Latest release: Umbra 1 (Golden Robot)Website: www.ashenmoonmusic.com/
San Fernando Valley based collaborative four piece band AshenMoon evolved from friendships with a common interest in creating interesting music. Naturally, the band members came to galvanising their initial garage studio based project into a fully-fledged band on signing to Golden Robot Records. AshenMoon includes none other than Australian INXS bassist Garry Gary Beers and his immersion in the writing, production and overall direction of the band has encouraged his fellow bands members to extract evocative musical performances that reinforce their highly regarded individual profiles.
The recent release of their debut EP, titled Umbra I, demonstrates the wide variety of musical styles that AshenMoon have mastered with groove, taste and some impressive lyrical insight. The first instalment of the impending two part EP release will culminate in an album and looks set to make some waves internationally. The unmistakable rhythm arrangement strengths and decades of studio knowledge from Beers is enhanced by the captivating vocals from singer Toby Rand [Rockstar:Supernova / Juke Kartel] and expressive guitar parts played by Jimmy Khoury [Beth Hart]. Their combined and shared influences create a unique sound.
The combined high level of talent and experience within AshenMoon benefits even further from the mixing skills of multi-Grammy winner David Reitzas plus mastering brilliance by the legendary Howie Weinberg. Of course there are also additional contributors but it is rare for a debut act to have this level of industry clout from the outset. Loud Online spoke to the laid back Aussie rock royal Garry Beers just as the project was starting to gain some worldwide traction. Now, with the first EP released, and with the emotive aspects of AshenMoon’s debut music offering a ray of hope in a globally tormented year, now is an apt time to share an inspiring chat with Beers.
Hey Paul, how ya goin’, mate.
The songs for the first EP have great production. Did that take a lot of work?
We spent most of last year in my little studio which is a little shed next to my house in the Valley in California. We just built the thing up and did the drums in a friend’s studio which is a beautiful studio. We got Dave Reitzas, a seven time Grammy award winning mixing engineer to mix it for us. We also got Howie Weinberg who worked on Jeff Buckley and Nirvana, all of these great songs, to master it. I think we know what we doing and we made the record that we really wanted to make. I think that though the experience we all have; we knew how to do it.
How did you get a hold of the world renowned Howie Weinberg?
I used Howie from years ago when I wanted to master an album that I was working on years ago. I thought, ‘Okay, what is my favourite record?’ and it was definitely Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Howie mastered it so I booked him. We mastered in New York with him. When it came to thinking about mastering Ashen Moon, lo and behold he is living up the road from here. He is just as wild and crazy New Yorker that he has always been be he is the best mastering engineer. So, he mastered it for us and picked it right.
Also, Dave Reitzas is another profile individual to obtain for mixing services.
It’s amazing – he is best mates with Jimmy, our guitar player. They actually were in a band together back in high school, back in Massachusetts. Dave was coming to our gigs and then he started getting involved with the mixing and then, he mixed our record. We’ve had a really good team with mates who are really talented too. It is kind of a dream team, I’ve got to say.
I imagine you’re a baby band in a way but did you imagine or set out to bring in people like that to help you?
Well, I guess, living in LA, everyone is somebody and I’ve known Jimmy for fifteen years. I met him at the first party that I ever went to in Los Angeles and became best mates. But, we didn’t play together because he didn’t want to join a band and I was here, not really thinking about forming a band. Then I met Toby again at a party, being the common thing here being about partying. I then invited them to join a band that I put together just doing corporate stuff for fun, just to have a bit of a bash around and then we all hit it off and wanted to hear each other’s traditional music and then we started writing from there. That was in the beginning of 2019 and it was beautiful because no one was breathing down our necks; there was no record company and there was no time limit. If a song wasn’t quite right, we just played it until we got it right. It really became a passion project and grew in an organic way.
Given your, shall we say, rock royalty status, you could have sat back and not pursued it. So, there is clearly an impetus.
Yeah, I am just a fanatic for playing music. I always have been and I mean, I grew up with the best music in the world like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, also The Beatles and the Stones, as they were still playing and releasing records. I mean, AC/DC played at my school dance. I kind of have to play music. It is in my blood. So, I just had to find the right group of people to get stuck into it. We’re all best mates and we’re loving what we’re doing. Toby is in my backyard doing another interview across the way and Jimmy and our drummer are our in my garage, setting up a rehearsal and about to start doing podcasts. So, we’re actually loving it so much we’re back to being a garage band.
Who do you have on drums?
On the record we used an English drummer, Jason Ganberg who plays with a band called Dorothy and other projects. Live we have two drummers. We have Sebastian Gregory from The Veronica’s and he is usually available currently, of course. But drummers are usually not available because they are usually always out touring. So we also have Zak St John who has been with us for the last year or so. The core of the band is myself, Toby on vocals and Jimmy on guitar, and for other musicians, we’ll rotate. But, we’ll always pick the best of the best.
