With ex-Psychedelic Furs guitarist John Ashton forming an ensemble of musicians under the banner of Satellite Paradiso, I recently e-mailed John asking him to grant me an interview. Not only did I get an interview with John, I also got the ears of Fred Schreck (vocalist) and Frank Coleman (drummer) as well as an exclusive listen to some “almost complete” tracks from the forthcoming album.
Dave: Hi guys – thanks for letting me hear some of your new tracks – they sound fantastic and I feel very privileged to have heard them and am also very intrigued about hearing how this whole project came about. First of all, would I be correct in thinking that you three guys (John Ashton (Psychedelic Furs), Fred Schreck (The Ancients) and Frank Coleman (Secret Agent, Bentmen) are the nucleus of Satellite Paradiso and that the other contributing musicians were invited as was necessary?
John: The short answer is no. The longer answer is a little more complex.When I first started to write the songs that would make up the main body of work that is now the Satellite Paradiso record, I originally sought out those musicians whom I had known for many years and felt could contribute in a meaningful way. These were: Sara Lee (Bass), Gail Ann Dorsey (Bass), Paul Garisto (Drums), BP Hurding (Drums), Donny Yallech (Drums) and Amanda Kramer (Keyboards). Later, I enlisted Roger Morris and Duncan Kilburn. I had always wanted to make another record with these guys and I am happy to say that they agreed to contribute. I had asked Vince Ely and although initially he was really keen to get involved, his personal life took precedence and I’ve since lost touch with him, although Roger (Dog) has been in contact with him.
I first met up with Fred through an introduction via Rob Sacher the club owner and mentor to many musicians, and when I heard his voice and what he did with Angelic (demo track which has subsequently turned into a Satellite Paradiso track), I was pretty blown away. Fred’s contribution to tracks SAH (Super Anti Hero) and Big Block sealed the deal. Fred introduced me to Paul Ferguson (Killing Joke) who he’d played with in Crush. Paul’s contribution to SAH and Big Block has been immense. Frank’s involvement came later but he has quickly become a mainstay. His involvement as a drummer, web/video tech and all round “man under the hood” has earned him a place amongst our ranks. Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev) has been a friend for over 20 years and has been instrumental in helping me realise my dream. He’s added parts to Invisible and has introduced me to Anthony Molina who is now mixing Super Anti Hero. Jo Quail, an extraordinarily gifted cellist from London, has added a palette of sounds to this project that I now find hard to imagine without.
Dave: John – this question I guess is primarily for you. Listening to some tracks I can hear how a track like Angelic could quite easily have been a Psychedelic Furs track. There’s an obvious hook in there that i can almost hear Richard Butler singing on it. Fred, has opted to leave this alone and let your guitar sing the melody. Have you yourself found the experience of collaborating with new musicians both a surprising and liberating experience?
But this happened to coincide with that period of time when we were starting to drift apart. I want to be sure everyone understands: Yes, I used to be in the Furs, and I’m not any longer, but I feel nothing but gratitude and pride for that period of my life, and I’m very glad we’ve patched things up and are friendly again. They’re being very supportive of this new project, and of course many of them are playing on it! So, when I talk about things that happened in the past, please understand that they are in the past. Like any band, like any family, we had our ups and downs, but we made some incredible music together and had some amazing experiences. And I will always be proud and grateful for that. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.
Anyway, I gave Fred the same demo, the same raw materials, and he took it in an entirely different direction that I thought was just fantastic! It cemented our working relationship. I knew I wanted more and that another context for me was possible. I also wrote the chord structures and the arrangements for Dream, Still and Invisible during that same turbulent transition period. Tim (Butler) had come to visit, played bass and had some great suggestions, but they were always my songs from the very beginning. In the end, they were not really written as Furs material, per se, but rather I was subconsciously writing an entirely new album and moving in a completely different direction.
Dave: Fred, I’m really loving your lyrics a lot. Your vocals on top of John’s guitar sounds like a marriage made in heaven. How did you first hook up and also how much of a free reign did you get when it came to actually writing the lyrics – I’m presuming the main body of the songs were in place prior to you writing the lyrics? Like, did you have a batch of lyrics filed away for later use, or did you just write from scratch, maybe taking ideas from song titles?
Fred: Why thank you sir! That means a lot to me, considering it’s coming from such a long time fan of John’s previous work. My voice with John’s guitar is a dream come true for me, as he was always one of my favorite musicians. Guitarists I’ve worked with before have actually had to hear me say things like, ….”could you approach that a bit more like John Ashton would”..hahaha! As it turns out, we had a mutual friend for years and didn’t even know it.
