Uncovering Sincere Psychedelic Rock n’ Roll

Posted January 6, 2014 in
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Asbury makes no attempt to hide the fact that life is a spiritual journey to him. Photo: Sarah Wingate

Ben Asbury, from Atlanta Ga., is the man behind Axxa/Abraxas, one of the newest members of the solid indie label family, Captured Tracks. Asbury is only 23, and he’s a unique addition to the label, which has released notable artists from Mac Demarco to Beach Fossils, but Asbury’s music is like nothing else you’ll find from Captured Tracks. While many of the bands on the label find joy in synth-driven new wave sounds with heavy reverb, Axxa/Abraxas takes its cues from ’60s rock, folk and western music. It certainly stands out among the label’s already well-established sound. Asbury recently took the time to chat with me about the legacy his father has left behind and why guitar music will never die.

Asbury grew up with guitars lying around his home. His dad was an unpaid folk musician who simply loved to write and play. “I always grew up listening to the kind of things he liked to play, like Dylan and Leonard Cohen. He left behind a tape recording of some of his folk songs, too. I always thought it’d be cool if I could put out a record with my dad’s songs on one side and my psychedelic rock versions on the other side,” says Asbury. Asbury’s older brother had already begun playing guitar when he decided it was time to try his hand in the family “business.” “I guess I wanted to be ‘cool’ like my older brother, or something like that,” says Asbury. “From there, I just kind of went my own way with it,” he adds with a chuckle. Asbury is a very easygoing, goofy kind of guy. From our conversation, it was apparent that he’s content to laugh often and be agreeable, and he spoke from the heart when I least expected it. One of Asbury’s songs on Soundcloud is self-described as being sincere, psychedelic rock n’ roll. I made sure to ask Asbury about that description, but not before I learned more about his peculiar artist name.

“It’s two parts of life that I’ve come to associate with over time,” says Asbury. “My dad passed away about five years ago, and we found a book of poetry that he had put together. The last poem that he put in that book is called Axxa. It’s something we saw him use our whole life, and my brother and I both have it tattooed on our arm. It’s all speculation on where the name came from, but I think it might just be the aesthetic and symmetry of it. If you spell it in all capitals, the name folds into itself. The second part comes from Hermann Hesse, my favorite author. In his book, Demian, they talk about Abraxas, which is supposed to be some gnostic god, both good and evil."

From the “spiritual dichotomy” behind his name to the Soundcloud description, Asbury makes no attempt to hide the fact that life is a spiritual journey to him. That quest is apparent in his music, too, if you listen close enough. Asbury explained to me why he considers his music to be “sincere,” and it summed up everything we had already discussed. “It’s just getting across the point that it’s music written from the heart,” says Asbury. “The new album is just me writing songs in my bedroom, trying to make the kind of music that I want to hear,” he added. “The best way for anyone to get an introduction to who I am is to just listen to the music I make. It’s extremely personal to me.”

Having listened to the album, I can sense Asbury’s love for guitar-driven music. It’s psychedelic rock that he’s providing to the already great Captured Tracks family, which features a number of synth pop artists. I asked Asbury if he felt like guitar music is gradually dying off. His statement was a powerful one that I believe he lives by. Rock n’ roll isn’t about parties, women or fame to him. It’s about the power of the guitar and what it creates sonically that can touch the human soul. He says, “If you think about the last two or three years especially, there’s definitely been a trend towards using less organic instruments, but I really feel like it goes in waves; guitar is never going to die, ever. Rock n’ roll is here to stay, man.”

Asbury’s self-titled debut album, Axxa/Abraxas, is out March 4, 2014. If you haven’t heard what sincere, psychedelic rock n’ roll sounds like, then it’s about time you do, right here.

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