Bass guitar playing can really lead the style of the entire song. In your experience, do big artists understand how much power the rhythm section actually has in a live band?
Probably not, it’s kind of funny. I don’t think members of my old band had that much if an idea of how powerful our rhythm section was. Ah, coming from INXS which was a wonderful part of my life, and I will always be grateful for being part of INXS. But, yeah, AshenMoon is a completely different animal in many ways because I produced it, wrote it and recorded it, well, wrote it with Jimmy and Toby, obviously, and I really wanted the bass to be at the forefront or to be moving around, like my favourite Led Zeppelin tracks. I just wanted to emulate my heroes by putting a lot of me in there, whereas with INXs there’s three guitars, there is all this stuff on top and you’ve really got to keep the bass simple, which is great. But, I just wanted to stretch out a bit myself.
Did you ever feel tempted back in the day to through in some jazzy basslines, picking intervals like thirds, fourths and so on?
Well, I’m not a jazz player, I’m definitely of a funk player and I am a loud bass player. I just am and I like it to move my pants, you know, I like the sound level to thrash my pants around. I have always been loud and when I played live with INXS, I used to play or throw some different lines in and have some fun here and there and we tended to do songs that we could tiptoe around a bit in like in Taste It and solo sections and so everyone had their moment. But with AshenMoon, it is a real free form band, I mean, the album is going to blow them away, that is for sure. With the first two singles out now, we’re hoping to release two EPs between now and Christmas and then the full album will come out. It is a big old fashioned rock album where it takes you on a journey. I’m very proud of it.
Dustbowl has synth bass in it, is there more on the album?
There is synth bass on four or five songs. I was big on the synth bass in INXS with What You Need and Need You Tonight. Ironically for Dustbowl, Toby came along with a keyboard bass and just did it on his laptop and we just built it from there. But for other songs, I just got some small synthesisers in my studio and just starting building up songs from that too. Every song is kind of different. Some songs we had a fuzz bass drive through the studio and then Toby grabs the acoustic and then lays down a guide acoustic and vocal track and then someone comes in to add some riffs so it is just really as the song should develop, it developed that way.
Is one of the keys to having a really powerful chorus having backing vocals?
It’s pretty sure and I mean Toby is a genius with backing vocals. He is obviously an incredible singer, and I am very lucky to have worked with two of the greatest singers that I have ever heard. A good chorus, mate, it doesn’t need backing vocals. It is good to have but a good chorus just needs a good lyric and a good melody, all backed by good chords. Because we have been in lockdown we’ve been doing acoustic versions of all our songs from each other’s homes. So Jimmy would send acoustic guitars to me and I would put bass and percussion on it then send it to Toby, who’d send it back to me. I’d then send it to Dave to mix it. We have just been as active as we can be and it ids pretty amazing to see how exciting our songs are just on acoustic. That is, just acoustic bass and vocals and that is a sign of a good song, when it is just simple thing of an acoustic guitar and a vocal or a keyboard and a vocal. That is the sign of a good song.
Post production takes some discipline so that you don’t wander down a rabbit hole when you’ve got your producer’s hat on?
Yeah, that is why it is good be with a band, to be honest; I’ve produced other projects in Australia. I always like doing it with changes so I’ll call myself the executive producer because I’ll have the final word on everything and this car I’m driving is a short bit. I am always open to Toby and Jimmy having some input, especially Toby because he is writing half the song with writing the words and his words are really important so I want him to be happy with where we’re going. I am very open to not being toured down a rabbit hole because as you say, we haven’t had much of that time to make sure the songs are right.
How would you say Jimmy approaches this band compared to for say Beth Hart?
He can play anything. He is absolutely the best rock guitarist that L have played with and he obviously grew up on Zeppelin and all of the stuff that I grew up on but he is a real passion player, he is a real feel player. He would just come over with a couple of bottles of red wine or a little bag of whatever and sort of come on in and just sit there and start playing the most beautiful guitar parts and then keep playing them until he got it right. One day he was sitting on the couch and I was doing something else, so he was writing a list and asked, ‘what are you doing?’ and he said it was a list of the guitar players that played on this record – so, the influences and all the stuff that he’s learnt. It was actually a really cool way of looking at it.
That is rare because some guitar players have egos and wouldn’t ever admit that.
Oh Jimmy has got no ego. He’s like us, he just loves playing. He’ll play little wine bars and entrance way bars at local hotels, just for fun last year. We just rocked out with a little cocktail drum kit and Jimmy on a combo. It just got louder and louder. That is what is the best thing about this project, it is music that we want to play forever and we are all here to play it.
Equipment has changed massively over the decades. Are you touring light with the digital age?