Rob Sacher was a club owner in NYC in the 1990’s and was a huge supporter of mine in the early part of the decade. After a long period of losing touch we reconnected at about the same time he was releasing his book, “ Wake Me When It’s Over.” I got an email from him suggesting I contact John, who was looking for a singer to collaborate with. I really walked away from the game years ago, resigned to living out the rest of my life in the obscurity I’d grown accustomed to.I almost didn’t send that email. I’m really glad I nutted up and did! John has given me complete freedom to explore any ideas I have. Apart from a helpful suggestion or two, he’s let me have at it and I really appreciate that. And it was pretty seamless. The songs were there. Already wonderfully arranged with plenty of space to write melodies and lyrics. And it was rapid fire. It all came to me in a rush I hadn’t experienced in decades! I didn’t have the need (or want) to go back to anything I’d ever done before. I never tend to do that anyway. I move on from things that don’t work pretty quickly.
The song titles were something I went to and thought of during the process, but not necessarily the main focal point at the start of it. A comment about your question to John (re: Angelic) – I don’t know which part your referring to in the song, but I think John’s guitar should be highlighted. It’s a wonderfully textured, powerful force.
Dave: Hi Frank. You’re one of John’s “discoveries” even though you’ve had your own projects for many years – Secret Agent & Bentmen (which are both great btw – fantastic beats supplied by Frank). When did you first hook up with John? I know John has been stateside since around 1989 – but are you an authentic “native New Yorker”? If so, you must have seen, and maybe been involved in, a lot of NYC Punk scene from days gone by. Did you catch CBGB’s in its hey day?
Frank: I am indeed a native New Yorker, but my experience was a little different than most. I was born into a theatrical/musical family, and was actually a child actor in New York City from about the age of four until I retired at the age of 10. True story. I toured the country twice, worked with Christopher Walken and many others. So my recollections of New York are more from the 60’s, working off-Broadway in Greenwich Village, when art and music and theater were dangerous. I went to Berklee music college in Boston in 1977, just as the punk rock revolution was getting underway. All the bands that played New York made the trek to Boston, so I got to see many legendary shows. The Clash in 1979, with The Undertones and Sam & Dave! The first time I saw the Furs was on the Forever Now tour. Every time John stepped forward to take a solo, his smile would just light up the room. It was wonderful. After I moved back to New York City in 2003, I did have the good fortune to play CBGB twice. It was one of the best clubs possible, for the musician. Huge stage, great crew.
With regards to working with John I actually found John via Facebook, believe it or not. After having “friended” him for a while, one day, because I believe in the power of Asking For Things, I sent him a note and said, “I’ve been in the business for over 40 years, so I’m the farthest thing in the world from some fanboy, but I always smile when I see you show up on my wall, because I think you’re the fucking balls… And by the way, I have this project I’m working on called Secret Agent. It’s spy movie music, and it’s all done virtually, via dropbox. No pressure, but would you be interested in doing some sinister John Barry style guitar for me one of these days?” And he said, “Yes, sure, sounds like fun… And by the way I have this project of my own I’ve been working on that need some drums. Would you be interested in taking a crack at it?” And of course, I jumped at the chance. He sent me Bad Blood, loved what I did with that, sent me more and more and here we are.
Dave: With music industry seemingly in disarray, I understand you guys are going to try and put Satellite Paradiso debut LP out under your own stream? How do you plan to do this and is this imminent? I know that many Psychedelic Furs fans are dying to know just how, where and when they will be able to get their grubby paws on this musical extravaganza?
John: We are going to launch a crowd funding campaign through a company called Pledge Music. I hope to be able to release the album in the spring of 2014 and begin touring some time after that. So yes, hopefully my old fans from my days with The Furs will rally around and be sufficiently impressed to plonk down the price of a couple of fancy coffees and support this project.
Dave: Having been privy to hearing tracks of this forthcoming LP – there are some outstanding tunes (I really love Super Anti Hero, Still, Touch the Sky and Big Block amongst others). With so many collaborators involved I’m thinking the main problem would have been co-ordinating how tracks are worked on. For example, what kind of direction did Duncan get when providing sax on a track like Touch The Sky – Was it a case of “here’s the track so far..let’s see what you can add”..or?
John: Yes pretty much! I’ve known Roger and Duncan long enough to know that if I’m going to send them a piece of music, I’m going to get their trademark sounds and approach. It’s been pretty much the same with everyone else. The first thing that I do is listen to someone’s work, if I love it then I ask them to get involved.
Dave: And you last worked with Duncan and Roger prior to the excellent Todd Rundgren-produced Furs disk Forever Now around about 1982? Being an avid Furs fan I’m personally very excited by this news. How did you manage to hook up after all these years – do we have the wonders of the internet to thank for this? I do remember reading in a Furs biography called “Beautiful Chaos” (Written by Dave Thomson) that Roger actually joined you on stage when The Furs were reformed back in 2001. Any recollections of that show and how it came about?
