I found it really hard to understand why anybody would want to name their band after a Swedish word but ASKA seem satisfied with their choice. Anders Ekdahl ©2014
I guess that your name isn’t take on the Swedish word for ashes (aska) but some sort of Hindi god. What made you choose this as your band name?
George Call: Haha! Funny guy. It totally is a take on your word for ashes. Hindi god. Haha! You crack me up buddy. Why ASKA? Well, quite frankly, we thought by going with a word nobody knew or even said in America we were sure to have a name nobody would use or have. Ask any new band what one of the biggest hurdles when they first get together is and they will all tell you, unequivocally, that finding a name that hasn’t been taken already is the biggest bitch of all. Of course, we thought we licked that little problem. And we did for the first few years. Then came the advent of the internet and we learned that there was a Japanese artist, a Scandinavian, one-man-act black metal “band”, an Asian-American pop girl, an American country western girl, some Hungarian dance/pop troupe, a billiards cue company, an TV connector/electronics company, a pharmaceutical company, a tube amp manufacturer and a Japanese automobile – all using our name. Haha! Can you believe that? Our most unlikely of names was more popular than watermelon seeds on a ghetto tenement stoop. And here we thought we were more clever than the average bear. At least our first record came out in 1992 and we were using the name a few years prior to any of the others, all of them johnny-come-latelys’ as far as I’m concerned, so we can honestly say, we had it first, fuckers. And we actually got the name ASKA from a clique we ran around with in high school while we were growing up in the former American territory of the Canal Zone, with the clique’s defacto leader’s blessing of course. But that’s another story.
Just so we know what we are dealing with could you please give us a short introduction to the band?
GC: ASKA began life as four friends from the Panama, Canal Zone. Well, two brothers and our friends, seeking to further our musical ambitions and aspirations. We started as most do, playing covers while trying a hand at our own creations. We were unusual in our covers selection. Where everybody else was doing the standards of the day, we were covering bands like Celtic Frost, Exciter, Omen, Manowar and Venom and sprinkling in originals that sounded like Dokken and Poison. Haha! I remember John Perez of Solitude Aeturnus, whose band used to open for us back then, being always amazed at our covers selection. We were crazy to do it as most of these bands weren’t very well known but we didn’t give a shit. We loved the Metal! Eventually we got our shit together and started releasing full albums, each one progressively better than the prior. During this process we started touring. Initially we began doing contract work for the American military. We did that for 8 years. We toured military bases, installations and embassies around the globe starting in 1992. We were picked up by a couple of indie labels over the course of our albums, of which we’ve released six full lengthers to date now, with the latest, “Fire Eater” released on Sept 27th, 2013. With Keith Knight’s departure from the band shortly after the completion of “Fire Eater”, I’m the only guy remaining from the band’s original lineup. The other guys in the band today are drummer Danny White, formerly of Omen and Phantom X, of which he was a founding member. Also Chris Menta of France on the guitar and Dave Harvey from the wild, country, backwoods of Arkansas on bass. By the way, I’m also a former singer of Omen and the current singer of Atlantic Records/Metal Blade band, Banshee. And Danny and I also play with Mick Cervino, ex-Malmsteen/Blackmore’s Night, in a band called Violent Storm, which also features Steve Moseley of Solitude Aeturnus on guitar. So though it may seem like we are band whores, we’re not and ASKA is our pride and joy. In fact, once people hear the band and learn of our exploits, they get it and then they find it hard to believe that we escaped their attention as long as we did. Then the backcatalog album buying frenzy-slash-hunt begins! Haha!
Is it important to have an album cover that grabs people’s attention? How do you get people to go from looking at the cover to actually listen to the album?
GC: If you’ve ever seen our album covers then you know we’re all about presentation. I love art. Fantasy art in particular. I’m a huge Frazetta fan, may he rest in peace, and an album’s cover is going to represent you for that album’s tour cycle and even more; for the life of the record and the band. I love the Galactic Cowboys man but some of their covers, and I’m thinking “The Horse That Bud Bought”, looks like something I vomited up after too many nights at festivals with friends and band in Germany. Sometimes an album cover will even represent the theme of the band’s tour. Look at Iron Maiden for an example of this. Why scrimp when it comes to that? I won’t, which is why we’ve licensed pieces from some of the best and hottest artists on the scene; Luis Royo, Rick Berry. As far as breaking the look/listen barrier; brother – if I knew the secret to that one, I’d be a millionaire and we’d be doing this interview on a yacht doing circles around my private island.