I own the MIDI gear, all the imaging that goes into computers with analogue dance step or foot pedals. I even design and build my own basses. So, all of the basses on the record are mine. So everything goes into the computer and then obviously becomes digital. I don’t have any tape machines anymore – I had all that gear in my studios in Australia but I sold of that because you don’t really need it. It is fun to have but not many people know how to use it anymore anyway so I think we are all good enough to know how to get good guitar and bass sounds out of today’s equipment. Someone like Dave Reitzas, who just has such an impeccable ear when we mixed the final product it just makes it sound a million bucks. As I said, we’re all a pretty good team and we know what we’re doing so it is a big luxury for us.
If you’re listening to music continually, do you notice a marked difference between analogue and digital?
Yes and no. Howie Weinberg gave us the final masters and gave us analogue and digital versions. I used the analogues ones because they sounded a little warmer. But, back in the old days, for us, if it was analogue, on multi track, I had a big old Harrison desk from the 70’s back in Australia. You would then mix it to a half inch tape machine and it sounded that much better than mixing it to a DAT player which is basically straight to your computer hard drive. I mean, I think that there is so much outboard gear now and so many plugins that they are very good external replication of an analogue sound.
You don’t miss the days of the SSL [solid state logic studio console] desks?
I do, if I had the money I would definitely buy one but mate, the equipment that I really miss is my Harrison desk. That is still sitting north of Sydney at the Grove studios; it used to be Mangrove studios when I owned it. There are two studios there. One was next to the house which was my private studio. I had a 32 bus, 40 channel Harrison desk from the 70’s and it was the same [model of] desk that Thriller was recorded on but I think that mine was better. Mine actually looked and was in better condition than that one. They ended up chucking down that one. It is actually here at studio in LA. I reckon mine was better so the thing that I miss most of all out of all my gear was the Harrison.
You mentioned you make your own bass guitars.
I did electronics and woodwork at school. So, I have always been working on a pickup design and I’ve spent two years finally working on it to get a patent. I hired a patent attorney in LA and went through all of the questions and answers with the patent office and then finally got a patent on my pickup and on the electronics. It is an old school passive bass single pick-up with four coils. It has a whole bunch of different sounds; an old school P-bass, an old school single coil, old school humbuckers. That is all I used on the record. I’ve got probably five prototypes that I built and I’ve got a guy who does my paint work. He paints them to look like they are from the late fifties and early sixties. They all look ancient and beaten up with the paint falling off – they are going to be called the GGB bass and we’ll hopefully get them out soon. I really should start pulling my finger out on getting that together because I’ve done all the hard work, I just need to put in the time to get it all out there and manufacture a bucket.
Sounds great. What about amplifiers?
I had always been an Ampeg guy and then I’ve been working with an English company called Laney. They’ve got some great stuff for guitar but their bass stuff. I just want to use them in the studio. I’ll use their Nexus head for all of the recording but I wasn’t finding it to my liking, live. I’m loud but with this stuff it was a bit suffocating and getting quieter. So they are actually in the process of building me a huge head that looks like it is from the 60’s. They’ve been in lockdown so hopefully I’ll be getting that prototype soon and then I’ll work with them to make that the next thing.
Do you miss the days of playing with a stage full of massive rows of cabinets like the days of the Australian Made tour in 1987?
Of course I do, I actually designed some cabinets back in the early eighties and I had two of those on stage. Plus, I had a sub-woofer and side cabinets. It was all free air and it was amazing. That was my rig or the really big shows and for the big outdoor festivals because you lose a lot of bottom end when you play outdoors. I’ve still got a cabinet here or there but I am thinking about space and my back these days. I do miss the days of playing so loud that everyone in the band would turn around and go, ‘what are you doing?’ I was doing great. Ha-ha.
Two huge shows for INXS were Wembley and the Domain Concert for Life? What are your recollections of those events, equipment wise?
The Concert for Life was perhaps the biggest but I had a midi bass that I used to play What You Need and Need You Tonight, all of that stuff that had synth bass in it. It decided to spit the dummy during Mediate and just hold one note for the whole song. It was also the wrong note and a semi tone out. I could feel the whole PA about to blow up because of the pulse of this droning bass and for some reason, the sound guys couldn’t quite work it out. So I was enjoying the midi bass before then but since then I’ve just been using effects for my normal basses and just getting whatever sound I can get instead of trying to replicate whatever is on the record. Wembley was probably one the greatest gigs that INXS ever played. We were fortunate enough to spend the whole date to film it with sixteen film cameras, helicopters and the whole deal. To our credit we played probably one of our best shows ever. Michael was amazing and we have that in our vault for the rest of our lives. But yeah, they were two very important shows for us.
For a big show like that, with a front man like Michael you can probably get away with the odd equipment error. Everybody is staring at him , to some degree.
