If you ever dreamed of witnessing a master in the midst of the creative process, perhaps Brian Wilson with his toes submerged in a makeshift sandbox beneath Van Dyke Parks' Chickering & Sons piano as he toiled over the verses to "Surf's Up," or maybe hanging about whilst Paul Williams composed a bank commercial jingle which grew into The Carpenters' pop standard "We've Only Just Begun" -- you're in luck.
Behold the return of an evolving artist of renown guitar virtuoso John Ashton, whom you should remember from the iconic and sorely missed original Psychedelic Furs. When the Furs first assaulted the American rock 'n' roll (there is no such genre as "post-punk") conscious with their underground radio hymn "Pretty In Pink" at a time when Bonzo Reagan and Iron Lady Thatcher were setting the stage for the world we live in to go terribly wrong, the torch of prodigious and distinctive singer-guitarist duos which passed from Daltrey/Townshend to Bowie/Ronson founds its way to Messrs, Richard Butler and John Ashton. If you missed the Furs the first time around, do your homework -- then go figure out why their seven essential studio albums still sound as fresh and vital as they did the day they came out. Akin to his celebrated contemporaries Johnny Marr and The Edge, John Ashton is that rare breed of guitar player whom you can identify in a single note or chord.
After years of settling in the producer's chair, occasional cameos, demos, sessions and downtime for family, Mr. Ashton is at the heart of making his long-awaited return as a recording artist under the collective banner of Satellite Paradiso. "This journey started almost 20 years ago," enthuses Ashton, who fell in love with upstate New York when the Furs arrived to record with a local wizard and true star, Todd Rundgren, in the early 1980s. "We were a bunch of urbanite Londoners -- to us, coming to the Catskills was like walking into a Rip Van Winkle story." Ashton, happily married with two children, has resided in Woodstock since the Furs wound down in the 1990s. (Note: The Psychedelic Furs have since reconvened and continue to tour the nostalgia circuit sans Ashton.)
With the demise of record labels and music retail as Ashton and previous generations knew it - Satellite Paradiso comes to you by way of Pledge Music: a grassroots platform which has also been utilized by Slash, Ben Folds Five, Johnny A and Minus the Bear, among others. The modus operandi is simple -- you the fan support the Ashton, the artist. There are several levels of pledges with perks, ranging from discs, to vinyl, posters, artwork, garb, autographed guitars and for Lottery winners and those of you in the one percent -- a private acoustic concert!
As such Mr. Ashton has free artistic reign -- no suits, no creative limitations, no problem.
I've done this album pretty much in a Woodstock way wherein you cobble whatever equipment you have, set up the mics, invite people over, and hope for the best! Over the years I started writing songs and it came together little by little.
Collaborative recommendations from Ashton's long-time friend Rob Sacher (his book Wake Me When It's Over: My Life as a New York Rock Club Owner is essential reading) plus well-known neighbors dropping by to lend a hand, chance meetings, along with a little help from familiar faces has serendipitously shaped an all-star ensemble for the ages: guitarist Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys, Rocket From the Tombs); Mercury Rev's Anthony Molina and Jonathan Donahue; drummer/pianist Frank Coleman; vocalists Fred Schreck (The Ancients, Crush) and Mark Volman (The Turtles, Frank Zappa, T.Rex); bassists Sara Lee (Gang of Four, B-52s) and Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz); drummer Paul Ferguson from Killing Joke; and assorted Furs alumni Duncan Kilburn and Mars Williams (sax), Roger Morris (guitar, keys), Paul Garisto and Don Yallech (drums) and Amanda Kramer (piano, keys) -- just to name a few.
Among the most riveting aspects of Satellite Paradiso is Ashton's frequent routine of sharing fascinating and insightful updates of his work-in-progress via social media and his website: from showing fans Lou Reed's old recording board to a fly-on-the-wall video of Chrome rendering wicked guitar parts from an open-air iPhone on a killer cut entitled "Bad Blood." Previews of Satellite Paradiso tracks including "Insomnia," "Touch the Sky," and "Angelic" find Ashton pushing the sonic boundaries he forged a generation ago. And his penchant for anthemic melodies is as strong as it ever was. No wonder Mr. Ashton has a difficult time containing his passion.
This is something I've wanted to do for years! It's great that I am on familiar ground with people I've worked with before such as Duncan and Roger who played on Talk Talk and the first Furs' album... and to play with Sara, Gail, and people I had not worked with previously has really put a new spin on what I am doing. Satellite Paradiso has taken on this concept to mega proportions. I never expected it to be going the way it has, taking off like a mothership that is hovering and ready to clear the tower! I am totally blessed to have all these people on board.
Mr. Ashton has yet to decide when, where and how Satellite Paradiso will appear in the flesh once the record is complete. "This is definitely not a studio-only project... I want to take this on the road with a core band, possibly some festivals and interesting one-offs." The elder statesman is still ahead of his time.
Check out Satellite Paradiso here.