Is promoting the band becoming an easier task as you release new albums or do you feel that you still have to educate people as to who and what ASKA is?
GC: Oh I’d say it’s become a lot easier. People know us or if they haven’t actually heard us they’ve heard of us. We didn’t have to seek out our record label. They came to us. I didn’t send in audition tapes to join Banshee or Violent Storm or when Cloven Hoof asked me to do their record, they’d all heard me or had some passing familiarity with ASKA’s work. Folks have come to know me and the band and to that I can only say – It’s about time goddammit! Haha!
How easy is it to get blinded by Facebook like when you know that you can buy them or buy countless hits on Youtube and think that you’ve made it big?
GC: I’m not blinded at all because I know it’s bullshit. I guess people outside the industry might fall for those manipulated numbers but in the end who are guilty bands fooling? The first time I saw such a thing I was shocked. I saw this little band out of nowhere that nobody had ever heard of with 30,000 likes on their facebook page while ASKA, a band in existence for two plus decades now and who has toured no less than 42 countries and had all manner of indie record deals and real fans who come to the shows was, I thought then, floundering with 2000 likes. I thought something must be wrong here. Then I learned the trick, laughed and said, clever but transparent and this is not for us. ASKA is closing on 3000 likes. We’re a cult band with a cult following that has had a lot more work and live experience over the years than bands with greater renown. What’s the point of buying 300,000 likes on facebook and then going to do a show for 20 people? A fake 30,000 and 300,000+ likes becomes all the more obvious when the numbers of heads at a show at a show don’t support the hype. And really, as more people realize and get hip to this tomfoolery, I can’t help but wonder how long it is before nobody takes the band’s doing this seriously anymore. What? You have 350,000 likes on your facebook band page? Then why are you online soliciting places to crash at while you’re on tour? Surely even with just 1000 people you’re making enough to afford a motel somewhere? Haha! When a girl goes and gets herself some false tits, it’s kind of silly but sometimes understandable, depending on the circumstances. When a band does it? I don’t know. I guess they’re just trying to get a leg up in a crowded field but buying hits is false and if Manowar taught me and burned anything into my brain over the years it was DEATH TO FALSE METAL! haha!
How important is playing live today? Is there still a live scene to talk about? Do people still go to shows? To me it seems that it is all big tour packages or festivals that are left.
GC: To me, it’s very important to play live because I have an actual band that gets together, plays music at both rehearsals and at shows. Despite what some might have you think, I don’t play live because you like it, I play live because I love it. Not all shows or venues are equally fun but there are few things in this life as pleasurable for me as getting up, plugging in my guitar and having a great night onstage. Bob Dylan sang “Oh the times they are a-changing” and it’s more true today than ever. The “scene” has changed and not for the better. Kids have changed. Mothers the world over have changed…. their baby’s diapers. It does seem the only way Metal bands can generate those crowds that a two to three band tour bill could bring out in the past is to do festivals and special events. There are of course, exceptions to the rule but America has tanked for Metal man. It’s a sad assertion brother but a true one here. I just saw Saxon with Fozzy at the House of Blues in Dallas. I don’ think there were even two hundred people there. Last time I saw Manowar in Dallas, same thing. I don’t even get this country anymore. Everything that made it so great for so many is being systematically sabotaged and destroyed from within. Up is down, right is wrong, black is white. This may be what it was like in Rome just before the fall of the empire. I don’t know but it’s like the Walking Dead television show has become reality and we’re surrounded by mindless, vapid, zombies everywhere, consuming tabloids and trash TV at astronomical rates. They can’t point to Belgium on the map, they have no idea what the constitution that governs their lives says, and they can’t tell you who Napoleon was or tell you what a galaxy is but I’ll be a motherfucker if they can’t tell you whose monkey dick Kim Kardashian is sucking this week and what hairstyle Justin Beiber wore this morning. And don’t get me started with the current generation of brainiacs wearing their pants halfway down around their asses. Thankfully, metal people remain faithful and true to their ideals and our cause. I don’t think people should identify themselves via what country they were born in anymore. We should all be grouped instead by the music we love! Wouldn’t that be revolutionary?! The good thing is that things always seem to come around. If you hang in long enough it eventually comes back to you.