Yeah, and the thing is that in those days and especially on the X tour, we spent a lot of money on the production. All of our gear was the top stuff, we had the best crew in the world. Nothing failed and I think that the only thing that was a problem was Kirk’s transmitter for his sax solo in Never Tear Us Apart played up so the only overdub on that record was next morning, I think, the sax solo. The bass DI dropped out for a bar on one song so they overdubbed that – either cut and paste from another spot or went in the next morning, but yeah everything went so well, it was just one of those gigs were all the band, all the crew and the audience just rose to a whole new level.
Do you think that because you all grew up together, it kept you grounded, even when you had massive international success?
Oh totally, I mean having a band with three brothers and their three best friends, I just think that was something that you just don’t get every day. We all went to school together at two different schools, we all used to lug gear around in shopping carts and we just grew up together. I had been playing with Andrew since he was seventeen and he was fifteen. Jon was twelve and we played with him and actually he knew Jon and it all just grew from there. We always looked out for each other, I mean, perhaps the business towards the end when it got…you know, as you get a bit older but yeah, things that kept us grounded was a whole bunch of Aussies travelling the world and let’s not forget that getting that successful took a long time, I mean, Kick was our sixth album so our overnight success took quite a long time. By that time, we were ready and we were used to it or at least ready for it.
You hit the massive big time when MTV was at its peak. I am guessing that with some Aussie larrikinism, you would have taken the piss a little bit, given the opportunity. Is that correct?
Totally, I mean, we had our own language. We could say anything in Australian speak and people would just look at us. The girls would go, ‘You’re cute, they’re speaking another language,’ which just gave us to the opportunity to say what we wanted to say but no one else would get it. Look, we had a ball. It was a bunch of mates with the Australian sporting spirit, we always looked at it as a bit of a sporting event, you know, we were the team and the crew were in that team and we just went out there just to basically do as best we can and if we were going to support a band, we’d blow them off stage. That was what we had learnt from playing with bands like Chisel and the Angels, the Oils. You went onstage trying to blow the other bands offstage but good luck blowing the Oils, the Angels and Chisel off stage. But, we tried and it was a healthy competition. We brought that to America and Europe and so we basically blew everybody into the weeds. It was really good fun.
Oddly enough Chisel and the Angels tried to crack it in the States but it didn’t really happen, sadly.
Yeah, they left it too late. I think they were already really successful and well off in Australia and they didn’t want to slow down from that whereas we hit America pretty early on, around 1983, when we had just released Shabooh Shoobah and we had all of these really great videos and as you say, we just happened to hit America when MTV just appeared and then we appeared and got our videos out on high rotation all the time. So, yeah, it is actually interesting because of what is going on in the world right now. Australia is not going to see a lot of international tours for a while. So, maybe the Australian music scene will pick up and I think, if you look back at history, Australian bands are pretty good at making videos because it was such a chore to jump on a cruise ship or whatever, or a weeklong of travel days and flights to get to England or America. It was just too hard to do and too expensive so bands would make videos to try to get them recognised around the world. Australian bands kind of got onto the video thing a lot earlier than other countries. It obviously worked out very well for us with MTV and then it became the form.
Some bigger labels here might have to invest in local bands a bit more for a change.
Exactly, well, I think, look it is obviously a horrible time for bands and a whole lot of people are sick and dying, losing jobs and livelihoods, and I am sure that a lot of pubs and clubs will be closing down. But, I just think that music is there to help people through things. I am sure just as many people have listened to Never Tear Us Apart at a funeral as well as a wedding. So, I think that we’re here with our music and I am sure that good music will help people get through hard times. I feel that we could be at the beginning of a whole new, wonderful period of music.
Quite possibly, indeed. Finally, how would you compare the song writing processes of AshenMoon to how INXS worked?
Yeah, it is interesting because obviously INXS was blessed to have Andrew and Michael coming up as the songwriters and that was tough for rest of us to sort of compete with the best writers in the world. But Andrew would write his stuff at home and then Michael would work on it either with Andrew or decide it was easier to bring it to the band and we’d rehearse it and then turn it into a real INXS sounding song. But for AshenMoon, on the whole, we’ve just been building it up from scratch, just from an acoustic guitar, a fuzz bassline and a vocal line. We just really wanted to make it just kind of like giving birth in a way. You’d never know where the song was going to go until it was getting close to completion. I mean, we’d always be rethinking things such as in one particular song where the chorus wasn’t that good, so we rewrote the chorus and all of a sudden it was a different song and we’d go back and change the chorus then just keep doing it until was a far better song and then you’d go, ‘How did it start again?’ because there was nothing there anymore. Other songs, we thought were good when we started but they just didn’t make the record. We just ended up with, 13, I think, really strong songs that I am pretty sure people are going to be pretty happy to listen to soon.