John: Sometime in the late 90‘s there was a very lengthy article written about us for a magazine called Goldmine. Beautiful Chaos was culled from that interview. The main thing that came out of that interview was the admission by both Richard and myself that Roger and Duncan’s leaving – mainly due to artistic differences – was a shift in direction and that over time we both regretted their parting. I’m certain that this admission of sincere regret by Richard Butler and myself was the catalyst that opened the doors of communication between us again. I know that Richard had – in his Love Spit Love days [Love Spit Love was primarily Richard Butler and Richard Fortus (current member of Guns N’Roses) band formed in the mid-90’s] – mended fences with Roger and later with Duncan. It seemed only right and fitting, therefore, that when the reunited Furs went back out on the road in the summer of 2000 and played at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano CA., that Roger, who was living in California at the time, should “hop up” on stage and play Pretty In Pink with us. I will always remember how awesome that particular version of Pretty in Pink felt. I guess we all started talking (at least Roger, Duncan and myself) because of the reunion and the fan site Burned Down Days. We kept in touch via email and one day a couple of years ago I just emailed them and asked them (along with Vince) if they would be interested in getting involved with this.
Dave: Thanks for filling us in on that John, much appreciated – a lot of us Furs fan’s did wonder about the “why’s” and “where’s“ of this split.. Okay – Moving on – am I right in detecting that Satellite Paradiso is partially themed, in that there seems to be both visually and musically an attraction to the wonders of our universe and also a nod to the artistic and pioneering spirit which mankind has thrived..?
John: I’ve always had a keen interest in art, science, nature, time & space. I’m also intrigued by the possibilities afforded us to explore our world and the universe that is our home.
Dave: Guys, I love the artwork on your webpage and noticed a credit for Damir Bogdan – where did he pop up from and I’d just like to say how fitting his artwork is to this project!
John: I first saw Damir’s artwork when Fred – who had been doing a random search on the internet – came up with “Fractal Organic Alien Spaceship” as a possible image to use on our fledgling FB site. Well, let me tell you, I was blown away by that image and asked Fred where he found it. He couldn’t remember! A few days later he emailed me with a “I found it” header and attached a link to Damir’s site. I checked out his artwork and I instinctively knew that we had found “our guy.” He’s the Roger Dean for the new millennium and I am proud and honored to say that he graciously agreed to let us use his images.
Dave: Lastly one for you all – what’s the Satellite Paradiso track that you as individuals would pick out as “the one to watch”..and for what reason?
Frank: I know we’re all particularly jazzed about Touch the Sky because it came together so quickly, really felt like a group effort from the ground floor up, and it also has a really spiritual vibe to it, but I actually would put my chips on a song called Dream. I think that one’s a single. It’s got everything – a great construct, amazing sound, killer parts, really cool evocative lyrics and vocals, great hook and it just totally rocks.
Fred: For me the SP pick is Angelic. It was the first one I was compelled to work on. I feel it has the potential to draw in listeners to the album, just like it did me. I really like Frank’s pick, though. Hmmmm……..
John: Super Anti Hero, because it’s the opening song on the album and it kicks ass and Touch The Sky because it’s the closer but also points the way musically to the next phase…
Dave: “The next phase” – I like the sound of that. Also, as you all know I’m a bit of a “Furs Freak” – so, with that in mind.. what’s the Furs track that makes you best proud to be a band mate of John’s… and John – I know you can’t be a band mate of yourself (maybe in a parallel universe you are?) but what’s the track you’re most proud of from your Furs days?
Fred: As for the Furs pick, it is a real poser. How do you pick one from such an incredible body of work? Although I love ’em all (particularly the first three) I would have to say that I dial up Alice’s House most often, closely followed by Sister Europe (when I’m feeling moody).
Frank: Well that’s a tough question. Very difficult to pick one Furs song out of that great body of work that was such an important part of the soundtrack of my life for so long. Historically speaking, the first album was such a landmark, for me and for music in general, and Talk Talk Talk is just a masterpiece that sounds as fresh now as the day it was released. I like music that makes me feel like I’m holding onto a live wire. Like I’ve got 50,000 volts of electricity going through my body. For me, that’s probably Mr. Jones although It Goes On is right up there. Can I pick two? Can I pick seven or 12…?
Dave: Sorry Frank – haha..yes.. which one – I know my choice changes day by day. President Gas, Into You Like a Train etc.. haha ..i gotta tie you down though..
John: Dumb Waiters, because it has everything that I loved about the Furs at a time when the band was cutting edge.
Dave: Good choices, I’m in love with It Goes On (always have been) and Dumb Waiters is my all time favourite. And Fred’s choice of Alice’s House which was featured on Mirror Moves was actually a leftover from the Forever Now album – so it keeps to the oft-held theory that the Furs first 3 LP’s were the “Dogs’ Bollocks”…
Guys – what can I say, except – many thanks for your time and I really look forward to the release of this music in the near future AND I’ll be the first in the line to buy a ticket when I get a sniff of a live date
Interview: Dave Furneaux (Jan 2014)