How has the internet changed the feeling of community in being a local band playing local shows? Does it still feel that you are a product of your surrounding area?
GC: Man, I don’t know. ASKA was always a band of outsiders. We came to the US and Dallas/Fort Worth as strangers and foreigners of sorts. Everybody else in our area was trying to be a Pantera clone when we came on the scene. We just wanted to be free to do whatever it was we wanted to do. We built our shit from the ground up here and yet never felt fully embraced by many of the local musicians though we outdrew and outlasted 99.8% of their bands. Why? I don’t know. We couldn’t explain it either though I have my speculations. We figured those bands that had grown up here had the largest advantage with direct access to friends, cousins, schoolmates, brothers, sisters. Plus they knew the lay of the land. It didn’t work out that way though. With a notable few exceptions, most of those bands struggled, crashed and burned while we kept going from strength to strength. There was a time where ASKA was among the highest drawing acts in our area not to mention the highest paid, and stranger still, we’re a metal act, mind you. We’ve been featured on the covers of both the Dallas Observer and Fort Worth Weekly here but not because they loved us as much as I think they were trying to understand what it was about us that was generating all of this attention. We’ve never felt ourselves a product of our surrounding area. I used to be the booking agent at the club where Pantera got signed in the early days of ASKA. I had hundreds of bands in my booking rolodex. Only two remain active to this day and ASKA is one of them. So I can’t really speak to what it’s like to be a part of a local scene. We’ve always been apart from it not a part of it.
How pleased are you with your latest recorded work?
GC: I’m very pleased. It always feels good to push the baby out I would imagine. Especially after it’s been in the womb too long. Haha! The biggest complaint I’ve heard about it is that we had a ballad and an orchestrated song on it. Wah. If that’s the gripe then there is no gripe. You’ve got a album chock full of kick-ass metal and the bitch is that they wanted more? That’s not really a complaint is it? That’s a compliment. In other words, they like my non-ballad, metal songs so much that they want more of them. A serious complaint would have been; “Man, your songs suck. This is terrible. We don’t like this record at all.” Instead I’ve read so many reviews saying how great we are, what awesome songs we’ve got here, what a metal institution we are, but a ballad???? Yucky! We wanted more of the heavy stuff. That’s not a complaint. That’s greed! And yet they deduct a couple of points from the score because they didn’t like a ballad on the record. That’s like me making you a plate of food with everything you love on it except I put a couple of pieces of Broccoli on there and you don’t like Broccoli. Some people like it. If you don’t like it, big deal. Don’t eat it. Eat all of the other good shit I put on there for you. It doesn’t ruin the rest of the meal and it actually enhances it for many. If the plate was full of broccoli then we might have a problem but it’s not so to me it’s almost like people are seeking to gripe just to have something to write in their review and they know it.
Is artwork and layout still as important when more and more people download music legally to their phones or ipads/computers?
GC: Yes, yes and yes for metal bands. But who cares for pop acts because those groups don’t really have fans. Their songs have fans but nobody really gives a shit about the band in the long run I think and I’ll tell you why; Nobody can argue that Madonna was/is a huge star but go to any place where they sell used music and I can find you 50 Madonna albums for sale cheap. Same with all of those other pop/r&b records that were so popular a year or two ago. They are over-represented in the used bins because the people who listen to that music are fickle, fairweather, flavor-of-the-day fans. You won’t find a single Virgin Steele record there though. Lots of used Metallica cds too but not “Kill ‘Em All”, “Ride The Lightning” or “Master of Puppets”. And when the Metal cds do make it in they get snapped up quick. The pop shit just languishes there for years because nobody gives a shit about the artist. If they did then the artist’s work would have a shelf life in the buyer’s home longer than the song’s run on the charts. Metal bands engender true fanaticism. People want to own and keep the work of the band’s they like. They want to collect it and have it on hand. They know who the members are, the number of albums released, what album a song is on. There’s a big difference in the metal fan than there is with the casual pop fan. Thus, absolutely yes we should continue to make albums with cover art, pictures, layout, etc. Did you know that CD sales last year actually increased in the US by 12% over the prior year’s overall sales? Now you do.
What would you like to see the future bring to the band?
GC: The gift of long life, five #1 singles, a full band alien abduction and the mutant power to shoot fire from our collective fingertips. Hail brother. It was very good talking to you. People should visit us online at http://www.askaband.net and HAIL!