got a question for you regarding the vocals, which to me are a very strong point in ASG’s music. Actually, I can’t believe you didn’t want to sing at first, because you’ve been doing brilliantly, man!

And I still don’t, really! (laughs) I dug myself a really big hole, I really screwed up big time.

Did you have to take some singing lessons at some point?

Nah, but maybe I should. I’m sure some people out there really wish I would! It’s not a natural thing, it’s more like a muscle that has developed through the years, and it doesn’t hold up that great on the road. You’re trying to do the singing and screaming stuff, you’re not getting any sleep… It’s tough.

Our interview has come to an end, is there anything you’d like to add?

It’s good to be wrapping up a tour in London with such a cool festival. Hope to be back soon!


Last modified: 11 February 2015